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America's GPA: D+
Estimated Investment Needed by 2020:
$3.6 Trillion

Congressional Hearings Focus on Aviation, Flood Control

March 3rd, 2017 | By: Whitford Remer

As the President’s repeated in his address to Congress his pledge to dramatically increase infrastructure spending to the tune of $1 trillion, various Congressional Committees have been holding hearings to explore the need. While the hearings reflect broad and even growing support on Capitol Hill for infrastructure spending, they also illustrate major hurdles, chief among them and one that has bedeviled infrastructure advocates for a very long time, how to pay for it. On the House side, the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee has begun a series of hearings to highlight the need among specific infrastructure categories. Using the title “Building a 21st Century for America,” the hearings explore the federal role in several infrastructure categories. On March 1st, the Committee’s Aviation Subcommittee looked at the state of the nation’s airports, with a panel of airport executives including Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport and the Greater Asheville (NC) Regional Airport Authority. The executives noted different challenges faced by different sized airports and the need for flexibility, both in how they are able to spend grant money received through the Airports Improvement Program (AIP) and the ability to set the appropriate level for the Passenger Facility Charges (PFCs) that airports can charge, which has been capped by Congress at $4.50. During the hearing, full Committee Ranking Democrat Peter DeFazio (D-OR) announced he had joined with Rep. Thomas Massie (R-KY) in offering legislation to remove the cap on PFCs and permitting airports to set the level as they see fit. The panel also noted that under the new pricing policies instituted by airlines, while the ticket tax that funds the AIP is applied to the basic ticket, additional charges such as baggage fees are not subject to the tax, costing the program millions of dollars. Finally, both members of the Committee and the panelist agreed that the recent pattern of short-term authorizations of the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) and its programs has made it hard to make long-term plans and have increased the cost of the capital projects. ASCE strongly agrees with the airport executives and supports increasing funding for the AIP, removing the cap from the PFCs and longer-term authorization for the FAA. Meanwhile in the Senate, the Environment and Public Works (EPW) Committee held a hearing titled “Flood Control Infrastructure: Safety Questions Raised by Current Events.” The hearing was prompted in large part by the recent spillway deteriorations and ensuing evacuations around California’s Oroville Dam, the tallest dam in the nation. Among the witnesses were Lieutenant General Todd T. Semonite, Commanding General and Chief of Engineers U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and Larry Larson, Director Emeritus & Senior Policy Advisor for Association of State Floodplain Manager. General Seminote talked about his agency’s role in providing flood protection infrastructure across the country. Sens. John Barrasso (R-WY) and Joni Ernst (R-IA) pressed the General on the Agency’s benefit-cost analysis formula for selecting projects, which relies, in-part, on property value. Sen. Barrassso, the new Chairman of the Committee emphasized this type of formula pitted urban project against more rural projects in his home state of Wyoming. Larry Larson and several Senators also raised the important point that there are flood control programs authorized by Congress in the Water Resources Reform and Development Act of 2014 and Water Resources Development Act of 2016 that have not received any federal funding. Larry Larson also told the panel that private funding will not cover the full cost for dam and levee repair. “Our experience shows that financial incentives are very difficult to apply to these projects,” adding that that federal funding would be needed.

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House T&I Committee Examines How to Build a 21st Century Infrastructure

February 2nd, 2017 | By: Laura Hale

Yesterday the House Transportation & Infrastructure (T&I) Committee held a hearing titled “Building a 21st Century Infrastructure for America.” It was the Committee’s first hearing in the 115th Congress and came on the heels of both President Trump’s pledge to focus on infrastructure and a trillion dollar infrastructure investment blueprint previewed by Senate Democrats last week. The panel of witnesses represented private industry (FedEx, Cargill, BMW and Vermeer) that relies on the country’s vast infrastructure networks, with the exception of Richard Trumka, President of AFL-CIO, whose union members build, maintain and operate much of the nation’s infrastructure. Getting the hearing off to a fiery start was Ranking Member Peter DeFazio (D-4th OR), who picked up right where he left off last Congress—emphasizing the need to fix the Harbor Maintenance Trust Fund (HMTF) (a bit of background…in December of last year Rep. DeFazio gave an impassioned speech on the floor of the U.S. House of Representatives during votes on the Water Resources Development Act, criticizing the final bill for not including language to spend down funds collected by the HMTF). Rep. DeFazio laid out three key areas he wants the Committee to focus on this year: indexing the gas tax to inflation, spending the existing $9 billion in the HMTF that has been used to offset a portion of the deficit and raising the cap on passenger facility charges for airports. Members of the Committee and witnesses agreed that these were important issues. David MacLennan, Chairman and CEO of Cargill, reminded legislators not to get carried away by dazzling new innovations like electric cars, microgrids and high-speed rail saying “As exciting as new technologies are, we should also think about our traditional assets. So the remainder of my testimony will focus not on the shiny objects, but on the ones that tend to get rusty: the rails, roads, bridges and waterways of rural America.” The panelists also all spoke about the importance of the federal government providing real funding to infrastructure projects, not just financing. Frederick W. Smith, Chairman and CEO of FedEx even went so far to say that he had been testifying in the T&I Committee room for 40 years and was ready to see real infrastructure investment. The Senate’s Environment and Public Works Committee is expected to hold its own hearing examining infrastructure challenges and opportunities soon.

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Infrastructure in the News: Over the River and Through the Skies, to Grandmother’s House We Go

November 18th, 2016 | By: Olivia Wolfertz

Does it seem like holiday travel becomes more overwhelming each year? You’re not imagining it. According to  AAA, nearly 49 million Americans will travel 50 miles or more from home between Wednesday Nov. 23, and Sunday, Nov. 27, making it the highest number of Thanksgiving travelers in nine years. Whether the increase is from cheaper gas prices, optimism about the economy or another reason, nine out of ten of these 49 million travelers will drive to their Thanksgiving destinations. Our nation’s roads, which already need widespread investment and maintenance, will certainly be strained this holiday season. But don’t think you are off the hook if you aren’t traveling by car. According to Airlines for America (A4A), air travel is expected to increase by 2.5 percent from last year—the equivalent of 55,000 more passengers a day. Fortunately, airlines are prepared for the increase.  For example, U.S. Airlines will offer 74,000 more seats over the holidays than last year. Amtrak has also made preparations for this year’s travel season by adding more trains and extra seats on routes in the Northeast, Midwest and on the West Coast. In 2015, Amtrak served more than 751,000 customers during the Thanksgiving holiday, and demand estimates are similar for this year. Whether you are taking a car, plane or train, you will be relying on our nation’s transportation infrastructure at a time when it’s being stretched to capacity. To ensure adequate and stable funding for America’s roads, bridges and transit, we must #FixTheTrustFund. Hopefully the new administration will make this a priority.

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California’s Orange County Infrastructure Isn’t Improving

July 21st, 2016 | By: America's Infrastructure Report Card

The Orange County Branch of the American Society of Civil Engineers today released its 2016 Orange County Infrastructure Report Card, grading 12 categories of the county’s infrastructure, resulting in an overall grade point average of “C+.” The Report Card was developed in collaboration with the UC Irvine Civil and Environmental Engineering Affiliates, an advisory group to the UCI Samueli School’s Civil and Environmental Engineering Department. A team of professional engineers from Orange County assessed the 12 categories, including Aviation (A-), Electric Power (C-), Flood Control & Levees (C-), Ground Transportation (C), Natural Gas (B-), Oil (B-), Parks, Recreation & Environment (C+), School Facilities (C), Solid Waste (B), Surface Water Quality (D+), Wastewater (B), and Water Supply (B). This is the fourth Orange County Infrastructure Report Card. The first, released in 2002, gave the county’s infrastructure a GPA of “C;” in subsequent releases in 2005 and 2010, the GPA has stayed constant at a “C+.” “In this first assessment of Orange County’s infrastructure since the 2008 recession, we found that while some areas have improved incrementally, others have declined, leaving our overall GPA stalled for more than a decade,” said Yaz Emrani, P.E., OC Infrastructure Report Card Chair. “Since our infrastructure works as a system, it’s important that Orange County increase investment so that we can move our infrastructure from ‘catching up’ to ‘ready for the future.’” The 2016 Orange County Infrastructure Report Card finds that much of the county’s infrastructure needs additional investment to keep up with demand. Of note:
  • While commercial traffic at John Wayne Airport approaches the current negotiated passenger limit of 10.8 million annual passengers until 2020, both general aviation and military demand fall short of meeting Orange County’s available capacity.
  • Funding shortfalls for needed upgrades to bring regional flood control facilities in the county to its standards continue to be in excess of $2.7 billion.
  • Deferred maintenance during the recent recession has exacerbated ground transportation needs. The existing funding sources are inadequate to meet the current and future demand, and it is estimated Orange County needs an additional $133 million annually.
  • The condition of school facilities has declined in the past five years due to lack of funding.
  • Due to increased volume of stormwater runoff during storm events, existing surface water quality infrastructure in Orange County does not have nearly the capacity to meet wet weather demands.
Given these infrastructure challenges, the Orange County Branch of the American Society of Civil Engineers urges a number of recommendations to raise the grades, including:
  • Performing continuous and timely maintenance on the infrastructure to prolong use and minimize the need for costly repairs.
  • Conducting comprehensive planning and long-term investment to ensure sound decisions about infrastructure.
  • Preserving the environment while fostering economic growth and personal mobility.
To view the full Orange County report, visit www.ASCECAReportCard.org.

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Florida’s Infrastructure Needs to Keep up with Growth

July 14th, 2016 | By: America's Infrastructure Report Card

1Impact of Florida’s Infrastructure

Infrastructure is the backbone of Florida’s economy and a necessary part of every Floridian’s day. The Florida Section of the American Society of Civil Engineers released the 2016 Report Card for Florida’s Infrastructure on Thursday, July 14. The report includes an evaluation of the state’s aviation, bridges, coastal areas, drinking water, energy, ports, roads, schools, stormwater, transit, and wastewater (see grades below).

Keeping Up With Growth

One of the key findings from this report is that Florida is growing, and the State’s infrastructure needs a growth spurt of its own to keep up. Recently Florida’s population has grown at a rate of about 1% per year, adding about 1 million people, which is the equivalent of adding a city the size of Jacksonville every 5 years. Some cities and counties are stepping up their efforts, but more needs to be done across the state by every infrastructure owner. The good news is that investments in areas like bridges and smart technology investment solutions seen in ports and airports are raising Florida’s grades. As Florida grows, investing in infrastructure must be Florida’s top priority to continue to be the place people want to live and work as well as attract visitors from around the country and the world.  

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FAA Reauthorization Waiting on the House

May 4th, 2016 | By: Laura Hale

There are just 73 days remaining until the Federal Aviation Administration’s (FAA) authorization expires. Reauthorizing legislation has been in the works for months, but has a long way to go before it lands on the President’s desk. The FAA’s current authorization was set to expire March 31, but Congress bought itself some extra time by passing a bill in March to extend the authorization to July 15. Last month the U.S. Senate passed a $33 billion bill (HR 636) to reauthorize the FAA until September 30, 2017, but the U.S. House of Representatives has not taken action on it yet.   The House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee passed Chairman Bill Shuster’s (R-PA) own FAA reauthorization bill (HR 4441) in February, but the bill did not progress on the House floor. That bill contained Rep. Shuster’s controversial proposal to split off the FAA’s air traffic control operations into a private, nonprofit organization. Rep. Shuster has said he is still interested in pursuing air traffic control privatization, but will need a few more weeks to decide how to proceed. HR 636 increases funding for the Airport Improvement Program (AIP), the federal grant program that is one of the principle sources of funding for airport capital improvements, from $3.35 billion to $3.75 billion for FY17. The bill does not modify the $4.50 cap on Passenger Facility Charges (PFCs). PFCs are fees airports can collect from every departing passenger and use to fund federally approved capital improvement projects. The current cap has not been changed since 2001 and infrastructure advocates, including ASCE, have called for the cap to be increased or removed so that airports can invest in their own facilities. ASCE’s 2013 Report Card for America’s Infrastructure gave the nation’s aviation system a D. America’s aviation infrastructure has not kept pace with its residents’ appetite for air travel. Commercial enplanements were about 33 million higher in number in 2011 than in 2000. Outdated and insufficient aviation infrastructure costs Americans households and businesses money. The FAA estimates that the national cost of airport congestion and delays was almost $22 billion in 2012. In order to ensure American travelers and goods can continue to move around the country quickly and efficiently, the U.S. needs to invest far more in its aviation infrastructure. The latest Airports Council International–North America (ACI-NA) Capital Needs Survey estimates airports will have $75.7 billion in capital needs between 2015 and 2019. HR 636’s provisions to increase funding for the AIP would help airports make some of the investments they need.

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Infrastructure in the News: Investing in how we move people and goods

April 8th, 2016 | By: Olivia Wolfertz

Airline legislation, port investment and more states vocalizing the need for infrastructure investment mark this week’s infrastructure headlines. According to The Hill, the long-term reauthorization of Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) programs overcame a major hurdle Wednesday. The Senate’s reauthorization bill would green-light FAA programs through September 2017, addressing airport security issues and more. In addition to addressing aviation needs, this week has thrust a major spotlight on the value and investment needs of our nation’s ports. This week the American Association of Port Authorities announced that its members intend to spend over $150 billion in combined infrastructure investments by 2020. The association’s president and CEO, Kurt Nangle, said that “infrastructure investments in America’s seaports and their intermodal connections—both on the land and in the water—are in our nation’s best interest because they provide opportunities to bolster our economy, create and sustain jobs, enhance our international competitiveness.” Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx expanded about the importance of ports in our nation’s competitiveness, asserting how the looming population growth will affect our freight patterns and flows, which will in turn spill over into our roads and highways. He reiterates how much our ports and highways are interconnected, and both need to be modernized and expanded in order to serve our nation’s needs properly. Many states are taking steps to increase infrastructure funding, either through legislation to raise their state gas tax or expressing their frustration with the state of their own roads and bridges. In Illinois, lawmakers are considering raising the gas tax to better maintain roads—a key part of the state’s economy given its location and use as a freight thoroughfare. In Alabama, lawmakers are looking to increase the state’s gas by six cents, costing the average driver five dollars more per month, and vow to put every dime to road improvements. This week TRIP released a report on Oklahoma’s roads,  finding it costs drivers in the state $4.9 billion a year because of higher vehicle operating costs, traffic crashes and congestion-related delays, strongly indicating the state’s need to increase funding. Many other states, like California, Idaho, Michigan, Minnesota, Mississippi and more are voicing increased discontentment with their roads and bridges and are continuing conversations about a solution. In order to meet the increasing demands of our nation’s road, bridge and port needs, it is important to find a long-term, sustainable funding source for surface transportation before the FAST Act expires.

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Infrastructure in the News: Transit, Aviation

April 1st, 2016 | By: Olivia Wolfertz

Massive transit repairs, aviation reform and increased desire for innovation mark this week’s infrastructure headlines. After discussion about the D.C. subway system’s much-needed maintenance, Metro’s top officials warned the public that they may shut down entire rail lines for as long as six months. While this situation could cause inconvenience and frustration, it stands as another in a very long list of examples of the need to invest in our nation’s infrastructure. Chicago’s transit authority underwent a similar reconstruction in 2014, shutting down their red line for five months, where they invested $425 million into rebuilding 10.2 miles of rail.  This ultimately resulted in increased ridership and shaved off travel time for riders. It is encouraging that transit authorities are taking time to address these issues. The U.S. Department of Transportation’s Bureau of Transportation Statistics (BTS) reported on Monday that U.S. airlines and foreign airlines serving the U.S. carried an all-time high number of passengers in 2015. It is critical, therefore, that our airports are prepared to support this growing number of passengers. The Senate Commerce Committee is making steady progress on a potential bipartisan version of FAA reauthorization legislation. When the Senate returns next week, it could be among the legislation considered by the full chamber. While maintenance for transit, aviation and our roads and bridges may not be as glamorous as new innovations, it is critical to remember that existing infrastructure needs to be coupled with new innovations. For example, self-driving cars are reportedly having issues driving on our beleaguered roads, and in some cases are unable to operate because they can’t recognize the faded road markings. It is important that all levels of government demonstrate leadership and look for ways to ensure that our aging infrastructure gets the investment it warrants nationwide.  

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Infrastructure in the News: Big Week for Aviation and Water

February 5th, 2016 | By: Olivia Wolfertz

This week improving our nation’s aviation and water infrastructure were the focus of conversation on Capitol Hill. With a new aviation reform bill, the Aviation Innovation, Reform and Reauthorization (AIRR) Act, proposed to Congress, the nation’s aviation needs are receiving some attention that’s long overdue. According to the bill’s author, Rep. Bill Shuster, two-thirds of our 20 largest airport hubs experience delays, and the economic costs of congestion and delays, including the impacts on passengers, top $30 billion per year. The AIRR Act would reauthorize the nation’s civil aviation programs, including air traffic control and infrastructure funding. Of most interest to ASCE, the bill increases authorized funding for the Airport Improvement Program (AIP) to $3.8 billion by 2022. This would be the first funding growth for the AIP in over a decade, which is much needed to improve the country’s “D” grade for aviation. On a different front, Representatives Earl Blumenauer (D-OR), John Duncan (R-TN) and Richard Hanna (R-NY) introduced the bipartisan Water Investment Trust Fund Act, which would provide funding to replace, repair and rehabilitate critical wastewater and drinking water infrastructure. ASCE will be working with member of Congress to advance this legislation. As our infrastructure ages, we need to continue to invest in it. Therefore, it is critical that elected leaders at the federal, state and local levels continue to prioritize investment into the backbone of our economy.

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Trust Fund Patches Won't Patch Potholes

May 22nd, 2015 | By: Olivia Wolfertz

Just in time for the start of summer travel and construction season, the Highway Trust Fund received yet another short-term extension this week. Congress has “punted” once again on passing a long-term highway and transit funding solution until July 31, 2015. This short-term patch is just the latest of temporary solution over the past six years. The Atlantic discussed Congress’ short-term patch response to extending the Highway Trust Fund another two months as a bipartisan issue. Senator James Inhofe (R-OK) told the Huffington Post that his own party was to blame for the absence of long-term solution and that a “true conservative” would support federal spending for roads and bridges. With funds dwindling, states are worried about the lack of federal funding for summer construction projects, announcing that construction projects like the Ashford Avenue Bridge Project and $36 million worth of projects in Montana could suffer if the Federal Highway Trust Fund expires. Wisconsin Public Radio used the recent Amtrak derailment to underscore the importance of addressing our nation’s infrastructure needs. ASCE’s Senior Managing Director Casey Dinges, who spoke on the program, stressed the importance of learning from past infrastructure calamities, noting that, “those events do capture the public’s attention, and regardless of the causes of some of these incidences, it does create an opportunity for people to talk about infrastructure needs.” With Memorial Day approaching May 25, our highway, bridge and aviation infrastructure will be put to the test. AAA Mid-Atlantic expects more than 800,000 area residents to be traveling at least 50 miles between Thursday and Monday, which is the most for any Memorial Day weekend in a decade. The increased number of vehicles on the nation’s deteriorating highways will undoubtedly also have safety implications. According to ASCE’s Report Card, roadway conditions are a significant factor in approximately one-third of all U.S. traffic fatalities and cost the U.S. economy $230 billion each year. In addition to roads, air transportation is also in need of tremendous investment and modernization. The House of Representatives released a report of U.S. airports, showing how they have failed to keep up with passenger capacity needs. The report highlights the significant challenges airports face during peak travel periods and delays due to inclement weather. Despite these unresolved issues, passenger fees continue to rise. Upgrade My Airport has released a petition to persuade Congress to upgrade our airports. Because infrastructure affects each one of us every day it is critical that Congress feels the pressure to come up with a long-term, sustainable funding solution and pass a multiyear bill by the end of July. If you want to get involved, please write to members of Congress why they need to fix the Highway Trust Fund.

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