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Urgent Infrastructure Needs Remain Unmet

One year after the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) outlined $1.3 trillion in critical infrastructure needs, the Society reports that urgent needs in the nationís school buildings, airports, water infrastructure and waste disposal systems remain unmet. However, the Society says the federal government has responded to the nationís surface transportation needs.

Daniel S. Turner"Last March, we gave the nationís infrastructure an average grade of ĎDí in our Report Card for Americaís Infrastructure, and told the government and the nation that our public works infrastructure and environment were in desperate need of attention. Iíd give the federal government response to our call to action a ĎCí," said ASCE President Daniel S. Turner, Ph.D., P.E.

With mixed praise and criticism for Congress and the Administration, ASCE has issued a status report on the federal governmentís response during the past year to the nationís infrastructure needs, and outlined what the government must do to improve our public works and environment.

"Our airports,
dams, water infrastructure,
schools and the environment desperately need attention."

- Daniel Turner

"Congress and the Administration have taken important steps to improve the deteriorated and overstressed state of our surface transportation infrastructure; but our airports, dams, water infrastructure, schools and the environment desperately need attention as well," Turner said.

Congress and the Clinton Administration passed the largest public works bill in history - the $217.9 billion Transportation Equity Act for the 21st Century (TEA-21) - three months after ASCE issued its 1998 report card, which cited more than $500 billion in surface transportation needs. But, ASCE believes that TEA-21 shortchanged our national transportation research and development program.

"TEA-21 gave us more money to improve our transportation system, but it left out the research funding it will take to make every dollar count. We need a national research program to achieve TEA-21's goals of an efficient, long-lasting and safe transportation system," said Turner.

ASCE supports the Clinton Administrationís FY 2000 U.S. DOT budget request of $50.5 billion, $641.4 million of which is for the Federal Highway Administrationís Research and Technology Program. This request is $250 million more than that authorized by TEA-21, which cut total funding for the research program by 5 percent compared to the previous authorization bill, ISTEA.

ASCE is optimistic about efforts to reauthorize Federal Aviation Administration programs through the introduction of H.R. 1000 and the companion Senate bill, S. 82. ASCE supports the House bill, the Aviation Investment and Reform Act (AIR-21), which calls for some $90 billion in federal funds to upgrade airport and air traffic control facilities.

The bill also calls for taking the user-funded Airport and Airway Trust Fund off-budget so more critical infrastructure needs can be met. ASCE also believes the Airport Improvement Program should receive a minimum of $2 billion per year.

"A recent FAA report states the number of severely congested airports has risen to 27 and is projected to reach 31 by 2007. We must address our aviation needs now or we will soon face gridlock at our nationís airports," said Turner.

ASCE is critical of Congressí failure to pass proposed school modernization legislation in its last session, but voices support for new initiatives that would raise $25 billion in bonds for school modernization and construction efforts.

"We hope that efforts to publicize the nationís school infrastructure needs have built enough public support to either pass bonds at the local level or pass federal legislation to help communities rebuild their schools, which are literally crumbling," said Turner.

Federal action on drinking water focused on implementing the provisions of the Safe Drinking Water Act, including the release of $775 million in state revolving loan funds in 1998. ASCE believes Congress should fund at least $1 billion annually for state revolving loan funds, which is the authorized amount under the SDWA. Federal efforts in 1999 will focus on developing rules to control microbial contaminants and disinfection byproducts. In light of recent reports on the public health risk from arsenic and radon, rules to control these substances also are expected.

The Clinton Administrationís FY 2000 budget request for wastewater infrastructure has drawn sharp criticism from ASCE. The Administration has called for only $800 million for state revolving loans under the Clean Water Act for FY 2000, 41 percent below authorized levels.

"With todayís wastewater challenges ranging from aging pipelines to agricultural runoff to expanding suburbs, and the need for a capital investment of more than $140 billion over the next 20 years, this cut in funding ties the hands of states that are desperately trying to meet our water quality goals. Congress must reauthorize the Clean Water Act with adequate funding based on true construction needs and compliance schedules," said Turner.

ASCE applauds federal efforts to improve dam safety through increased grants to states under the National Dam Safety Program Act. The Administrationís $5.9-million FY 2000 budget request is a healthy increase, but as more dams exceed their lifespans over the next 20 years, additional resources will be needed, Turner said. ASCE believes Congress should establish a state revolving loan fund for dam improvement similar to those in the drinking water and wastewater programs.

ASCE is highly critical of the federal governmentís management of the nationís hazardous waste. Since taxing authority expired in 1995, Congress has been unable to produce a reauthorization bill because of fundamental arguments over who is responsible for cleanup costs.

"Political wrangling over the Superfund issue has gone on long enough while funding dwindles and too much of our environment remains steeped in toxic waste. Congress must reauthorize Superfund in a timely manner before the trust fund runs dry in 2000," said Turner.

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