New Report Card on Infrastructure Shows Dire Need to Build Back Better

March 11, 2021

Every four years, the American Society of Civil Engineers’ (ASCE) releases a Report Card grading the nation’s infrastructure from “A” to “F.” In 2017, the Infrastructure Report Card remained stagnant at a “D+”— the same grade the United States received in 2013. The current year’s report incrementally improved to a “C- ” scorecard— five categories increased and just one category decreased in their benchmarks. This improvement, however marginal, is the first time the metric has risen out of the D range in 20 years.

Nonetheless, the report once again plainly demonstrates that America’s infrastructure is falling apart at the seams and we are not making long-term strides to fix the basic systems we rely on for clean water, energy, to communicate with each other, or to get from place to place.

The critical need to invest in repairing and modernizing America’s crumbling infrastructure was irresponsibly ignored during the Trump administration.

INVESTMENT HAS BEEN ON THE BACKBURNER AND THAT MUST CHANGE

Infrastructure took a backseat in Washington during the Trump administration. Big promises were made to revamp the nation’s water systems, roads, bridges and highways, and more, but any significant infrastructure overhaul did not make it out the gate—and even became a punchline.

Thankfully, the Biden administration and the Democratic leaders in Congress—where the House passed last year a massive infrastructure bill and is set to bring back that bill later this year—are taking this problem seriously. White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki commented that President Biden has extensively spoken about his Build Back Better agenda and that the president is, “a long [time] fan of investing in infrastructure.” Their current priority is rightfully in passing the American Rescue Plan and addressing the double calamities of a devastating pandemic and an economic downturn.

However, after this immediate relief it is time to start looking to the future. Investing in our infrastructure to spur economic recovery and create good-paying, union jobs, ignite job growth in domestic manufacturing by using American-made materials, and clean up our air and water should be a key component of efforts to recover from the economic and societal impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic.

CRUMBLING SYSTEMS POSE A DANGER

Our nation’s fragile drinking water system made headlines during the 2014 Flint, Michigan water crisis. Thousands of people in a predominantly Black community were being poisoned in their own homes. The water crisis illustrated how infrastructure problems are exacerbated by the racial injustices that are prevalent in our country. And, similar water issues have plagued other communities as well. ASCE graded the nation’s wastewater and drinking water infrastructure “D+” and “C-,” respectively. While this does mark a small improvement for drinking water from 2017’s “D” grade, for a system so closely tied to public health and welfare, this is simply unacceptable and dangerous. When people turn on their faucets, the water they drink should be safe and healthy—they should not have to worry that they are being poisoned.

Ensuring we all have access to safe water has other benefits. In 2020, the BlueGreen Alliance research found that by investing $105 billion over ten years, we could improve our drinking and clean water systems to a “B” grade and create 654,000 job-years across the U.S. economy. With strong labor and procurement standards, among other policies, we can make sure that these jobs are good union jobs and the work is done using American-made materials, in turn supporting domestic manufacturing throughout the supply chain.

Water is just one area that needs work. Other areas where America is not making the grade and needs investment now include:

  • Modernizing the electric grid, including investing in transmission lines, grid resilience, and energy storage;
  • Improving the efficiency and health of our buildings, including schools, hospitals, and government buildings;
  • Investing in natural infrastructure, including environmental remediation and reclamation and improving climate resilience through natural defenses; and
  • Delivering broadband to rural communities and filling urban gaps.

INFRASTRUCTURE INVESTMENT DRIVING ECONOMIC RECOVERY

We know that by making smart investments we can put people back to work rebuilding and modernizing our infrastructure to be cleaner and more resilient, and enhance justice and equity in our society by prioritizing investments in communities that need it most—including low-income communities, communities of color, and deindustrialized communities in need of economic revitalization.

We know that America should be leading the world in building the innovative infrastructure systems that will ensure our global competitiveness in the 21st century and beyond. We know that America has the capacity to complete this task and we know that we have to do this before the goal truly becomes insurmountable.

The BlueGreen Alliance is committed to bringing together our coalition partners and encouraging members to incentivize putting people to work in these good-paying, union jobs. And, we are going to make sure Congress and the Biden administration follow through on their promises and build back better.