The American Society of Engineers (ASCE) released its National Infrastructure Report Card on May 3, 2021. It gave the nation’s infrastructure an overall grade of C-, which is an improvement from the D+ grade from the previous report in 2017.
According to the 2021 ASCE report, this current rating shows incremental progress toward restoring the nation’s infrastructure, noting that this is the first time in 20 years the US infrastructure is out of the D range.
The ASCE releases a comprehensive assessment of the nation’s 17 major infrastructure categories every four years, using a simple A-F school report card format. Aside from rating current infrastructure conditions and needs, it also makes recommendations to improve them.
So how did the individual infrastructure categories fare on the latest ASCE report card?
“The 2021 grades range from a B in rail to a D- in transit. Five category grades — aviation, drinking water, energy, inland waterways, and ports — went up, while just one category — bridges — went down. And stormwater infrastructure received its first grade: a disappointing D. Overall, eleven category grades were stuck in the D range, a clear signal that our overdue bill on infrastructure is a long way from being paid off.”
The report mentioned that infrastructure is an interconnected system despite having category groupings.
Analyzing the low ratings of some infrastructure reveals essential trends and shows how the practice of Asset Management can improve the overall quality of infrastructure.
First, “Maintenance backlogs continue to be an issue, but asset management helps prioritize limited funding. Sectors like transit and wastewater have staggering maintenance deficits but developing a clear picture of where the available funding is most needed improves overall system performance and public safety. The drinking water sector, for example, has embraced asset management and new technology to pinpoint leaks and target repairs.”
Second, increased federal investments and reforms like creating chief resilience officers in major cities and states have benefitted categories like ports, drinking water, and inland waterways.
Third, some infrastructure sectors such as stormwater, levees, and school facilities still have “scarce or unreliable” data. For these sectors to target investments and allocate funding, these sectors would need a robust inventory of assets which the practice of Asset Management can provide.
The report highlights the importance of improving the overall rating of the nation’s infrastructure -“To improve our quality of life and strengthen our international competitiveness, we need a strategic and holistic plan to renew, modernize, and invest in our infrastructure. This plan should make basic maintenance a centerpiece as we improve our legacy systems. Importantly, policymakers must understand we are only as strong as our weakest link — if our roadways become too rough to travel, if our bridges close to heavier traffic like ambulances, or if our levees protect a community at the expense of the one next door, the economy grinds to a halt. We all pay the price.”
It highlights three actions to raise the nation’s overall grade- bold leadership and action, sustained investment, and focus on resilience. “ASCE urges bold leadership and action, sustained investment, and a focus on resilience to raise the national infrastructure grade over the next four years, so that every American family, community, and business can thrive.”
Each recommendation contains the practice and principles of Asset Management, which we have highlighted below:
Strong leadership and decisive action require that governments, private and public organizations “incentivize asset management and encourage the creation and utilization of infrastructure data sets across classes,” “prioritizing projects with critical benefits to the economy, public safety, environment, and quality of life,” and “consider life cycle costs when making project decisions. Life cycle cost analysis determines the cost of building, operating, and maintaining the infrastructure for its entire life span”, research and development to “extend the life of infrastructure, expedite repairs or replacements, and promote cost savings,” and promote sustainability by “considering the long-term economic, social, and environmental benefits of a project.”
Increased and continuous infrastructure investments, especially with the implementation of the $1.2 Trillion Infrastructure Investment Jobs Act (IIJA), would need the application of Asset Management to maximize investment by ensuring that money goes to the projects that bring the most benefit to society and the economy.
Finally, the report recommends boosting infrastructure resilience to withstand natural hazards exacerbated by climate change. To do this will include “streamlining asset management, implementing life cycle cost analysis into routine planning processes, and integrating climate change projections into long-term goal-setting and capital improvement plans,” “incentivizing and enforcing the use of codes and standards,” and “prioritizing projects that improve the safety and security of systems and communities.”