Article Special Series

California ’s Infrastructure: A Legacy in Peril

This article is excerpted from the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) California Infrastructure Report Card 2006. Reprinted with permission. For more information about ASCE, visit Special thanks to Yazdan Emrani, president, ASCE Orange County Branch, and Mike Kincaid, past president, ASCE San Francisco Section, co-chairs of the California Infrastructure Report Card 2006, for their assistance.

The magnificent Golden Gate Bridge, the dams and water systems of the west, our transcontinental railroads and unparalleled network of modern interstates, and the airports, seaports, tunnels and transit systems that serve our cities — all of these are part of California’s infrastructure.

California is a rapidly growing state. As such, our infrastructure is beginning to show its age. With 35 million residents, California is the most populated state in the country, and its economy ranks as the world’s fifth largest. Based on some estimates, our state will add 10 million residents during the next 20 years, putting its population at a staggering 45 mil lion people.

A well-designed and maintained infrastructure anchors our economy and lifestyles and secures the public health and well-being. In the past 40 years, our capital investment has plummeted precipitously. In the 1950s and ’60s, California spent 20 cents of every dollar on capital projects. By the 1980s, that figure dropped to less than 5 cents on the dollar. Current estimates put infrastructure investment at around a penny on the dollar – despite ever-increasing demands presented by population growth and economic development. Much of the state’s public infrastructure was designed and built to serve a population half the size of California’s 35 million residents.

California’s Infrastructure Report Card

The report card from the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) shows how California’s roads, bridges, and water and sewer systems measure up by assigning letter grades to the nine main categories of California public infrastructure reviewed by ASCE in 2006.

California ’s grades are slightly better than the nation as a whole. The national grade is a D. California received an overall grade of C-. This grade is understandable because up until 30 years ago infrastructure investment was 20 percent of the state’s annual budget. Even so, we see elements of our infrastructure in the older parts of the state operating well past the design life and needing upgrading or replacement. In other parts of the state, infrastructure elements are 40-plus years old and will soon need significant upgrading. It is essential that we respond now to prevent a California infrastructure meltdown.

The total annual unfunded infrastructure investment required is $37 billion. Much work needs to be done on the local and statewide level to improve the grades.

C- Aviation

The State of California is experiencing massive growth, with a projected population close to 45 million by the year 2030. Significant actions must be taken to meet the anticipated demand requirements for air transportation — particularly commercial, foreign and domestic travel, and air cargo — and to maintain the significant economic development provided by this industry. This demand is a result of consistent growth within the state as well as limited capacity and increasing restrictions on aviation infra structure growth within regions. California must ensure efficient air travel and cargo transport by expanding airports and building regional airports to distribute the influx of passengers and cargo or risk losing its competitive edge. Annual investment needed to achieve a B grade is $0.5 billion.

F Levees/Flood Control

There is a real potential for catastrophic disaster to life and property in California. This is due to the fragile condition of our levee systems, which protect thousands of homes and billions of dollars in critical infrastructure. Annual investment of $4.2 billion is necessary to reduce the impacts of potential catastrophic failure.

D+ Parks & Open Spaces

California’s growing population is considerably increasing demands on our parks, natural forests and beaches. Inadequate planning and funding has resulted in significant degrada tion of parks and facilities. Important natural resource lands are lost for lack of acquisition and maintenance funding. Since 2002, the conditions and funding have become steadily worse. The state is currently suffering from widespread traffic congestion, air pollution, overcrowded and aging parks, lack of park accessibility and rapidly degrading ecosystems. An investment of approximately $15 billion over the next 10 years, or an annual investment of $1.5 billion, is necessary to bring the Parks and Open Spaces grade up to a B.

C+ Ports

The California ports and their infrastructure provide a vital link and play an important role in the movement and supply of our nation’s goods and materials. The overall infrastructure is in good shape today, but projected cargo will double by 2010. To maintain current levels, the regular assessment and upgrade of the infrastructure is vital to facilitate the cargo exchange from water to land via rail or truck and vice versa. Annual investment of $1.2 billion is required.

B Solid Waste

Solid waste systems are operated by a combination of private (collection and transfer) and county (landfill) facilities. Modern recycling has resulted in a 50 percent reduction in solid waste delivered to its landfills. Advanced planning is under way to extend landfill capacity through the year 2045. No increase in annual investment is required as long as current funding levels of $5 billion are maintained.

D+ Transportation

Highways, local roadways and bridges are some of California’s most valuable assets. Cali fornia is home to some of the most recognizable bridges in the nation and the world. Additionally, the state’s mass transportation and transit systems are multi-modal systems that provide alternatives to private cars. The overall grade of D+ reflects concerns about capacity despite investment in seismic upgrades and ongoing maintenance. Significant investment, estimated at $17.9 billion annually, is needed to raise our transportation infrastructure’s grade to a B.

D+ Urban Runoff

Urban runoff is an environmental challenge facing all Californians. Water quality prob lems impact our daily enjoyment of life. Going to the beach isn’t what it used to be. Californians are impacted by beach postings and closures. Not only do we need infrastructure to clean our waterways, but we also need to change our old habits. All of this requires time, money, education and the willingness to improve our environment. Californians need watershed-based, multipurpose and multiagency solutions to address the urban runoff problem, along with a dedicated funding source for urban runoff. Annual investment of $5.5 billion is needed to improve the grade for urban runoff to a B.

C+ Wastewater

California’s 100,000 miles of sewers and 200 wastewater treatment plants generally per-
form adequately to protect the water resources of the state by managing the 4 billion gallons of wastewater generated every day by its residents and businesses. Nevertheless, the condition and performance of California wastewater infrastructure (sewers, treat ment plants and effluent disposal) are quite variable. The age of the systems, topography, ongoing investment in new capacity, upgrades and rehabilitation, and rainfall-related flows contribute to this variability. The annual required capital investment in wastewater infrastructure statewide is $2.3 billion. Recently adopted statewide waste discharge operating requirements for sanitary sewers should result in improved statewide performance. However, this will require long-term local commitments for equipment, rehabilitation projects and staff in all parts of California.

C+ Water

Significant investments are needed to address renewal and replacement, maintenance, security and reliability funding for the state’s water infrastructure. These investments will increase sustainability and will ensure water supply and infrastructure reliability into the future. The annual investment needed to raise our water infrastructure grade to a B is $4 billion.

About This Series

“How Should California Grow?” is a series of articles appearing in Western City through the end of 2007. This article is the 11th installment in the series, which presents a variety of perspectives on growth-related topics. The opinions expressed are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect League policy. To read past articles in the series, visit .

About This Report

This report card was prepared by American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) in California, which has more than 12,000 members in the public and private sectors. Support for this project came from ASCE and other organizations, including the American Public Works Association; University of California, Irvine, Civil and Environmental Engineering Affiliates; California Infrastructure Coalition; and Consulting Engineers and Land Surveyors of California.

Infrastructure maintenance and renewal is critical for sustaining California’s economic engine. The ASCE California Infrastructure Report Card 2006 rates nine infrastructure categories. A portion of the report card is excerpted in this article. The full report also recommends public policy options and funding needed to rehabilitate and revitalize our infrastructure and to continue California’s economic growth and overall quality of life.

For more information, visit

This article appears in the November 2007 issue of Western City
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