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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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A Big WIIN For Water Resources

December 15th, 2016 | By: Whitford Remer

Shortly after 1:30 a.m. on Saturday, Dec. 10, the U.S. Senate passed the Water Infrastructure Improvements for the Nation (WIIN) Act, which included a Water Resources Development Act (WRDA) title by a vote of 78-21. The vote was one of the final acts of the 114th Congress. The House passed the same bill a few days earlier by a vote of 360-61.President Obama is expected to sign the bill in the next few days. This bill had been months—and in some ways years—in the making. Since the beginning WIIN Thank Youof this year, ASCE has been actively working on getting a water resources bill passed, and restoring it to a two-year cycle. In February, ASCE provided Congressional testimony before both the Senate and House on the importance of passing a new water resources bill. The final bill includes several of our priorities, including the creation of a High Hazard Dam Rehabilitation program and other important infrastructure programs, including authorization of 30 new projects for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. ASCE members sent nearly 5,000 emails to Capitol Hill urging passage during the final days of debate on the bill. Those final few days before the bill’s passage were fraught with consternation as a provision inserted last minute to assist with drought relief to western states rattled environmentalists and the bill’s primary Democratic author, California Senator Barbara Boxer, who worried that water transfers could affect the health of fishery populations. Those concerns did peel off nearly two dozen democratic votes in the Senate, however, the bill ultimately passed with strong bipartisan support. While Congress has vowed to pass a water resources bill every two years (the last one passed in 2014, but before that 2007) the authorization components of the bill still must be funded through annual appropriations. The 114th Congress concluded by passing a continuing resolution (CR) to keep the government open and running through April 2017. This sort of stopgap funding measure is not the type of major injections of infrastructure investment necessary to reduce the estimated $1.6 trillion infrastructure funding gap that is expected by 2020.  We are hopeful that the 115th Congress will work diligently to fund infrastructure programs and increase federal appropriations to important programs. In the meantime, thank your Members of Congress who voted for WIIN by sending an email. For more, read Congress Unveils Compromise Water Resources Bill

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Congress Unveils Compromise Water Resources Bill

December 6th, 2016 | By: Whitford Remer

Congressional negotiators released a newly rebranded water infrastructure bill this week after months of hashing out differences between their respective Water Resources Development Acts (S.2848 and H.R.5303) that each chamber passed earlier this year. The new bill, dubbed the Water Infrastructure Improvements for the Nation Act or WIIN Act not only includes a traditional Army Corps project authorization title, but also other water infrastructure programs such as aid to Flint, Mich. to assist in lead pipe replacement and provisions to help California with drought relief.  The American Society of Civil Engineers sent letters of support to House and Senate leadership. The compromise bill also includes a high-hazard dam rehabilitation and repair program, which was included in the original Senate version of WRDA that passed by a vote of 95-3. Here a few selected sections to keep an eye on: Title I: Water Resources Development Act of 2016 (Army Corps of Engineers projects) Sec. 1108 Funding for Harbor Maintenance Programs Changes the Harbor Maintenance Trust Fund (HMTF) formula established in WRRDA 2014 to ensure distribution of funds will be 3% higher than the total resources from the year before.  This ensures that distributions continue to increase, year-over-year, until 100% distribution of the funds in the HMTF are used for their intended purpose. Sec. 1111 Harbor Deepening Allows for a 75 percent federal share on harbor deepening projects up to 50 feet. With new Post-Panamax size ships entering U.S. ports, this provision allows a 75 percent federal cost-share for new construction (not just maintenance) up to 50 feet deep. The federal share was previously 50 percent for new construction deeper than 45 feet. Sec. 1122 Beneficial Use of Dredged Material Establishes a new pilot program for the beneficial use of dredge material. The pilot program allows the Army Corps to undertake 10 projects that would use dredge material for reducing storm surge, promote public safety, enhance aquatic habitat and stabilize shorelines. Importantly, the extra cost of using the material will be covered by the Corps, rather than the non-federal sponsor. Sec. 1184 Considerations of Measures Requires the Corps, in consultation with a non-federal project sponsor to consider the use of natural and nature based features for costal water resources projects. Title II: Water and Wastewater Act of 2016 Sec. 2101 Sense of Congress on Appropriation of Levels While it’s not compulsory, this section provides language that supports a theme President-Elect Trump supports: increasing appropriations to the Drinking Water State Revolving Fund. Sec. 2201 Drinking Water Infrastructure Provides funds to assist Flint, Michigan to replace lead service lines. Sec. 2202 Sense of Congress Provides $20,000,000 for Water Infrastructure Finance and Innovation Act. Title III: Natural Resources Sec. 3801 Reauthorization of Water Desalination Act of 1996 Reauthorizes $40 million for research, design and construction program to advance desalination. Sec. 5006 Rehabilitation of High Hazard Potential Dams Establishes a high hazard dam repair, rehabilitation or removal grant program under the Federal Emergency Management Agency. Authorized at $445 million over ten years. Stay tuned to the @ASCEgovrel Twitter for progress on the bill in the coming days.

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Help Get WRDA Finished

December 2nd, 2016 | By: Becky Moylan

With plans for Congress to adjourn at the end of next week, the Water Resources Development Act of 2016 is still waiting for final passage. The bill is being conferenced by the House and Senate, which has been making good progress on a compromised bill that incorporates parts of each chamber’s version of WRDA. However, in the past 24 hours there have been some political roadblocks that may put a final bill in jeopardy. To help raise the grades for dams, inland waterways, levees, ports, and drinking water we need you to take action now! Call the House and Senate Leaders, House Speaker Paul Ryan, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, and Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid and ask them to move WRDA to the floor for a vote before Congress adjourns for the year. Together we can help WRDA cross the finish line in 2016, getting it back on the two-year cycle that authorizes the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and other water resources programs.

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Updates to the Federal Flood Risk Management Standard

August 31st, 2016 | By: Whitford Remer

The Federal Emergency Managed Agency (FEMA) recently released a proposed rule the could transform how the federal government funds infrastructure built in flood prone areas. The draft rule, formally known as Updates to Floodplain Management and Protection of Wetlands Regulations To Implement Executive Order 13690 and the Federal Flood Risk Management Standard was published for public comment on August 28, 2016. Under the proposed rule, FEMA Federally Funded Projects, which are actions involving the use of FEMA funds for new construction, substantial improvement, or to address substantial damage to a structure or facility would be subject to new elevation requirements. As a recent Wall Street Journal op-ed noted it “[w]hether you are an investor assessing the $2 trillion in bonds that Moody’s found carry elevated near-term climate risk, one of the nearly two million U.S. homeowners facing significant risk from climate-related flooding, or a U.S. taxpayer staring at $360 billion in direct government costs from extreme weather over the past decade—these threats are looming, large and increasing.” In light of these risks, the Obama Administration updated federal flood risk policy for the first time in nearly 40 years by proposing a new Federal Flood Risk Management Standard (FFRMS), which orders agencies to review how they spend federal money in flood plains. Part of the directive requires that new construction or substantial improvements made to infrastructure backed with federal money be designed and elevated using one of three methods: (1) Climate-Informed Science Approach (CISA): Utilizing the best-available, actionable hydrologic and hydraulic data and methods that integrate current and future changes in flooding based on climate science; (2) Freeboard Value Approach (FVA): Freeboard (base flood elevation + X, where X is 3 feet for critical actions and 2 feet for other actions); (3) 0.2 percent annual chance Flood Approach (0.2PFA): 0.2 percent annual chance flood (also known as the 500-year flood); or (4) the elevation and flood hazard area that result from using any other method identified in an update to the FFRMS. Agencies that have major infrastructure missions (e.g. FEMA, the Department of Transportation, the U.S.  Army Corps of Engineers, the Department of Housing and Urban Development) will be closely watched to see which methods or methods they adopt. The first agency to propose their method (via rulemaking) was FEMA, which adopted the Freeboard Value Approach as the baseline approach for both critical and non-critical FEMA Federally Funded Projects. For FEMA investments that are critical actions, the agency would use the Freeboard Value Approach to establish the minimum elevation and allow optional use of the Climate-Informed Science Approach if the elevation is higher than the Freeboard Value Approach. While the FFRMS marks a significant change in federal policy relating to flood resilient design and risk mitigation, the truth is stronger building codes have been adopted by states and local government for decades and the federal government is just now playing catch up. According to FEMA, 22 States and 596 localities have adopted freeboard requirements ranging from 1 to 3 feet. Finally, FEMA expects the expected increase in costs for the new elevation requirement to save both time and money in disaster recovery. Comments on the FEMA rule are being accepted through the federal register through October 21, 2016 using Freeboard Value Approach to establish the elevation and FFRMS floodplain for FEMA Federally Funded Projects that are non-critical actions

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New Report Highlights Limitations of National Levee Safety Initiative

August 17th, 2016 | By: Whitford Remer

The Government Accountability Office (GAO) published a new report surveying the progress the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) have made carrying out the National Levee Safety Program. The conclusion: the Agencies “have made little progress in implementing key national levee-safety-related activities required in the Water Resources Reform and Development Act of 2014.” The reason: lack of funding and higher priorities for other programs. Congress passed the Water Resources Reform and Development Act of 2014 (WRRDA) in June 2014.  WRRDA requires the Corps and FEMA to manage national levee-safety-related activities, including establishing voluntary national levee-safety guidelines and providing financial and technical assistance to nonfederal stakeholders that take actions to promote levee safety. WRRDA authorizes $395 million to support levee safety initiatives over five years, yet not a single dollar has been appropriated for the program, nor has the program been prioritized in the President’s Budget Request in the last three fiscal year cycles. As flooding continues to threaten communities across the county, establishing a national levee safety program could provide much needed coordination, raise risk awareness, provide funding for inventory/inspection and lay the groundwork for a levee rehabilitation and repair program. As the proverbial saying goes, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.

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Talk to your Members of Congress About Infrastructure this Recess

July 21st, 2016 | By: Becky Moylan

Members of Congress headed home (and to their respective national conventions last week) and won’t return to Washington until after Labor Day. This gives you, as an infrastructure advocate, the opportunity to talk with your federal lawmakers about our nation’s “D+” infrastructure and specific legislation that they can pass this year to help improve it. The first is the Water Resources Development Act (WRDA). The Senate version of this bill authorizes 25 U.S. Army Corps of Engineers projects in 17 states. It would also authorize a much needed dam rehabilitation program. The House also has a version of this bill, which has a narrower scope. WRDA bills are most effective when they are passed every two years. Since the last was signed into law in the summer of 2014, it’s time for Congress to pass another bill. If you’re going to see one of your Senators or Representative and want to talk about WRDA, check out this more extensive backgrounder on the WRDA bills S. 2848 and H.R. 5303. With the passage of the FAST Act last December, many Members of Congress feel like they can ignore surface transportation for another 4.5 years. Help us remind them they can’t! Because the gas tax rate has not kept up with inflation, the Highway Trust Fund (HTF) has been on the brink of insolvency many times in the past several years. Instead of addressing the HTF’s long-term solvency problem, Congress has relied on general funds transfers for the pas t eight years to prop up the fund, including most recently in the FAST Act. Congress needs to take action to fix the trust fund and ensure its long-term stability. Congressional leaders have been talking about doing a big push on tax reform next year. Remind your Members of Congress to include the HTF.
ASCE State Advoacy Captain Stephan Durham and Rep Jody Hice (GA-R)

ASCE State Advoacy Captain Stephan Durham and Rep Jody Hice (GA-R)

Another piece of legislation important to our nation’s infrastructure is the FAA reauthorization bill. The bill has been undergoing a series of short-term extensions as of late and while a 14.5-month reauthorization bill was just enacted, it did nothing to address our underinvestment in aviation infrastructure. As you travel this summer, there’s a good chance you saw an airport that could use some upgrades—as aviation received a “D” grade in the Report Card. Congress can help fix our airports by increasing funding for the Airport Improvement Program (AIP), which is a major source of cash for infrastructure upgrades. They should also increase or even eliminate the cap Passenger Facility Charges (PFC)—user fees levied by airports you pay when you book a flight. Right now PFCs are capped at $4.50 per trip segment, which hasn’t been modified since 2001. Raising or eliminating the cap would allow airports to invest in themselves to the benefit of air travelers. Ask your Senators and Representative to pass a long-term FAA bill that invests in America’s aviation future. To ensure our infrastructure has engineers to design, build, and maintain it in the future, talk to your Members of Congress about the Pre-College Engineering Education Act (H.R. 5679). This bill focuses on engineering part of STEM, and would introduce students to modern engineering tools such as computer-aided design while underscoring the value of professional licensure. If you’re interested of seizing summer recess to talk to your federal lawmakers, here’s a few ways to participate:
  • Visit your Senators’ and Representative’s websites to find out what public events they have scheduled
  • Call your Members of Congress’ District Office and ask to schedule a meeting
  • Use our online advocacy website to send emails to your Members of Congress on these and other infrastructure issues
  • Invite your Members of Congress to come to your group’s meeting (e.g. ASCE section event, PTA, Rotary Club)
  • And, if you’re lucky enough to have a more personal connection with a Member, take a few minutes to discuss infrastructure issues and why they matter at your neighborhood barbecue.
Election Day is not the only way to have your voice be heard. Take these next few weeks to share your thoughts with our nation’s lawmakers and tell them it’s time to invest in our infrastructure—because it will save the typical American family $3,400 a year.  

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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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Momentum for Water Resources Bill Builds; 30 Republican Senators Urge Floor Time

June 30th, 2016 | By: Whitford Remer

While gun control and a Puerto Rico debt restructuring package were the central focus of the Senate in the last 10 legislative days, momentum for bringing a major, bipartisan water resources bill to the Senate floor before summer recess is growing in the halls of Congress. Efforts to bring S.2848 the Water Resources Development Act (WRDA), which first passed out of the Committee on Environment and Public Works (EPW) on April 28, made significant headway as 93 WRDA stakeholders urged action on the bill last week. This week that letter was followed by 30 Republican Senators sending a letter to Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) to take up the bill. The letter writes that WRDA “contains substantive reforms and authorizations that prepare our nation to compete in the global marketplace, strengthen protections for coastal and inland communities from disastrous floodwaters, modernize Corps policy to ensure efficient and effective project delivery, and create mechanisms to provide affordable clean water and safe drinking water infrastructure.” The letter from Senate Republicans went on to declare that passing WRDA 2016 would be a “victory for all Americans,” and asked that the bill be brought to the floor for passage before the summer recess. It also stated that the legislation would prove Congress can effectively provide bipartisan results to citizens, and will save taxpayers $6 million over the next decade, according to the Congressional Budget Office. Finally, on Wednesday morning Sen. James Inhofe (R-OK) – the legislation’s main sponsor – took to the Senate floor to discuss the importance of the bill. In his speech, Sen. Inhofe discussed major port deepening projects necessary for post Panamax ships, showed pictures of busted water mains and endangered ecosystems – all issues that would be aided through this bill. Calling WRDA a “must-pass bill,” Senator Inhofe emphasized the importance of returning to the original cycle of passing WRDA legislation once every two years. The Chairman of the Senate EPW Committee, Inhofe also praised several key provisions of the bill that would help communities meet their water resources needs while allowing them to prioritize the projects addressing the greatest public health risks.  Regarding the state of America’s water infrastructure, he asserted that, “This is not a partisan problem, this is a national crisis.” With a 91-7 vote on the 2014 WRDA bill, many expect this bill could garner and even stronger vote count. But the question isn’t about support for the legislation- it’s about timing. The Senate recesses on July 15th and many believe the best shot for bringing the bill to the floor is the week of July 11th as votes on immigration have been scheduled following the July 4th weekend. If the Senate does in fact take up WRDA before the summer recess, focus will shift to the House, where a much smaller and more Army Corps focused bill passed unanimously out of the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee on May 25.  

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Broad Coalition Asks Senate to Pass Water Resources Bill

June 23rd, 2016 | By: Becky Moylan

On Wednesday an initial group of 87 organizations–now up to 93–asked in a letter that the U.S. Senate pass the Water Resources Development Act of 2016 (WRDA; S.2848) before leaving for summer recess. The coalition, led by the American Society of Civil Engineers, includes a wide range of interests—demonstrating the impact that WRDA has on many industries, and the benefits of this infrastructure to Americans. Among the signers are The Nature Conservancy, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the National Association of Counties, the Labors International Union of North America, Water Environment Federation, the National League of Cities, the National Association of Manufacturers, and dozens more. Water resource bills were once viewed as so important that Congressional leaders tried to pass one every two years. The legislation is the main mechanism for authorizing new projects at the Army Corps of Engineers—the nation’s largest manager of flood control, navigation and ecosystem restoration projects. WRDA also authorizes funding for improvement projects for ports, inland harbors, waterways, dams, and flood control systems. The last bill was passed was passed in the 2014, by a 91-7 vote in the Senate and a 412-4 vote in the House. However, before 2014, the process had lapsed for seven years. By passing a bill this summer, WRDA can get back on track for an every two years cycle. You can share your support of WRDA by sending a letter to your Senators.

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