D.C. Infrastructure Scores Low

Despite efforts to invest in Washington, D.C.’s infrastructure, the American Society of Civil Engineers gave the city a C-minus on its 2016 Infrastructure Report Card, released Jan. 14.

The ASCE releases a national report card every four years as well as report cards for individual states and regions on a rolling basis. The evaluations take into account the conditions of bridges, drinking water, energy, levees, parks, rails, roads, schools, solid waste, transit and wastewater.

Engineer Ranjit Sahai, chair of the committee that created D.C.’s report card, highlighted the report card format as allowing easy access to both infrastructure experts and District residents.

“The Report Card for D.C.’s Infrastructure is a standardized assessment of D.C.’s infrastructure against eight relevant criteria,” Sahai wrote in an email to The Hoya. “The report card, like a dashboard, is an easy to understand tool for documenting and presenting the outcome of an assessment for both the layman and the expert.”

Of the criteria that the ASCE selected, the District scored the highest on bridges and rails, receiving a B-minus in both categories. However, the report cites that 21 of the 252 bridges in D.C. are structurally deficient despite the $26.1 million that the city received from the Federal Highway Bridge Fund in 2011.

The District also received a D-minus on the evaluation of city levees and a D-min for roads.

According to a United States Army Corps of Engineers inspection, all 3.26 miles of levees in the city are reported to be structurally unacceptable. Additionally, the report card states that of the city’s 1,502 public roads, 95 percent are in poor condition. Because of this, District motorists spend an average of $1,061 annually on vehicle repairs after driving on damaged roads, totaling $425 million.

Public Information Officer for the District Department of Transportation Terry Owens said that while the ASCE’s analysis is welcome, projects involving complete overhauls of city infrastructure are not currently the DDOT’s primary focus.

“We appreciate the work of the American Society of Civil Engineers which can be a valuable tool not only for the District, but communities across the country,” Owens wrote in an email to The Hoya. “Major infrastructure projects are important and we are making progress, but we have also prioritized our delivery of core services and programs like repair and rehabilitation of existing sidewalks, roads and alleys, as well as streetlights and trees.”

Although the ASCE found much of the District’s infrastructure unacceptable, its overall score was actually higher than that of the nation’s D-plus average. Furthermore, D.C. scored similarly to other areas with high urban populations, such as New York, which also received a C-minus.

Sahai said that in comparison with other states, D.C.’s infrastructure problems result more from the leadership of local elected officials than from other factors.

“D.C. infrastructure owners and their consultants have the technical know-how to improve infrastructure grades,” Sahai wrote. “The problem is not that their model is broken. The problem is that policymakers who allocate available resources have relegated infrastructure needs low on their priority scale. This approach has over decades starved the maintenance and evolution needs of infrastructure.”

However, Owens said that local officials have given the DDOT adequate support, and that this support is beginning to pay off.

“We are grateful for the tremendous support we receive from the Mayor and Council,” Owens wrote. “That support can be seen across the District in the form of new sidewalks, repaved streets and alleys, as well as major developments such as the recently completed 16th Street Bridge over Military Road, the 11th Street Bridge and the New York Avenue Bridge.”

Despite D.C.’s drinking water receiving a C-minus and wastewater receiving a C-plus, D.C. Water and Sewer Authority Chief Executive Officer George Hawkins expressed optimism in a press conference Jan. 14.

“It’s the trend that matters more than an individual point,” Hawkins said. “Each day, each year, we’re going to get better.”

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