9 Places in America That Are Spending Big on Infrastructure

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A train enters a Chicago Transit Authority station
Keith Levit / Shutterstock.com

Our nation’s infrastructure is close to failing — at least academically.

The American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) gives the nation an “infrastructure report card” every four years. Our most recent grade was a “D+.”

According to ASCE, a “D” grade means:

“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.”

Last year, ASCE lamented that “while there has been a lot of talk about infrastructure in the past year, there’s been little action.”

Fortunately, several states and cities are catching up on their homework assignments, according to a recent report from the Bipartisan Policy Center (BPC).

Rather than highlighting politically contentious new infrastructure project ideas, the think tank focused on recent and ongoing deferred maintenance for existing infrastructure.

Deferred maintenance might not make as many headlines as the latest bold new initiative, but it’s a vital and costly commitment that fuels our economy and strengthens our safety.

Following are some of the improvements and repairs the BPC report showcases.

1. Libraries in Denver

The Denver Public Library system — which has reportedly claimed it needs $100 million — has received about $31 million in funding for deferred maintenance.

The BPC reports the library system is using the money to modernize and renovate its central library and 10 branches that are most in need of updating. Projects include HVAC systems, elevators and computers.

2. Flood control near Modesto, California

The $40 million Dos Rios Ranch project is reportedly among upwards of 20 to 30 projects that California is working on to mitigate flood risks by finishing deferred maintenance on levees and restoring floodplains.

According to the group River Partners, the Dos Rios Ranch project, at the confluence of the Tuolumne and San Joaquin Rivers, is the largest floodplain restoration project in California. And the conservation effort, which has also been valuable for wildlife, helped the Aleutian Cackling Goose get removed from the endangered species list. Who knew?

3. State parks in South Carolina

According to South Carolina’s most recent comprehensive outdoor recreation plan, which is updated every five years, the cost to address existing deferred maintenance projects in the 47 state parks was $171 million in 2014.

“Bottom line, the figure is overwhelming and does not discriminate based on the size, location or prominence of the park,” the report stated.

BPC reports that despite this maintenance backlog, the South Carolina Department of Parks, Recreation and Tourism has managed to use it four-year budget of $17 million to “keep all 47 of its parks accessible and safe for visitors by doing essential projects such as repaving an impassable park entry road and replacing two sewer systems and a bridge.”

4. Dams in New Jersey

In 2017, New Jersey committed $40 million to improve dam safety.

According to the BPC, a couple of dozen dams in the state have been brought up to federal safety guidelines from a “fair” or “poor” condition.

5. Trains in Chicago

In December, the Chicago Transit Authority (CTA) board approved a contract for “the largest and costliest construction project in CTA history: the massive $2.1 billion Red and Purple Line modernization,” reports The Chicago Tribune.

The project entails rebuilding stations, bridges and track along a century-old stretch of the transportation system.

6. Wildlife facilities in Oregon

The Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife has more than 70 facilities — several of which are over a century old — with more than $94 million estimated in deferred maintenance costs.

BPC notes the state is wrapping up a $5 million rehabilitation of four key hatcheries that will protect and improve production of salmon, steelhead and trout.

7. Water in Milwaukee

Last year, the Wisconsin city’s water works department replaced 18 miles’ worth of water mains.

The replacements are part of a project that, according to the BPC, has reduced the number of Milwaukee’s water main breaks to its lowest level since the 1970s.

8. Bridges in Pennsylvania — and 8 other states

Pennsylvania’s $889 million Rapid Bridge Replacement Project, designed to replace 558 deficient bridges, has become a model for eight other states, according to the BPC. The other states are Massachusetts, Ohio, Nebraska, Missouri, Georgia, New York, Rhode Island and Oregon.

“This project introduced the concept of bundling the replacement of many small bridges in a single procurement to create efficiencies through economies of scale,” BPC explains.

9. Upgrades galore in Juneau, Alaska

Using funds from a temporary sales tax, this city has been pursuing more than a dozen major infrastructure projects. They include $13.5 million in wastewater system maintenance and improvements, $5 million in school building maintenance and improvements and $2 million in affordable housing.

What public projects need attention in your town? Let us know by commenting below or over on our Facebook page.

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