NC infrastructure gets mostly C grades from engineers

bsiceloff@newsobserver.comJune 7, 2013 

  • Report card online

    The American Society of Civil Engineers 2013 Report Card for North Carolina infrastructure, a 108-page report, is online at ascenc.org.

— North Carolina gets mediocre grades for its efforts to maintain aging bridges, roads, schools and water systems in a new infrastructure report card compiled by a professional engineers’ group.

The American Society of Civil Engineers expresses its greatest concern about public safety – and issues a D grade – for the state’s dams.

Out of 3,862 structures regulated by the Dam Safety Office, 1,130 are classified as “high hazard” because failure would cause death or major property damage downstream. State inspectors have rated 10 percent of the high-hazard dams as deficient.

“There is no designated funding whatsoever for repairing dams,” said Gary R. Taylor, a Raleigh engineer who chaired the North Carolina group’s report card committee. “They have to do that on a case-by-case basis, whenever they come up.”

North Carolina’s overall grade was a C, ranking it above the dismal D-plus national average grade. The engineers did not publish individual grades for every state, but North Carolina came out better than Southeastern neighbors Virginia (D-plus), Florida and Mississippi (C-minus). Texas got a C grade.

The engineers compiled a 108-page report evaluating 11 areas of North Carolina’s public infrastructure for their capacity, resiliency, public funding and reliability. The group said billions of dollars were needed to replace outmoded and unsafe facilities.

“And it’s not all about funding,” Taylor said. “There are recommendations for policy changes that would improve our infrastructure.”

Terry Gibson, chief engineer for the state Department of Transportation, said the state invested $480 million in bridge repair and replacement over the past two years, and he expects an additional $350 million for the next two years.

“That said, we know that we need more funding to improve our infrastructure statewide and throughout the nation to better connect people and enhance economic opportunities,” Gibson said by email.

The state’s roads received a C grade, a big improvement over the D-minus rating issued in the engineers’ last report card in 2009. The only sector graded better than C-plus this year was the state’s energy infrastructure, rated at B-plus.

Here’s the North Carolina breakdown:

• Bridges: C-minus. North Carolina would need to increase spending by $281 million a year to make significant improvement in reducing its backlog of old bridges overdue for replacement.

• Roads: C. Highways are in fair to good condition, with safe and efficient road operations, after recent years of increased maintenance spending.

• Dams: D. Ten percent of the state’s high-hazard dams are deficient, and one-third are more than 50 years old. North Carolina spends less than the national average on dam safety and needs an estimated $1.9 billion to rehabilitate its dams.

• Public school buildings: C. Ten percent of students are in mobile classrooms, and 58 percent of schools will need renovations costing $8.2 billion over the next five years.

• Beaches and inlets: C-minus. The state should set aside at least $75 million a year for projects to repair coastal storm damage and for dredging to open sand-clogged navigation channels.

Aviation: D-plus. An estimated $763 million needed to upgrade pavement and other facilities at 91 publicly owned airports.

• Rail: C-plus. Rail investment needs projected for the next 25 years are estimated at $545 million for freight and $2.9 billion for passenger service.

• Energy: B-plus. The state has a solid foundation of affordable, diverse, reliable energy resources.

• Drinking water: C-plus. The state’s 530 public water systems need $10 billion over the next 20 years to replace aging systems, keep water safe and keep up with growth.

• Stormwater: C-minus. State clean water funds are being reduced, and most communities have no funding source for tackling stormwater pollution.

• Wastewater: C. North Carolina needs more than $4 billion by 2030 to replace old wastewater facilities, meet clean water rules and keep up with growth.

Siceloff: 919-829-4527 or blogs.newsobserver.com/crosstown or twitter.com/Road_Worrier

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