Grades across nine categories range from a “B-” for bridges to a “D+” for wastewater
Montpelier, Vt. — The Vermont section of the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) released the 2023 Report Card for Vermont’s Infrastructure today, with nine categories of infrastructure receiving an overall grade of ‘C’, the same grade issued in the state’s 2019 report card. That means Vermont’s infrastructure is in mediocre condition and requires attention. Vermont’s grade is a step ahead of the national average of ‘C-’ given in the 2021 Report Card for America’s Infrastructure. Seven of the nine categories ranked higher than the national grades, while two categories (wastewater and solid waste) received the same grade as the national report card. Civil engineers graded Vermont’s aviation (C), bridges (B-), dams (C), drinking water (C), energy (C+), roads (C+), solid waste (C+), stormwater (C-), and wastewater (D+).
The report card details opportunities to transform Vermont’s infrastructure with funding from the Bipartisan infrastructure Law (BIL) passed in November 2021. Already more than $800 million in projects funded by the BIL have been announced in Vermont. However, the report shows why more long-term funding is needed to maintain and improve the critical infrastructure systems people across Vermont depend on daily as the state moves towards ambitious environmental goals and confronts the effects of climate change on aging systems.
“As we know all too well here in Vermont, there has been endless discussion in Washington, for decades in fact, about the need to rebuild our nation’s crumbling infrastructure,” said Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders. “Infrastructure is the backbone of our communities and our economy. Yet year after year, Washington has underinvested in our aging, essential structures. While Vermont is in better shape than many other states, we still have a long way to go. A ‘C’ grade is not good enough to me and it is not good enough for Vermont. That’s why I fought hard to pass the historic Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act in our last Congress — the most significant infrastructure bill since the creation of the interstate highway system in the 1950s — and ensure Vermont got its fair share. As a result, I am proud that Vermont is expected to receive at least $2.2 billion — one of the largest infusions of federal funds in our state history. This investment will not just repair our roads and bridges, but will help clean up our drinking water supply, increase access to affordable, reliable internet service, help transition our public transit systems away from fossil fuels and create many good paying jobs. I look forward to seeing this historic legislation implemented as quickly and as effectively as possible for every Vermonter in every corner of our state.”
“Vermont’s infrastructure is a success story of what happens when leaders prioritize investment and new technology,” said Jessica Clark Louisos, P.E., chair, 2023 Report Card for Vermont’s Infrastructure. “However, to maintain what we have and improve the grade, infrastructure needs to be a top priority for funding and resources.”
Roads (C+) and Bridges (B-)
The bridges grade improved to a B- for the 2023 report card, thanks in part to a decrease in the number of bridges in poor condition. Only 2.4% of bridges in Vermont are in poor condition, a substantial decrease from 5% in 2017 and much lower than the national average of 7%. While bridge conditions have improved, aging bridges are a challenge for Vermont. The state’s average bridge age is 59 years, compared to the national average of 44 years.
The grade for Vermont’s roads remains a C+. Over the last four years, the number of Vermont roads in good condition has dropped from 45% to 39%, while the number of roads in fair condition grew from 25% to 31%. Vermont has also seen traffic fatalities double from 44 in 2019 to 89 in 2022.
Funding from the BIL has provided Vermont with an additional $434 million for the Vermont Agency of Transportation’s 2023 budget, a nearly 20% increase from 2022.
Drinking Water (C) and Wastewater (D+)
Public drinking water systems serve 59% of Vermont residents, while the rest are served by wells or other private water systems. More than 95% of water utilities in the state are in compliance with state and federal regulations. Vermont residents pay on average $46 a month for water, compared to the national average of $68. However, those lower costs for customers mean many water systems make just enough money to cover operating expenses and have limited reserves for large projects. Vermont faces a 2024 deadline to come up with a lead service line replacement plan. Green Mountain State lawmakers say the state needs $374 million in water repairs and upgrades. The Bipartisan Infrastructure Law will provide Vermont with $355 million over five years to address water contamination and replace lead service pipes.
Wastewater received the lowest grade in the report card with a D+. Only half of Vermont’s population is served by public wastewater systems, while the rest depend on septic systems which can cause public health hazards and water pollution if they fail. In 2021, Vermont spent just $12 million on wastewater infrastructure, compared to $29 million in 2018. Many wastewater systems are more than 100 years old and need extensive repairs.
Energy (C+) and Solid Waste (C+)
Both categories saw their grades drop from a B- in the 2019 report card to a C+ in the 2023 report card. Vermont has ambitious environmental goals when it comes to renewable power and reduced landfill use. However, the state is not close to reaching these targets.
Nearly all the electrical power generated in Vermont came from renewable sources. However, the state imports nearly three times as much energy as it produces. That leads to some of the highest power rates in the nation for residential users. While the state quadrupled solar generation between 2015 and 2020, the lack of transmission capacity means some of the solar power generated in Vermont cannot be put on the grid and distributed to other areas. Vermont’s comprehensive energy plan has a goal of 25% of the state’s energy coming from renewable sources by 2025.
Solid waste systems in Vermont also face challenges moving forward. The average household generates just over 1,300 pounds of waste a year, much higher than the state’s goal of 1,000 pounds per year for 2024. The state is also short of goals when it comes to how much waste is diverted away from landfills or incinerators. As recycling increases and landfill use decreases, solid waste faces new funding challenges because fees are based on the amount of waste disposed.
The report also includes calls to action to raise the grades, some of which include:
- Improve resilience to potential catastrophic events: A global pandemic, weather-related disaster, or cybersecurity threats can wreak havoc on supply chains carrying goods for purchase and manufacturing. Vermont’s infrastructure requires improved conditions, redundancy, and resilience so demand or supply shocks do not devastate the whole network.
- Address workforce challenges: A surge of retirements at state and local government agencies is draining institutional knowledge when project development and implementation are crucial to the best use of an historic funding surge. Agencies are struggling to retain younger engineers and other technical experts as they advance, especially women. The workforce crisis hitting construction and skilled labor further hampers implementation.
- Adapt funding opportunities to meet future needs: Existing dedicated state and local funding streams are often insufficient and sometimes contradictory to long-term targets. For example, currently, solid waste funds are generated in proportion to the amount of trash disposed, while Vermont aims to aggressively increase diversion and reduce rates of household waste. Vermont’s gas tax has lost power to support road infrastructure due to inflation and the uptake of more efficient vehicles and fleet electrification, a trend the state is actively encouraging.
- Balance the needs of urban and rural communities: Vermont’s communities are diverse in structure and density, with equally diverse infrastructure needs and investments required to meet them. Urban infrastructure projects may benefit a larger number of people, but funding for rural infrastructure ensures that all Vermonters have equitable access to jobs and a strong quality of life. Rural communities have limited resources to leverage available grant sources and may need continued technical assistance.
The Report Card was created as a public service to citizens and policymakers to inform them of the infrastructure needs in their state. Civil engineers used their expertise and school report card-style letter grades to condense complicated data into an easy-to-understand analysis of Vermont’s infrastructure network. ASCE State and Regional Infrastructure Report Cards are modeled after the national Infrastructure Report Card, which gave America’s infrastructure an overall grade of ‘C-’ in 2021.
About the American Society of Civil Engineers
Founded in 1852, the American Society of Civil Engineers represents more than 150,000 civil engineers worldwide and is America's oldest national engineering society. ASCE works to raise awareness of the need to maintain and modernize the nation's infrastructure using sustainable and resilient practices, advocates for increasing and optimizing investment in infrastructure, and improve engineering knowledge and competency. For more information, visit www.asce.org or www.infrastructurereportcard.org and follow us on Twitter, @ASCETweets and @ASCEGovRel.