February 9, 2011

Maryland’s infrastructure gets a C-, engineers say

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By Megan Poinski
Megan@MarylandReporter.com

Maryland’s aging and ill-maintained transit, roads, dams, bridges and storm water systems earned a barely passing grade of C-, according to the 2011 Report Card for Maryland’s Infrastructure prepared by the Maryland Section of the American Society of Civil Engineers.

No aspect of Maryland’s infrastructure earned a very good grade on the report card. Worst was the storm water system, which received a D. Transit and roads – as well as the drinking water infrastructure in the Baltimore area – received marks of C-, while dams and the Baltimore area’s wastewater system received Cs. The state’s bridges received a B-, the highest grade given.

infrastructure report card press conference

Frank Kaul, president of the Maryland Section of ASCE, explains Maryland's report card, as Del. Jon Cardin (left), and Sen. Rob Garagiola and engineer Tom Sprehe (right) listen.

Frank Kaul, president of the Maryland Section of ASCE, called the low grades unacceptable. Fifteen ASCE members spent more than eight months evaluating the different aspects of the state’s infrastructure, based on its capacity, the state’s needs, its level of resilience, and the availability of funding for it. If an aspect of infrastructure served its needs perfectly, was relatively new, and had dedicated funding available, Kaul said it would have received an A.

“Anything graded below an A is something that costs Marylanders money, time, safety and security,” he said.
Kaul stressed that the grades are not a reflection of departments, people or politics, but simply focus on conditions.

The stormwater system has not been a priority for many years, resulting in its low grade, said engineer Tom Sprehe. Many of the state’s stormwater systems, which drain rainfall toward rivers, lakes, ponds and the Chesapeake Bay, were built decades ago. They have not been often maintained or completely replaced. However, environmental concerns and new guidelines have been passed to more closely monitor pollutants and control runoff.

The aging stormwater system is losing reliability and effectiveness on its own, but the new mandates set even higher goals that it must reach, Sprehe said. Sprehe said that they could give it no better than a D because there is no dedicated source of funding for stormwater, and it is an aspect of infrastructure that is seldom considered,

“The commitment and the funding just is not in place,” he said.

Also turning in some of the lower marks were transit, roads, and Baltimore’s drinking water system.

Transit, which serves millions of Marylanders through the Baltimore Mass Transit Adminstration, the Washington Metro rail and bus system, MARC trains, and several regional bus systems, is growing rapidly, Kaul said. Between 2005 and 2009, ridership has increased 22%, but the systems don’t run efficiently for their ridership, and funding is not in place to improve them.

The roads are also in poor condition. Kaul said that road surfaces tend to be smooth, since there was quite a lot of resurfacing done through federal stimulus dollars. However, he said, they got lower scores because of crumbling roadbed underneath and the massive traffic.

The report card concentrated on the Baltimore area’s drinking water and wastewater systems instead of looking statewide. Sprehe said that drinking water and wastewater systems are operated by local authorities, and tend to be in very different conditions, so only one was selected. The infrastructure of Baltimore’s drinking water system is aging, though Sprehe said that the quality of the water itself is excellent. The quality of the infrastructure – mostly the pipes used to deliver drinking water – was measured by how often pipes burst or leaked.

“Many of the pipes are cast iron, and were built 60, 70, 80 years ago,” Sprehe said.

The most effective and easiest way to improve these grades would be for the state to set aside money and resources to improve infrastructure, Kaul said. With the right commitment to upgrade aging systems and leadership to create sustainability plans, the state could turn itself around. If not, he said, the consequences could be disastrous.

“The scariest part of the report card is how old our infrastructure is,” Kaul said.