Infrastructure Report: Economic Obstacle or Opportunity?

by Brian P. Murphy on 2017-06-09 1:30pm



At a time when it seems easier than ever to start an argument by saying almost anything, something that most people will agree on is that our national infrastructure is in serious need of repairs.  Small wonder when you take these things into consideration:


  • U.S. Airports serve 2,000,000 people per day

  • There are an estimated 240,000 water main breaks per year in the U.S., wasting more than 2,000,000,000,000 (trillion) gallons of treated drinking water

  • Most electric transmission and distribution lines were constructed in the 1950s - 1960s with a 50-year life expectancy

  • Americans annually generate about 258 million tons of solid waste with  approximately 53% destined for landfills

  • Over 18,000 sites and 22 million acres of land are related to the primary hazardous waste programs, and more than half of the U.S. population lives within three miles of a hazardous waste site


Fortunately, someone is keeping watch.


Every four years, the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) provides a comprehensive assessment of the nation’s major infrastructure in ASCE’s Infrastructure Report Card. The assessment is broken into 16 categories applying a basic A to F school report card rating format, and it examines the current state of our infrastructure and its greatest needs, assigning grades, and offering recommendations for improvements.


The 16 categories rated are:


  • Aviation

  • Bridges

  • Dams

  • Drinking water

  • Energy

  • Hazardous waste

  • Inland waterways

  • Levees

  • Ports

  • Public parks

  • Rail

  • Roads

  • Schools

  • Transit

  • Solid waste

  • Wastewater


In our analysis here, we will pick out a few specific areas to report on, and provide a look into some state-specific situations and goals.





The U.S.’s 600,000+ bridges scored a C+. The average age of a bridge in the United States is 43 years, and 40% of U.S. bridges are 50 years old or older. However, more than 9% of these bridges (56,000) are considered to be structurally deficient - with motorists making 188 million trips per day over structurally deficient bridges.


While the number of bridges judged as being in this poor condition actually is on the decline, the remaining bridges continue to age, many reaching the ultimate lifespan for which they were originally constructed.


PRICE TAG for full rehabilitation of backlogged repairs: estimated at $123 billion.





From the street in front of your home to the 15-lane interstate highways, there are more than 4 million miles of roadway in the U.S. The roadways earned a disappointing D on the ASCE report card.


In 2016, people and products travelled over 3 trillion miles - that’s one half of a light year - across the country. With 95 of the 100 largest metropolitan regions experiencing increased congestion from 2013-2014, it is estimated that traffic delays cost some $160 billion in wasted time and energy.


In 2014, it was determined that 20% of the nation’s highways had poor pavement condition. Unsurprisingly, urban roads are in much worse condition than rural roads because of the huge difference in traffic volumes. 32% of urban roads are in poor condition, while only 14% of rural roads are in bad shape. Driving on deteriorating roads cost U.S. motorists an estimated $112 billion in additional vehicle repairs and operating costs.


In some areas, the need for better roadways has prompted state and local governments to reconsider road-building materials, converting some lower traffic, rural roads from asphalt to gravel, roads originally paved when asphalt and construction prices were low. But with infrastructure-related construction costs rising faster than funding for the projects, converting back to gravel has proven to be a more sustainable solution for maintenance. At least 27 states have adopted the de-paving solution, most of these making the move in the last five years.

PRICE TAG to get caught up: $836 billion (includes $123 billion for bridges discussed above).


Breakdown (in billions):

Highway repair backlog $420B

Highway system expansion $167B

Highway enhancement* $126B

Bridge repair $123B   


* (includes safety, operational and

environmental projects)





While our bridges average an age of at least 43 years, our 90,000+ dams are pushing senior citizen status checking in at an average age of 56 years old. Of these 90,000 structures, 20% or 15,000 are considered to be high-hazard potential dams. However, the number of dams classified as deficient high-hazard potential has exceeded 2,000 and is growing. And like the roadways, the dams scored a very unsatisfactory D on their report card.


PRICE TAG to repair the high-hazard and deficient high-hazard dams: $45 Billion.


While the ASCE’s evaluation focuses on the national scene, they give a state-by-state review of major concerns as well. Here’s a good example:





While the nation garnered a very unsatisfactory D+ on the Report Card, Wisconsin faces infrastructure challenges of its own. The American Society of Civil Engineers made the following comments on various elements of Wisconsin’s state of the infrastructure:

  • Driving on roads in need of repair costs Wisconsin drivers about $637 per vehicle owner per year

  • Close to 9% (~1 in 12) of Wisconsin bridges are rated structurally deficient

  • 157 dams are rated as high-hazard potential

  • Drinking water fixes are estimated at $1 billion

  • Wastewater needs are estimated at $6.33 billion


Economic Impact


Like all serious challenges, our infrastructure issues can be looked at as obstacles to economic development or as opportunities for economic growth. To the industrious construction contractor, rebuilding the nation’s infrastructure could be the key to immediate economic opportunity while (literally) paving the way for economic prosperity for the rest of the country.


As written in a recent blog, one of the biggest challenges facing a renaissance of infrastructure renovation will be the man-power needed to fill all the jobs with qualified, skilled labor. However, for the prepared Wisconsin contractor, this could be the threshold of a whole new economic opportunity.


How Do I Prepare?


Much of this can depend on luck. But as it’s been said, “The harder I work the luckier I get.” And he or she who is prepared when opportunity knocks will be the one to open the door.


Here’s a checklist of tasks to ensure that you are the “lucky one” when economic opportunity comes knocking on your business door:

  • Get onto state vendor lists so you will be notified when a bid for a Wisconsin construction project is opening

  • Open communication lines with state and local representatives so you know what and when to watch for, regarding upcoming bids and projects

  • When bidding be sure that your skills and services match up with those in the Request for Proposal or any other documents providing insight to a project

  • And make sure that you, your employees, and your subcontractors are up to date on all Wisconsin contractor continuing education requirements  including:


Brian P. Murphy, the author, is a researcher and writer for At Your Pace Online, an online provider through WIContractorTraining.com of Wisconsin’s contractor’s license classes, continuing education for contractors, and continuing education for plumbers.