Will Our Infrastructure Ever Make Honor Roll?

March 11, 2009 at 5:20 pm 4 comments

By Matt Barcus
President, Precision Executive Search
Managing Partner, A/E/P Central, LLC, home of CivilEngineeringCentral.com


I did a little bit of investigating (well, not that much…about 1 minutes worth!)  in regards to the American Society of Civil Engineering’s (ASCE) report card that we have all come to love so much.   Since it’s inception in 1988, there have been 5 complete report cards (at least that I have found) and one trend report.  When growing up, I wonder if I brought home a report card this poorly, time and time again, if my parents would’ve awarded me with  nice stimulus package?   Ha. The only stimulus I would’ve received would have been to my backside from the likes of a wooden spoon!  

Take a look:

  1988 1998 2001 2003 Trend 2005 2009
Aviation B- C- D D+ D
Bridges C+ C- C C C
Dams N/A D D D D
Drinking Water B- D D D- D-
Energy N/A N/A D+ D D+
Hazardous Waste D D- D+ D D
Navigable Waterways N/A N/A D+ D- D-
Public Parks & Rec N/A N/A N/A N/A C- C-
Railways N/A N/A N/A N/A C- C-
Roads C+ D- D+ D D-
Schools N/A F D- D D
Solid Waste C- C- C+ C+ C+
Transit C- C- C- D+ D
Wastewater C D+ D D- D-


I know that if my kids came home with these grades one marking period, you would be darn sure you would see improvement the next.  And then, as a parent, I would work with the teacher and school to learn the root of problem and then make the necessary changes that would breed long-term success.  Finding short term solutions and putting a band-aid over the situation does not lead to good news down the road.   Regarding our infrastructure, according to Wayne Klotz, ASCE President, we have been using band-aids, or what he refers to as  the “patch-and-pray method” for too long:

I believe ASCE and its members to be an upstanding and successful organization with a lot to offer.   But these thoughts have to cross your mind:

  • What would happen to the civil engineering industry if all these categories were given A’s & B’s? 
  • Would funding for infrastructure projects  disappear until lower grades were given?  
  • And if that was the case, would ASCE be doing their members and the industry a dis-service, by reporting anything other than a crumbling infrastructure?  
  • Would ASCE really  mislead the government and the U.S citizens by being over-dramatic with their evaluation of the infrastructure in order to spend tax-payer money on civil engineering and infrastructure projects?

I would say, ‘probably not.’  Have you seen the news lately with the bridge collapses and the water main breaks?  And of course there are all the roads and bridges and underground utilities that were built decades ago that were not meant to handle the capacity of today.  Not to mention all the new environmental issues coming into play. There is an interesting point of view on this very topic that argues,  though ASCE is a beneficial organization for issues like education and professional development, it is stepping out of its bounds by producing such abysmal reports and lobbying the U.S. Government for funding.  To read this point of view check out this blog:


I realize that we have so much money invested in our troops in the Middle East, but with such bad report cards for over 10 years now and no apparent improvement, is ASCE not doing enough to get its point across?  Or  has our government just been pre-occupied with other issues? Will we likely see this same report card every four years just to keep building and re-building for the benefit of the civil engineering industry?  Or are the roads and bridges and dams and airports really that bad?  If by chance you do agree with the commentary from the blog that you can read via the link above, who do you believe then would be best suited to produce the Infrastructure Report Card? 

What is your opinion?


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Entry filed under: Civil Engineering Issues, Failing US Infrastructure, Politics and the Environmenta, Uncategorized, US Infrastructure. Tags: , , , , , .

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4 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Moving forward on infrastructure: Taylor Anderson, PE  |  April 2, 2009 at 1:27 pm

    […] Matt Barcus at CivilEngineeringCentral.com wonders, will our infrastructure every make honor roll? He chronicles ASCE’s grades on the nation’s infrastructure over the past 20 plus […]

  • 2. Electric Cylinder  |  March 23, 2009 at 9:48 am

    Construction of such projects requires knowledge of engineering and management principles and business procedures, economics, and human behavior.

  • 3. Christian Cooper  |  March 20, 2009 at 5:04 pm

    Over the years I have come to question the true meaning of the ASCE Infrastructure report card. My job requires that I design improvements for old or failing infrastructure 8 to 10 hours per day, 5 to 6 days a week for 50 weeks a year. So in my work life I deal with old or failing infrastructure all the time. But in my every day functioning, I am able to drive to work without falling off the edge of the world, I am able to travel across the US with speed and comfort that was unheard of 50 years ago, and I take a shower every morning in hot water that has radium removed and flouride and chlorine added to it.

    I don’t know if we as Engineers place a higher priority in “perfection” than the functioning public does but there does appear to be a big disconnect between the report card and our everyday functioning in regards to our dependence upon the existing infrastructure. I do not believe ASCE intentionally skews the picture. I think ASCE needs to clarify what constitutes the grade of an A, B, C, D or E. More importantly, ASCE needs to defiine how we would function as a society with infrastructure that had a grade of an A, B, or C. What is the premium ($) we are willing to pay in taxes to achieve that level of daily functioning. Apparently we already know how we function as a society with infrastructure that rates a D and we seem satisfied.

  • 4. hintonhumancapital  |  March 11, 2009 at 9:32 pm

    I agree that the ASCE and its members are outstanding and upright people. It is not their fault our infrastructure is in disarray. I believe our government and regular citizens like you and me are distracted by too many other issues notice our cities are crumbling. A recession is time for spring (infrastructure) cleaning and maintenance as well as jump start the economy.


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