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Remediation may be in order: The District is “at risk” of having levees, roads, and transit infrastructure that are “unfit for purpose,” according to an area report card released today by the American Society of Civil Engineers.
D.C. received a “G.P.A.” of a C-; its highest grades (B-) were in the categories of bridges and rail. ASCE based its marks on a combination of eight “rigorous grading criteria“: capacity, condition, funding, future need, innovation, operation and maintenance, public safety, and resilience. The to-date national average of U.S. states’ grades doled out by ASCE is a D+; previous report cards for Virginia and Maryland both recorded G.P.A.s of C-. (Notably, the District generally does not receive state-level funding like its peers.)
“It’s no secret that D.C. is rapidly outgrowing the systems around and underneath it, or that delayed maintenance has turned into safety incidents, pipe breaks, and costly delays across D.C.,” the report card states. “Solutions exist to raise every grade for D.C.’s infrastructure…Major wastewater projects across D.C. are in progress to reduce flooding and clean up the Anacostia River, major bridges have been fixed and some have repairs in the words, and 64 of D.C.’s schools have been renovated and more if planned for D.C.’s parks.”
The report card notes that the District’s lowest category-grade, for levees, results in part from “unacceptable” safety ratings by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, which regularly inspects its two systems spanning more than three-miles-long. Still, despite $1.2 million of improvements planned in 2007, “an additional $5 million would be needed to finish the work on the levees to protect the capital area.”
Meanwhile, the District’s highest grades—for bridges and rail—cite that “D.C.’s percentage of structurally deficient bridges [265 in total, with a mean of 58-years-old] is now well below the national average,” and that transportation company “CSX has invested $25 million in D.C. rail upgrades and will spend another $200 million to renew and double capacity through D.C.’s Virginia Avenue Rail Tunnel,” respectively. But the system “has reached capacity.”
And though the infrastructure upon which transportation occurs in D.C. scored the highest among the report card’s 11 categories, transit itself received a D, largely owing to recent blunders and built-in challenges confronting Metro:
Public transit faces an estimated $16 billion funding gap over the next 10 years in the D.C. region even as the area grows and more ridership is expected. MetroForward was Metro’s 6-year, $5 billion investment plan to improve safety and reliability, and has brought track and bus improvements. However, the condition of the system and the safety implications of a lack of consistent funding for maintenance continue to be concerns for Metro and its riders, and last October, the Federal Transit Administration took over safety oversight of Metrorail for the safety of passengers and employees.
D.C. Water Chief Executive Officer George Hawkins says the report card represents a “mixed message” of “hope” and “an imperative” to keep improving the District’s infrastructure. One of the challenges that exists in this area, he adds, is the fact that the median age of watermains in D.C. is 79 years old. However, D.C. Water has increased the annual rate of replacement of such capital infrastructure from 0.3 percent seven years ago to one percent today.
“Our customers should know that we’re progressing,” Hawkins says. “The other part of the message is that for drinking water, a C+ [found in the report card] is just not sufficient. We want to get to a far higher level of service.”
ASCE considers the grades contained in its report cards valid for about six years. Says Ranjit Sahai, chair of the report card for D.C.’s infrastructure: “Civil engineers design and build infrastructure, so it’s logical to rely on their knowledge about infrastructure to help us assess and grade it.”
Read the report here.
Update 5:05 p.m.: A spokesperson for the District Department of Transportation provided City Desk with the following statement on the report card:
“Major infrastructure projects are important and we are making progress, but we also placed a major emphasis on deliver core programs like sidewalks, roadway paving, and alley. Those are also critical assets and we are working hard to accelerate delivery of those projects. We appreciate the work of the [ASCE], which can be a valuable tool not only to the District, but for communities across the country. We look forward to fully analyzing their findings.”
Screenshot via ASCE report card