Continuing the Charge to Improve America’s Infrastructure
Building on the momentum of the 2009 release of our Report Card for America's Infrastructure, ASCE has continued to promote the need to raise the grades on our nation’s roads, bridges, water, electrical and other vital systems. In 2010, ASCE sought new ways to advance the discussion on the infrastructure crisis throughout the country.
Roundtables Kick Off in the Nation's Capital
As a way to spur action on the 2009 Report Card, ASCE and our Civil Engineering magazine convened a series of infrastructure roundtables in 2010. Each of the roundtables sought to delve deeply into the Report Card’s 5 Key Solutions to determine how best they could be achieved at the federal, state, and local levels, to determine what the main obstacles to achievement are, and to discern how ASCE can advocate for and/or bring about the needed change.
The first set of roundtables, held in Washington, D.C., examined the challenges nationally. The five three-hour roundtables focused on each of the 5 Key Solutions. Participants included ASCE members and infrastructure policy experts, among them Rep. Steven C. LaTourette (R-Ohio); Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-Ore.); Federal Highway Administrator Victor Mendez, P.E., M.ASCE, and Omaha, Neb., Mayor Jim Suttle, P.E., M.ASCE. Among the recommendations from participants were to define the federal role in infrastructure, provide better data to monitor and reward good performance, and articulate a clear national vision for infrastructure.
Roundtables Taken Across the Country
The roundtables proved so insightful, ASCE decided to expand them to the state and local level by going to communities around the country. These were Houston, Sacramento, Calif., Boston, Raleigh, N.C.; and Omaha, Neb. In each city, ASCE and Governing magazine assembled a cross-section of political leaders, infrastructure policy experts, and infrastructure managers. While the local leaders echoed many of the concerns and recommendations raised in Washington, they expressed a strong desire for a clearer and more predictable federal role in infrastructure. Notable participants included Houston Mayor Annise Parker, California Secretary of Housing, Business and Transportation Dale Bonner, and Massachusetts Secretary of Transportation Jeffrey Mullan. ASCE summarized the findings of these roundtables in a report, “America’s Infrastructure Crisis: Can We Come Back from the Brink?”
In these five cities, the Society assembled groups of local ASCE members to lead tours of local infrastructure that demonstrated the 5 Key Solutions in practice. These tours were used as additional Report Card case studies for raising the grades. Among the sites and projects toured were the levees of the Sacramento River Delta, the Deer Island Water Treatment Plant in Boston, Raleigh Durham Airport, the Port of Houston, and an overview of Clean Solutions for Omaha, a comprehensive program aimed at reducing combined sewer overflows.
Reinforcing Our Place as the Media's Infrastructure Authority
ASCE and our Report Card for America’s Infrastructure reached higher levels of influence with numerous news features in major media outlets including ABC, NBC, CBS, and CNN. President Obama cited the Report Card in his official 2011 fiscal year budget proposal as the reason for seeking increases in infrastructure funding. ASCE members increased their engagement and recognition of their Sections by releasing a number of new state and local infrastructure Report Cards.
Supporting Federal Infrastructure Legislation
Surface Transportation Authorization
ASCE worked with coalition partners in the business, labor, design, and construction communities to push for a new multi-year authorization of the nation’s surface transportation program. The nation’s roads, bridges, and transit systems had been without authorizing legislation and new funding since 2009, and ASCE urged Congress to act quickly to improve infrastructure and put people to work. After the authorization expired, ASCE fought multiple times to keep the Highway Trust Fund solvent.
In the last days of the 111th Congress, lawmakers passed and President Obama signed the America COMPETES Act, which authorizes important research and development programs at the National Science Foundation and the National Institutes for Standards and Technology, as well as standards for STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathemetics) education.
Water Resources Development Act
To enhance levee safety, the Society continued to push for a new Water Resources Development Act this year to build on improvements made in WRDA 2007. Working within the ASCE-led Water Resources Coalition, ASCE testified before the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee and the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee to urge swift passage of WRDA that would address levee safety concerns and revisions to the Principles and Guidelines.
National Infrastructure Bank
Urging President Obama and Congress to take the necessary steps to create and fund a national infrastructure bank, ASCE, represented by 2009 Report Card Chairman Andrew Herrmann, P.E., SECB, F.ASCE, participated in a news conference on Capitol Hill. ASCE teamed with the Building America’s Future coalition, Sen. Chris Dodd (D-Conn.), Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-Conn.), and Pennsylvania Gov. Ed Rendell (D) to advocate for a bank that would help finance major infrastructure projects across the nation.
Members Make Their Voices Heard on Capitol Hill
In March, ASCE members from 48 states came to Washington, D.C. to make the case for infrastructure in person during the Society’s 2010 Legislative Fly-In. About 180 members attended training sessions and then met with members of Congress and their staffs to discuss four major issues: reauthorization of the Federal Aviation Administration, funding the nation’s surface transportation programs, enacting legislation for dam rehabilitation and repairs, and providing funds for the repair and construction of wastewater and drinking water facilities.
Leonard Urges Federal Leadership on Infrastructure
ASCE President Blaine D. Leonard, P.E., F.ASCE, was among the leaders invited to a conference sponsored by The Atlantic magazine, "The Future of the City," to discuss solutions to the nation’s transportation, infrastructure and sustainability challenges. Leonard emphasized the need for federal leadership to stimulate infrastructure investment, arguing for a clear national vision similar to that outlined by President Eisenhower’s plan for the interstate highway system. Without a similar high-profile plan and federal leadership, he questioned whether serious improvements to our infrastructure will be achievable.
ASCE Sections, Branches Press for Infrastructure Improvements at the Local Level
In 2010, ASCE Sections and Branches increased the number of state and local infrastructure Report Cards to over 30. The Illinois Section, the Indiana Section, and the council of Pennsylvania Sections all released Report Cards. In addition, ASCE members in the northern Kentucky and southern Indiana region released a Kentuckiana Report Card, heightening awareness of infrastructure issues in the Louisville area and along the Ohio River.
Sections and Branches also worked to enhance how state governments tackle infrastructure issues. In Iowa, ASCE successfully defeated a proposed diversion of dollars out of the transportation trust fund. Engineers in New Jersey and Pennsylvania saw years of work pay off when governors in each state signed into law continuing education requirements. Finally, Wisconsin engineers successfully changed the path to engineering licensure to require that all applicants pass a P.E. exam.