Top 5 Issues for 2018: Transportation & Infrastructure: The Precarious Condition of U.S. Infrastructure
Issue: In 2017, the American Society of Civil Engineers gave the nation’s infrastructure an overall grade of D+ in their every-four-years Infrastructure Report Card. Key infrastructure categories, including aviation, dams, drinking water, inland waterways, levees, roads and transit, all received individual grades of D or lower. ASCE said the nation’s infrastructure can be improved and restored but only with “strategic, sustained investment, bold leadership, thoughtful planning, and careful preparation for the needs of the future.” The devastating hurricanes of 2017 brought into stark relief the importance of planning and preparation to ensuring a more resilient infrastructure for the future.
2017 provided plenty of evidence that the nation’s infrastructure is in bad shape and may be getting worse. Each month seemed to bring new details:
- In January, the U.S. Department of Transportation reported that the backlog of needed highway and transit infrastructure projects around the country had reached $926 billion and many billions more will be needed over the next two decades to keep up with demand.
- In February, the American Road and Transportation Builders Association’s review of USDOT data noted that 55,710 bridges in the United States are now considered structurally deficient. Those are spans crossed by vehicles 185 million times a day. August brought the 10-year anniversary of the collapse of the I-35W bridge over the Mississippi River in downtown Minneapolis that brought calls around the country to invest in repairing and replacing aging infrastructure. The occasion prompted the realization from some that while there have been some improvements over the last decade, much remains to be done to bring the nation’s bridges to a state of good repair.
- Also in February, an analysis of Census data showed the American commute is getting longer and the longest commutes in the nation are also the fastest growing.
- Heavy rains at the beginning of 2017 that caused extensive flooding and a crisis at the Oroville Dam in California brought new calls to invest in aging dams around the country. Later in the year, the failure of a lock on the Ohio River caused it to be closed to commercial navigation. The closure caused a massive backup of towboats and barges and a headache for shippers hauling newly harvested soybeans from the Midwest to export terminals along the Gulf Coast.
- The impact of the Flint water crisis continued to be felt as testing revealed even higher lead levels in communities across the country. A report released in the fall said outdated EPA drinking water regulations fail to regulate known carcinogens and other chemicals in our water.
- One day in June shone a bright spotlight on the nation’s aging public transit systems. June 27 saw the derailment of a subway train in Manhattan that injured more than 30 people and significant delays for commuters on the Washington, D.C., area’s Metro system. New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo subsequently declared a state of emergency for the Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA), which operates the New York City subway, and said the state would allocate an additional $1 billion in funding to the agency’s capital plan. Metro officials in D.C. meanwhile tried to convince officials in the D.C.-Maryland-Virginia region to provide $15.5 billion in long-term funding, the amount they say is needed just to cover the agency’s most critical capital needs. After at first declaring his opposition to giving Metro more money, Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan in September offered an additional $500 million per year over the next four years as long as D.C., Virginia and the federal government match that amount.
- A series of devastating hurricanes in September caused significant damage in Florida, Texas and Puerto Rico and brought new warnings from engineers and urban planners about the lack of resilience in the nation’s infrastructure. Car-centric Houston struggled to recover after countless numbers of vehicles were lost to Hurricane Harvey’s raging floodwaters. Hurricane Maria reportedly left Puerto Rico without an operating electrical system, closed airports and seaports, damaged numerous roads and public transit systems, and destroyed radar and air and water navigational aids.
- In October, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration announced that in 2015 and 2016, the nation saw the worst spike in traffic deaths in more than 50 years. In 2016, 37,461 people were killed in motor vehicle crashes—a 5 percent increase over 2015.
But it was the release of the American Society of Civil Engineers’ Infrastructure Report Card in March that provided perhaps the most comprehensive look at where the nation’s infrastructure stands in 2017. Issued every four years since 1998, the report card assesses 16 categories of infrastructure and gives a cumulative grade as well. That cumulative grade has yet to exceed a D+ and did not in 2017 either.
On a CSG webinar in April 2017, Greg DiLoreto, who oversaw the 2017 report card and served as a past ASCE president, said leadership has been lacking over the last few decades, particularly at the federal level.
“Now while some investment and progress has been made, particularly at the state level, it’s not enough to prepare our nation for a 21st century economy by relying on 20th century infrastructure and 20th century funding,” he said.
The grade for the nation’s roads, a grade of D, was one of six infrastructure categories that remained unchanged from the 2013 report card. Transit received a grade of D-, reflecting a $90 billion backlog in maintenance on the nation’s transit systems.
The report card said the United States faces a $2 trillion investment gap over the next 10 years. In other words, federal, state and local governments need to spend a total of $200 billion a year more than what they are currently spending.
In addition to additional investment, the report card said more leadership and planning and preparation for the future is needed. ASCE recommends fixing the federal highway trust fund by raising the federal motor fuel tax, authorizing and funding programs that improve specific categories of deficient infrastructure, supporting infrastructure owners and operators and urging them to charge rates and fees that reflect the true cost of using, maintaining and improving all infrastructure. The report card also recommends requiring all projects greater than $5 million that receive federal funding use life cycle cost analysis and develop a plan for funding the project that includes its maintenance and operation until the end of its service life.
Another presenter on the April webinar, Brian Pallasch, ASCE’s managing director for government relations and infrastructure initiatives, said there is a need to create incentives for state and local governments and the private sector to invest in maintenance and a need to identify a pipeline of infrastructure projects that are attractive to private sector investment and public-private partnerships. He said it is necessary to prepare for the future utilizing new approaches, materials and technologies to ensure infrastructure is resilient and sustainable. Emerging technologies and shifting social, environmental and economic trends, including things like autonomous vehicles, should be factored into the equation when building new infrastructure to assure its long-term utility, he said.
DiLoreto and Pallasch said they were encouraged by signs early in 2017 that President Donald Trump and Congressional leaders could work together on an infrastructure investment initiative. But as 2017 came to a close, a comprehensive plan had yet to emerge—it’s now expected in mid-January—and there were indications that the president had decided to turn away from an expected emphasis on financing and relying on the private sector to contribute significantly to any such effort. Some say that’s a more realistic approach anyway since public-private partnerships probably would not be applicable on many projects.
As DiLoreto put it on the April webinar: “Financing is not funding and what we’re short of in this country is funding. … Certainly in the public sector, we have access to the municipal bond market. We can borrow money to finance our projects. It’s the funding that we have problems with. So while you can finance it, we also need to understand how we’re going to fund that infrastructure as it goes along.”
As noted elsewhere in this Top 5, states took it upon themselves in a big way in 2017 to seek additional revenues for transportation. But it’s clear from the ASCE report card and a variety of other evidence that emerged in 2017 that it will take an all-hands-on-deck from all branches of government—and, where applicable, the private sector—to begin to solve America’s infrastructure challenges in 2018 and beyond.
Further Reading: General Infrastructure
- “Cities That Went Big on Infrastructure Investments in 2017,” Next City, December 29, 2017.
- “Not Everything is Broken: The Future of U.S. Transportation and Water Infrastructure Funding and Finance,” RAND Corporation, December 2017.
- TRIP, a national transportation research group
- “State with the riskiest roads, bridges and dams,” USA Today, October 26, 2017.
- “America Hasn’t Seen a Spike in Traffic Deaths This Bad in 50 Years,” Streetsblog USA, October 11, 2017.
- “What is the ideal mix of federal, state and local government investment in infrastructure?” Economic Policy Institute, September 11, 2017.
- “Public Works Funding Falls as Infrastructure Deteriorates,” The New York Times, August 8, 2017.
- “U.S. Infrastructure Renewal: Who Should Pay the Bill?” Knowledge @ Wharton (University of Pennsylvania), July 25, 2017.
- “Global Infrastructure Outlook: A G20 Initiative,” July 2017.
- “Infrastructure Is Not Just Roads and Bridges,” The New York Times, June 9, 2017.
- “Infrastructure’s big tent,” Brookings, May 23, 2017.
- “Visions for the Next Generation of American Infrastructure,” American Society of Landscape Architects, May 15, 2017.
- “Old New York Sees New Infrastructure on Horizon,” U.S. News & World Report, April 20, 2017.
- “10 Best States for Infrastructure,” U.S. News & World Report, April 20, 2017.
- “2017 Infrastructure Report Card,” American Society of Civil Engineers, March 20, 2017.
- “How Not to Screw Up Spending $1 Trillion on U.S. Infrastructure,” Wired, January 30, 2017.
- “New USDOT Conditions Report Highlights $926B Highway, Transit Investment Backlog,” AASHTO Journal, January 20, 2017.
Further Reading: Airports
- “Any infrastructure plan must include airports,” The Inquirer, May 18, 2017.
Further Reading: Bridges
- “Red-listed bridges remain persistent problem in New Hampshire,” WMUR, November 7, 2017.
- “2017 Bridge Inventory: States get proactive on funding, expect to lower rate of poor bridges,” Equipment World’s Better Roads, November 6, 2017.
- “10 Years After Bridge Collapse, America is Still Crumbling,” NPR All Things Considered, August 1, 2017.
- “Deficient bridges face tight funding, time delays,” Reedsburg Times-Press (Wisconsin), August 1, 2017.
- “RIDOT: Bridge condition slowly improving in RI,” WPRI-TV, August 1, 2017.
- “Upgrading our infrastructure: Targeting repairs for locks, dams and bridges,” The Conversation, March 13, 2017.
- “Nevada’s bridges named nation’s best maintained—again,” Nevada Appeal, February 17, 2017.
- “Report Finds 185M Daily Crossings on Structurally Deficient U.S. Roadway Bridges,” AASHTO Journal, February 17, 2017.
- “Nearly 56,000 bridges called structurally deficient,” USA Today, February 15, 2017.
- “How many structurally deficient bridges are in your county?” The Washington Post, February 2017.
Further Reading: Broadband & Digital
- “In Appalachia, a public broadband project hits snags,” Associated Press, October 1, 2017.
- “Gov. Haslam signs rural broadband bill in West Tennessee,” Times Free Press, May 16, 2017.
- “New P3s May Finally Bridge the Digital Divide,” Governing, May 2017.
- “In infrastructure plan, a big opening for rural broadband,” Brookings, February 13, 2017.
- “Cities and broadband, next administration edition,” Brookings, February 9, 2017.
- “Implications of a Trump White House for broadband policy,” Brookings, February 8, 2017.
- “Make America great with great broadband,” Brookings, February 7, 2017.
- “Despite State Barriers, Cities Push to Expand High-Speed Internet,” Stateline, September 22, 2016.
- “(Pennsylvania) Broadband Public-Private Partnership,” Pennsylvania Turnpike.
- “Lawmakers Push to Include Digital in Infrastructure Plans,” Roll Call, December 26, 2016.
Further Reading: Complete Streets
- “(Florida Department of Transportation) makes strides in Complete Streets implementation,” State Smart Transportation Initiative, May 22, 2017.
Further Reading: Congestion & Mobility
- “Driving a Car in Manhattan Could Cost $11.52 Under Congestion Plan,” The New York Times, January 18, 2018.
- “Plan to relieve Manhattan gridlock with tolls gains momentum,” Associated Press, January 13, 2018.
- "Traffic's going to worsen, but don't worry, there's a $40B plan," HeraldNet, January 12, 2018.
- “Congestion Pricing in New York Will Depend on More and Better Transit,” TransitCenter, December 28, 2017.
- “’Dynamic tolls’: How highways can charge $40 for driving just 10 miles,” USA Today, December 7, 2017.
- “The Shaping of a ’20-Minute City,’” Governing, October 9, 2017.
- “Cuomo Calls Manhattan Traffic Plan an Idea ‘Whose Time Has Come,’” The New York Times, August 13, 2017.
- “Would truck-only lanes help metro Atlanta traffic?” WSB-TV, August 2, 2017.
- “Time for Seattle-area drivers to pay up? Tolling doesn’t get much love, but it eases gridlock,” The Seattle Times, June 26, 2017.
- “Yet Another Flawed Congestion Report from Inrix,” Streetsblog USA, February 28, 2017.
- “FHWA Says 2016 Set Record High for Roadway Traffic Volume, Pressure on Infrastructure,” AASHTO Journal, February 24, 2017.
- “The American commute is worse today than it’s ever been,” The Washington Post, February 22, 2017.
- “Three Innovative Approaches to Transportation Infrastructure,” Eno Transportation Weekly, January 30, 2017.
- “The 100 worst traffic bottlenecks on U.S. highways,” The Washington Post, January 24, 2017.
Further Reading: Dams
- “Oroville Dam repair costs will top $500 million,” Associated Press, October 20, 2017.
- “Editorial: Alabama needs better dam safety,” Montgomery Advertiser, February 23, 2017.
- “America’s Aging Dams Are in Need of Repair,” The New York Times, February 23, 2017.
- “Oroville Dam, a reminder that infrastructure challenges go far beyond Washington,” Brookings, February 16, 2017.
- “The dam truth: Climate change means more Lake Orovilles,” Grist, February 16, 2017.
Further Reading: Drinking Water
- “Drinking Water Isn’t Safe for Millions of Americans. It’s Up to States to Fix,” Governing, September 14, 2017.
- “America has a water crisis no one is talking about: Outdated infrastructure is making water too expensive for millions of families,” Vox, May 9, 2017.
- “After Flint, Feds and Some States Speed up Time for Notifying Public About Lead-Contaminated Water,” Governing, February 27, 2017.
- “(New York) State’s water infrastructure needs estimated at $80B over 20 years,” Times Union, February 13, 2017.
- “The thousands of U.S. locales where lead poisoning is worse than in Flint,” Reuters, December 19, 2016.
Further Reading: Freight Infrastructure
- “AASHTO and AAPA Hold Infrastructure Week Briefing on Freight,” Construction Equipment, May 17, 2017.
Further Reading: Inland Waterways
- “Ohio River closed to shipping after lock failure: industry group,” Reuters, October 2, 2017.
- “River Barge Traffic Backlogged, Market Paying Farmers to Store Grain,” AgWeb, October 2, 2017.
- “River traffic is increasing, but infrastructure lags,” Iowa Farmer Today, September 14, 2017.
- “Ports, DOTs, Others Urge Lawmakers to Boost Federal Funding for Navigation Projects,” AASHTO Journal, May 26, 2017.
Further Reading: Ports
- “Georgia Ports leaders seek more federal funds for Savannah River dredging,” Atlanta Journal-Constitution, November 6, 2017.
- “Expanded Panama Canal among challenges for Washington ports,” Auburn Reporter, October 19, 2017.
- “The Panama Canal’s Big Bet is Paying Off,” The Wall Street Journal, October 8, 2017.
- “Mark Sanford to host congressional colleagues in Charleston to tout infrastructure needs,” McClatchy, October 3, 2017.
Further Reading: Rail
- “Governor Cuomo Announces $25 Million in Rail Infrastructure Improvements Statewide,” Office of Gov. Andrew Cuomo, February 1, 2017.
- “Lawmakers Confident in Hoosier State Rail Line Funding,” Indiana Public Media, January 30, 2017.
Further Reading: Resilience
- “Improving the Resilience of Transit Systems Threatened by Natural Disasters,” Transit Cooperative Research Program, 2017.
- “Harvey to be a Turning Point for Equitable Transit-Oriented Development in Houston,” OffCite, December 7, 2017.
- “Senate Democrats Seek Transportation Funds in Next Disaster Aid Bill,” AASHTO Journal, November 9, 2017.
- “When Hurricane Irma Hit, Florida’s Toll Roads Were Ready,” International Bridge, Tunnel & Turnpike Association, October 24, 2017.
- “Hurricane Harvey Big Short-Term Blow to TX Budget,” State New Capitol Journal, October 13, 2017.
- “What Michigan is doing to prepare roads, bridges for climate change,” Michigan Radio, October 11, 2017.
- “Updating the Status of Puerto Rico’s Infrastructure in Real Time,” Planetizen, October 5, 2017.
- “FTA awards funds to help repair Puerto Rico’s transit system,” Progressive Railroading, October 2, 2017.
- “U.S. Agencies Aid Puerto Rico; Ravaged Infrastructure Slows Recovery,” AASHTO Journal, September 29, 2017.
- “The Importance of Resiliency,” American Society of Civil Engineers, September 27, 2017.
- “Transportation Rebounding From Hurricane Harvey’s Havoc,” Transport Topics, September 25, 2017.
- “As Disasters Grow More Frequent, How Should States and Cities Prepare?” Governing, September 25, 2017.
- “Rethinking the ‘Infrastructure’ Discussion Amid a Blitz of Hurricanes,” ProPublica, September 13, 2017.
- “Car-centric Houston struggles after loss of countless autos,” Associated Press, September 10, 2017.
- “How Houston’s Growth Created the Perfect Flood Conditions,” The New York Times, September 5, 2017.
- “Was Houston’s Design a Flood Disaster Waiting to Happen?” Governing, August 31, 2017.
- “Houston’s Flood Is a Design Problem,” The Atlantic, August 28, 2017.
- “(California) Gov. Brown takes action to bolster dam safety and repair transportation and water infrastructure,” Lake County News, February 25, 2017.
- “Lessons from Oroville: Resilience for Scarcity and Abundance,” Planetizen, February 15, 2017.
- “Don’t Overlook Resiliency Benefits When Touting Transportation Improvements,” Route Fifty, January 16, 2017.
Further Reading: Transit
- “Cuomo wants tolls in high-traffic Manhattan areas to fund MTA,” New York Daily News, January 15, 2018.
- “Metro says a broken rail likely caused Red Line train carrying 63 to derail,” The Washington Post, January 15, 2018.
- “A year into the Trump Presidency, federal transit support limps along,” The Transport Politic, January 10, 2018.
- “MARTA sees bright future, despite uncertainty,” Atlanta Journal-Constitution, January 5, 2018.
- “Outlook 2018: APTA leader forecasts great challenges, greater opportunities for transit,” Progressive Railroading, December 2017.
- “The Most Expensive Mile of Subway on Earth,” The New York Times, December 28, 2017.
- “Left Behind by the Nation’s Largest Subway System,” The New York Times, December 27, 2017.
- “Gov.-elect Phil Murphy calls NJ Transit ‘national disgrace,’” NorthJersey.com, December 20, 2017.
- “How Cuts in Basic Subway Upkeep Can Make Your Commute Miserable: Decisions to scale back routine maintenance turned this year into the subway’s worst since the 1970s,” The New York Times, December 20, 2017.
- “McAuliffe: Use Northern Va. transportation money, tax increases to fund Metro,” WTOP, December 18, 2017.
- “Officials Still Can’t Agree on How to Fund Metro—A Sales Tax Might Be the Reason Why,” WAMU, December 11, 2017.
- “With two weeks of private bus shuttles, Metro dips a toe into outsourcing,” The Washington Post, December 9, 2017.
- “Georgia lawmakers may address metro Atlanta transit next year,” Atlanta Journal-Constitution, December 6, 2017.
- “Should Public Transit Be Free?” Fast Company, December 1, 2017.
- “How Should Chicago Spend Its Uber Tax?” City Lab, November 27, 2017.
- “Regional leaders back stopgap funding option for Metro,” WTOP, November 9, 2017.
- Ray LaHood Independent Review of Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority, October 23, 2017
- “What $16M from Uber, Lyft Could Do For Chicago Public Transit,” Next City, October 19, 2017.
- “A Bid for Better Transit: Improving Service With Contracted Operations,” Eno Center for Transportation, October 10, 2017.
- “Crumbling concrete wall showcases challenges faced by NJ Transit,” North Jersey.com, September 29, 2017.
- “Metro says it needs $15.5 billion over 10 years. And that’s just so it doesn’t get worse,” The Washington Post, September 16, 2017.
- “Report: Add tolls, raise fees to fund transportation projects, stabilize NJ Transit,” Politico, September 13, 2017.
- “(Maryland Gov.) Hogan Offer $500M Over Four Years In Metro Funding—With a Catch,” WAMU 88.5, September 11, 2017.
- “In the US, transit deserts are making it hard for people to find jobs and stay healthy,” City Metric, September 4, 2017.
- “Transit infrastructure linking NY, NJ needs overhaul as commutes continue to rise, report says,” AM New York, August 17, 2017.
- “Transit in Crisis: Who Should Pay for Upgrades—Riders, or Taxpayers?” Eno Center for Transportation, August 9, 2017.
- “Rahm Emanuel: In Chicago, the Trains Actually Run on Time,” The New York Times, July 3, 2017.
- “As Jobs Sprawl Outside Indianapolis, Transit Tries to Keep Pace,” Streetsblog USA, June 30, 2017.
- “Cuomo declares a ‘state of emergency’ for NYC subway,” Curbed, June 29, 2017.
- “Unclogging Atlanta’s ‘Gordian Knot’ With State Transit Funding,” 11 Alive, June 29, 2017.
- “Transit’s No Good, Very Bad Day,” Planetizen, June 28, 2017.
- “Va. panel: Raise taxes for transit, and maybe more for Metro,” WTOP Radio, June 19, 2017.
- “Is Metro’s ridership ‘death spiral’ starting to stabilize?” The Washington Post, May 8, 2017.
- “Trump Moves to Immediately Gut Transit Expansion and TIGER Funding,” Streetsblog USA, March 30, 2017.
- “Ride-hailing apps are killing taxis. Is public transit next?” The Inquirer, March 23, 2017.
- “Here are 16 big transit projects that could be out of luck under the Trump budget,” The Washington Post, March 17, 2017.
- “Riding Transit Takes Almost Twice as Long as Driving,” Governing, February 2017.
- “USDOT report cites growing transit maintenance backlog,” Progressive Railroading, January 16, 2017.
- “Uber, Lyft, transit agencies see potential for partnerships,” San Francisco Chronicle, January 12, 2017.