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Engineers give US infrastructure a C- grade

By |  March 3, 2021
Sure, New York City traffic is horrible. But eliminating cars from New York City roads and expecting other U.S. cities to adopt the Big Apple's model is quite the stretch. Photo: Bim/iStock / Getty Images Plus/Getty Images

U.S. roads received a D grade from the American Society of Civil Engineers this year. Photo: Bim/iStock / Getty Images Plus/Getty Images

U.S. infrastructure received a C- grade from the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE), which published its 2021 Infrastructure Report Card Wednesday.

ASCE releases a grade every four years, and the C- is actually an improvement from the D+ grade U.S. infrastructure got in 2017.

“For the first time in 20 years, our infrastructure GPA is a C-, up from a D+ in 2017,” ASCE says in its report card. “This is good news and an indication we’re headed in the right direction, but a lot of works remains.”

By segment, 2021 grades range from a B in rail to a D- in transit. Five of six categories saw improvements while just one category (bridges, C grade) received a lower grade than 2017. Roads (D grade) also received subpar grades in the report.

Bridges

U.S. bridges received a C grade in ASCE’s 2021 Report Card – a decline from its C+ from 2017.

Of the 617,084 bridges in the U.S., 42 percent are more than 50 years old, with 12 percent of highway bridges aged 80 years or more.

Additionally, almost 21,000 bridges were found to be susceptible to overtopping or having their foundation undermined during extreme storm events, ASCE says.

ASCE notes that efforts were made in recent years to address structurally-deficient bridges. As of 2019, just 7.5 percent of highway bridges were designated as structurally-deficient, compared to 12.1 percent a decade ago.

Nonetheless, ASCE says nearly 231,000 bridges in all 50 states still require repair and preservation work.

“While recent improvements show a positive trend in addressing our poorest bridges, progress is not universal because states face different challenges when maintaining, repairing and replacing bridges,” ASCE says.

Roads

U.S. roads, meanwhile, received a D grade in ASCE’s 2021 Report Card, retaining the D they got back in 2017.

Breaking down the nation’s roads into four grading categories, 41.9 percent are categorized as“good,” 15.6 percent as “fair,” 22.6 percent as“mediocre” and 20.1 percent as “poor.”

According to ASCE, drivers collectively spend almost $130 billion each year in extra vehicle repairs and operating costs due to poor road conditions.

Traffic congestion also continues to be a growing problem, costing motorists a collective $166 billion each year – or about $1,080 individually – in wasted time and fuel. Furthermore, the average American spends 54 hours each year in traffic congestion, ASCE says – up from 42 hours in 2014.

“Roadways are expected to withstand an ever-increasing volume of traffic each year, with vehicle miles traveled reaching more than 3.2 trillion in 2019 – an 18 percent increase from 2000,” ASCE says. “Unfortunately, the growing wear and tear to our nation’s roads has left 53 percent of our public roadways in poor or mediocre condition, a number that has remained stagnant over the past several years.”

ASCE’s report card, first issued in 1998, is a quadrennial assessment of the country’s 17 major infrastructure categories. ASCE’s Committee on America’s Infrastructure is comprised of 31 civil engineers from across the country.


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