Vote for better Infrastructure Report Card grades

February 2009 » Columns
Do you recall having to explain a report card grade? Most of the time, if a grade was not acceptable, our parents/guardians would ask, "Don’t you think you could do better?" If there were multiple unacceptable grades, an immediate and effective improvement process was applied. Most scientists and engineers are competitive enough to strive for the best grades achievable, searching for the funds and investing time and effort into academic excellence. So, what happens when we see our nation’s infrastructure’s report card?
Cathy Bazxn-Arias, Ph.D., P.E.

 Do you recall having to explain a report card grade? Most of the time, if a grade was not acceptable, our parents/guardians would ask, "Don’t you think you could do better?" If there were multiple unacceptable grades, an immediate and effective improvement process was applied, typically involving an investment on tutors, more time studying, fewer social events, or all of the above. Most scientists and engineers are competitive enough to strive for the best grades achievable, searching for the funds and investing time and effort into academic excellence.

So, what happens when we see our nation’s infrastructure’s report card? For years, overall grades have been unacceptable: D+ in 2001, D in 2005, and D in 2009. Can our infrastructure not do better? It would seem that the nation certainly wants it to do so. What does it take? You.

An "engineer’s cost estimate" to address these issues is about $2.2 trillion. That’s a rather staggering improvement investment, but there it is: We either invest or witness the serious consequences of continued delay—the kind that makes front page news.

Erik Sofge, in a recent article in Popular Mechanics, eloquently states, "More than a quarter of the country’s bridges are structurally deficient or functionally obsolete. The maintenance backlog for dams is ballooning, as 1,819 dams with high hazard potential are now considered deficient. And the report card’s newest infrastructure category … might be the most disturbing. The nation’s levees received a D-. Like drinking water systems, levees are on the verge of failure, with lives hanging in the balance behind their crumbling wall."

What can we, as "guardians" of our infrastructure, do? The following four steps are a start:

  1. Visit the American Society of Civil Engineers’ (ASCE) Legislative Action Center, look for the "Featured Alert," and click the "Take Action" button.
  2. Enter your zip code then click the "Go" button.
  3. Review the data on the page, modify it as appropriate, enter your contact information, and click "Send Message" (the page should already have your U.S. senators’ and representative’s e-mail addresses).
  4. Tell six colleagues, friends, and family members before leaving the website and forward steps 1 through 4 to as many people as you can.

On its web page, Raising the Grades: Five Key Solutions, ASCE states: "While great strides can be made with sustainable development and ongoing maintenance, to make necessary long-term improvements, significant funds must be invested. The longer critical investments to improve the operability, safety, and resilience of the nation’s infrastructure are withheld, the greater the future cost and risk of failure."

If you remember the feeling of academic and professional achievement, then you have a sense for the turn around you could help make a reality nationwide. Will you vote to help our infrastructure from failing grades?


Cathy Bazán-Arias, Ph.D., P.E., is senior staff engineer for DiGioia, Gray & Associates, LLC, Monroeville, Pa.

E-mail comments in care of bdrake@stagnitomedia.com.


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