WASHINGTON — Freight rail fared modestly better while transit slipped a notch in the American Society of Civil Engineers 2017 Infrastructure Report Card. Railroads scored a B, up from C+ in the last report card in 2013. Transit slipped from D to D-.
The report, published March 9, is published every four years to emphasize the need for national investment in 16 infrastructure categories ranging from aviation to wastewater. It grades using the familiar scholastic A to F scale.
Previous reports have frequently provided talking points for politicians and private sector experts in the debate over infrastructure policy.
With a B in infrastructure, the freight railroads and Amtrak scored the highest of all the groups. The society calls the grade “good, adequate for now.” Mass transit's D- indicates a point between “poor, at risk,” and “failing, critical, unfit for purpose.” Most of the categories were in the D+ to D- range. The society's overall D grade was unchanged from the 2013 report card.
The report notes that Class I railroads invested $21.7 billion in infrastructure improvements in 2015. But the Federal Railroad Administration projects that demand for rail freight will increase 40 percent by 2040.
However Class II and III railroads' revenues are not adequate to cover infrastructure improvements, the report says. Since 2004, short lines have benefited from a tax credit for infrastructure improvement, but it must be renewed annually. The American Short Line and Regional Railroad Association continues to lobby Congress for a permanent tax credit.
The report notes that Amtrak covered 94 percent of its operating costs in 2016, but still relies on the federal government for capital investment.
“This is not unusual — no country operates a passenger rail system without some form of public funding,” the report states. Despite growing ridership, Amtrak still lacks financial support for capital investment. The Northeast Corridor alone needs $11 billion to keep the system in a state of good repair, and another $17 billion for capital improvements.
The report notes that transit ridership is up 33 percent in the past 20 years, but transit agencies chronically lack the funds to keep their systems in a state of good repair. The federal government estimates transit now needs $90 billion to fill a maintenance backlog. The demand will grow to $122 billion by 2032.
Richard A. White, acting president of the American Public Transportation Association, called mass transit the “poster child for our country's underinvestment in infrastructure.
“Transportation is the backbone of an economy and it is in our country's best interest to make sure that public transportation projects are adequately funded,” White says. “We don't need another wake-up call.”
More information is available online.