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Travel Infrastructure Grades from the ASCE Report Card

Published every four years by the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE), the Report Card for America’s Infrastructure assigns letter grades to over a dozen categories of U.S. infrastructure, from aviation to wastewater. Last year, Gordian published an overview of ASCE’s most recent grades. In 2024, we’re taking a closer look at individual infrastructure categories to better understand the strengths, weaknesses and opportunities identified by ASCE. Further, we’re discussing what can be done to improve infrastructure and, by extension, improve communities. In this post, we look specifically at travel infrastructure.

Infrastructure Sector 1: Aviation

2021 Grade: D+

Let’s address the obvious: There has been a lot of bad press about air travel recently. However, that press has focused on aircrafts and services provided by private companies. ASCE’s aviation grade is not for that aspect of the air travel experience. Their work focuses solely on airports.

ASCE identified a decade-long $111 billion funding gap that existed before the COVID-19 pandemic and has likely worsened since. This shortfall is a stark problem given the aviation sector’s greatest area of need: capacity. According to the ASCE’s report card, airports need to build more terminal facilities, provide ways to access these new terminals and increase airfield capacity. These improvements require significant financial investment. U.S. airports have enjoyed some financial relief, as Congress increased funding from $11 billion annually to approximately $15 billion from 2017 to 2020.

See our analysis of the ASCE’s grades for roads, water systems and schools in this blog post.

Infrastructure Sector 2: Bridges

2021 Grade: C

The U.S. is home to more than 617,000 bridges. 42% of them are at least 50 years old. That’s not even the most startling statistic from the bridge portion of the ASCE report card. 7.5% of the nation’s bridges (over 46,000) are in poor condition. Believe it or not, that’s a significant improvement over 2011 when more than 12% of U.S. bridges were rated as poor.

Efforts to improve bridge travel are bearing fruit. Unfortunately, the improvements aren’t happening fast enough to tackle the current backlog of needs, valued at $125 billion. According to the ASCE, at the current rate of investment, it would take until 2071 to complete all current bridge repairs. Further, it would require a 58% annual spending increase from $14.4 billion to $22.7 billion per year.

Travel Infrastructure Grades from the ASCE Report Card 1

Infrastructure Sector 3: Ports

2021 Grade: B-

Seaports represent a relative bright spot in the 2021 ASCE report card as one of the few infrastructure categories receiving an above-average grade. Good thing the sector performed so well, given that it supports close to 31 million jobs and contributes nearly 26% of the total Gross Domestic Product (GDP). Yet, coastal and inland ports could be even stronger economic drivers if they continue investing in capacity and infrastructure, which they plan to fund to the tune of $163 billion between 2021 and 2025. Investments into dredging, docks, piers and harbors will help improve both port capacity and condition, according to the ASCE.

Interestingly, the Infrastructure Report Card posits that part of the challenge for seaports is that their performance hinges on the success of other infrastructure sectors, namely roads and rail. Until improvements are made in those areas, ASCE’s grade for seaports will be superficially depressed.

See all of Gordian’s tailored solutions for ports, rail and other transit infrastructure.

Infrastructure Sector 4: Rail

2021 Grade: B

One of the highest grades on the ASCE Report Card for America’s Infrastructure went to rail. As a point of order, ASCE splits the categories into a pair of subcategories: freight rail and passenger rail.

Passenger rail has long suffered from tepid support from the federal government and, as a result, has a $45.2 billion repair backlog, despite Amtrak investing $713 million in repairs between 2017 and 2019. One area of potential investment is safety technology to counteract an increase in total accidents over 10 years and an unsettling spike in trespassing on railroad fatalities from 505 in 2017 to 577 in 2019, when it accounted for 64% of all U.S. rail-related fatalities.

The state of U.S. freight rail is strong, thanks in large part to shipping fees. This proper investment, which averages $260,000 per mile, is the primary reason the freight rail network was able to accommodate an increase of 100,000 ton-miles (the movement of one ton of freight one mile) from 2017 to 2018.

Infrastructure Sector 5: Transit

2021 Grade: D-

According to the latest ASCE report card, America’s public transit system is hanging on by a thread. Ridership is declining. The backlog of projects totaled an astonishing $176 billion in 2019, and that number is expected to balloon to more than $270 billion by 2029. With revenues down and funding insufficient, service cuts are commonplace, further squeezing the revenue stream. In short, the public transit system is aging poorly and aging fast.

Download this free report for insights into how partnering with private industries can help the public sector improve their facilities planning and management efforts.

Recommendations for Improving Travel Infrastructure

The ASCE report card includes recommendations for improving the critical assets that move the American public and the economy. Here are a few highlights:

Increase funding. The significant deficiencies in travel infrastructure require equally significant funding to address. From appropriating funds to incremental fee increases to one-time investments, there are many ways that entities at all levels of government can bankroll necessary improvements.

Enhance capacity. A common challenge across the travel sector is meeting capacity needs. It’s true for airports, seaports, bridges and beyond. Creating more capacity could decrease delays and allow for freer movement of people and goods.

Implement asset management best practices. Preventing infrastructure from future disrepair is the ideal scenario. That means engaging in regular strategic facilities planning efforts to optimize these physical assets and to prepare to fund them appropriately. Gordian can help with a range of condition assessment options and capital planning tools that empower organizations to identify needs and risks and prioritize required projects.

Further, Gordian’s Job Order Contracting (JOC) is a powerful tool for completing identified work. An Indefinite Delivery, Indefinite Quantity (IDIQ) construction procurement method, JOC enables organizations to complete more work in less time, and projects are priced with verified, preset construction costs that help them make the most of their budgets. Plus, Gordian has a long history of working with contractors to minimize disruption to everyday operations.

More Infrastructure Insights to Come

Believe it or not, we’ve only covered a fraction of the categories from ASCE’s Infrastructure Report Card. We’ll be back with a look at grades for energy, dams, broadband and more.

About Gordian

Gordian is the leading provider of Building Intelligence™ Solutions, delivering unrivaled insights, robust technology and expert services to fuel customers’ success through all phases of the building lifecycle. Gordian created Job Order Contracting (JOC) and the industry-standard RSMeans Data. We empower organizations to optimize capital investments, improve project performance and minimize long-term operating expenses.

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