Texas ASCE grades state’s infrastructure “C”

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The Texas section of the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) released its 2021 Texas Infrastructure Report Card earlier this month, giving the state a “C” for an overall grade.

Examining 12 different categories, the ASCE found the state’s infrastructure to be in mediocre condition, but improved over the “C-“ the state received in ASCE’s 2017 report. The grades were released prior to Texas getting hit with a devastating winter storm that knocked out power and water to millions across the state.

Texas is the 9th largest economy in the world, making its infrastructure crucial to its success. The report noted that energy infrastructure systems had received significant attention and Texas was becoming a leader in renewable energy production. However, the report said, wastewater and levee networks need additional support in order to withstand increased severe weather events and to accommodate a growing population.

Civil engineers graded energy the highest at a “B+”; solid waste got a “B”; aviation, transit and bridges got a “B-“; drinking water, flood risk mitigation, public parks and recreation received a “C-“; dams and highways and roads got a “D+” and levees and wastewater received a “D” grade.

“The ASCE Texas Infrastructure Report Card is a critical tool as we assess our needs and measure progress in actively building Texas into a better place to live, work, and raise a family,” said state Rep. Dennis Paul (R-Harris County). “We must continue to work together with all levels of government, community leaders, industry partners, and universities, using this invaluable resource to help keep us better informed about the issues facing Texas.”

ASCE said that advancements in oil and gas infrastructure helped the state maintain its reputation as a leading energy producer and provider. Texas provides more than a fifth of the energy the country produces in gas and oil. Texas has seen dramatic growth in oil production: from 1 million barrels a day in 2011 to over 5.4 million barrels per day in 2019. It is also the leading wind power generator in the country, the group said.

The report card noted several successes in the transportation sector as well, including accommodating significant population growth by paying attention to its aviation, bridges and transit sectors. A critical aviation hub, the state saw more than 90 million passengers and 5.8 million tons of cargo move through the state in 2019 alone. Aviation provides 1.1 million jobs and contributes $41.8 billion to local payrolls, giving it an overall economic impact of $130 billion to the state’s economy.

The state maintains the largest bridge inventory in the country at nearly 57,000 structures with 737 million vehicle crossings a day. At the same time, Texas’ bridge network has the smallest percentage of structurally deficient bridges in the country at 1.3 percent. The Texas Department of Transportation rated 82 percent of its bridges as in “good” condition or better in 2018.

The group also praised Texas’ public transportation’s innovations, including Austin Cap Metro’s $7 billion program known as Project Connect that will add light rail and bus rapid transit to the existing metro services.

“In this Report Card, our Committee of strong civil engineers and leaders, has succeeded in describing the current condition of our infrastructure and predicted funding needs,” said Mark K. Boyd, chair of the ASCE Texas Section Infrastructure Report Card Committee. “Throughout the process, we as civil engineers, reminded ourselves of the organization’s mission and how our efforts support it: to build a better quality of life across the street and around the world …”

The report indicated that in order for Texas to raise its grades, the state should “lead with vision” by bringing together leaders from all stakeholders to ensure investments are spent wisely and mechanisms are put in place for maintenance, rehabilitation and inspections. Additionally, the report card encouraged the state to spend more time promoting public education and improving stakeholder involvement with all planned infrastructure projects, and to prepare for the future by using emerging technologies to ensure that Texas’ infrastructure is resilient and sustainable.

A representative of the Texas ASCE said in light of the recent winter storm and subsequent power outages, the group would be reviewing the impact on energy infrastructure.

“While the findings of our Report Card will not change, ASCE Texas Section plans to conduct a detailed review and evaluation of last week’s events with the goal of providing thoughtful policy recommendations,” a representative of Texas ASCE said.

“For the energy category, the scope of the Texas Infrastructure Report Card focused on essential infrastructure between the energy source and the customer,” Texas ASCE said. “Report authors did not directly explore the generation, rather they focused on transmission infrastructure and distribution systems. Similarly, the report also includes an evaluation of Texas’ other energy category: oil and gas production. In both situations, whether natural gas or electricity, the supply is driven by market forces, including operational issues that constantly and dynamically change. For these reasons, our report’s scope focused on how the infrastructure downstream of the supply source is able to meet changing needs in delivering the available energy sources to the customer and limited focus on other customer-related aspects.”

The group said its ratings were based on the best data available through 2020, and that its evaluation of Texas’ infrastructure stands.

“The past few weeks have reinforced the Report Card’s overarching conclusion that Texas infrastructure is vulnerable and lacks resilience to extreme weather events and climate change. Overall, the Texas GPA of “C” is representative of Texas’ infrastructure based on a year-long review of the best available data collected through 2020 and covering the metrics of: capacity, condition, funding, future need, operation & maintenance, public safety, resilience, and innovation,” the Texas ASCE representative said.