Earlier this month, the American Society of Civil Engineers released its latest report card on Washington state’s infrastructure. It graded not only roads, bridges and transit, but also dams, water and sewage systems.
The verdict: a C.
Let’s hope there’s no grading curve. Because that’s not good.
Take some solace in knowing that Washington beat the nation, which scored at D+ in 2017 when the ASCE last scored our country’s infrastructure. But that really doesn’t feel any better, knowing that our country is falling apart due to a negligent lack of funding.
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“Reliable and safe infrastructure requires sufficient investment, thoughtful planning, and preparation for the future,” wrote Richard Fernandez, an engineer for the city of Seattle who chaired the evaluation committee and helped write the report. “For a long time, underinvestment at all levels of government threatened our competitive advantage and the health, safety, and welfare of our residents.”
Though Fernandez argues that the state and local governments have started to fund infrastructure creation and maintenance, the report illustrates just how far we have to go.
Our roads and transit systems are below average. Our bridges aren’t much better. Our stormwater systems are near failing – on the grading scale, if not in practice.
The state’s 80,400 miles of roadway were ranked a decidedly poor C-.
Of all this right-of-way, about 50 percent is under county jurisdiction, 22 percent is run by cities, 11 percent is federal and 9 percent is state-controlled. The remaining belongs to townships and other small entities.
According to the report, about 70 percent of the state system is situated in rural areas that do not suffer from capacity issues. The rest is in the state’s urban areas: Seattle, Spokane and Vancouver. That’s where things get bad, according to the report’s metrics.
Seattle, no surprise, was ranked as having the third worst rush-hour traffic by the Texas Transportation Institute in 2015, and the Vancouver-Portland area came in at seventh. Spokane, the relatively empty burg to the east, ranked 54th.
The report also notes that the Washington State Department of Transportation has done a good job maintaining its pavement, with 92 percent of roads rating in fair or better condition.
So why the below average grade? Because the report sees the state becoming more populated, and our roads just can’t handle all the newcomers. Among its solutions to avoid an even lower grade next time around include finding ways to reduce congestion, and increasing the use of public transit by providing “transit-only lanes and improve the availability of public transit (buses, light rail lines, separated bike lanes) to decrease congestion and increase roadway safety.”
Speaking of transit, the report gave the state a grade of C-. Transit is described in the report as “a vital solution” to the state’s challenges stemming from “population growth, regional geographic and geologic hazards, transit safety, limited funding, and equitable access.”
Aside from discussion about the Seattle area’s transit systems, where there is nation-leading growth in transit ridership, the report doesn’t have much to say. Sure, there’s a long way to go in Spokane, but nowhere does the report mention the expanded service provided by Spokane Transit Authority or its plan to bring a bus rapid transit line to the city core.
Which brings us to our own grade of this report card. It severely lacks in Spokane-specific examples and suggestions. One could be forgiven if he or she thought the state was wholly occupied by Seattle, and the 500,000 people who live in Spokane County were actually residents of Idaho.
It’s probably just as well. As the report notes, if a rupture of the Cascadia Subduction Zone occurs, Seattle would suffer in unimaginable ways. The 3.5 million people living in the Puget Sound metropolitan area who depend on the degraded infrastructure will be up a creek without a paddle. So maybe this report will encourage those on the West Side to prepare for that inevitable and major earthquake.