Released by ASCE-NCS.ORG on January 14, 2016

The National Capital Section of the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) released the 2016 Report Card for D.C.’s Infrastructure on Thursday, January 14, 2016.

The report includes an evaluation of the District’s bridges, drinking water, energy, levees, parks, rail, roads, schools, solid waste, transit and wastewater.

D.C.'s Infrastructure received a "mediocre" grade. It is of only moderate quality; not very good. Because infrastructure has a direct impact on our lives every day—from the quality of water delivered through taps in our homes, to the condition of school buildings our children attend and to the condition and capacity of the roads and rails we travel on, those living or working in, and those governing D.C.'s infrastructure funding policies must invest adequately to safeguard its role that is vital to our economy, security, recreation, and safety.

2016 Report Card for D.C.’s Infrastructure Reveals C- for Grade

Washington, D.C. (January 14, 2016): The unimpeded rays of sunlight penetrating the frigid overnight air at D.C. Water’s First Street Tunnel Project gave clarity to the unfolding scene but not warmth. Many rubbed their hands and most had winter coats on at the gathering of civil engineers for the unveiling of the Report Card for D.C.’s Infrastructure. However, their conversation was not focused on the weather; the cold wind in the open-air venue did not matter. “My heartiest congratulations to the Section for culminating this vital effort today,” Dr. Efimba from Howard University was overheard saying.

Scott Wolf, President ASCE-NCS (2015-16) welcomed the audience and noted, “We are responsible for the design, construction, operation and maintenance of our core infrastructure, such as roads, bridges, water pipes and levees. With that responsibility comes the obligation to periodically assess the overall state of the infrastructure, report on its condition and performance, and advise on steps to improve it.”

Ranjit Sahai, Chair of the 2016 Report Card for D.C.’s Infrastructure committee thanked Chris Manalo, Vice-Chair, and each of the more than dozen active technical members of the committee for their role in bringing the 15-month long process for the development of the Report Card to conclusion. In sharing the findings of the Report, Ranjit noted that D.C.'s Infrastructure received a "mediocre" C- grade. It is of only moderate quality; not very good. Because infrastructure has a direct impact on our lives every day—from the quality of water delivered through taps in our homes, to the condition of school buildings our children attend and to the condition and capacity of the roads and rails we travel on, those living or working in, and those governing D.C.'s infrastructure funding policies must invest adequately to safeguard its role that is vital to our economy, security, recreation, and safety.

George Hawkins, CEO and General Manager of DC Water spoke next. The gist of his message was: ASCE's Report Card initiative is independent, fair, and trust-worthy; He is proud of D.C.'s Drinking Water and Waste Water's C+ grades as those have climbed up from the earlier D- and are better than the national averages; The commitment of the DC Water organization is unwavering in its focus on continuing the climb up the infrastructure grading scale.

D.C. Infrastructure Report Card Committee team members Hari Aamidala, Piers Causton, Todd Graham and Kari Kubista were present at the unveiling of the Report Card. Carol Bailey, Veronica Davis, Jason Levinn, Sebastian Guerrero, Ryan Carey, and Robyn Jackson did not make it to the event.

Methodology

The purpose of the Report Card for D.C.’s Infrastructure is to inform the public and decision makers of the current condition of D.C.’s infrastructure in the concise and easily accessible format of a school report card. Each of the categories of infrastructure covered in the Report Card is assessed using rigorous grading criteria and recent data to provide a comprehensive assessment of the area’s infrastructure. ASCE has used the following criteria to discuss and grade the state of D.C.’s infrastructure:

  • Capacity
  • Condition
  • Funding
  • Future Need
  • Innovation
  • Operation & Maintenance
  • Public Safety
  • Resilience

About the Grades

ASCE has defined the grading scale for this infrastructure report as:

GRADERANGEDESCRIPTION
A 90-100% Exceptional: Fit for the future
B 80-89% Good: Adequate for now
C 70-79% Mediocre: Requires attention
D 51-69% Poor: At risk
F 50% or Lower Failing: Unfit for purpose

Bridges (B-)

D.C. has 265 bridges that are an average of 58 years old; 226 of the bridges are owned by the D.C. Department of Transportation (DDOT) and the remaining 39 are owned by the National Park Service (NPS). In just three years, DDOT focused on and reduced the percentage of structurally deficient bridges, which are bridges that require significant maintenance, rehabilitation, or replacements, from about 8% to 3%, showing great progress. D.C.’s percentage of structurally deficient bridges is now well below the national average.  Despite this progress, 222,000 trips are taken over a structurally deficient bridge every day, and it is estimated that 80% of the bridges are at or exceeding the typical bridge lifespan and may need to be replaced or rehabilitated in the next 10 years.

Drinking Water (C+)

D.C.’s drinking water comes from the Potomac River, is treated by the Washington Aqueduct, and is then delivered by DC Water. The system supplies approximately 95.8 million gallons per day of water, equivalent to 145 Olympic swimming pools. The system entails 1,350 miles of pipes, equivalent to driving from D.C. to Chicago and back. The pipes’ median age is 79 years, which is beyond the design lifespan of 50 years, and 9% of pipes were installed during the period between the Civil War and the 1890s. Recently, DC Water started replacing 1% of pipes a year. While 3 times the previous year’s replacement rate, it is still a 100-year replacement cycle. There are typically 400 to 550 water main breaks a year. The system also includes 4 pumping stations, 5 reservoirs, 3 elevated water storage tanks, and 9,300 fire hydrants.

Energy (C)

D.C. draws its energy from sources outside its boundaries and moves it using a variety of methods – from wires to substations for electricity and through pipes for gas. The energy system includes 2,230 miles of primary cable, and the natural gas network consists of 2,360 miles of pipeline. While 2 of 3 electricity generation plants were taken out of service, D.C.’s distributed generation capacity has grown, including use of solar photovoltaic systems. The primary concern for reliability in D.C. has been with overhead feeders which are susceptible to weather events. DC PLUG, a 10-year initiative, has begun to relocate overhead feeders underground, but this step alone may not fully address reliability concerns. The challenge with gas pipelines is an aging system and the potential for leaks. However, efforts are underway to make significant improvements in both natural gas and electric systems by 2018, as $3 billion is planned for electricity infrastructure upgrades and $650 million has been allocated to replace 50-year old pipelines.

Levees (D-)

D.C. has two levee systems: the District of Columbia – Potomac Park (DCPP) Flood Risk Management System (FRMS) providing risk reduction to the heart of the city’s downtown area and the Anacostia (DCAN) FRMS providing flood protection to the Joint Base Anacostia Bolling facility and the nearby area. Together, the two systems are over 3 miles in length, and are operated and maintained by the National Park Service and the Department of the Navy. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) routinely inspects the levees to evaluate the operations, maintenance, and condition of the structures. Neither levee meets their design requirements: both have an “Unacceptable” safety rating per USACE’s inspection and both have not been accredited by the Federal Emergency Management Agency. In 2007, after both levees received an “Unacceptable” rating, $1.2 million in improvements were planned to improve condition, operations, and maintenance of the DCPP FRMS section. However, an additional $5 million would be needed to finish the work on the levees to protect the capital area. The needs for funding and collaboration will continue to change as flood risk reduction requires continual monitoring and maintenance. The ability of these levee systems to prevent flooding within the District of Columbia depends heavily on both their structural integrity, as indicated by their safety rating, and the development of the stormwater infrastructure upstream in surrounding areas.

Parks (C+)

D.C. has one of the highest ratios of park acres to citizens in the U.S. The District of Columbia Department of General Services (DGS) maintains 73 recreation facilities, 379 parks, and 6 aquatic centers that are operated by the Department of Parks and Recreation. Of these, 19% of DPR recreation facilities are in poor condition and an additional 35% are in fair condition, which means more than 50% of D.C.’s open space has challenges. D.C. has two initiatives to improve locally owned parks—Recreation Center Projects and PlayDC Playgrounds Improvement. Additionally, 17% of D.C.’s land area is made up of parks run by the National Park Service including the National Mall, Rock Creek Park, Anacostia Park, monuments and memorials, traffic circles, and small pocket parks. Maintenance remains a challenge for both D.C.’s small parks and the Federal parks which must compete for funding with parks nationwide. Over the next 6 years, D.C. proposed spending $219 million for renovation and reconstruction of recreational facilities.

Rail (B-)

To serve passengers and freight, D.C. hosts 75 miles of track, 4 rail yards, 2 stations, as well as several rail bridges and viaducts. Planned and built nearly 100 years ago, much of the rail system has reached capacity, showing that future plans must be made. D.C. train ticket sales on Amtrak’s busy Northeast Corridor rank second in the nation, but funding from Congress falls far short of reaching a state of good repair or expanding service. In 2014, more than 416,000 freight carloads passed through D.C., and with an eye toward the future, CSX has invested $25 million in D.C. rail upgrades and will spend another $200 million to renew and double capacity through D.C.’s Virginia Avenue Rail Tunnel. The owners and operators at both Union Station and L’Enfant Plaza Station have proposed expansion plans that could serve D.C.’s future need.

Roads (D+)

D.C.’s roads are some of the most congested in America, causing drivers 204 million hours of delay as they drive almost 10 million miles and wear down major roads’ pavement into poor condition.  Just to maintain the roads at fair condition levels, DDOT needs four times its current maintenance budget. While the number of miles driven in D.C. is expected to increase by a modest 14% by 2040, the total hours of delay caused by congestion are expected to increase by 43%. To offset the gridlock, D.C. is implementing strategies to manage travel demand and improve system efficiency and safety, including optimizing traffic signals to avoid unnecessary waiting and implementing the Vision Zero Action Plan to eliminate traffic fatalities. DDOT has also put emphasis on maximizing the potential of all transportation modes, including transit and car share, to stabilize mobility costs for the city and improve the quality of everyone’s commute.

Schools (C-)

Since 2008, D.C. provided $1.5 billion to modernize the physical infrastructure at 64 schools, which is more than half of their 116 public school buildings. The modernization projects range from renovations to construction of new schools. The total school facilities inventory is 12.6 million square feet of interior building space and an additional 22 million square feet of exterior space comprised of athletic fields, parking areas, sidewalks, and playgrounds. While improvements are still ongoing, the last annual audit of the school facilities showed that 49 schools had at least one structural or system element rated as “poor.” Currently, 14,651 DCPS students are attending schools that are considered in moderately high need of facility condition improvements.

Solid Waste (C+)

D.C. generates about 900,000 tons of waste in all forms—paper, plastics, food waste, glass, yard waste, electronics, hazardous waste, and more. Municipal solid waste (MSW) is collected by mostly private haulers and the Department of Public Works (DPW), taken to 4 transfer stations or a recycling facility, and then disposed of outside of D.C. While 59% is landfilled, D.C. is converting 25% to energy and recycling 16%. D.C.’s recycling rate is up 10% today from 10 years ago and better than comparable cities, but more progress is needed to meet the District’s long-term goal of 45%. Residential growth is requiring 18 new trucks be added by 2016, and D.C.’s innovative programs, like the nickel bag fee, show progress in managing a growing city’s waste.

Transit (D)

The Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority (Metro) and DDOT provide public transit to D.C. residents as well as tourists and commuters. Metro provides both rail and bus service that nearly 85% of  DC area transit riders use. Metro’s rail consists of 118 miles of track, 1,104 railcars, 91 stations, 9 rail yards, 6 lines, and carries 721,000 passengers on average each weekday. Metro bus service has a fleet of 1,525 buses, 9 bus garages, 176 lines, and carries more than 15,800 riders. DDOT also provides transit service with its 6 popular DC Circulator bus lines that have now been operating for a decade. In addition, DDOT has built and is testing a DC Streetcar segment. Public transit faces an estimated $16 billion funding gap over the next 10 years in the D.C. region even as the area grows and more ridership is expected. MetroForward was Metro’s 6-year, $5 billion investment  plan to improve safety and reliability, and has brought track and bus improvements. However, the condition of the system and the safety implications of a lack of consistent funding for maintenance continue to be concerns for Metro and its riders, and last October, the Federal Transit Administration took over safety oversight of Metrorail for the safety of passengers and employees.

Waste Water (C+)

D.C.’s wastewater system dates back to 1810 and includes 1,800 miles of sanitary and combined sewers—a longer distance than from D.C. to Denver. The system includes 16 stormwater stations, 75,000 catch basins and manholes, and 9 wastewater pumping stations. The advanced treatment system at Blue Plains is the largest of its type in the world, in-taking on average 330 million gallons per day (MGD), including from outlying counties, with a capacity of 384 MGD, the equivalent of 560 Olympic swimming pools. A third of the city is served by combined sewers, which can result in sewage overflows into the region’s rivers during high rain events. DC Water’s Clean Rivers Project, planned in the early 2000s and in construction since 2011, is working to reduce such overflows by, among other things, building 18 miles of new tunnels to store water during high rain events.