Engineers give U.S. infrastructure poor grades

CHICAGO Wed Jan 28, 2009 12:20am EST

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CHICAGO (Reuters) - U.S. roads, airports, schools, levees, dams, and other infrastructure are in overall poor shape and require a $2.2 trillion investment to bring them up to par, an engineering group said on Wednesday.

The American Society of Civil Engineers gave infrastructure a grade of "D" as U.S. President Barack Obama seeks $825 billion in extra government spending and tax cuts to ease the economic crisis.

Infrastructure earned the same dismal grade in 2005, but the group's estimated five-year price tag to fix it rose by $600 billion to $2.2 trillion.

Earlier this month, the engineers estimated that the president's stimulus package contained some $90 billion in infrastructure spending. It called that amount a down payment that was long overdue.

The group, which represents 146,000 engineers, assesses the nation's infrastructure every four years. It has helped draw attention to what many experts say is the United States' haphazard approach to building and repairing the economy's backbone.

"Crumbling infrastructure has a direct impact on our personal and economic health, and the nation's infrastructure crisis is endangering our future prosperity," the group's president, D. Wayne Klotz, said in a statement.

"Our leaders are looking for solutions to the nation's current economic crisis. Not only could investment in these critical foundations have a positive impact, but if done responsibly, it would also provide tangible benefits to the American people, such as reduced traffic congestion, improved air quality, clean and abundant water supplies and protection against natural hazards," Klotz said.

NOTHING HIGHER THAN 'C-PLUS'

The group assigned grades in 15 categories, based on the traditional scale of "A" to "F" for failure.

* Aviation and public transit systems received a "D," down from "D-plus" in 2005, and the nation's roads got a "D-minus," down from "D." Americans spend 4.2 billion hours stuck in traffic a year at a cost of $78.2 billion, or $710 for each motorist, the study said.

* Rail transportation got a "C-minus," with $200 billion in investment needed through 2035.

* Bridges got a "C," with one in four rated structurally deficient or functionally obsolete. Levees, most of them older than their designed lifespan and privately owned, got a "D-minus," with repair costs put at $100 billion.

* Drinking water facilities, wastewater treatment, and waterways received a "D-minus." It will cost $526 billion to repair leaking pipes, rebuild facilities, stop sewage discharges and replace 122 aged river locks, the study said.

* Dams got a "D," with 4,000 dams deemed deficient and half of those considered to have "high hazard potential."

* School buildings got a "D." An estimated $322 billion is needed to repair them.

* Parks, beaches and other recreation got a "C-minus," with a $7 billion maintenance backlog at national parks.

* Solid waste earned a "C-plus." One-third of the 254 million metric tons of garbage Americans produced was recycled or recovered, a 7 percent jump since 2000. But an increase in trashed electronics posed a hazardous threat in landfills, the engineers said.

* Energy infrastructure got a "D-plus" -- the only category to improve, up from a "D" in 2005 due to greater investment. But $1.5 trillion was needed by 2030.

(Reporting by Andrew Stern; Editing by Michael Conlon and Xavier Briand)

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