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

Democrats’ Infrastructure Blueprint Furthers Legislative Conversation

January 26th, 2017 | By: Becky Moylan

Days after President Trump was the first to use the word “infrastructure” in an inaugural address, Senate Democrats doubled-down on his promise to invest in infrastructure by offering their own plan to increase investment by $1 trillion over 10 years, and purportedly create more than 15 million new jobs in the process. The plan, led by Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) and dubbed “A Blueprint to Rebuild America’s Infrastructure,” proposes many investments that ASCE has advocated for over the last two decades, including in the 2013 Infrastructure Report Card. The obvious one is increased investment. At $1 trillion—a figure originally proposed by President Trump during his campaign—this or a similar plan would go a long way in closing the $1.6 trillion infrastructure investment gap. The “Blueprint” also emphasizes addressing backlogged needs, which have been growing for far too long and are at the root of our nation’s “D+” infrastructure. The “Blueprint” offers a good start to furthering our lawmakers’ dialogue on what a large infrastructure bill should include, and how our nation can wisely invest $1 trillion, ensuring ROI and addressing our significant infrastructure needs. In particular, the “Blueprint’s” approach of dividing investment across the 16 categories of infrastructure is important to improving the entirety of the interdependent infrastructure system. But to make the most of this substantial of an investment with an eye on the future, it will be even more important to select the right projects. ASCE has outlined its vision for what a large infrastructure investment bill should include in our “Principles for Infrastructure Investment.” We will rely on these “Principles” to engage Congress as it reacts to the “Blueprint” and considers a path forward on this critical economic and social issue, balancing needed investment with judicious planning to effectively address our infrastructure needs. Here are some of the highlights of how the Senate Democrats’ “Blueprint” breaks down from ASCE’s perspective*:
  • $210 billion for roads and bridges – ASCE recently identified surface transportation as the infrastructure area with the largest unfunded need.
  • $10 billion to expand TIGER – Increasing funding into proven programs is an excellent way to ensure that the investment is used effectively.
  • $110 billion for water and sewer – The “Blueprint” notes that underinvestment has happened in our drinking and wastewater infrastructure in part because of a hesitancy to increase water rates. An infusion of additional funding will help bring these systems back up to where they need to be for Americans’ safety and quality of life.
  • $180 billion for rail and bus – Divided into $130 billion for public transit and $50 billion for rail, which will include acceleration of implementing Positive Train Control.
  • $200 billion for transformative projects – Vital Infrastructure Projects (VIPs) as the “Blueprint” calls them would help to elevate not just the quality of our infrastructure, but also put us on a strong path for the future.
  • $75 billion for schools – Most of our school buildings were built to originally teach baby boomers and modernization is desperately needed so that schools can prepare students for the 21st
  • $65 billion for ports, inland waterways, and airports – Broken down to $30 billion for airports, including through the effective Airport Improvement Program (AIP) and to implement NextGen, $10 billion for dredging, lock maintenance and other needs for ports and inland waterways, and $25 billion to build more resilient communities, which ASCE has highlighted the importance of as one of its eight key criteria when assessing infrastructure.
  • $100 billion for energy – Including upgrades in transmission and distribution, along with increased resilience.
  • $20 billion for public lands – Directed in part to increased funding for the National Park Service, which infamously has had challenges maintaining its infrastructure, including the iconic Arlington Memorial Bridge.
  • $10 billion in seed money for an “IBank” – Expected to be $100 billion for infrastructure once fully leveraged, this would be a way to test the Infrastructure Bank concept on the national level. The Blueprint also notes the need to protect WIFIA and TIFIA, two programs that like TIGER have proven value and should be used to ensure strategic investment.
Missing from the proposal is funding of water resources projects authorized in WRDA14 and WIIN16. These programs would improve dams, levees, and other water resource infrastructure that are in need of improvement and would benefit from an infusion of investment. One other major sticking point when it comes to federal infrastructure investment: How to pay for it. Democrats maintain the proposal’s $1 trillion investment would be covered by closing tax loopholes.  Under its “Principles,” ASCE supports infrastructure investment from all levels of government and the private sector. Ultimately, our nation needs a long-term, sustainable funding solution for all areas of infrastructure. A down payment to modernize our infrastructure that is funded, not just financed, will put us on the right track. *Italicized text notes ASCE’s comments on specific parts of the proposal based on ASCE Public Policy Statements.

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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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Stakeholders Weighing on Final Water Resources Package

November 3rd, 2016 | By: Whitford Remer

As the last remaining standalone infrastructure bill with a chance of becoming law this year, stakeholders for the Water Resources Development Act (WRDA) of 2016 are beginning to double down on their priorities by weighing in with the leaders charged with reconciling difference in the House passed and Senate passed versions. The House and Senate both passed WRDA bills before heading home for the campaign season. Here are a few letters infrastructure stakeholders have sent to Committee Leadership this week to help get this bill cross the finish line and become law   Full Use of Harbor Maintenance Trust Fund Groups such as the National Manufacturing Association, American Society of Civil Engineers and American Association of Port Authorities signed a letter to advance language in Sec. 2003 of S.2848, which would ensure that the Harbor Maintenance Trust Fund is allocated the fullest extent practicable each year. Drinking Water and Clean Water Organizations representing the nation’s drinking water and wastewater utilities, including the American Society of Civil Engineers, National Association of Clean Water Administrators and Association for Metropolitan Water Agencies urged congress to adopt Title VII of S.2848, which would provide important policy changes and authorizations to improve our nations drinking water and wastewater infrastructure. Natural and Nature Based Features Conservation groups, such as the Nature Conservancy and engineering groups like CH2M and the American Society of Civil Engineers teamed up to support language in the House WRDA bill that promote the use of natural and nature based features in water resources development projects. In addition to stakeholder letters, several Senators sent a letter to the chairs and ranking members of the Environment & Public Works Committee and the Transportation & Infrastructure Committee encouraging inclusion of the dam rehabilitation provision. The House and Senate have just a few short weeks to reconcile the differences in their respective WRDA bills, but a 95-3 vote in the Senate and 399-25 vote in the House, we’re confident Congress will send a new WRDA bill to President Obama before the end of the year.

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A Plan for Aging Dams

October 20th, 2016 | By: Becky Moylan

Earlier this week, the Center for American Progress(CAP) released a report on U.S. dams, Aging Dams and Clogged Rivers: An Infrastructure Plan for U.S. Waterways. The report makes the economic case for the need to increase investment in our infrastructure, citing ASCE’s Failure to Act economic study that found we’re currently paying about half our nation’s infrastructure bill across 10 categories of infrastructure. It also points to the safety risks of this underinvestment, particularly given the “D” grade for our nation’s dams in the 2013 Report Card for America’s Infrastructure. The report was released with a panel discussion with stakeholders ranging from the Nez Perce Tribe to the Deputy Secretary of the Interior. Dams tend to be among the more forgotten pieces of infrastructure, given attention primarily when something goes wrong. This report is helping to raise awareness about the importance of dam infrastructure, and the challenges our nation’s 84,000 aging dams are facing. While many dams perform useful purposes, such as drinking water, irrigation, hydropower, flood control, and recreation. However, others have outlived their useful lives, no longer serving the purpose for which they were intended. Repairing, rehabilitating, and removing dams is costly. The Association of State Dam Safety Officials estimates that it will require an investment of $21 billion to repair aging, yet critical, high-hazard dams. But there are solutions that can help address these challenges, increasing our dam safety. One is in Senate’s version of the Water Resources Development Act (WRDA), which creates a national dam rehabilitation program to repair, rehabilitate, and remove non-federal dams. It is now up to the leaders of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee and House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee to include this valuable program in the final version of the bill. CAP’s report also includes policy recommendations to increase our dam safety, including incentivizing the removal of obsolete dams and modernizing dams the are providing useful service. Stay tuned to find out if the National Dam Rehabilitation Program comes to fruition.

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WRDA Passes The House

September 29th, 2016 | By: Whitford Remer

The U.S. House of Representatives passed H.R. 5303 the Water Resources Development Act of 2016 late yesterday afternoon by a vote of 399-25. The $11.5 billion bill authorizes over three dozen Army Corps of Engineers flood control, navigation and ecosystem restoration projects and studies across the country.  In addition to the base text reported out of the House Transportation and Infrastructure (T&I) Committee nearly 40 amendments were added to the bill on the House floor. The final amendment to the bill authorizes $170 million in aid for Flint, Michigan to assist with the drinking water crisis. For months Congress has been struggling with how to respond to the drinking water issue in Flint. At one point earlier this week, democrats were prepared to shut down the government unless the Flint issue was resolved. Around midnight Tuesday, leaders agreed to address Flint in the House WRDA bill, which cleared the way for both short term government spending bill and gave WRDA the votes necessary to pass. Prior to the Flint amendment, democrats threatened to block the bill because another provision requiring funds in the Harbor Maintenance Trust Fund (HMTF) to be spent every year was stripped out last minute. Democrats led by T&I Ranking Member Peter Defazio (D-OR) wanted to ensure the HMTF was used to the fullest extent each year, whereas now its funds are subject to an unpredictable annual appropriations process. The House WRDA bill is much narrower than the version passed in the Senate two weeks ago by a vote of 95-3. The Senate bill includes a similar list of Army Corps projects, $220 million for Flint and an entirely separate title dedicated to improving the nations drinking water and clean water infrastructure. The additional water infrastructure programs will be the subject of intense the negotiations between Senate and House staff while Congress is home campaigning prior to the November election. When congress returns for the lame duck session in December, the hope is there will be agreement on a WRDA bill that both chambers can easily pass and send to the President’s desk. Congress has committed to passing a WRDA bill every two years, with the last one passing in 2014. Prior to that WRDA bills passed in 2007 and 2000.

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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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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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Infrastructure in the News: Summer Infrastructure Priorities

June 24th, 2016 | By: Olivia Wolfertz

With the start of summer, Congress is eyeing a long recess and construction season is in full swing, drawing increased attention to our surface transportation and water infrastructure needs. It is no secret to the American public that our infrastructure greatly needs TLC. That is why states like New Jersey are fighting so hard to get a transportation budget passed that would increase the state gas tax and provide a 10-year, $20 billion plan to invest in roads, bridges, rail and other infrastructure. It also explains why states like Wisconsin, Illinois and Tennessee are lamenting their lack of funding for much needed infrastructure improvement projects. Even in our nation’s capital, the subway system is undergoing tedious maintenance and the iconic Memorial Bridge is facing potential closure in five years due to increased vulnerability and lack of maintenance, and not enough funding to fix it. On a more positive note, there are many states that are making steps toward not only funding their infrastructure but advancing and innovating their cities. In fact, the city of Columbus, Ohio, recently beat out 77 other cities to win the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Smart City challenge, which awarded them $40 million to kick off new transportation strategies. ASCE’s Gamechangers report lists a myriad of inspirational, innovative infrastructure accomplishments that remind us what can be accomplished when we make the investment. Speaking of moving forward, remind your Senators to pass the Water Resources Development Act of 2016 (WRDA; S.2848) before they recess for the summer, which would authorize funding for our nation’s flood control, navigation and ecosystem restoration projects. Because water infrastructure is so critical to our nation’s health and prosperity, passing this legislation would be a great step forward in preserving our water resources and more than 90 groups came together this week to share that sentiment with the Senate via a letter.

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National Dam Safety Awareness Day 2016: Safety of Dams and Safety at Dams

May 31st, 2016 | By: Infrastructure Report Card

By Lori C. Spragens, Executive Director, Association of State Dam Safety Officials AgeTotalPopCenters-DamsToday, May 31, is National Dam Safety Awareness Day. The day commemorates when the South Fork Dam failed on May 31, 1889, sending a deadly rush of water and debris into the city of Johnstown, Pennsylvania.  Commonly known as the Johnstown Flood, the disaster destroyed much of the city and took the lives of more than 2,200 people. Caused by human error and indifference, it is one of the worst human tragedies experienced in U.S. history. National Dam Safety Awareness Day is also an opportunity to better educate elected leaders and the public about the importance of dam safety, including having Emergency Action plans for high-hazard dams. The upcoming anniversary of another landmark and tragic dam failure echoes the need to learn lessons from history. On June 5, 1976, Teton Dam in Idaho broke, inundating over 300 square miles and killing 11 people. The flood resulted in hundreds of millions of dollars in property damage, as well as extensive environmental damages. Faulty decision making played a leading role in these catastrophes, both of which could have been prevented with better planning, more communication, and more humility. The good news is lessons learned from Johnstown and Teton have been applied to the establishment and improvement of dam safety programs at federal and state agencies throughout the U.S. Yet lack of dam owner vigilance and awareness continues. Over 65 percent of known dams in the U.S. are owned privately. Many dams determined to be deficient (there are over 4,000 in the U.S.) are not getting the upgrades needed to improve public safety. Many times this is due to a lack of funding and understanding of the risk. Lack of awareness also contributes enormously to a danger posed by dams: including the hydraulic currents around them. This year, National Dam Safety Awareness Day will focus on encouraging swimmers and boaters to remain safe around dams. Last year, at least 25 people drowned at dam sites across the U.S., and the trend is continuing this year, with at least 12 deaths reported in Alabama, Colorado, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Tennessee, Texas, Virginia, and Wisconsin. Several federal agencies and 49 states have statutes creating dam safety programs.  Alabama is the only state without a dam safety program. These programs all share a common goal of safety of dams; striving to reduce the risk of catastrophic dam failures such as the Johnstown and Teton failures.  No such nationwide initiative exists, however, to address the topic of recreational safety at dams; only a few states have directly confronted the issue. Another challenge facing the nation’s aging dams is inadequate funding. The proposed Senate WRDA legislation has an opportunity to address that through a new dam rehabilitation funding assistance program. The program would authorize grants to go toward dam rehab. It will help dam owners who lack funding to rehabilitate, repair, or remove a high hazard potential dams, which are at risk of failure.

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