Lessons Learned: The ASCE Report Card and Smart Infrastructure Improvements in Massachusetts

Earlier this week, the American Society of Civil Engineers released its quadrennial Report Card for America’s Infrastructure, and the message for 2013 was undeniable: “Needs Improvement.”

The Report Card gave the nation’s infrastructure a D+ overall (although in a potential silver lining, ASCE did note that this was an improvement from the 2009 grade of a solid D).  ASCE estimates that the United States needs $3.6 trillion in infrastructure investments over the next seven years to bring its transportation, water, and energy infrastructure needs up to scratch.

Beyond the sobering national headline, the ASCE report also drills down to the implications on a state-by-state basis.  The Massachusetts Report Card indicates that the Commonwealth has its fair share of infrastructure needs, noting that 10% our bridges remain “considered structurally deficient,” and that 43% of our bridges are considered “functionally obsolete.”  And ASCE suggests that the backlog in road maintenance in the Commonwealth costs each Massachusetts motorist an average of $313 in additional repair costs annually.

Notably, the Massachusetts report card is not all bad news, as ASCE highlighted positives such as the success of the I-93 “Fast 14” bridge reconstruction project, and the use of “trenchless” technology to rehabilitate old water mains at lower costs and with fewer environmental impacts.

As Governor Patrick pushes for a 10-year, $19 billion transportation infrastructure bond bill, the ASCE’s dire predictions may help bolster the justification for additional spending.  Yet an equally important lesson from the ASCE report card — although one that may be lost in the headlines — is that effective infrastructure improvement also requires innovative thinking about project implementation.  As Massachusetts begins its effort to raise its infrastructure to the top of the class, both the Governor and the Legislature would do well to identify and incentivize opportunities for ensuring that any new funding isn’t simply spent in the same old way.

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