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Report: Decaying U.S. Infrastructure Remains Accident Waiting to Happen

Mon October 20, 2003 - West Edition
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The condition of our nation’s roads, bridges, drinking water systems and other public works have shown little improvement since they were graded an overall D+ in 2001, with some areas sliding toward failing grades, concluded the “2003 Progress Report for America’s Infrastructure” released recently by the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE)

The report examining trends and assessing the progress and decline of America’s infrastructure — roads, bridges, mass transit, aviation, schools, drinking water, wastewater, dams, solid waste, hazardous waste, navigable waterways and energy — was prepared by a panel of 20 eminent civil engineers with expertise in a range of practice specialties.

In 2001, ASCE engineers released the Report Card for America’s Infrastructure, grading the same 12 infrastructure categories at a discouraging D+ overall and estimating the need for a $1.3-trillion investment to bring conditions to acceptable levels.

Below is the ASCE’s report card for the Southwest, state by state:

Arizona

Top Three Infrastructure Concerns

• Roads, drinking water, schools

Key Infrastructure Facts

• Roadway conditions are a factor in an estimated 30 percent of traffic fatalities. There were 1,024 traffic deaths in 1999.

• Federal funding for road and bridge system under TEA-21 was about $486 million in fiscal year 2002.

• 10 percent of bridges are structurally deficient or functionally obsolete.

• 23 percent of major urban roads are congested.

• Vehicle travel on highways increased by 46 percent from 1991 to 2001. Population grew by 45 percent between 1990 and 2001.

• Driving on roads in need of repair costs motorists $392 million a year in extra vehicle repairs and operating costs — $119 per motorist.

• 17 percent of municipal solid waste is recycled..

• 64 percent of schools have at least one inadequate building feature.

• 69 percent of schools have at least one unsatisfactory environmental condition.

• Drinking water infrastructure need is $1.62 billion over the next 20 years.

• Wastewater infrastructure need is $2.5 billion.

• There are 59 state-determined deficient dams.

• Rehabilitation cost for the most critical dams is estimated at $64 million.

Field Notes From Civil Engineers in the State

• Lake Havasu City has approved a $486-million bond to construct a centralized sewer system and remove more than 25,000 septic systems over the next 10 years.

The project also includes upgrades to existing treatment plants and the construction of a 3.5 MGD regional plant. from Lake Havasu City

• Controversies: Development vs. conservation of the open desert.

A major ongoing highway extension has opened more desert for development, creating a demand for more highways, leading to further development and population increase in outlying areas.

The result is a burden on schools and the water supply, neglect of the inner city (which has much undeveloped space available for infill housing construction), token attention to mass transit and distancing remaining natural desert environment further from the population center. from Phoenix

• It appears that finite resources are being diverted to encourage unsustainable development. Large water users and up-scale housing developments are not paying rates indicative of the cost to provide their water due to political decisions.

The large developers have been able to shift the cost of infrastructure improvements from themselves to the taxpayers by holding up the carrot of property taxes, which in fact do not cover the costs. from Tucson

• The city has assessed some of the water and wastewater problems but has not acted to repair water needs for over six years. They need to look to trenchless solutions. from Phoenix

From the Headlines

Transit

• The Valley’s light rail project would receive $13- million more in federal funding during 2004 under a transportation budget bill approved by a key Arizona House committee.

Project officials had requested $80 million. That request resulted in a $12-million allocation from Congress. To date, the project, which is expected to total $1.1 billion, has received $46 million in federal funding and $10 million in funding from the Maricopa Association of Governments. (The Arizona Republic, 7/25/03).

Drinking Water

• An audience member at a local debate among candidates for the Prescott City Council observed that water has been a critical problem for 25 years, yet the city continues to encourage developers (The Daily Courier, 7/11/03).

Schools

• The Arizona School Facilities Board passed a milestone when members approved a final few construction contracts, meeting a legislative deadline for the $1.28-billion program to award all but a handful of projects in three districts.

The board has undertaken more than 5,500 school repair projects since the first 150 emergency jobs were done in 1999 to 2000. The rest of the work was not launched until May 2001, and about half is now finished.

For the past several years, the program’s costly demands on the general fund have worsened the Legislature’s budget-balancing problems. Yet, it has been largely outside of lawmaker’s budgetary control because it was established in direct response to a court order designed to force the equitable financing of public school facilities. (The Arizona Republic, 7/2/03).

Arkansas

Top Three Infrastructure Concerns

• Roads, schools, wastewater

Key Infrastructure Facts

• Roadway conditions are a factor in an estimated 30 percent of traffic fatalities. There were 611 traffic fatalities in 2001.

• A total of 3,767 people died on highways from 1996 through 2001. Nationwide, 76 percent of all fatal crashes occur on two-lane roads while only 14 percent of fatal crashes occur on roads with four or more lanes.

In Arkansas, 76 percent of major roads, excluding the Interstate, are two lanes.

• Federal funding for road and bridge system under TEA-21 was about $362 million in fiscal year 2002.

• 49 percent of major roads are in poor or mediocre condition.

• 27 percent of bridges are structurally deficient or functionally obsolete.

• 25 percent of major urban roads are congested.

• Vehicle travel on highways increased by 43 percent from 1989 to 1999. Population grew by 9 percent during that time.

• 45 percent of municipal solid waste is recycled.

• 42 percent of schools have at least one inadequate building feature.

• 62 percent of schools have at least one unsatisfactory environmental condition.

• Drinking water infrastructure need is $1.5 billion over the next 20 years.

• Wastewater infrastructure need is $581 million.

• There are 25 state-determined deficient dams.

• Rehabilitation cost for the most critical dams is estimated at $135.6 million.

Field Notes From Civil Engineers in the State

• City-level infrastructure items are beginning to look like those of a third-world nation with a very poor outlook for adequate maintenance, much less improvement. from Little Rock.

• Mass transit is almost non-existent in Arkansas. from Little Rock

• Our county school boards have been unable to pass a bond referendum for 15 years. Budgets have been slashed to the point where ceilings are collapsing as a result of water damaged roof; sidewalks and playgrounds are generally in a state of disrepair.

Morale among teachers is low, affecting our children’s ability to learn. Little Rock.

From the Headlines

• An economist from the University of Arkansas said Northwest Arkansas is projected to be home for about one-fifth of the state’s population by 2025, so improved infrastructure in the area is necessary.

“We are going to have to make investments and we’re going to have to continue to lobby for investments in this part of the state,” said Jeff Collins, director of the UA Center for Business and Economic Research at the Sam M. Walton College of Business. (The Morning News, 7/25/03).

Colorado

Top Three Infrastructure Concerns

• Roads

• Drinking Water

• Mass Transit

Key Infrastructure Facts

• Roadway conditions are a factor in an estimated 30 percent of traffic fatalities. There were 626 traffic deaths in 1999.

• Federal funding for road and bridge system under TEA-21 was approximately $353 million in fiscal year 2002.

• 26 percent of major roads are in poor or mediocre condition.

• 18 percent of bridges are structurally deficient or functionally obsolete.

• 36 percent of urban freeways are congested.

• Vehicle travel on highways increased by 55 percent from 1991 to 2001. Population grew by 34 percent between 1990 and 2001.

• Driving on roads in need of repair costs motorists $620 million a year in extra vehicle repairs and operating costs — $189 per motorist.

• Less than 10 percent of municipal solid waste is recycled.

• 58 percent of schools have at least one inadequate building feature.

• 63 percent of schools have at least one unsatisfactory environmental condition.

• Drinking water infrastructure need is $2.5 billion over the next 20 years.

• Wastewater infrastructure need is $652 million.

• There are 191 state-determined deficient dams.

• Rehabilitation cost for the most critical dams is estimated at $369.4 million.

Field Notes From Civil Engineers in the State

• The drought has forced reconsideration of water reuse, conservation and fire control basics.

• Denver’s transportation and highway needs are still sub-standard for smaller metropolitan areas. I believe more could be done in the mass transit area. We also need more storage for municipal water supply.

• Canon City has placed a .5-percent sales tax increase on the ballot twice in the past five years. The revenue would have been dedicated to street reconstruction, but was defeated both times.

Our current funding dictates approximately a 130-year cycle for street replacement. In the meantime, new subdivisions are adding street mileage to our system.

From the Headlines Bridges

• Inspectors were working the Cimarron Street Bridge this spring when it started making snapping or popping sounds. It was obvious the crumbling concrete structure could collapse at any time.

Part of the bridge was closed for emergency repairs costing more than $340,000; another $400,000 worth of fixes are needed to extend its life another 10 years. Then, it will cost approximately $5 million to replace.

Local bridge inspectors and engineers agree it is no surprise structures receiving little or no maintenance through their 50-year life expectancy are in bad shape, and become safety issues needing repair, if not replacement.

The Citizen’s Transportation Advisory Board in Colorado Springs listed road, bridge and drainage improvements at $448.5 million. The city’s entire 2003 budget is about $212 million. (Colorado Springs Business Journal, 6/13/03).

Schools

• An advisory committee told Denver Public Schools that they must borrow money and raise taxes in order to maintain some of the state’s oldest buildings.

The committee presented the board with more than $470 million in projects. A bond in that amount would add approximately $16 a year to the average property tax bill.

The committee noted that Denver needs to build at least two new schools in northeast Denver; if the the schools are not built, students will have severely limited facilities and not enough room to attend classes. (www.schoolconstruction news.com.)

Drinking Water

• A proposal to take Colorado River water just before it slips over the Utah border, pump it east for more than 200 mi., lift it 5,000 ft. over the Rocky Mountains, and deliver it to the state’s Front Range communities has an estimated cost of $2.5 billion.

Nicknamed the Big Straw, the proposal is a response to California’s prodigious thirst and hogging of the Colorado River. The Colorado River is far from pristine by the time it hits the Utah border, often resembling a murky irrigation ditch.

On its course down the western slope of the Rockies, the river picks up salts and selenium from the riverbed and farm runoff, as well as urban effluents. If pumped untreated into high-country reservoirs, the border water would be warmer and dirtier than the supplies into which it is piped, lowering overall water quality. (Boston Globe, 7/21/03).

Wastewater

• Water officials said they are discussing a plan that would put a major reservoir in Eagle County and strip Denver of its claim on millions of gallons in the Eagle and Piney rivers.

The plan is being touted as part of a region-wide effort to allocate a finite resource for a growing population. (Associated Press story, Casper Star Tribune, 6/18/03).

Nevada

Top Three Infrastructure Concerns

• Drinking Water

• Roads

• Schools

Key Infrastructure Facts

• 24 percent of roads are in poor or mediocre condition.

• 16 percent of bridges are structurally deficient or functionally obsolete.

• 42 percent of urban freeways are congested.

• Vehicle travel on highways increased by 74 percent from 1991 to 2001. Population grew by 75 percent between 1990 and 2001.

• Driving on roads in need of repair costs motorists $212 million a year in extra vehicle repairs and operating costs — $160 per motorist.

• 14 percent of municipal solid waste is recycled.

• 42 percent of schools have at least one inadequate building feature.

• 57 percent of schools have at least one unsatisfactory environmental condition.

• Drinking water infrastructure need is $602 million over the next 20 years.

• The state has $84 million in wastewater infrastructure needs.

• There are 24 state-determined deficient dams.

• Rehabilitation cost for the most critical dams is estimated at $30.2 million.

Field Notes From Civil Engineers in the State

• In November 2002, voters did support significant increased funding — $800 million — for transportation through 2030. This means that full funding is now available to implement our 2030 Regional Transportation Plan, including capacity, maintenance and operations. from Sparks

• The state, county and municipalities have done an outstanding job of keeping up with growth in the area,; however, the rate of growth is such that they are continually trailing demands. from Las Vegas

From the Headlines

Roads and Bridges

• According to the Texas Transportation Institute’s 2002 annual report on traffic congestion in 75 urban areas, Las Vegas ranked 18th in the nation for traffic congestion. Since 1982, Las Vegas’ freeway congestion has grown from 5 percent to 55 percent.

Las Vegas-area officials estimate that for every 1,000 people that moved here, 752 automobiles are added to local roadways. Las Vegans spend an additional 38 hours on the road because of heavy traffic. (The Review-Journal, 6/21/02)

Schools

• Cash-strapped Clark County schools are at the bottom of the list when it comes to federal funding, a report found.

The Las Vegas-based school district, the nation’s sixth-largest, gets 4.3 percent of its funding from federal sources, according to the National Center for Education Statistics study. That compared with 10.4 percent for New York City schools, 10.1 percent in Los Angeles, 13.6 percent for Chicago schools, and 8.2 percent and 6.4 percent for schools in Miami and surrounding Dade County, respectively.

The district, with more than 250,000 students, also is hurt by growth, adding 10,000 to 12,000 new students per year, requiring construction of dozens of new schools.

Local property tax revenues repay construction bonds. (Las Vegas Sun, 5/21/03).

New Mexico

Top Three Infrastructure Concerns

• Drinking water,roads schools

Key Infrastructure Facts

• 29 percent of roads are in poor or mediocre condition.

• 19 percent of bridges are structurally deficient or functionally obsolete.

• 11 percent of urban freeways are congested.

• Vehicle travel on highways increased by 39 percent from 1991 to 2001. Population grew by 21 percent from 1990 to 2001.

• Driving on roads in need of repair cost motorists $527 million a year in extra vehicle repairs and operating costs — $432 per motorist.

• 9 percent of municipal solid waste is recycled.

• 69 percent of schools have at least one inadequate building feature.

• 75 percent of schools have at least one unsatisfactory environmental condition.

• Drinking water infrastructure need is $1.04 billion over the next 20 years.

• Wastewater infrastructure need is $242 million.

• Rehabilitation cost for the most critical dams is estimated at $152.9 million.

Field Notes From Civil Engineers in the State

• Last year was the first year of operation for Jefferson Montessori Academy, a public charter school in Carlsbad, NM. This school has met with heavy opposition from the established local school administration and school board.

The school is in preliminary stages of planning a new green school, which will be a monolithic dome structure. This school building will be the first monolithic dome school building in southeastern New Mexico and will be far more energy efficient than any existing building in the school district.

Currently, the school is seeking grant money to fund the planning/construction. — from Carlsbad, NM.

• Three years ago, two parts of a three-part road widening were completed.

The state has been promising funding of the third phase ever since. It is not going to happen next year. We are trying to come up with the money to do the third phase without the state’s participation, and are trying to figure which large construction projects we need to cut.

We need $1.2 million to do the next phase. We probably have 20 projects ready to be constructed and the funding is not available. from Farmington

• We have increased highway access to many rural areas, significantly improved roads, and widened many road sections. We are currently developing a system to recognize and remedy bridge problems in a timely manner.

Communities are widely separated here, but NMSHTD has changed to NMDOT and is currently beginning to provide mass transit between communities.

Hazardous waste in our communities and on our highways has increased due to the WIPP facility.

Water problems are being aggravated by drought and dramatic increases in population and housing development. from Moriarty

Oklahoma

Top Three Infrastructure Concerns

• Roads, schools, bridges

Key Infrastructure Facts

• Roadway conditions are a factor in an estimated 30 percent of traffic fatalities. There were 739 traffic deaths in 1999.

• Federal funding for road and bridge system under TEA-21 was approximately $428 million in fiscal year 2002.

• 44 percent of major roads are in poor or mediocre condition.

• 40 percent of bridges are structurally deficient or functionally obsolete.

• 28 percent of urban freeways are congested.

• Vehicle travel on highways increased by 27 percent from 1991 to 2001. Oklahoma’s population grew by 10 percent between 1990 and 2001.

• Driving on roads in need of repair costs motorists $812 million a year in extra vehicle repairs and operating costs — $351 per motorist.

• 1 percent of municipal solid waste is recycled.

• 54 percent of schools have at least one inadequate building feature.

• 64 percent of schools have at least one unsatisfactory environmental condition.

• Oklahoma must invest approximately $698 million over the next 20 years to upgrade its sewage treatment infrastructure, including nearly $200 million for storm water control measures.

• Oklahoma needs to invest $2.34 billion over the next 20 years to protect public health from unsafe drinking water.

• Oklahoma has 145 high-hazard potential dams whose failure would likely cause a loss of human life.

• There are six state-determined deficient dams.

• Rehabilitation cost for the most critical dams is estimated at $161.3 million.

Field Notes From Civil Engineers in the State

• Local road construction practices cause premature failure and deterioration. from Mill Creek

• Water rationing is becoming an annual event. from Edmond

From the Headlines

Roads and Bridges

• The Oklahoma State Transportation Department is replacing portions of a badly damaged 53-year-old bridge in north Erick.

State records show an average of 460 vehicles cross the metal and concrete bridge each day. According to one local person, on some days people could see the river below in certain spots. (The Oklahoman, 7/20/03).

Schools

• Approximately $9 million in voter-approved MAPS for Kids sales tax money is sitting unused in bank accounts of 23 suburban school districts.

Two years ago, Oklahoma City voters approved a $512-million sales tax initiative to improve schools. Although a majority of the money — an estimated $358 million — will remain in the Oklahoma City School District, suburban districts will receive a share for capital improvement projects.

Many district administrators said they are choosing to save the money until enough is collected to complete an extensive school project, such as construction of a building. (Daily Oklahoman, 7/13/03)

Texas

Top Three Infrastructure Concerns

• Roads, drinking water , waterways

Key Infrastructure Facts

• Federal funding for road and bridge system under TEA-21 was approximately $2.1 billion in fiscal 2002.

• 29 percent of major roads are in poor or mediocre condition.

• 22 percent of bridges are structurally deficient or functionally obsolete.

• 40 percent of urban freeways are congested.

• Vehicle travel on highways increased by 36 percent from 1991 to 2001. Population grew by 26 percent between 1990 and 2001.

• Driving on roads in need of repair costs motorists $3.6 billion a year in extra vehicle repairs and operating costs — $273 per motorist.

• 35 percent of municipal solid waste is recycled in Texas.

• 46 percent of schools have at least one inadequate building feature.

• 60 percent of schools have at least one unsatisfactory environmental condition.

• Drinking water infrastructure need is $13 billion over the next 20 years.

• Texas must invest $6.4 billion over the next 20 years to upgrade its wastewater treatment facilities.

• The state has 851 high-hazard dams whose failure would likely cause a loss of human life.

• There are 403 structurally deficient dams.

• Rehabilitation cost for the most critical dams is estimated at $667 million.

Field Notes From Civil Engineers in the State

• The city is in the process of an $118,000,000 improvement to [its] potable water system. This includes the construction of a microfiltration/reverse osmosis treatment plant to develop a lake which previously was unused for potable water supply due to its inability to meet regulatory requirements for treatment.

Another portion of this project is to implement a reuse program with advanced treatment of wastewater effluent.

The long-range use of this water will be for indirect potable reuse. The combination of these two components will eventually lead to the additional availability of water supply and treatment. from Wichita Falls

• Flood control is the biggest issue after Tropical Storm Allison. It is good to see a mass transit (downtown) project finally under construction. from Houston

• A lot of the water and sewer infrastructure was constructed in the 1950s. This infrastructure is now 50 years old and most cities have not been able to replace it.

It is going to be very challenging to maintain the expected level of service for customers as this infrastructure continues to age. from San Antonio

• The Dallas School District recently passed a more than $1-billion bond election, the largest ever in the state.

The city public works also passed a $500-million bond by the largest percentage ever.

From the Headlines

• People are not just headed to Dallas/Fort Worth for work anymore.

The seven-county region’s booming outlying areas, especially Collin County, attracted an ever-expanding share of the region’s commuters in the 1990s, with more than 50 percent of suburban commuters heading to suburbs outside Dallas and Tarrant counties for jobs, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.

Census data also found that Dallas and Tarrant counties firmly remained the region’s job centers despite the suburban commuting shift.

Tarrant-to-Dallas commuting grew by 30 percent in the decade, and one-fifth of all Tarrant County residents commuted to Dallas County.

Also, more Dallas County workers traveled to jobs in Collin County (47,978) than Tarrant County (43,430). Simply getting around town will become more difficult by 2025 if more money is not found for road construction.

The North Central Texas Council of Governments estimates that the annual cost of congestion, measured in motorist delays, will rise from $5.3 billion a year currently to at least $8.2 billion a year.

But the Texas Department of Transportation is targeting billions of dollars for projects like the Dallas High Five and expanding major suburban routes such as State Highway 121 and the Grapevine Funnel.

The North Texas Tollway Authority also plans to build toll roads well into northern Collin and Denton counties.

The growing city-to-suburb trend could show the need for suburbs. As the suburban job base grows, people from the cities are finding more jobs in outlying areas. (Dallas/Ft. Worth Market Report, 3/6/03).

Bridges and Roads

• The Houston area has more substandard bridges (28.8 percent) than other parts of Texas (21.8 percent). Increased government highway spending has reduced the number of unsafe bridges in Texas by 13.2 percent in the last decade. (Houston Chronicle, 7/9).

• Interstate 10 in west Houston, arguably the most congested freeway in the traffic-clogged largest city in Texas, is headed for reconstruction under a $1.6 billion project that will make sections of the new road the state’s first toll interstate.

Under the deal, the Harris County Toll Road Authority is providing $500 million to complete the federal-state financial package, with $250 million to be repaid in tolls and $250 million as a short-term interest-free loan.

Originally designed to carry 79,200 vehicles per day, more than 30 years later it carries more than 207,000 vehicles per day, according to recent studies. The road will grow to 18 lanes, including four toll lanes, eight free lanes and three lanes of frontage roads on each side.

Governor Rick Perry said that the local financing will ensure completion of the reconstruction of five to six years, cutting the normal construction time in half. (Houston Market Report, 3/15/03).

Mass Transit

• Metro seeks November referendum to approve a $3.3-billion rail-and-bus plan in order to vie for $1.25 billion in matching funds for rail from the federal government.

Sen. Tom DeLay said he has a placeholder for funds and November referendum is not needed. (Houston Chronicle, 7/1/03).

Drinking Water

• According to a North Central Texas 2025 Traffic Survey Zone Forecast, employment centers are moving north so the commuting pattern continues to move north for Collin and Denton counties as well.

Van Alstyne has 1,400 lots in different stages of planning and development. Anna has 3,600 and Melissa is a little ahead of that. A water deficit is developing and projected to catch up in 2010 under present circumstances.

The long-term solution seems to be in a future reservoir on the Sulphur River in Northeast Texas, the Marvin Nichols Reservoir.

Nichols Lake is just one of several new major reservoirs in the state water plan and probably the largest by far. The $1.6 billion project would flood approximately 72,000 acres in Red River County to transfer 161 billion gallons of water (75 percent of output) every year to Dallas, Tarrant, Rockwall, Collin and Kaufman counties.

There is no getting past the fact that North Texas must have a new reservoir and the only suitable location, other than some that will facilitate much smaller projects, is on the Sulphur River. (Dallas Market Report, 1/23/2003).

Utah

Top Three Infrastructure Concerns

• Roads, drinking water, mass transit

Key Infrastructure Facts

• Federal funding for Utah’s road and bridge system under TEA-21 was approximately $216 million in fiscal year 2002.

• 31 percent of the Utah’s major roads are in poor or mediocre condition.

• 20 percent of Utah’s bridges are structurally deficient or functionally obsolete.

• 24 percent of Utah’s urban freeways are congested.

• Vehicle travel on Utah’s highways increased by 52 percent from 1991 to 2001. Utah’s population grew by 32 percent between 1990 and 2001.

• Driving on roads in need of repair costs Utah motorists $385 million a year in extra vehicle repairs and operating costs — $257 per motorist.

• 5 percent of municipal solid waste is recycled in Utah.

• 62 percent of schools have at least one inadequate building feature.

• 72 percent of schools have at least one unsatisfactory environmental condition.

• Drinking water infrastructure need is $513 million over the next 20 years.

• Utah must invest $429 million over the next 20 years to rebuild its wastewater treatment plants.

• 41 of the state’s 214 high-hazard dams are structurally deficient.

• There are 84 state-determined structurally deficient dams.

• Rehabilitation cost for the most critical dams is estimated at $203 million.