WASHINGTON – A week is a terrible thing to waste.
But the average time-starved American did just that last year sitting in a car, creeping in rush hour, dodging potholes and slowing for orange barrels, says the American Society of Civil Engineers.
Such revelations are contained in the society’s latest report on the nation’s infrastructure, a survey of state reports on crowded roads, unsafe bridges and crumbling sewers across the country.
The engineers – who make their living building these things, of course – gave the country a “D” for “poor,” which is marginally worse than the “D-plus” awarded in their last report, in 2001.
Out of more than a dozen categories, the highest grade was a “C-plus” for solid-waste management.
The report concluded that the eroding infrastructure was eroding the quality of life and needed a $1.6 trillion investment over the next five years.
“We believe that you can’t keep doing a patch-and-pray mentality,” said Patrick Natale, the group’s executive director. “Eventually, you’re going to have a problem.”
Dams, for instance, are a worry. Last March, one in Mississippi failed and destroyed 100 homes.
Nationally, the number of unsafe dams has increased by more than a third – to 3,500 – since the engineers’ first report card, in 1998.
Bridges also need work. More than one in four of the nearly 591,000 bridges across the country has structural problems or is obsolete, according to the report.
Water systems need help, too. Six billion gallons is lost each day because of aging, leaky pipes and mains. That’s enough water to serve all of California, the engineers say.
They recommended a $161 billion upgrade over the next two decades.
Meanwhile, half of the locks in the inland waterways system are more than 60 years old. Some were even built in the early 1800s.
In addition, the condition of the nation’s public schools has not been evaluated since 1999, when the federal government recommended $127 billion in improvements.
And old roads and highways are crumbling under the impact of heavy trucks and other vehicles that they were never designed to handle.