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'Infrastructure Report Card' Shows Slight Improvement to 'C+'

Thu February 07, 2019 - Southeast Edition #4
American Society of Civil Engineers


Georgia’s Infrastructure was given an overall grade of “C+.”
Georgia’s Infrastructure was given an overall grade of “C+.”

The Georgia Section of the American Society of Civil Engineers released the 2019 Report Card for Georgia's Infrastructure Jan. 23. Fourteen infrastructure categories were given an overall grade of "C+."

In 2014, the state received a cumulative GPA of a "C."

Bridges ("C+"), roads ("C+"), and transit ("D+"), saw grade increases when compared to the 2014 Report Card. These improving grades were partially due to significant new investments such as HB 170, as well as improvements to regional cooperation, such as the Atlantic Transit Link Authority (ATL), which brings together Atlanta's four transit systems under a new regional governance and aims to improve system efficiency.

The grade in the ports category ("B-") also increased, in part due to additional funding for the ambitious and forward-thinking Savannah Harbor Expansion Project.

Georgia's school facilities also saw improvement in capacity and condition. Since 2014, 26 new schools have been built in Georgia and more than $1.14 billion in funding has been restored to the school system.

Attention has also been placed upon the future needs of schools, setting money aside for the inevitable growth to come.

While still holding a low grade, stormwater infrastructure (drains, manholes, pipes, ditches, etc.) also saw an improvement over the past five years, rising from a "D+" in 2014 to a "C-" in 2019. Nearly 20 stormwater utilities have been added within the state.

The creation of utilities better enables localities to raise revenue for needed stormwater infrastructure projects. However, as the state looks to the future, Georgia's growing population is likely to continue to stress its stormwater management infrastructure and additional action will be needed to protect water quality in streams, rivers and lakes.

Despite the positive news of the state's transportation and stormwater grades, two categories declined in grades and three categories remain unchanged.

Solid waste ("C") and wastewater ("D+") grades both dropped. Due to aging infrastructure and capacity needs for future population growth, Georgia's wastewater utilities are facing a plethora of challenges. The number of publicly owned treatment plants increased from 306 to 334 from 2008 and 2012, and that population served by these plants reached 5.6 million.

However, with Georgia's booming population, about half of all Georgians still do not have access to public sewer service, instead relying on septic systems. The estimated municipal wastewater needs for Georgia totals $2.7 billion and most of the state's wastewater infrastructure funding comes from sewer user fees.

While significant improvements headline the positive story of Georgia's successes in the last five years, challenges remain, which are addressed in five key solutions to raise the grades in the 2019 Report Card for Georgia's Infrastructure:

  • Transit legislation that created the ATL was a landmark event, and now the metro Atlanta region must focus on effectively implementing a regional transit system strategy that includes adequate, reliable funding and an excellent user experience to provide competitive alternative commuter options.
  • A significant number of Georgia's water-related utilities (drinking water, wastewater, and stormwater) are consistently underfunded. The long-term viability of these utilities will require adequate user fees that cover the full cost of service.
  • Georgia has more than doubled its dam safety staff since 2014, and significantly increased the number of dams with emergency action plans. As more deficient dams are identified, the state should press for alternative funding options, such as grant programs, to ensure private dams are repaired in order to protect downstream lives and property.
  • The ongoing Savannah Harbor Expansion Project remains a bright spot in Georgia's efforts to create deep-water ports. The long-term viability of these ports will require improved rail and truck freight transportation networks to efficiently get goods to and from the port.
  • Landfill owners should consider raising solid waste tipping fees for out-of-state waste. Georgia's per capita waste generation is skewed to almost double the national average due to tipping fees being significantly less than bordering states. In order to measure success and make progress in Georgia's infrastructure categories, increased awareness of infrastructure needs and continuous funding are necessary.

To read the full report, visit www.infrastructurereportcard.org/Georgia.