Civil engineers give state’s infracture a C-
Connecticut’s roads and wastewater treatment systems are in need of major repairs costing billions over the next two decades while issues facing the state’s bridges and drinking water are nearly as bad.
As a result state leaders and residents should consider spending more than $40 billion over the next two decades to make major repairs and upgrades.
That’s what the Connecticut Society of Civil Engineers determined in their inaugural 2018 Report Card for Connecticut’s Infrastructure which was released Tuesday.
Combine the grades for their evaluation of bridges, drinking water, rails, roads and wastewater and the state gets an overall C- on its infrastructure. Those are the five areas the engineers focused on.
“There are bright spots in this report, but it is clear that we must prioritize our infrastructure systems to keep our state competitive and grow our economy,” said David Chapman, president of the Connecticut Society of Civil Engineers.
However Jim Cameron, founder of the Commuter Action Group and a Hearst Connecticut Media transportation columnist, suggested “their grades should come with a dose of skepticism.”
“I’m always a bit suspicious of reports from a group with a strong self-interest in what they are grading. Like the construction trades, engineers are looking for work,” he said.
Still Cameron added, “who is better qualified to comment on something like this? So let’s assume they’re being objective and not just priming the pump for their own profits.”
Perhaps surprising to some the civil engineers graded the state’s railroad system the highest with a B rating.
They pointed out that the 41 million passengers who annually ride Metro-North have made it the busiest of its kind in the nation. They also commended the Department of Transportation for investing almost $780 million in the New Haven-Hartford-Springfield line.
In addition to passengers, more than 3.6 million tons of freight pass through Connecticut every year through the 10 freight train lines that service the state.
“I think the grade of B is fair, especially given the state and Amtrak’s huge investments since the 2013 Fairfield derailment,” Cameron said. “There is still much more to be done and none of it will be cheap. Slower train schedules, daily delays for things like broken rails and broken down branch-line diesels will only worsen without the kinds of investments the report cites.”
Meanwhile Naugatuck Valley officials and legislators are calling for money devoted to increase train service on the Waterbury line as cities like Ansonia, Derby and Shelton increase the number of rental properties in their downtowns.
While rails ranked the best, the state’s roads and wastewater received the lowest grade of D+. The engineers maintain that at least $30 billion is needed to spent over the next 30 years to repair, refurbish and realign the 20,000 miles of road, most of which are over 55 years old. They claim the poor condition and congestion on state roads cost drivers $2.4 billion annually.
They grade the state’s bridges at a C- even after finding 7.8 percent are structurally deficient and 59 are over 50 years old. Everyday 79 vehicles cross state bridge, according to the engineers.
“ A D+ seems generous, as anyone who drives regularly can attest, Cameron said. “Like the C- for bridges, they’re in terrible shape. We’re already paying a sort of “toll” in the form of bent rims, flat tires and front end re-alignments because our vehicles take a pounding.”
A similar issue faces the wastewater infrastructure where the engineers found 50 of the state’s sewage treatment plants were high risk for flooding during major storms. They believe $4.6 billion is needed to repair, renovate and upgrade plants throughout the state.
And on the flip side the engineers believe at least $4 billion must be spent through 2034 to keep the state’s drinking water dispensed at a high quality rating. They gave the aging systems a C-.
“I’m so glad drinking water and waste water treatment systems also were included, as they are often forgotten in discussions of infrastructure,” Cameron said. “We take them for granted until we have a drought or our beaches are closed after a heavy rain. We might be able to live with late trains and bad roads, but we cannot live without water.”
With the grades came recommendation and those include prioritizing investment in infrastructure during difficult budget cycles and modernizing and building resilient infrastructure to prepare for increasingly severe storms”
They recommend a transportation lockbox to ensure “all transportation funds are used solely for transportation purposes.”
“All of these things are fixable... if we find the money,” Cameron said. “So until we get serious about tolls or taxes and put a lock on the state transportation funds’ box, these conditions will only get worse with time. Will it take another Mianus River bridge disaster to get Hartford’s attention?”
Chapman said the report card was created “as a public service to citizens and policymakers to inform them of the infrastructure needs in their state”
It was modeled after the national Infrastructure Report Card, which gave America’s infrastructure a grade of “D+” in 2017.
A full copy of the 2018 Report Card for Connecticut’s Infrastructure is available at InfrastructureReportCard.org/Connecticut.