Even with a report card grade of “C” from the local chapters of the American Society of Civil Engineers, the organization says that Washington shows progress while working to prepare for its future.
The 2019 Washington Infrastructure Report Card, released in mid-January, was the first for since a 2013 report card, which also gave the state a “C” after examining the condition of the state’s aviation, bridges, dams, drinking water, roads, schools, stormwater, transit and wastewater.
As the state’s population continues to increase, grades for bridges (C+), schools (C+), roads (C-) and transit (C-) all showed increases since 2013. The Seattle area continues to enjoy the fastest transit ridership growth in the nation while continually building new transit connections.
The report notes that the Washington State Dept. of Transportation has prioritized preventative maintenance activities and tackled several large-scale transportation projects in the Seattle region in the past five years. Crediting an 11.9-cent gas tax increase, money for bridges has helped improve them across the state.
“Gov. Inslee, state lawmakers and Washington voters have so far supported major investments in infrastructure, such as raising the gas tax, to prepare for our future and preserve what we have,” says Roger Miller, WSDOT secretary, in a statement.
The area with the highest marks in the state was the B- credited to dams. The two areas with the lowest marks were the C- for wastewater and D+ for stormwater. The engineers say much of the state’s stormwater infrastructure is beyond its design life and in need of repair or replacement. Also, some of the current combined sewer and stormwater overflows deteriorate the natural environment.
Other category grades included: aviation (C), bridges (C+), dams (B-), drinking water (C-), roads (C-), schools (C+), stormwater (D+), transit (C-) and wastewater (C-).
“Population growth in the state is stress-testing the civil infrastructure we use every day,” says Richard Fernandez, chair of the ASCE's Washington Infrastructure Report Card Committee. “We must continue to prioritize investment in these systems to protect public health and the environment. Washingtonians must continue to find innovative and cost-effective ways to invest in all infrastructure, in both urban and rural areas, that supports the increase in population growth in our state and prepare Washington’s economy for the future.”
Additional notable findings in the report include:
• The state is home to 7,410 vehicular bridges. Of these, 321 bridges are in poor condition, which equates to 6.6 percent of the inventory based on bridge deck area.
• The Puget Sound region is experiencing the largest annual population increase in the nation and annual vehicle delay along major Washington highways increased by up to 173 percent between 2014 and 2016.
• Based on the 2015 Drinking Water Infrastructure Needs Survey and Assessment, Washington will need approximately $11.73 billion (2015 dollars) over the next 20 years to keep up with the growing demand and aging transmission, distribution, treatment and storage facilities to be able to safely and efficiently deliver water.
• The encroachment of incompatible land uses poses a serious threat to Washington’s airports by reducing their capabilities and compromising the public's investment in airport infrastructure.
• The state is one of the country’s leaders in innovative and sustainable methods for managing stormwater as its own, separate resource from wastewater. These methods help support Washington’s commercial fishing and ecotourism economies, valued at $2.5 billion annually and almost 29,000 jobs that rely on having good water quality in natural waterways.
The engineers included recommendations to improve Washington’s report card grades:
• Leverage sustainable loan programs to finance necessary infrastructure projects in the state, particularly by financing from the Public Works Trust Fund, which must be used for its intended purpose of modernizing infrastructure.
• Improve funding sources for ongoing operations and maintenance of dams. Specifically, create low-interest loan programs to assist private dam owners with needed repairs and maintenance.
• Demonstrate better accountability by making asset management and safety program information available and easily accessible to the public.
• Ensure drinking water rates provide for the full cost of service including operation, maintenance and capital improvements.
• Be the lead in environmental sustainability and resilience to natural disasters, by investing in green stormwater infrastructure to protect fish and wildlife in Puget Sound and to prepare for risks from extreme events, such as a Cascadia Subduction Zone earthquake or other natural disaster.
Follow Tim Newcomb on Twitter at @tdnewcomb.