Texas Infrastructure Gets a “C”

Texas has much to boast about but still a few things that need to be corrected.

Every four years the American Society of Civil Engineers issues a “Report Card” for the nation’s infrastructure using a standard A-F grading scale. Overall, America got a C-, up from a D+ in the last report. With the report’s release, Director Thomas Smith said the nation is failing to maintain aging infrastructure at a high cost to future generations. The 17 areas assessed are aviation, bridges, dams, drinking water, energy, hazardous waste, inland waterways, levees, parks and recreation, ports, rail, roads, schools, solid waste, storm-water, transit and wastewater.

Bridges were an Achilles heel for the nation, but are a saving grace that helped Texas rise to a “C.”

In the Texas report, which came out about a month ago, Texas got a “C,” up from a “C-,” buoyed by a shining B+ for our energy infrastructure. After the freeze and collapse of ERCOT during the Arctic blast at the end of the month that might require another look. But bridges are something Texas can brag about, earning a B-. At almost 57,000, we have more bridges than any other state, yet we have less threat to general structural integrity of our bridges than any other state. Aviation and the transit sectors also scored well with a B-.

Our shortcomings are in things having to do with water, garnering the state a D+ for canals; a C+ for dams; a D- for levees; a C for wastewater and a C+ in the new category of stormwater. Especially for coastal communities vulnerable to the devastation of hurricanes, things having to do with water – including levees, bayous and reservoirs - are a big deal.

Darren Olsen, an engineer participant of the study, currently Vice President and Assistant Water Resources Department Head at Christopher B. Burke Engineering, Ltd. in Rosemont, Illinois with over 20 year of experience in water resources engineering that started with the U.S. Geological Survey, says there are a million people in Texas protected by levees. “And $127 billion of property, 10% of them are federal, but the other 90% are constructed and maintained by local governments.” Protecting Texas residents from storm and flood damage, he suggests, is going to take better cooperation between the interested parties. Engineers are assessing the infrastructure needs of the Texas coastline moving forward, and Olsen suggests whether the talk is of the Ike Dike or a third reservoir, they’ll need to look at the long term. “Not just for what we’re seeing now,” HE SAYS, “But what we’re predicted to see 50 years from now. Is that a levee or a dike. Or is that different land use practices to have more open spaces in areas that flood?”

Another study won’t be done for another four years, so it will be an interesting comparison as the Texas energy grid problems are worked out and the names of future hurricanes are added to the Texas vernacular and list of issues to be addressed. It’s fluid in the Lone Star State, and as the nation analyzes its own dilapidated and weathered infrastructure issues, Texas uniquely will address its own.

photo: Getty Images