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

Author Archive

Infrastructure in the News: No Rest for Weary Infrastructure

February 17th, 2017 | By: Olivia Wolfertz

Romantic dates, the Grammy awards and celebrating black history are not the only milestones of this week; the Oroville dam crisis in California and the American Road and Transportation Builders Association (ARTBA)’s 2017 national bridge report are drawing equal media attention. The recent Oroville dam crisis in California, captured by sources like National Geographic, Los Angeles Times, The Washington Post and TIME Magazine, thrust a spotlight on our nation’s dams. According to FEMA’s National Dam Safety Program Fact Sheet, Oroville is one of more than 90,000 dams across the country that are underfunded and likewise vulnerable to overflow. According to the Association of State Dam Safety Officials (ASDSO), the average dam is more than 50 years old and more than 4,000 of them have been deemed deficient, or needing repairs. Thus, many other states are starting to pay closer attention to the state of their dams. In addition to dams, ARTBA’s new 2017 bridge report highlights our nation’s bridge needs. The report reveals that there are 185 million daily crossings on nearly 56,000 structurally deficient U.S. bridges, including 13,000 that need replacement, widening or major reconstruction. “America’s highway network is woefully underperforming. It is outdated, overused, underfunded and in desperate need of modernization,” said Alison Premo Black, chief economist of ARTBA. “State and local transportation departments haven’t been provided the resources to keep pace with the nation’s bridge needs.” With so much recent overt attention to dam and bridge infrastructure, the timing of our upcoming 2017 Report Card for America’s Infrastructure couldn’t be better. Stay tuned for more information about our nation’s infrastructure need by sector, which will be disclosed when the Report Card is released on March 9.

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Infrastructure Repairs: It Takes a Country

February 10th, 2017 | By: Olivia Wolfertz

When it comes to our nation’s infrastructure needs, nobody is unaffected. While lawmakers may  authorize funding, the conditions of local roads, bridges and transit impact all Americans.. To make the best decisions with limited funding dollars many state DOTs and other infrastructure owners are seeking community input for improving infrastructure. In Arizona, the Arizona Department of Transportation (ADOT) is seeking ideas for highway alerts that will encourage safe driving through a contest where people can submit safety messages. While this contest does not directly relate to infrastructure funding per say, it acknowledges the DOT’s willingness to listen to and include community input in making roads safer. Arizona isn’t the only state actively seeking community input on infrastructure. In Washington, D.C., DDOT allows residents to request pothole repair services by calling the mayor’s call center or submitting a request online and indicating the location and description of the pothole. In New York City, NYDOT is developing a citywide transit plan to assess the transportation needs of New Yorkers and is soliciting public opinions through a series of public input sessions and an online survey. “With input from the community, the plan will identify citywide needs, values and a shared vision, and then define priorities for enhancing transit service for our neighborhoods and connecting all residents to safe, convenient and reliable public transportation,” said NYDOT on its website. Virginia is another state that involves the community in infrastructure decisions through public hearings, meetings and events for citizens to learn about and give their opinions on transportation projects and issues. It is encouraging that state DOTs are realizing the value of community input in their infrastructure planning decisions. Find out how you can get involved and remember you can always contact your federal and state legislators for issues that can’t be resolved at the local level.

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Infrastructure in the News: Voices Rally for Infrastructure

February 3rd, 2017 | By: Olivia Wolfertz

With a new administration off to a fresh start, many organizations, elected officials and other stakeholders are seizing the chance to offer their perspectives on an infrastructure bill. Mayors from major cities across the nation recently suggested in an op-ed that the federal government prioritize distribution for infrastructure funding, modernize and expedite how projects are built, and incorporate life cycle cost into project management. Manufacturers recently testified before Congress to request that lawmakers authorize funding to restore infrastructure as it would reduce cost to consumers and improve the efficiencies of organizations and their supply chains. “If ports are clogged, trucks are delayed, power is down, or the internet has a lapse, productivity and customer service are impacted. Across the manufacturing sector, transportation logistics matter, and congestion—whether at a port or on a crowded highway—is waste that drives the consumer’s cost up like a hidden tax,” testified Mary Andringa, chair of the board for Vermeer Corp. The Association of American Railroads is also speaking out for sustainable infrastructure investments, advocating for solutions that provide long-term funding for the Highway Trust Fund. The federal government should “seek solutions that provide steady funding, avoid deferred maintenance and incorporate multiple transportation modes,” said Edward Hamberger, president and CEO of the Association of American Railroads in a recent op-ed. Scott Pattison, executive director of the bipartisan National Governor’s Association, recently said that his group, at the request of the White House, has assembled a list of 300 high-priority projects costing billions of dollars from 43 states and territories. World Resources Institute also responded to the Senate’s infrastructure plan, expressing desire for a federal plan to roll forward. The level of dialogue surrounding infrastructure among legislators, builders, designers and other infrastructure experts is even sparking proposals for a national infrastructure summit. With so many interested stakeholders, a big infrastructure bill could move forward with potential for great success.

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Infrastructure in the News: Potholes Spur State Discourse

January 13th, 2017 | By: Olivia Wolfertz

Winter, also known as pothole season, is here and roads remain beleaguered. Fortunately, many states throughout the nation and both ends of the political spectrum are considering gas taxes increases as viable options to fund infrastructure. According to a recent report by TRIP, the average American driver spends $523 in extra vehicle operation and maintenance annually, as bumpy and unpaved roads wear on vehicles. With nearly one-third of the nation’s major city roads in substandard or poor condition, several states across the country are realizing cost of underinvestment and discussing funding plans. Oklahoma, Alabama, California, Indiana, Louisiana, Montana, South Carolina, Tennessee, Wisconsin and more are discussing gas tax increases and other options to fund their fragmented transportation network. The diversity of state parties considering gas tax increases speaks to the bipartisan nature of infrastructure funding. As Carl Davis from the Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy said, “there’s really no such thing as a Republican pothole or a Democratic bridge. It’s an issue that brings the parties together.” Hopefully state gas tax activity will motivate the federal government to work together and consider the best method for funding infrastructure at the federal level.

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Infrastructure in the News: Things are getting rolling

January 6th, 2017 | By: Olivia Wolfertz

The first week of 2017 has brought new examples of the need to upgrade our infrastructure as Congress and several states return to session and roll up their sleeves to make infrastructure a priority. While the new administration committed to make infrastructure investment a priority, the timeline of a new bill is still unknown. According to recent reports about the new administration’s initial agenda, there will likely not be an infrastructure bill within the first 100 days, but it is expected to happen in the second 100 days. Many states, on the other hand, are already putting infrastructure issues on the table. In California, the first bills introduced in each chamber for the 2017 regular session address methods to raise more than $6 billion for state and local roads, trade corridors, and public transit. In Indiana, lawmakers are proposing to invest in the state’s roads and bridges, which need more than $1 billion in additional funds, through new gasoline and vehicle taxes. In Minnesota, Governor Dayton is proposing a $1.5 billion bonding package for state public works projects that will allocate $70 million for local road and bridge projects and $10 for port improvements. In Montana, Governor Bullock is calling for a $200 million investment of cash and bonds during the 2017 legislature to fund infrastructure needs. The need for infrastructure investment isn’t hidden, as the sinkhole incident in Michigan, which forced 22 families out of their homes, reminds us. There was also a train derailment in Brooklyn that injured 103 people. While the exact cause of this derailment is unknown, it reminds us of what can be at stake when our infrastructure fails us. Nonetheless, with actions being taken to improve infrastructure in several states and the possibility of additional investment at the federal level under a new administration, things are looking up in 2017. Both are worthy New Year’s resolutions to strengthen our economy.

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Infrastructure in the News: Traveling Ho Ho Home for the Holidays

December 22nd, 2016 | By: Olivia Wolfertz

It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas, which means record-setting numbers of Americans will take to planes, trains and automobiles to reach their holiday destinations. Holiday travel aside, our nation set a record for cumulative vehicle miles traveled (VMT) within just the first nine months of 2016. According to the Federal Highway Administration, Americans drove 2.4 trillion miles this year through September alone, more than any previous year. Theories behind this data include cheaper gasoline prices and an improving economy. According to AAA, U.S. drivers paid the second lowest price for gasoline over Thanksgiving weekend since 2008, an average of $2.13 a gallon. That same data reported in late November that average gas prices were below $2 per gallon in 12 states, and that U.S. drivers have saved more than $27 billion at the gas pumps so far this year compared to the same period last year. And this year’s holiday season travel is predicted to be busy as well.  AAA reports that more than 103 million Americans are predicted to travel for the holidays — the highest level on record — and 1.5 million more travelers than last year. Of that amount, 93.6 million people are expected to drive to their destinations, 6 million are expected to fly and 3.5 million will likely take other modes of transportation. Unfortunately, these impressive VMT increases also contribute to the wear and tear of our nation’s already beleaguered roads. Even with the FAST Act investment of $226 billion over five years for roads and bridges, it’s not enough to bring surface transportation infrastructure into a good state of repair. Hopefully lawmakers can work together in the new administration to create a long-term funding solution that will restore the roads and bridges our nation increasingly relies on.

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Infrastructure in the News: Water Infrastructure Bill WIINS over Many

December 16th, 2016 | By: Olivia Wolfertz

From farmers to manufacturers, shippers and countless water associations to all Americans, the Water Infrastructure Improvements for the Nation (WIIN) Act’s benefits promise improvement across several water resource sectors. The act, which authorizes nearly $10 billion in federal investment, will fund stormwater management projects, initiatives to help develop alternative water supplies to deal with persistent drought and more than 330 port, levee and dam projects. WIIN benefits our nation at state and local levels. Michigan celebrates the bill’s provision of up to $170 million for Flint and significant funding for Great Lakes harbor maintenance and pollution cleanup. The Great Lakes Restoration Initiative (GLRI) will receive $300 million a year through 2021 to maintain ports and strengthen programs for restoring and protecting fish and wildlife. In California, where drought has caused 1 million acres of farm land to go fallow, 2,400 private water wells to dry up and 35,000 people to lose jobs, residents are especially grateful for WIIN’s provision of $558 million for drought relief. WIIN will also greatly improve our nation’s ports. Thanks to input from the American Association of Port Authorities (APA), WIIN modernizes the cost-share depth for navigation construction projects from 45 to 50 feet deep to reflect the growing size of the world vessel fleet, and ensures that Harbor Maintenance Tax (HMT) funding targets will increase by 3 percent over the prior year. Georgia is excited that WIIN will fund the Savannah Harbor Expansion Project and maintenance fees for Savannah’s and Brunswick’s ports. Florida is also praising the bill’s provision of more than $1.5 billion in funding for state projects including the Central Everglades planning project. One of the most exciting parts of WIIN from ASCE’s perspective is a new program for dams. The Dam Rehabilitation and Repair Act, thanks to hard work from sponsors Sen. Jack Reed and Sen. Shelley Moore Capito, will establish a federal investment program to allow states and local governments to seek funding for the rehabilitation of high-hazard publicly-owned dams. The federal government will invest $445 million over ten years, providing 65 percent of funding, while states and local jurisdictions will provide 35 percent of matching funds. WIIN has many benefits that promise growth and improvement throughout the nation. Now that it’s been authorized, the next Congress will need to appropriate the provisions of the bill. Hopefully lawmakers can continue to work together in the new administration to appropriate the necessary funds for our nation’s water resources infrastructure.

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Autonomous Vehicles: Still need a road to drive on

December 9th, 2016 | By: Olivia Wolfertz

Autonomous vehicles are heralded as the next big thing in transportation—the technology that will change everything. But there’s one part that won’t change: autonomous vehicles will still to drive on roads. And as you may have heard, our roads and bridges aren’t in great shape. So far, autonomous vehicles are being tested in select settings. In Pittsburgh, Uber is testing a handful of self-driving cars with the goal of eventually switching its service to a fleet of autonomous vehicles. The ride-hailing app is even exploring self-driving trucks to make deliveries, with a successful 120-mile test run to deliver 50,000 cans of beer under their belt. Google has been testing its autonomous vehicles since 2009 and has self-driven more than 2 million miles. Uber and Google are hardly alone in the space, with a number of auto manufacturers and tech companies announcing they too are developing autonomous vehicles. Clearly driverless vehicles could open wide the doors of opportunity and improvement to our transportation landscape for both people and freight. ASCE’s Interchange video elaborates on autonomous vehicles’ ripple effects on the transportation landscape and communities. Autonomous vehicles promise much in the arena of safety and travel convenience. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, in 2015, 35,092 people were killed in motor vehicle crashes in the United States, which averages out to 96 people per day. This represented a 7.2% increase from 2014 and was the largest percentage increase in nearly 50 years. Most crashes have a component of human choice (whether that’s impaired driving, distracted driving or unsafe driving), so removing the human driver from the equation could dramatically decrease crashes and save lives. Autonomous vehicles also have the potential to be an antidote to increasing congestion. The Texas A&M Transportation Institute’s 2015 Annual Urban Mobility Scorecard reported that traffic congestion causes drivers to waste more than three billion gallons of fuel and be stuck in their cars for nearly seven billion extra hours – 42 hours per rush-hour commuter per year. Autonomous vehicles could transform the definition of road capacity, as the number of vehicles that can travel safely in a given lane will greatly increase when computers are doing the driving.  Elderly and physically disabled people who are unable to drive will also have a chance to get around more freely. While autonomous vehicles promise much in terms of congestion relief, safety improvements and modern conveniences, their advancement cannot come at the expense of maintaining our basic infrastructure system. The usability of autonomous vehicles is largely dependent on the quality of the roads and bridges that they will ride on—and currently that quality is lacking. One in ten U.S. bridges is structurally deficient and 20 percent of urban highways are in unacceptable condition. There is a $504 billion rehabilitation backlog for the nation’s highways and bridges. While these statistics may not seem directly related to autonomous vehicles, roads and bridges in good condition are critical to any vehicle that may use them, despite how advanced it might be.  The reality is that autonomous vehicles struggle to navigate potholes, unclear lane markings and poor signage. The technology of the autonomous vehicle is close, yet our transportation infrastructure is stuck in the past, primarily due to insufficient funding. The best solution for this funding problem is fixing the Highway Trust Fund (HTF) to ensure that there is a reliable and adequate revenue stream for transportation. The HTF is meant to fund the federal government’s investments in highways, bridges and transit. It is primarily funded by an 18.4 cent per gallon tax on gasoline and a 24.4 cent per gallon tax on diesel, which has not been raised since 1993. Inflation has cut its real value by 40%. Congress has relied on transferring general funds into the HTF to prop it up ($140 billion since 2008) instead of fixing its underlying revenue problem. The most direct and immediate way to #FixTheTrustFund is to increase the tax on gas and diesel fuel to stop the need for general fund transfers and allow for increased investment to address the backlog and modernize the system. Meanwhile, there should be additional pilot programs to test charging motorists based on how much they use roads with the long-term goal of using mileage-based user fees to fund the HTF. While it is not as exciting as robot cars, fixing our nation’s infrastructure through a long-term sustainable funding solution is the gateway to successfully implementing innovations like autonomous vehicles.

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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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Infrastructure in the News: Transit needs in the spotlight

October 28th, 2016 | By: Olivia Wolfertz

There’s probably no better example in the U.S. of the negative impact that inadequate funding has on our infrastructure than public transit, especially for those who rely on it. The DOT recently announced that 16 transit agencies around the country will receive a share of $14.7 million in grants to support comprehensive planning  to improve access to public transit. Recipients include the Regional Transportation District and City and County of Denver, the City of Phoenix, and the City of Milwaukee. While these grants for research and planning have a specific focus for communities that are developing new transit systems or expanding their existing systems, many other transit systems around the country need tremendous TLC. Transit systems in Washington D.C., San Francisco, Boston, New Jersey and more are all ailing and in need of investment. In Washington, D.C., neglected maintenance and aging cables have caused many safety concerns for the Metro, leading to drastic maintenance regimens that are time-consuming and disruptive to riders. Thus, the cumulative effects of under maintaining have resulted in a huge inconvenience to riders who depend on the system. In California, San Francisco’s aging transit system, BART, is also suffering from the impact of deferred investment. In response to crumbling tunnel walls and warped tracks, local Bay Area transit proponents are advocating for a $3.5 billion bond to support the transit agency and overhaul the system’s 1970s technology. The Boston subway system, the T, (MBTA) is also struggling with the pains of old age. Recently, the T orange line, which is at least 32 years old, had an incident where the motor overheated causing smoke to flood the train cars. This was not a first-time experience for Boston, as smoke previously filled another older train car two winters ago. Amid growing concern over aging trains, MBTA is slated to replace them with new and improved cars by 2019. For the growing number of commuters who rely on transit, this infrastructure plays a vital role in their lives, yet it is one that often struggles the most for funding. Fortunately, states and the federal government recognize these needs and are making strides to invest in, improve and expand our nation’s transit systems to better serve users throughout the country.

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