In the first part of our series, The Cautionary Tale of Tower 27/222, we discussed Pacific Gas & Electric's (PG&E) aging infrastructure and one 98-year old high-voltage transmission tower in particular. Tower 27/222 was more than 25 years past its useful life and its failure led to the Camp Fire, which ultimately destroyed the city of Paradise and killed 86 people. What stands out with regard to the PG&E story is how the lack of investment in maintaining infrastructure is being repeated in municipalities across the nation. The PG&E story should be understood as the cautionary tale it is by state and local governments, warning them of the dangers they risk should they choose to operate with the run to failure philosophy.
Every four years - most recently in 2017 - the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) releases a report called America's Infrastructure Grade. In the report, ASCE assigns letter grades for 16 categories of infrastructure. In the most recent report, the U.S. received an overall grade of a D+. ASCE defines a D grade as "the infrastructure is in poor to fair condition and mostly below standard, with many elements approaching the end of their service life. A large portion of the system exhibits significant deterioration. Condition and capacity are of serious concern with strong risk of failure". This definition sounds very similar to descriptions of PG&E's infrastructure and is, unfortunately, the rating of the majority of U.S. infrastructure categories.
Highlights of the ASCE's report:
Presidential candidate Amy Klobuchar earlier this year released her $1 trillion infrastructure plan, making it a focus of her 2020 campaign. But we've been here before - when President Trump was a candidate, he proposed spending $1 trillion to address infrastructure. Last year, his Administration's $1.5 trillion proposal to Congress received a lukewarm reception. Infrastructure spending is a can that historically has been kicked down the road and we are not very optimistic that government officials have the pocket book or fortitude to get the country to a B rating anytime soon. Just maybe we can get some cross-aisle teamwork and Congress can raise the grade to a C. Then, the next time you drive over a bridge you won't be left asking yourself how many years the bridge is past its useful life.
American Society of Civil Engineers, 2017 Infrastructure Report Card, www.infrastructure reportcard.org
American Society of Civil Engineers, Infrastructure Grades Are In, Will Trump and Congress Act to Raise America's G.P.A.?, July 6, 2019
Lerer, Lisa, "Amy Klobuchar Proposes $1Trillion Infrastructure Plan," The New York Times, March 28, 2019
Municipal Securities Rulemaking Board, Muni Facts, March 2019