Engineering Society Highlights Infrastructure Flaws in Washington, D.C.

The American Society of Civil Engineers has released a report detailing infrastructure shortcomings in the nation's capital, noting particular problems with levees, public transit and roads.

by / January 19, 2016
The Key Bridge in Washington, D.C. Shutterstock/Orhan Cam

A good flooding could create a lake between the White House and the Washington Monument, and the levees meant to prevent that from happening aren’t up to snuff. And that’s not the only work America’s capital city needs.

That was one conclusion of the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) when it released a report card on the District of Columbia’s infrastructure on Jan. 14. The society examined eight metrics for 11 types of infrastructure — ranging from levees and bridges to schools and parks — and gave the district an overall grade of C-.

That’s hardly a slight when compared with the rest of the country; America’s “grade point average” from the society is D+, and no state has a grade above C+.

But the capital city’s grade does point to several infrastructure problems ASCE says need fixing. The district’s worst individual grades were a D- for levees, a D for transit and a D+ for roads. The district has two levee systems stretching 3.26 miles, both of which have held “unacceptable” designations from Army Corps of Engineers inspectors since 2007. The ASCE report pointed out that as recently as 2006, water flooded the National Archives, several Smithsonian Museums and a host of federal department buildings.

The transit section of the report highlighted an “extensive list of overdue investments” including old buses and subway track circuitry. The grade for the capital’s roads took into account the city’s infamous traffic congestion, as well as an estimate from its department of transportation that its maintenance needs are four times its budget.

The District of Columbia’s best grades were a B- each for bridges and railroads. The society praised the railroad owner CSX Transportation for investing $25.7 million in infrastructure in the district in 2015, and planning another $200 million in rehabilitation and expansion for track in the Virginia Avenue Tunnel. ASCE also noted that the district has worked quickly to address bridge needs, reducing the prevalence of structurally deficient bridges from 8 percent to 3 percent in a span of three years.

In a blog post introducing the scorecard, the society wrote that the district needs to prioritize infrastructure if it wants to fix its problems.

“Maintenance needs to be as essential to our budgets as water for hot coffee in the morning,” the post reads. “With innovation and maintenance, we can prepare for the future and modernize the infrastructure that will serve us and future generations.”

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