Arizona infrastructure has received a grade of C from the Arizona Section of the American Society of Civil Engineers in its “2020 Report Card for Arizona’s Infrastructure,” released Sept. 16 in Phoenix. ASCE says the state’s infrastructure is in “mediocre condition.”

A committee of 30-plus Arizona civil engineers graded the state in nine categories, as follows: aviation (B), bridges (B+), dams (C-), drinking water (C-), levees (C-), rail (C), roads (D+), transit (C) and wastewater (C-). This was the second ASCE infrastructure report; the first one appeared in 2015.

On the upside, Arizona’s overall C exceeds the national grade, which ASCE says is a D+. “This shows that Arizona is doing slightly better than the nation, but there is still room for improvement,” said Jose Aguilar, an employee of WSP, Tucson, who led the virtual ASCE news conference as vice president of the Arizona Section.

The report notes that Arizona, unlike most states, can to a great extent, attribute its deteriorating infrastructure to robust in-migration. Arizona grew 37% in population between 2000 and 2017, compared to just 15% nationally during that time, the report noted.  

“While this growth is exciting, we must ensure our infrastructure is reliable and efficient to accommodate 21st-century challenges,” said state Sen. Juan Mendez (D), who participated in the discussion.

The state’s bridges received the best grade of all components, and they are handling the increasing freight and commuters regionally, but lack long-term funding, the report says.

Only 1.6% of the 8,320 bridges were classified as “poor” in 2019, well below the national average of 7.5%.

The state’s three largest airports all have made significant recent commitments for the future, including the 20-year, $38-billion Comprehensive Asset Management Plan at Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport, the report says.

The state’s dams and levees, though, are poorly documented––a nationwide issue—although 95% of them have emergency plans, exceeding the national average.

Of the state’s 159 levee systems, spanning 387 miles and protecting 345,000 Arizona residents and almost $50 billion in property, only 8% have been inventoried and assessed for conditions in the National Levee Database. Moreover, the state’s safety budget for dams is less than $1 million annually, and that’s primarily for inspections.

Roads fared worst in the report. Arizona’s 7,000 miles of roadways are taking a pounding from residents, visitors and commercial vehicles. Travel on Arizona’s highways increased 32% from 2000–2017, compared to the national increase of 17% during that time.

The key issue is funding. For the next 25 years, the state will need $98.3 billion in federal, state and local investment, but the report estimates an investment gap of $30 billion.

Arizona’s motor fuels tax of 18 cents per gallon has not increased since 1991—it’s the 5th lowest nationally—and the Arizona Legislature is historically conservative in raising taxes, said state Sen. Mendez during the event.

In addition, the state has relied on an average of $775 million annually from the federal Fixing America’s Surface Transportation Act since 2015, but the FAST program is set to expire Sept. 30, unless Congress votes to extend it.

“Transportation agencies nationwide face the common challenge of stretching financial resources further in order to maintain, improve and replace aging infrastructure, and the Arizona Department of Transportation is no exception,” says Doug Nick, ADOT’s assistant communications director for public information, responding to the report. “We work closely with multiple stakeholders to wisely manage and prioritize the financial resources that are currently available.”