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Posts from the "American Society of Civil Engineers" Category

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Is ASCE Failing to Tell America to Spend Wisely on Infrastructure?

In its infrastructure report card, the American Society of Civil Engineers emphasizes the need to spend more, but buries the message about spending wisely. Image: ASCE

The American Society of Civil Engineers released its new report card for U.S. infrastructure yesterday. The topline grades: The country’s “GPA” has gone from a D four years ago to a D+; roads have gone from a D- to a D; transit has stayed steady at a D; and rail made the biggest leap, from a C- to a C+.

ASCE’s report card is much more influential than your typical Beltway policy paper. It gets cited at every Congressional hearing, political meeting, and think-tank conference about infrastructure and transportation. It is used to make the case for billions more in investment – indeed, according to ASCE, the country needs $3.6 trillion in infrastructure spending before 2020 to improve our overall grade to a B.

If you sift through ASCE’s interactive digital report, you’ll find a more nuanced message. But it’s the D grades and the gaudy dollar figures that make headlines. Look at the section about road conditions, and you’ll see ASCE declaring that 42 percent of major urban highways are congested, costing the economy $101 billion in wasted time and fuel annually. This is the message that lawmakers trumpet when pushing for more highway money.

Just a Propaganda Document?

Chuck Marohn, a planner and engineer who runs the Strong Towns Network, is one of the most vocal critics of the ASCE methodology. “[The report card] is a propaganda document by an organization whose members directly benefit from the current approach,” Marohn said after the ASCE report was released yesterday morning. “This is not a serious look at infrastructure in this country.”

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$1,060: The Cost of Decrepit Infrastructure for Your Family Last Year

This chart shows delayed maintenance for infrastructure across modes and time periods. Image: ASCE

Five months’ groceries for a family of four. A year’s worth of textbooks for a college student. One thousand sixty dollars: That’s how much inadequate infrastructure spending cost the average American family last year, according to a new report from the American Society of Civil Engineers, “Failure to Act: The Economic Impact of Current Investment Trends in Surface Transportation Infrastructure.” And it’s only projected to get worse.

The country’s roads, bridges and transit systems are deteriorating, but because of the gradual and diffused nature of the problem, the economic effects aren’t easy to recognize, ASCE asserts.

But make no mistake: deferred maintenance costs American families and businesses dearly. Deteriorating roads do damage to private and commercial vehicles. Extra miles are driven to avoid congested roadways. Unreliable transit systems and commercial trucking routes force users to allot additional time in case of delay, undermining productivity.

All this added up to a four-figure price tag for the average U.S. family in 2010. That’s a total of $130 billion for American families and businesses last year alone.

Looking ahead, things could get much worse, engineers report. If spending levels are held constant, by 2020, businesses would pay an extra $430 billion in transportation costs, household incomes would fall by $7,000 and U.S. exports would fall by $28 billion. This would be a tremendous blow to the economy. By 2040, losses in efficiency related to transportation investment are expected to directly result in the loss of 400,000 jobs — and that’s if spending levels are held constant, not reduced by a third, as Rep. John Mica (R-FL) has proposed.

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