On the heels of the eighth annual United for Infrastructure kickoff this past Monday, both the Wisconsin and Arizona Sections of the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) released their 2020 Infrastructure Report Cards.
Arizona civil engineers gave nine categories of infrastructure an overall grade of a ‘C,’ meaning the state’s infrastructure is in mediocre condition. Civil engineers graded aviation (B), bridges (B+), dams (C-), drinking water (C-), levees (C-), rail (C), roads (D+), transit (C) and wastewater (C-).
The report highlights some positive and innovative infrastructure successes. Aviation infrastructure received the highest grade of a ‘B,’ citing that Arizona’s three largest airports have all received recent major investments, including a 20-year, $38 billion Comprehensive Asset Management Plan at Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport. With the state experiencing a 37% population growth between 2000-2017 (compared to 15% nationally during that span), Arizona’s aviation network is a vital resource for facilitating economic growth by means of attracting tourists and moving freight throughout the state. Its airports contribute to 7.6% of the state’s gross domestic product and 395,000 jobs.
Also receiving high marks, Arizona’s bridges (B+) are noted for currently being equipped to handle increasing freight and commuters throughout the region. Only 1.6% of its 8,320 bridges were classified as in poor condition in 2019, far fewer than the national average of 7.5%. The long-term viability of bridges is being helped by programs such as the Arizona Department of Transportation’s Resilience Program, which incorporates extreme weather and climate adaptation into the design engineering process. However, 46% of these structures were built in the 1970s and are nearing the end of their 50-year design life and will need rehabilitation despite having limited resources.
Resilience was a theme recurrent throughout the report. Drinking water (C-) utilities have addressed resilience needs by focusing on drinking water supplies such as state rivers, natural recharge into groundwater aquifers and treated wastewater. Residents have also reduced their water consumption— each using an average of 52,925 gallons per year, compared to the average American consumption of 64,240 gallons.
Roads received the lowest grade in the report, earning a ‘D+.’ Vehicle travel on Arizona’s highways increased by 32% from 2000-2017, compared to the national increase of 17% in that span. Arizona’s 25-year statewide federal, state and local investment needs total $98.3 billion, with an estimated investment gap of $30 billion. This in large part is due to a state motor fuels tax of 18 cents per gallon, which has not increased since 1991—sitting at the 5th lowest in the country. Arizona’s road network has relied on an average of $775 million in funds from the federal Fixing America’s Surface Transportation Act since its inception in 2015, but the program is set to expire on September 30th. The limited resources coming from the state’s motor fuels tax – the primary source of funding for surface transportation projects in Arizona – also casts doubt on the sustainability of current bridge conditions.
Unfortunately, publicly available data and funding is lacking on the state’s dams and levees, which is a consistent issue across the country. This lack of data endangers new communities expanding near these structures, as residents have no knowledge of their condition. The report finds that of the 159 levee systems, which span 387 miles in Arizona and protect 345,000 Arizona residents and close to $50 billion in property, only 8% are inventoried in the National Levee Database and have been screened for condition analysis. Additionally, Arizona’s dam safety budget is less than $1 million annually, which is primarily available to conduct inspections. Growing communities are at unknowingly at risk without proper assessments of the condition of the structures that protect them from flooding, or a budget suitable to repair structures when they fail. On a high note, Emergency Action Plans have been prepared for 95% of the state-regulated dams that have been classified as high-hazard dams, which is well above the national average of roughly 80%. Currently, nearly 1-in-5 high hazard dams across the country lack an emergency action plan.
The report also includes recommendations to raise Arizona’s grades, such as:
- Assert greater economic independence from federal funding sources through implementing measures such as a vehicles miles traveled charge or user fee for electric cars.
- Jurisdictions who own and maintain levees must work together with the Arizona Department of Water Resources (DWR), FEMA and USACE to complete the National Levee Database for both federal and non-federal levees. An important step is to fully fund The National Levee Safety Program.
- Develop a comprehensive, statewide asset database and an examination rubric to establish infrastructure priorities and improve coordination of asset management across all agencies.
Wisconsin’s infrastructure received a cumulative GPA of “C.” The report graded aviation (C+), bridges (C+), dams (C+), drinking water (C-), energy (B), hazardous waste (B-), inland waterways (C-), ports (C+), roads (D+), solid waste (B-), stormwater (C), transit (D+) and wastewater (C-).
Wisconsinites have demonstrated they prioritize caring for the natural environment by investing heavily in sectors such as energy, hazardous waste, stormwater and wastewater. The natural environment is a major catalyst for economic activity in the state, facilitating outdoor recreation activities and drawing tourists to the natural beauty of Wisconsin’s landscapes, rivers, and streams. Governor Tony Evers has drawn attention to the state’s energy network by setting a net zero greenhouse gas emissions goal by 2050, which utilities are ahead of schedule on. In the meantime, the natural gas, nuclear, and coal sectors have already ensured that energy needs will be met through 2024.
As the report details, Wisconsin is one of only a handful of states that has implemented stormwater utilities to fund and manage local stormwater programs. Residents pay an average of $60 per year to fund these utilities, which require developers to implement best management practices and regular inspections. These standards require permittees to meet a pollutant reduction standard as part of their performance requirements. Wastewater treatment plants in Wisconsin are also some of the first to adopt phosphorous water quality standards to address algae growth.
Wisconsin is a national leader in prioritizing hazardous waste clean-up and addressing Brownfields and emerging contaminant issues. As of 2015, $162 million was spent on redevelopment from Brownfields-specific programs; 75% of this came from State Brownfields grants and funds, 18% came from federal programs, and 7% comes from local tax incentives.
While great steps have been taken to promote oversight and maintenance of various infrastructure sectors, roads and transit are falling behind. Wisconsin’s roads are experiencing increased congestion during peak hours, up to nearly 30% on the state’s urban interstates. This costs drivers $1.9 billion per year in the value of lost time and waste fuel. Investment in transportation infrastructure has not been increased to meet needs or even to match inflation since 2006, when gas tax indexing to inflation was abolished by the State legislature. The current state gas tax is set at 30.9 cents per gallon.
A gas tax not equipped to match inflation is also affecting bridges, which rely on this tax for maintenance and repairs and currently faces $1.4 billion in repair costs for 1,955 of the 14,275 bridges in the state. The amount of bridges deemed structurally deficient is 7.4%, on par with the 7.5% national average. Luckily, these structures are analyzed by the Wisconsin Structures Asset Management System to predict future deterioration and necessary structure work.
The drinking water sector received a “C-” in the report, which is above the national average grade of “D,” but faces challenges. The state has over 11,000 public drinking water systems, one of the largest networks in the country. These systems could benefit from asset management programs to lower future costs and reduce overall water usage, as the sector already needs $8.6 billion to improve aging pipelines. In 2018, utilities produced 186.7 billion gallons of water but lost over 26 billion gallons (14.2%) to water leakages, costing the state tens of millions in revenue.
The report also includes recommendations to raise Wisconsin’s grades, such as:
- Increase overall investment across all infrastructure sectors to ensure safe, resilient and reliable systems to maintain and improve the quality of life and economic health for the state’s residents.
- Continue the success of utilizing effective asset management practices, replicating sectors like major airports and bridges, to better assess condition and future investment needs.
- Create an integrated multi-modal transportation system, especially in urban areas across Wisconsin, to help improve congestion and provide more transportation opportunities.
- Incorporate transit initiatives into land use and transportation planning, including larger service areas, maximized accessibility, and linkages between jobs and supporting workforces.
- Deploy new technologies which can help bridge the gap between smart investment and overall infrastructure needs, encourage new methods of design and construction, and defray costs while providing for a better future for Wisconsin.