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FEATURE ARTICLE
Report Highlights Deterioration of Virginia's Infrastructure
November 2009

The condition of Virginia’s infrastructure has a direct impact on the health, safety and welfare of the state’s residents and economy. Despite the important role infrastructure plays in our daily lives, Virginia’s roads, water systems, schools and other critical foundations are underfunded, and in many cases, sliding toward failure, according to a new report released recently by the Virginia Section of the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE).

The 2009 Report Card on Virginia’s Infrastructure, the state’s first assessment by ASCE, assigned a cumulative grade of D+ to 13 vital infrastructure categories: aviation facilities, bridges, dams, drinking water systems, energy, parks and recreation, ports and navigable waterways, rail and transit, roads, schools, solid waste disposal facilities, stormwater management and wastewater. The report’s grades ranged from a high of B- for parks and recreation, to a low of D- for dams, roads and schools. The report also noted that failure to maintain and preserve the state’s resources, and to implement effective long-range infrastructure management plans, is having a profoundly negative impact on Virginia’s future. The 2009 Report Card for America’s Infrastructure, which was released earlier this year and on which the Virginia report was modeled, gave the America’s overall infrastructure a grade of D and called for a five-year investment of $2.2 trillion.

“Commuters are losing hours each day to gridlock; the pipes that carry drinking water into our homes are aging, overused and in some case, contaminated; and our children’s classrooms are becoming increasingly crowded,” said Thomas L. Fitzgerald, president of the Virginia Section of ASCE, and chair of the Report Card Committee. “Robust infrastructure is a vital component of the health of the state’s economy and its ability to attract business and industry. Even more importantly, it is also vital to supporting and protecting the health and safety of Virginians.”

Earning one of the report’s lowest grades, Virginia’s dams received the barely passing grade of D- due to the fact that many are not compliant with new safety regulations enacted in 2008, which poses a significant flooding and safety hazard to tens of thousands of residents, and that the Virginia Division of Dam Safety currently does not have enough staff or funding to manage this growing issue.

Joining Virginia’‘s dams at a dismal grade of D- are the state’s roads and schools. Traffic congestion is choking major urban areas across the state, which has a negative impact on businesses, commuters and tourists. And, by 2025, capital and maintenance needs for Virginia’s roadways are expected to exceed $203 billion, while investment is expected to total only $95 billion, earning the category its poor grade. Similarly, schools received a D- due to a steadily increasing population and declining state and local revenues, which are insufficient to support necessary expansion, leaving Virginia students to study in 40-plus-year-old buildings and thousands of temporary trailer classrooms.

Fairing only slightly better were the state’s stormwater and wastewater infrastructure, each receiving a grade of D+. For the state’s stormwater systems, this is due to recent regulation changes, rising maintenance and replacement costs and inadequate state and federal funding. For Virginia’s wastewater systems, the problem is equally broad. The state’s 746 municipal wastewater treatment facilities are the second largest source of nitrogen pollution in the Chesapeake Bay and by 2020, an estimated 45 percent of sewer pipes in Virginia will need major renovation or replacement. However, sustained funding to maintain these systems, ones critical to our personal and environmental health, remains inadequate.

Earning a grade of C-, only slightly below average, were Virginia’s drinking water, energy, and rail and transit systems. For the state’s drinking water systems, this is primarily due to age and capacity limitations. In 2007, more than 880 Safe Drinking Water Act violations were issued affecting drinking water supplied to 900,000 Virginians, and an estimated $6.1 billion is needed to replace aging transmission, storage and distribution facilities across the state over the next 15 years.

Increasing demand, anticipated restrictions on coal-fired generating capacity—which currently supplies more than 40 percent of Virginia’s power—and inadequate investments in alternative energy sources, energy conservation and newer, cleaner power plants, pose serious challenges to Virginia’s energy infrastructure’s ability to continue meeting residential, industrial, and business needs. In much the same way, inadequate investment in the state’s rail and transit systems has meant that capacity could not keep pace with demand. Transit ridership grew by 20 percent between 2002 and 2006, freight rail is expected to double by 2035, and this growth in demand service is expected to continue.

Coming in at a merely average grade of C were the state’s bridges and solid waste facilities. For bridges, this rooted in the age and condition of Virginia’s inventory—more than 50 percent of the state’s bridges are approaching the end of their operational lives and nearly a quarter are structurally deficient or functionally obsolete—and the inadequacy of funding for maintenance and replacement. Despite these limitations, the state maintains a solid inspection program to ensure public safety. For solid waste facilities, the problem lies in capacity. Virginia’s 200 existing landfills will reach capacity within the next 20 years, and the cost to close those facilities and develop new ones will be significant. Additional funding alone won’t solve this problem; increased waste diversion, recycling and energy recovery will be required to minimize the impact of the increased costs.

Virginia’s aviation systems and ports and navigable waterways received one of the report’s higher grades, a C+. The development undertaken over the past decade at both Reagan National and Dulles International airports in Northern Virginia is largely responsible for the above average grade. However, the report also notes that critical investment is still needed to enhance air traffic control, reduce delays, and improve flight safety. For Virginia’s ports and navigable waterways, the higher grade is somewhat less positive, as it is a result of traffic congestion and transportation infrastructure, which restrict commerce volume. Despite the good condition and capacity of the state’s port facilities, the inability to build a sufficient rail, road and inland support infrastructure limits the ability to move goods and materials to those distribution sites. This constrains economic growth and threatens Virginia’s status as a major seaport.

Earning the report’s highest grade, a B-, was Virginia’s parks and recreation infrastructure. As a result of the state’s successful program of acquiring and developing parkland, state and national parks collectively bring in $420 million in tourism revenue and provide 6,100 jobs statewide. However, burgeoning population demands will require continued investment if the state’s parklands are to continue meeting Virginians’ needs and positively contributing to the economy.

A comprehensive report on all 13 categories will be issued in January 2010. To learn more about the national Report Card for America’;;s Infrastructure, visit www.infrastructurereportcard.org.


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