Waterways get a D- in national report

As report cards go, you always should look for improvements. That’s the true test of learning.

But apparently the nation hasn’t learned much in the past four years after it was given a nearly failing grade of “D” for how it manages and invests in infrastructure. This year, the cumulative grade inched up just slightly to a D + based on an evaluation by the American Society of Civil Engineers.

The ASCE’s 2013 report card looked at the state of the nation’s aviation, bridges, roads, schools, rail, transit, dams and drinking water, among other categories of infrastructure. The grades ranged from a high of B- for solid waste, to a low of D- for inland waterways and levees.

“The report card demonstrates that we can improve the current condition of our nation’s infrastructure – when investments are made and projects move forward, the grades rise,” the ASCE said. “For example, greater private investment for efficiency and connectivity brought the improvements in the rail category; renewed efforts in cities and states helped address some vulnerable bridges; and several categories benefited from short-term boosts in federal funding.”

For inland waterways, it was a dismal report. It is at the bottom of the list, dropping from a D in 2009 to a D- in the recent assessment.

“In many cases, the inland waterways system has not been updated since the 1950s, and more than half of the locks are over 50 years old. Barges are stopped for hours each day with unscheduled delays, preventing goods from getting to market and driving up costs,” the report said.

There is an average of 52 service interruptions a day throughout the system. For 2011, the total number of hours of delay experienced by barges throughout the entire inland waterway system reached the equivalent of 25 years, according to the ASCE. In addition, nearly 75 percent of the needs in the inland system are for rehabilitation at current facilities, rather than construction of new ones.

Casey Dinges, senior managing director of public affairs at the ASCE, outlined some possible solutions at the annual meeting of the Waterways Council Inc. on March 19:

* Establish a national freight strategy that incorporates all modes of transportation.

* Target federal investments to modernize and maintain navigation channels at authorized widths and depths.

* Restore previous funding levels for the Corps of Engineers and allocate available resources in the Harbor Maintenance Trust Fund.

* Streamline the project approval and delivery process so projects take years instead of decades to complete.

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