Civil Engineers Deliver Infrastructure Plan, Warnings to Congress

By Curt Grandia | September 28, 2010

Just a few short paragraphs from now, I'm going to suggest that local governments double our residential water bills.

Civil engineers from across the country last month delivered a plan to Congress with 11 recommended legislative actions addressing infrastructure issues ranging from long commutes and dirty water to unsafe dams and bridges. With each passing day, they said during the American Society of Civil Engineers' (ASCE) Annual Legislature Fly-In Program March 7, failing infrastructure is threatening the economy and quality of life in every state, city and town in America.

ASCE took its Infrastructure Action Plan to the 110th Congress after issuing its most recent Report Card for America's Infrastructure that assessed the nation's critical foundations at an overall grade of D (ASCE's Report Card is available on the World Wide Web at

ASCE estimates that the United States needs to invest $1.6 trillion in federal, state and local funds over a five-year period to bring the nation's infrastructure to a good condition that meets the needs of our current population. Much of the needed funding is already allocated in existing budgets so that only about one-third of the total investment needed would be new funding. However, the $1.6 trillion does not account for additional needs stemming from future population growth.

"Establishing a long-term plan for the country's infrastructure must become a national priority, but in the short term, there are realistic and immediate steps that must be taken," said ASCE President William F. Marcuson III, P.E., Ph.D., Hon. M.ASCE. "By passing legislation introduced but not enacted by the previous Congress, our current leaders can make protecting public health, safety and welfare a top priority."

ASCE's 11 Action Plan steps are:

  1. Enact the National Infrastructure Improvement Act to establish the National Commission on Infrastructure of the United States;
  2. Reauthorize funding for the Airport and Airway Trust Fund and enact an increase in user fees as necessary for continued funding of the Airport Improvement Program;
  3. Fully fund surface transportation programs authorized under SAFETEA-LU;
  4. Use all funds that accumulate in the Highway Trust Fund to invest in the nation's surface transportation program;
  5. Reauthorize the Brownfields Revitalization and Environmental Restoration Act of 2002 in order to provide continued federal funding for the redevelopment of brownfields sites;
  6. Enact the Dam Rehabilitation and Repair Act (H.R. 1098) to address the most critical non-federal public dams;
  7. Enact a national levee safety program, including a nationwide inventory of levees and mandatory inspection requirements;
  8. Enact the Water Quality Financing Act of 2007 (H.R. 720) to provide vitally needed federal aid through the State Revolving Loan Fund (CWSRF) program;
  9. Authorize $1 billion in annual funding for the Safe Drinking Water Act State Revolving Loan Fund (DWSRF);
  10. Enact a Water Resources Development Act (WRDA) that requires a more comprehensive approach to water resources projects constructed by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers; and
  11. Ensure the integrity of the Inland Waterways Trust Fund.
  • I can agree with every one of those recommended steps. Our highways and bridges certainly need work. Our dams and levees need work. Our airports need work.

    But it seems to me that the most neglected and potentially the most dangerously under-funded component of our infrastructure is our water and sanitary sewer. Sure most people take our roads and bridges for granted, but I think even more take our water (and sewer) for granted. Out of sight, out of mind, and what's more out of sight than our water and sewer systems? Unless and until you have a problem with either, it's easy to forget about them.

    If I were king for a day, I'd double our residential water bills with the extra share going directly to a fund to rebuild and improve our water/sewer infrastructure. The fund I'd establish could only be used for the stated improvements and could only be used in the area (county or city) collected.

    "Doubling" a bill sounds like a lot, I know, but when you think of it, isn't your water/sewer bill the least expensive and/or most reasonable utility bill you pay? I'd bet most people pay more every month for cable or satellite television than they pay for their water/sewer service. I like television almost as much as the next person, but more than that I like to have clean, safe water.

    That's something for which I'd be glad to pay more.

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