As public spending on infrastructure declines, America will underinvest in its infrastructure by an estimated more than $2 trillion between 2016-2025, a new report from the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) says.
According to the ASCE, public dollars spent on roads, bridges, water systems, and other infrastructure items fell by 8 percent between 2003 and 2017. And as the dollars spent on infrastructure fall, the damage to American pocketbooks increases.
Historically, the report said, as the United States invested in and grew its infrastructure system – in projects like the transcontinental railroad, the Hoover Dam and the Interstate Highway System – the country’s economy and quality of life also improved.
“Accordingly, a sizeable portion of the nation’s GDP in 1930 (4.2%) was allocated to infrastructure projects, a level of investment which has significantly dwindled by 2016 (2.5%),” the report said.
The funding gap leaves Americans at risk. More than 850 water mains break every day, according to the report, an increase of 27 percent since 2014. Moreover, some 44 percent of America’s major roads are in poor or mediocre condition and 38 percent of the nation’s bridges need “repair, replacement or significant rehabilitation.”
And those road conditions cost U.S. drivers nearly $129 billion per year on unexpected repairs and added operating costs.
Additionally, failure to maintain that infrastructure makes it more difficult to recover from unexpected natural disasters such as flooding, hurricanes, drought, and wildfires brought on by climate change.
“Even though life cycle costs analyses show that it is more cost-effective to engage in preventative maintenance, rehabilitation, and timely replacement, the chronic underinvestment in infrastructure continues to result in deteriorating conditions th at impact reliability, public safety and the ability to bounce back from costly disasters,” the report said.
Bringing together various stakeholders in the public and private sector to manage these assets is one solution, the report said.
The report highlighted efforts in Michigan to update and modernize its infrastructure in the light of funding and financing challenges. Former Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder created the 21st Century Infrastructure Commission in 2016 to deal with the issue and to come up with a plan to address everything within the state’s infrastructure – from broadband to water lines – over the next 30 to 50 years.
The goal of the program was to create a statewide infrastructure database and asset management plan. As part of a pilot program, municipalities and state agencies worked to catalog data on more than 13,500 miles of wastewater pipe data and 4,800 bridges. Once proven successful, the state moved on to creating a statewide asset management database that would help planners from all levels of government develop long-term plans and strategies to address infrastructure needs.
Similarly, in the District of Columbia, an asset management database was created to determine how best to tackle the district’s mounting infrastructure investment gap. The district identified more than $11.5 billion in capital needs over a six-year period.
Using municipal bonds, maximized borrowing, refinancing of existing debt, federal grants and “pay as you go” funding, the district hopes to be able to fund the entirety of the infrastructure costs and meet all its capital needs by fiscal year 2028.
While the group calls for the federal government and state leaders to create new grants or low-interest loan programs for localities and states to get assistance in setting up comprehensive asset management inventory, ASCE also recommends that:
• States, cities and counties should create an infrastructure commission to oversee the creation of an infrastructure asset management database;
• Federal and state leaders should require continuous oversight and accountability for completed plans to ensure that they meet states goals; and
• State and local governments should create asset management plans and annual reports in order to receive state and federal funding.
“The bottom line is that engaging in asset management practices across infrastructure sectors can be a game-changing tool for infrastructure asset owners,” the report said. “It provides the opportunity to take a proactive approach to assessing the condition of their assets and the data needed to make appropriate long-term funding decisions.”