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.”