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The Challenges Facing the U.S.’s Civil Infrastructure

Date: 12 April 2019

The pressure is on to bring aging U.S. infrastructure back to life before catastrophe strikes. The state of water systems, for instance, brings dangerous levels of contaminants and lead into Americans’ homes, but widespread disaster can be averted with immediate action.

Based on the input of 1,300 corrosion professionals, NACE (National Association of Corrosion Engineers) International’s Spotlight on Corrosion Report[1] highlights the dangers of aging water infrastructure as a pressing, costly but ultimately resolvable threat to public health if a Corrosion Management System (CMS) is promptly implemented.

The report warns that the water crisis in Flint, Mich., is a cautionary tale of lead poisoning caused by water treatment without adequate corrosion management. The authors state that waiting until repairs are critical is far costlier than preventing corrosion in the first place as was the case in Flint. The cost to replace Flint’s old lead pipes is approximately $55 million.

Many bridges and roads have also reached the end of their life cycle and desperately need repairs. The American Road and Transportation Builders Association (ARTBA) recently released a report about the state of bridges. ARTBA’s Bridge Report[2] gives U.S. bridge infrastructure a C+ grade which is consistent with other industry reports.

The report states that 47,052 out of the nation’s 616,087 bridges received a structurally deficient rating, with the average age of the deficient bridges being 62 which is well beyond the functional lifespan of 40. Notable bridges in need of repair include Brooklyn (N.Y.), Arlington Memorial (Washington, D.C.-Va.), Pensacola (Fla.), San Mateo-Hayward (Calif.) and Vicksburg (Miss.).

The structurally deficient bridges are crossed an alarming 178 million times a day. ARTBA estimates that the price tag to repair, rehabilitate or replace on the U.S.’s 235,000 bridges that need work is $171 billion.

“The trend of necessary work to be done in civil infrastructure is present across the whole spectrum,” said William Shephard, Head of Heavy Civil at LVI Associates. “LVI runs established teams in infrastructure markets, such as bridges, water treatment, utilities, highways, power transmission, and distribution and marine, and all our candidates and clients tell the same story of a huge amount of work to be done.”

Jamie Dimon, the CEO of JPMorgan, condemned U.S. officials for the dire state of U.S. infrastructure. "The country that used to have the best infrastructure on the planet by most measures is now not even ranked among the top 20 developed nations, according to the World Economic Forum's Basic Requirement Index, which reflects infrastructure along with other criteria," Dimon wrote in his 50-page annual letter. "We are falling behind on airports, bridges, water, highways, aviation and more."[3]

He cited a study by Business Roundtable that found every dollar spent restoring infrastructure system to good repair and expanding its capacity would produce nearly $4 in economic benefits.

The onus is on Congress, states, infrastructure owners, private businesses and the American people to take action. The American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) estimates that the U.S. needs $4.5 trillion to fix crumbling infrastructure and gave the overall state of infrastructure a D+[4] in its last report card.

The resounding message is clear: the U.S. can no longer defer investment in infrastructure. With the lesson from Flint still fresh in the nation’s consciousness and the number of states rallying for infrastructure repairs, civil engineers and construction firms must be ready for the glut of work.

“The increasing number of projects to be done has led firms to expand into new markets,” said Shephard. “If you are a contractor or engineering firm considering branching into a new market, please reach out to LVI for specialist advice on the market landscape and hiring trends. We can connect firms with existing talent in the markets in which they look to move and make the transition easier.”