An updated report from the American Society of Civil Engineers on the outlook for U.S. infrastructure sketches a worsening picture for some sectors and status quo for others. In 2001, ASCE gave public works an overall grade of D-plus. The group didn't issue new marks this time for the 12 sectors, but assessed the trend and outlook for each.

ASCE now says $1.6 trillion is needed over the next five years to bring public works up to acceptable levels, up from $1.3 trillion recommended in 2001. It also called for a presidential commission to study U.S. infrastructure.

The report, released Sept. 4, comes as bills funding major public works programs are unfinished in Congress. By far the most important is the successor to the Transportation Equity Act for the 21st Century, which finances highway and transit programs. TEA-21 expires Sept. 30 and there is almost no chance a new, multi-year bill will be enacted by that deadline.No comprehensive new bill has been introduced by the key Senate and House committees.

ASCE President Thomas L. Jackson notes that besides TEA-21, the Safe Drinking Water Act also runs out on Sept. 30 and the Clean Water Act's authorization expired almost nine years ago. "We must call on Congress to take urgent action or we risk falling further behind," Jackson said.

Funding for the water programs can be extended through appropriation bills. But a TEA-21 provision mandates that federal road and transit aid from the Highway Trust Fund will be halted as of Sept. 30, unless Congress passes new legislation.

For the new report, a panel of engineers assembled by ASCE rated the outlook and trend as negative for: roads, mass transit, drinking water, wastewater, dams, navigable waterways and energy.

The trend was judged flat for bridges, aviation, schools, solid waste and hazardous waste.

Patrick J. Natale, ASCE's executive director, said, "The downturn in the economy, the state and local budget crisis and the aftermath of 9-11 are working against the nation's efforts to elevate the infrastructure conditions to acceptable levels."

The $1.6-billion estimate is an increase over the $1.3 billion recommended in ASCE's 2001 evaluation.

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