It’s not as though ASCE members were lacking for motivation Wednesday as they rallied around the release of the 2021 Report Card for America’s Infrastructure and the report’s overall C- grade.
But just in case, U.S. Secretary of Transportation Pete Buttigieg delivered a rousing message of grassroots collaboration to close the ASCE Solutions Summit that followed the reveal of the Report Card grades.
A bottom-up approach to programs and funding, he called it.
“It’s going to help us marshal the full power of American ingenuity, innovation, and capacity,” Buttigieg said. “Because all the answers don’t have to come from Washington; it’s just that more of the resources should.
“So I am looking forward to working with Congress in Washington. But I’m also looking forward with state, local, territorial, tribal partners – communities that have often made tough decisions to vote in measures to raise the revenue for infrastructure, that already show that bipartisan political will that is sometimes in short supply around here in Washington.
“I really think we can summon that energy, that determination to get something done. And when we do, we and future generations will be proud of what we achieved right now in the 2020s, not only to repair crumbling infrastructure and put people to work right now, but to prepare this country for the future.”
Buttigieg’s remarks – made during a Q&A with Kristina Swallow, P.E., Pres.18.ASCE, chair of ASCE’s Committee on America’s Infrastructure and director of the Nevada Department of Transportation – capped the all-day virtual event that both defined America’s infrastructure problem and presented potential solutions.
The ASCE Solutions Summit featured six panel discussions, going beyond the grades for different infrastructure sectors and spotlighting specific issues involved in each. The session highlighting energy solutions was particularly timely, given the recent infrastructure failures in Texas.
“The improvement in the overall grade over the 2017 Report Card is encouraging to know that we are headed in the right direction. However, it is clear that we still have a long way to go,” said Otto J. Lynch, P.E., F.SEI, F.ASCE, president and CEO of Power Line Systems and a panelist during the summit’s discussion about modernizing the electric grid.
“As 92% of all electrical outages are on the distribution side, the ‘last mile’ of our grid, it is absolutely critical that we build any new distribution lines to meet modern ASCE codes and standards. Further, any failures in our distribution network should be rebuilt to meet current meteorological loadings as dictated by ASCE 74 and the other associated ASCE codes and standards for the many different structure types used for distribution structures.”
Every four years, the ASCE Report Card for America’s Infrastructure presents a unique opportunity for civil engineers and policymakers to speak the same language about infrastructure investment and policy. The Solutions Summit accomplished a similar goal, with Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan (R), Rep. James Clyburn (D-SC), Sen. Tom Carper (D-DE), Sen. Shelley Moore Capito (R-WV), Rep. Peter DeFazio (D-OR), Rep. John Garamendi (D-CA), and Rep. Garret Graves (R-LA) joining Buttigieg and a group of engineering and policy leaders from around the country among the list of speakers.
Some highlights from the solutions panels:
• “It’s not just about having resilient infrastructure. It’s about having resilient communities.” – Carol Ellinger Haddock, P.E., M.ASCE, director of public works, Houston
• “We’ve been on a 30-, 40-year infrastructure vacation. Our infrastructure forefathers are turning over in their graves because we have not taken care of what they built.” – Phillip Washington, CEO, Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority
• “While the water challenges we face are significant, our capacity for innovation is even greater.” – Radhika Fox, acting assistant administrator, Office of Water, Environmental Protection Agency
• “The longer we fail to take action, the higher the cost.” – Elizabeth Shuler, secretary-treasurer, AFL-CIO
The 2021 infrastructure grade of C- was the highest overall mark in 20 years of ASCE report cards. However, 11 of the 17 infrastructure categories received grades in the D range, and the report found that the long-term infrastructure investment gap continues to grow.
“The results of this Report Card tell us something that we already know, which is that we’ve got a long way to go, and our infrastructure is in tough shape,” Buttigieg said.
“The disinvestment in infrastructure that’s been going on, frankly, for a lifetime, is catching up to us. And we’re also seeing global competitors getting out ahead of the United States. So that’s why now is the time to be bold.
“It doesn’t have to be this way, but it also won’t change unless we make different choices, and that means a meaningful, generational investment in our country’s infrastructure,” the transportation secretary said.