*Kevin Longley, Alexa Lopez, and Maria Matthews contributed to this blog
As 2020 comes to a close, ASCE Government Relations is thankful for its wonderful community of 150,000 members who work diligently to ensure the safety, efficiency, and modernization of our nation’s roads, bridges, drinking and wastewater systems, utilities, and more every day. The work you do and experiences you share through ASCE’s Key Contact program are what will improve the holiday traffic logjams of the future, maintain the assets that exist today, and guarantee our infrastructure systems are sustainable, resilient, and fit for the future. We are very grateful for your contributions! Here are a few highlights:
Thank You, Key Contacts!
ASCE would like to thank all of our Key Contacts, whose efforts ensured that several vital pieces of legislation passed this year—starting with a long-time priority of ASCE’s – a fix for the Harbor Maintenance Trust Fund, which was included in the CARES ACT. Key Contacts and Advocacy Captains quickly pivoted from in-person advocacy opportunities, like our Legislative Fly-In, to virtual outreach and were instrumental in getting the Great American Outdoors Act enacted and extending the current surface transportation reauthorization for one year to provide certainty for our state DOTs. Key Contacts also ensured Congress recognized the need to provide relief for our nation’s infrastructure during the COVID-19 crisis and were successful in securing initial funding for the nation’s transit systems and airports in the CARES Act. ASCE members also pushed Virginia to raise its gas tax and were successful in combating numerous threats to licensure across the country. With the COVID-19 pandemic continuing to have an adverse impact on the economy and community vitality, 2021 will provide plenty of further opportunities for ASCE Key Contacts to make their voice heard and influence public policy.
Infrastructure Report Card Releases Go Virtual
ASCE Report Card member teams spend a year or more developing their state’s Infrastructure Report Card, which involves research, writing, meetings, analyzing data, and planning the press conference with guest speakers, where the grades are finally released to the public. However, COVID-19 put a wrench into the event-planning – the bells and whistles – of this year’s state Infrastructure Report Cards, causing committees to think creatively and release virtually. While the pandemic sucked the oxygen out of other major issues and crises facing the country, our infrastructure challenges remain, and our members worked hard to make sure their state report card was heard by policymakers, the media, and the public, so that they could recognize the infrastructure issues their communities face. In the midst of the pandemic, Report Card committees emphasized the nexus between infrastructure and public health and educated decision-makers on the role infrastructure investment can play in spurring economic growth in the months and years to come. This year, Colorado, Maryland, Mississippi, Rhode Island, Wisconsin, and Arizona gave their state’s infrastructure systems grades, some for the first time, and all virtual through Zoom, Adobe Connect, Microsoft Teams, and Facebook Live. Before the end of the year, West Virginia, Maine, and Utah will release theirs. With these reports, local ASCE members successfully elevate infrastructure as a priority at statehouses and in local elections.
Our Members Set the Headlines
2020 was yet another busy year for infrastructure in the news—from various Governors’ State of the State addresses that hit on infrastructure to stories analyzing the impacts of COVID-19 on our infrastructure systems and corresponding legislation. We are also thankful for our many members who have advocated for infrastructure, highlighting the critical needs of our bridges, water systems, roads, and more through 15 OpEds and over a 100 media interviews. Here are a few highlights:
At the start of the year, 2020 Report Card for Colorado’s Infrastructure Chair, Peyton Gibson, EIT, ENV SP responded to Governor Polis’ State of the State Address in a Colorado Sun OpEd, urging the governor and state to prioritize infrastructure, and previewing the Colorado Report Card, which was released in late January. Tony Klimek, P.E. sounded the alarm on our national parks, citing maintenance and investment needs in a Cincinnati Enquirer OpEd. Past President Noma Jean Mattei, P.E. continued to provide expertise and insight into the Hard Rock Hotel collapse that occurred one year ago through multiple local media interviews. Past President Any Herrmann spoke to the New York Times about our aging roads and bridges, and how we’re struggling to keep up. ASCE Kentucky Past President Daniel Tegene, P.E. authored a Louisville Courier-Journal OpEd in response to Kentucky Governor Andy Beshear’s State of The Union Address, calling for bipartisanship in modernizing Kentucky’s roads, bridges, and drinking water systems. Susan Hann, P.E. interviewed with Roll Call on the need to modernize our schools and include them in infrastructure legislation. In Alaska, Tor Anderzen, P.E. painted a bleak picture of the state of airports and other infrastructure as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, pushing for infrastructure investment in stimulus relief legislation in a Juneau Empire OpEd. ASCE Michigan President Jacob Rushlow, P.E. pushed for federal investment on water infrastructure and Michigan water issues in an Oakland Press OpEd.
When the two Midland, Michigan dams collapsed in May, Jim Hegarty, P.E., Jacob Rushlow, P.E., and Mark Ogden, P.E. provided knowledge and expertise on dam safety issues and aging dam infrastructure through interviews with The Guardian, NBC News, The Weather Channel, Popular Science, The Detroit Free Press, Fox 47, and more. Cathy Farrell, P.E., 2018 Report Card for Pennsylvania’s Infrastructure co-chair discussed northeast infrastructure needs due to COVID-19 and changing traffic patterns/declining revenues in an interview with Transport Topics. Darren Olsen, P.E., vice chair of the Committee for America’s Infrastructure urges residents across the U.S. to not flush PPE and other items that will clog our sewer systems in an AP interview. Andy Herrmann, P.E. was ready at a moment’s notice to respond to two bridge incidents on the Roosevelt Bridge in Florida and Brent Spence Bridge in Kentucky. A.J. Frank, P.E. discussed the state of Indiana’s dams in a WTHR interview. Past ASCE Board Directors Carol Haddock, P.E. and Roger Millar, P.E. authored an OpEd in the Washington Times, illustrating the financial crisis occurring simultaneously with the COVID-19 pandemic due to declining budgets and lack of revenue for state Departments of Transportation. Past President Greg DiLoreto, P.E. urged Oregon voters to vote for a ballot measure that invests in water infrastructure in Oregon in a Clackamas Review OpEd. Puerto Rico President Hector Colon De La Cruz pushed for rebuilding Puerto Rico’s infrastructure resiliently, using ASCE standards and Puerto Rico Report Card recommendations in an OpEd for major Puerto Rico news outlet, News is My Business. And let’s not forget about all of our members from the Colorado, Maryland, Mississippi, Wisconsin, Rhode Island, Arizona, and soon to be Maine, West Virginia and Utah, who gave their time to speak to print and broadcast media on their state report card grades, state of infrastructure, and solutions to raise the grades.
Infrastructure Success on Election Night
After some uncertainty over whether the COVID-19 pandemic would affect plans for infrastructure investment on the November 3rd ballot, many states and localities stuck with their plans to bring many of these initiatives before voters. As has historically been the case, a majority of state and local infrastructure measures passed, once again demonstrating voter’s support for investments that will improve our infrastructure, grow the economy, and improve quality of life. A whopping 94 percent of the 322 ballot initiatives for transportation measures were passed! Read more on our election night blog.
New Resources Illuminate Infrastructure Needs & Opportunities
The ASCE Committee on America’s Infrastructure (CAI) released three new reports this year looking at the impacts of chronic underinvestment in electricity, water and wastewater, and surface transportation. Failure to Act: Closing the Infrastructure Investment Gap for America’s Economic Future quantifies how the persistent failure to invest in our aging infrastructure impacts the economy, including GDP, jobs, personal disposable income, and business sales. Each report was released at a virtual press conference, featuring remarks from ASCE experts in their respective fields, including Carol Haddock P.E., Otto Lynch P.E., Mike Schipper P.E., and ASCE Past President Kristina Swallow P.E. A comprehensive study that examines three additional sectors – inland waterways, airports, and seaports – will be released on January 12, 2021. Many of these findings will be included in the 2021 Infrastructure Report Card, which will be released on March 3, 2021.
CAI also published a suite of tools to communicate the pressing needs infrastructure owners and operators are experiencing this year, as well as opportunities for improvement. The COVID-19 Infrastructure Report Card Status Report highlighted individual challenges many of our infrastructure networks faced as the onset of the pandemic caused sudden and significant revenue shortfalls. A map of construction-ready projects around the U.S. was also published, highlighting hundreds of worthy projects currently awaiting funding. Should Congress pass a comprehensive infrastructure investment package, projects like these can break ground in the near-term and put people back to work.
At the beginning of 2020, ASCE also released Changing the Infrastructure Equation: Using Asset Management to Optimize Investments, a report providing best practices for asset management implementation with ‘lessons learned,’ as well as policy recommendations. While asset management has been around for decades, ASCE released this report to examine the current practice of this method as a way to prioritize maintenance and make smart investment decisions for our systems.
Advancing Our Priorities Through Regulatory Successes
ASCE is grateful for the members who helped the Government Relations team develop and refine public comments on federal regulations in 2020 related to infrastructure issues and the profession. Members helped us weigh in on items from the proposed Lead & Copper rule to transportation items like the National Freight Plan, and National Bridge Inspection Standards. We are especially grateful for the members who helped the Government Relations team draft ASCE’s public comments to the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s (FEMA) on the implementation of the Building Resilient Infrastructure and Communities (BRIC) grant program as many of these objectives are being implemented using ASCE standards.
2020 Presidential Candidates Tout Infrastructure Plans at National Forum
In February, ASCE members from the ASCE Nevada Section joined both ASCE 2021 President-Elect candidates and members from California, Utah, Colorado, and Massachusetts at the first-ever presidential candidate forum focused on infrastructure, “Moving America Forward.” The event took place in Las Vegas, Nevada and was hosted by United for Infrastructure, of which ASCE served as a host committee member. The event was live broadcast on CSPAN and moderated by The Wall Street Journal’s Executive Washington Editor Jerry Seib and Deputy Washington Bureau Chief Jeanne Cummings.
What’s next? March 3, 2021 is the release of the 2021 Infrastructure Report Card, which will grade 17 categories of infrastructure and provide recommendations to raise the grade. Sign up here to receive updates on the release, such as the agenda and registration link.
ASCE Unveils New Infrastructure Gamechangers
In July, ASCE unveiled 12 additions to its list of Infrastructure Gamechangers, groundbreaking infrastructure projects and programs that represent the latest innovations in transportation, water and energy infrastructure that are transforming the way engineers plan, build and adapt to the nation’s infrastructure needs. Gamechangers can be defined as projects that utilize innovative technologies, unique funding mechanisms, breakthroughs in construction efficiency, and more. These 12 projects, which range from a solar-powered school to lava-resistant heat panels on highways, demonstrate the means in which innovative projects can be completed and the benefits they can provide to their communities. The update represented the first additions to the ASCE’s Gamechangers since 2017. Projects were reviewed and chosen in conjunction with the Committee for America’s Infrastructure.
What’s next? March 3, 2021 is the release of the 2021 Infrastructure Report Card, which will grade 17 categories on infrastructure and provide recommendations to raise the grade. Sign up here to receive updates on the release, such as the agenda and registration link.
From Washington, DC to you, ASCE wishes a Happy Thanksgiving to you and yours!