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Answers To Common Questions About Civil Engineering

  • What is a structurally deficient bridge? What is a functionally obsolete bridge? Are these bridges unsafe?

    Structurally Deficient: Bridges that require significant maintenance, rehabilitation, or replacement. These bridges must be inspected at least every 2 years since critical load-carrying elements were found to be in poor condition due to deterioration or damage.

    Functionally Obsolete: Bridges that no longer meet the current standards that are used today. Examples are narrow lanes or low load-carrying capacity.

    As you can see from their definitions, this does not mean that these types of bridges are unsafe. Bridges are inspected on a regular basis, and if a bridge has safety concerns, action is then taken to assure public safety. Such actions can include weight restricting the bridge, closing lanes, changing traffic patterns, or closing the bridge entirely.

    How does America’s infrastructure compare to other countries?

    Comparing U.S. infrastructure to other nations is difficult in that no two countries share the same history, and thus, the same challenges. The real, first-generation of America’s infrastructure was built after WWII. These investments of the 20th century spurred our nation’s economic boom and made us a global power. Today, quite simply, that tab is coming due. When comparing us to other nations, many have been around far longer and have far different political/economic climates for possible spending.

    According to the World Economic Forum, the U.S. ranks 14th in its infrastructure index, which is a measure of quality. According to Building America’s Future, “Even as the global recession has forced cutbacks in government spending, other countries are investing significantly more than the U.S. to expand and update their transportation networks.”

    The biggest lesson we can learn from other nations—and even from our recent past—is that we must have a strategic, long-term vision. Our infrastructure problem is too large for one solution or one piece of legislation to fix. We need a long-term plan to modernize our infrastructure if we are going to raise our infrastructure grades.

    Can private money fix all of the nation's infrastructure?

    Public-private partnerships (PPPs) can be an effective method of project financing and delivery. PPPs do not replace the need for public funding of infrastructure projects. ASCE supports the use of PPPs only when the public interest is protected.

    Civil engineers plan, design, construct, operate, and maintain the nation’s infrastructure. Strained state and local government budgets combined with increasing demand have led to the implementation of PPPs in several states and localities. The injection of private capital into public works, however, has drawn some criticism or skepticism from stakeholder groups and raised the need for a set of guiding principles for these projects as they are planned, implemented, and maintained. 

    How often does ASCE release a national report card?

    The Report Card for America’s Infrastructure is released every four years. It is released shortly after each new term of the President of the United States, offering an assessment of the state of the nation’s infrastructure. A quadrennial release also allows an appropriate amount of time between national Report Cards for notable changes to be made in each sector of infrastructure that is evaluated.

    What is my state’s report card grade? Why doesn't my state have a report card? Are there more recent ones?

    All of ASCE’s state and local Infrastructure Report Cards are done by our volunteer ASCE members as a public service to their communities. As such, the production of the report cards is not on any set schedule since it requires an extensive time commitment from local civil engineers. We are currently trying to complete a report card for every state.

    While not every state report card is from this year, they are representative of the overall infrastructure picture in many states. Infrastructure does not change rapidly but over time, and thus, an infrastructure assessment such as our report cards can remain relevant for years after its release.