The Infrastructure Report Card evaluates the progress (and sometimes regress) of the nation’s infrastructure over a four-year period. As ASCE prepares to release its next Report Card on March 9, here are some of the most notable accomplishments that have happened since 2013, including many that were identified as ways to “raise the grade” in the 2013 recommendations.
December 2015 saw the signing of the FAST Act, which authorized federal surface transportation programs for five years. Congress had passed nearly 40 short-term extensions, so the passage of a long-term bill was a victory for proponents of infrastructure and everyday Americans who use it. The FAST Act provided a small increase in funding, but did not fix the Highway Trust Fund’s underlying revenue problem.
The FAST Act included the creation of a “Nationally Significant Freight and Highway projects” program, which the Department of Transportation christened FASTLANE. The program provides $4.5 billion over five year (subject to appropriations) for highway and intermodal freight projects through a competitive grant program. The first round of recipients was announced in September 2016 and the 18 grantees received a combined $759.2 million.
Another major stride was a reduction in structurally deficient bridges. The percentage of bridges that are classified as structurally deficient has decreased since the last report card. From 2012 to 2015, the percentage of bridges designated structurally deficient went from 11% to 9.6%.
The last four years have been banner for water resources projects and programs. Starting in 2013 Congress began working on a new Water Resources Development Act (WRDA). WRDA bills authorize new projects at the Army Corps of Engineers, such as port modernization, inland waterway maintenance and lock and dam upgrades. Congress passed a WRDA bill in 2014 (the first time since 2007) and promised to continue passing the bill every two years in an attempt to keep up with the nation’s most economically way of moving goods and ensuring the safety of millions of people living behind levees and dams. The bill included a new levee safety program, made important changes to the Harbor Maintenance Trust Fund and created a new innovative water project financing tool called the Water Infrastructure Finance and Innovation Act (WIFIA).
Keeping their word, Congressional leaders began drafting a new water resources bill in early 2016. After 10 months of work, a new Water Resources Development Act of 2016 passed in the last few hours of Congress meeting in December. The bill was included in the Water Infrastructure Improvements for the Nation Act (WIIN) which provided aid to Flint, Mich to assist wit the lead water crisis and also significant resources to California for drought relief. Finally, the 2016 bill included a new dam rehabilitation program that will help communities mitigate the risk of high hazard aging dams across the country.
Science and Research
American Innovation and Competitiveness Act (12/16/16) reauthorized most of the nation’s non-medical research and development programs including those at the National Science Foundation (NSF), the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST), and other federal programs on innovation, manufacturing, and science and math education. ASCE supported the legislation.
The National Windstorm Impact Reduction Act Reauthorization (9/13/15) reauthorized the program first established in 2004, largely through ASCE efforts, to reduce in the losses of life and property from windstorms through a coordinated effort aimed at improving the understanding of windstorms and their impacts and developing and encouraging the implementation of cost-effective mitigation measures to reduce those impacts.
Every Student Achieves Act (12/10/15) reauthorized the Elementary and Secondary Education Act and replaced No Child Left Behind Act of 2001. The ASCE-supported bill includes funding to support a wide range of STEM education activities, including teacher professional development and hands on learning. ASCE worked with the STEM Education Coalition to ensure that STEM (science-technology-education-mathematic) education remained a major focus of the bill.
Starting with Wyoming’s approval of a 10-cent gas tax hike in February 2013, we’ve seen gas tax increases or reforms enacted with bipartisan support—and the trend is expected to continue in 2017. Since then we have seen 16 states increase their gas taxes. The most recent state to do so was New Jersey with a 23-cent gas tax increase to help fund its Transportation Trust Fund.