The 2019 Report Card for Vermont’s Infrastructure was published today by the American Society of Civil Engineers. Nine categories of infrastructure – aviation, bridges, dams, drinking water, energy, roads, solid waste, stormwater and wastewater – earned cumulative GPA of a “C.”
While the overall GPA was the same as what the state earned in 2014, there were positive results from the updated scorecard. The bridges grade increased from a “C” to a “C+,” a reflection of the progress the Vermont Department of Transportation has made in reducing the number of structurally deficient bridges. While this success should be celebrated, Vermont’s transportation infrastructure is aging, and future needs are significant. The average age of a bridge in the state is 57 years, which is considerably older than the national average of 43 years reported in the 2017 national ASCE Infrastructure Report Card.
Another bright spot in the 2019 Vermont Report Card was the energy category, which earned the highest grade with a “B-.” The state has prioritized the modernization of its grid over the past several years. In many places, smart meters, automation controls, and an expanded fiber optic system are now in place. The state also has plans to use 90% renewables by 2050 across all energy uses.
On the opposite end, stormwater and wastewater both earned a “D+,” the lowest grade in the report card. Stormwater was a new category. Vermont’s civil engineers found that many rural communities lack stormwater utilities and that the network is facing an investment gap of nearly $1.25 billion over the next 20 years. The wastewater category also scored low but was an improvement from the 2014 category grade. The Vermont Clean Water Act, passed in 2015, prioritizes wastewater infrastructure to better protect and preserve the quality of the state’s receiving waters.
In addition to assessing nine categories of infrastructure, the 2019 Report Card for Vermont’s Infrastructure makes recommendations to raise the grade. These directives include the need to:
- Promote innovation and forward-thinking: Vermont’s infrastructure is aging and is challenged yearly by climate change and other external factors. To meet these challenges, an emphasis on adequate planning for future repairs, replacement, and new technologies is needed. Forward thinking can extend assets’ lifespans, reduce costs, and improve the environment. Resilient infrastructure that can adapt with the times to provide economic and environmental benefits and utilizes emerging technologies should be promoted whenever possible.
- Prepare for more severe weather conditions: Our key infrastructure systems must be resilient against the consequences of climate change. Our infrastructure should not only be able to withstand increasingly severe storms, but support emergency response and facilitate a return to regular order as efficiently as possible. State agencies have been putting systems in place to increase resiliency that should be supported, expanded, and maintained even as the memories of Tropical Storm Irene begin to fade.
- Support sustainable local funding sources: While Vermont depends heavily on federal funding and financing to supplement our state budget, our leaders at both statewide and municipal levels must establish balanced and forward-thinking budgets that incorporate sustainable funding practices for infrastructure. Funding sources should consider the long-term cost of infrastructure over its full lifespan, including operation and maintenance. Much debate has occurred recently on how this will take shape as we work to improve our water quality and road infrastructure, but the conversation should be expanded to other categories of infrastructure.
- Balance the needs of urban and rural communities: Vermont’s communities are very diverse in structure and density, with equally diverse infrastructure needs and investments required to meet individual community needs. Urban infrastructure projects may benefit a larger number of people, but funding for rural infrastructure ensures that all Vermonters have equitable access to jobs and a strong quality of life.
- Invest in water infrastructure: Vermont’s water infrastructure, defined as stormwater, wastewater, and drinking water, are among the lowest scoring infrastructure categories in the state. Strategic planning and investment of time, innovative minds, and fiscal resources in these areas is important to ensure a healthy and prosperous environment and population for decades to come.
- Advocate and participate: Vermont has a proud tradition of advocacy and public involvement. We need to channel that energy toward improving the infrastructure that Vermonters rely upon. Talk to your legislators, reach out to decision-makers, and let them know about the importance of maintaining the public assets that protect our health, safety, and welfare.
To read the full report card, visit www.infrastructurereportcard.org/state-item/vermont.