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Infrastructure gets a D+

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- The American Society of Civil Engineers gave the United States a D-plus grade on Tuesday, after reviewing 16 different types of infrastructure activities across the nation over the last four years.

Rep. Nick J. Rahall, D-W.Va., top Democrat on the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, renewed his requests to Congress to make the investments needed to address a growing backlog of highway, bridge, water and transit problems facing states across the nation.

"While our infrastructure grades have remained stagnant, the consequences of our underinvestment have only been magnified," Rahall said in a news release.

"As this report reveals, we are spending even more time sitting in endless traffic, our communities are losing money to patch older infrastructure we should be replacing, and worst of all, our failure to invest in our infrastructure is costing us jobs at a time when millions of Americans are desperately seeking employment."

In 1998, the ASCE began conducting and publishing an extensive study of the nation's infrastructure every four years.

This year's report found that 42 percent of America's highways are congested, costing the economy more than $100 billion in wasted time and fuel every year. Congestion at U.S. airports costs almost $22 billion.

While U.S. bridges were one of the best ranked infrastructure categories, earning a C-plus grade, one of every nine bridges in the country was structurally deficient.

"It is high time that we move beyond just rhetoric when it comes to the state of our infrastructure and recognize that it is about the money," said Rahall.

The ASCE's new 2013 Report Card for America's Infrastructure reported major problems with West Virginia's aging bridges:

* 952 bridges -- 13.4 percent of the state's 7,093 bridges -- are "structurally deficient."

* 1,595 bridges -- an additional 22.5 percent of all the state's bridges -- are "functionally obsolete."

* West Virginia has 380 "high hazard dams" on its waterways. But the state employs just six full-time workers to monitor them, an average of 60.5 dams for each employee.

The new ASCE study also stated:

* West Virginia is facing $1 billion in drinking water infrastructure needs over the next 20 years.

* West Virginia will have $3 billion in wastewater infrastructure needs over the next 20 years.

* West Virginia has nine sites on the National Priorities List of hazardous waste sites.

* West Virginia state parks need $55.9 million in repairs and maintenance work.

The poor condition of roads in West Virginia costs state motorists $372 million in extra vehicle repair and operating expenses annually -- $273 per motorist -- according to the report.

The state's public schools need $1.2 billion to fund their infrastructure repairs. Between 2005 and 2008, public school districts in West Virginia spent $677 million for school construction and acquisition of land and existing structure.

Rahall warned about the impact of congressional inaction.

"Later this week, the House will consider a budget that essentially eliminates federal investment in our roads and transit systems in fiscal year 2015," he said. "If we do not find the political will to beat back these ideological proposals and increase investment in infrastructure, we will again find ourselves bringing up the rear."

Sen. Jay Rockefeller, D-W.Va., said Tuesday, "Every day, Americans rely on the nation's infrastructure to commute safely to work, visit family and friends, and travel freely around the country.

"Businesses depend on a well-functioning transportation system to manage their supply chains and move their goods and services to market. A well-maintained, efficient transportation system is essential to the economic competitiveness of the U.S."

In its recent analysis, Rockefeller said, ASCE estimated that if this investment backlog is not addressed by 2020, the U.S. would cumulatively lose more than $3.1 trillion in its GDP.

Rockefeller believes the U.S. Department of Transportation should create a fund designed to encourage private investment in transportation projects that maintain American economic competitiveness.

Reach Paul J. Nyden at pjnyden@wvgazette.com or 304-348-5164.

 


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