STATEN ISLAND, N.Y. — America’s aging infrastructure could be the latest victim of the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic if additional federal funding is not provided, according to a new report.
COVID-19′s Impacts on America’s Infrastructure, a new report from the American Society of Civil Engineer (ASCE), details how the pandemic has detrimentally impacted the nation’s infrastructure, including roads, airports, bridges, dams, ports and transit.
The report notes that many of the revenue streams used to fund critical infrastructure projects and maintenance — like gas taxes, toll revenues and airport income — have dried up in recent months due to strict travel restrictions implemented in the interest of public health.
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To make up for this critical lost revenue, the ASCE is strongly urging the federal government to provide significant financial aid to fund necessary infrastructure projects that keep Americans moving safely within their local communities and across the country.
“Congress should make infrastructure investment a centerpiece of its immediate response and long-term economic recovery strategy. Now is the time to renew, modernize, and invest in our infrastructure to maintain our international competitiveness,” according to the ASCE.
With far fewer drivers on the roads in the recent months, states are generating significantly less revenue through gas tax receipts and driving tolls.
As a result, revenue generated from the federal Highway Trust Fund dropped 49% percent in May 2020 compared to the year prior, and state Departments of Transportation (DOTs) are projecting a 30% revenue decline over the next 18 months.
“America’s roads are frequently in poor condition, chronically underfunded, and are becoming more dangerous. One out of every five miles of highway pavement is in poor condition and the backlog of rehabilitation needs is growing, even as many states have acted to increase revenue for surface transportation projects,” according to the report.
And it’s not just the roads that are in danger due to lack of funding. The nation’s already-crumbling bridges are also at risk of further dilapidation.
“There are currently 46,100 structurally deficient bridges across our country, and at today’s investment rates, it would take 50 years to fix them all,” according to the report.
To avoid further deterioration of the nation’s roads and bridges, ASCE recommends that Congress provide $50 billion in funding to state DOTs and determine a longterm revenue solution for the Highway Trust Fund.
Few industries suffered from the coronavirus to the extent that the airline industry did, with domestic air travel falling by more than 95% during the height of the pandemic.
At the time, commercial flights carried an average of just a dozen passengers, while demand for air cargo also dropped 15%, leading to an estimated $23.3 billion loss for the industry.
Though the nation’s airports already received $10 billion on federal aid through the CARES Act, the ASCE is urging Congress to provide an additional $10 billion in future recovery funding.
Additionally, ASCE is urging legislators to axe a federally-imposed cap on Passenger Facility Charges that currently limit the amount of money airports can charge for facility improvements.
“Aging terminals, old technology, and choke-points at hub airports impact the aviation system. These challenges are exacerbated by a federally mandated cap on how much airports can charge passengers for facility improvements,” according to the report.
Transit agencies across the country, including here in New York, have seen precipitous drops in ridership amid stay-at-home orders and growing concerns of contracting the virus.
This vast reduction in ridership, and subsequent fare revenue, has put many of these already cash-strapped agencies at risk of major financial peril.
For example, the MTA estimates that it will lose $14.3 billion between 2020 and 2021 due to the pandemic, forcing the agency to place its historic $51.5 billion capital plan on an indefinite hold.
While the CARES Act already provided $25 billion to transit agencies across the country, including nearly $4 billion to the MTA, the ASCE is urging Congress to provide an additional $23.8 billion to the nation’s transit agencies.
“ASCE supports requests for further short-term relief for the nation’s transit agencies to ensure they can continue to meet service expectations and recommends that Congress ensures long-term, sustainable funding through the federal Highways Trust Fund,” according to the report.
Ports are crucial to the U.S. economy, accounting for $4.6 trillion annually, more than a quarter of all economic activity, while providing over 23 million jobs and contributing $321.1 billion in tax revenue to federal, state, and local governments.
However, the nation’s ports are expected to see an estimated 20 to 30% decrease in annual receipts, prompting the ASCE to urge Congress to provide additional short and long term funding to the industry.
“To stem losses in the maritime industry and the ripple effect those losses have on the rest of the supply chain, ASCE recommends Congress provide $1.5 billion to support operations and capital costs at our nation’s seaports. Longer-term, Congress should appropriate $4.5 billion for the Corps of Engineers coastal navigation program and $1 billion in supplemental funding for the Port and Intermodal Improvement Program,” according to the report.
The country’s dams, which provide crucial protection for downstream communities, are in poor condition and are also poised to suffer from lack of funding.
As of 2017, over 2,100 high-hazard potential dams were deemed deficient, two of which collapsed in Michigan this May due to record rainfall. The dam failures led to the evacuation of thousands of residents and extensive property damage.
“To ensure our nation’s dams receive adequate maintenance and can continue to protect nearby communities and regional economies, ASCE recommends fully funding the High Hazard Potential Dam Rehabilitation (HHPDR) program at the authorized amount of $60 million for FY21. Additionally, ASCE encourages Congress to pass the Dam Safety Improvement Act that makes technical changes to the HHPDR program to ensure more seamless implementation,” the report states.