Failing Grades


January 1, 2013

America’s infrastructure gets a D on its report card.

By Bill Langer


As a doting grandfather (a.k.a. Papa), I have some great news to share. The other day, our grandson, Donovan (fourth grade), and our granddaughter, Delaney (third grade), brought home their report cards. Donovan made honor roll, with all As and Bs. Delaney, with straight As, made the principal’s list. I am proud to share this news with you!

Unfortunately, some report cards are not so good. During 2009, the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) released its Report Card for America’s Infrastructure — with an overall grade of D. ASCE gave our nation’s major roads a grade of D- and reported that one third of the roads are in poor or mediocre condition. Congestion is a major problem, with Americans spending 4.2 billion hours a year stuck in traffic. This costs the economy $78.2 billion per year, which amounts to $710 per motorist. To add to the problem, poor road conditions cost motorists $67 billion a year in repairs and operating costs.

The report card for America’s infrastructure is shockingly bad.

While bridges usually are built to last 50 years, the average bridge in our country is 43 years old. According to the U.S. Department of Transportation, as of December 2008, there were 600,905 bridges across the country. Of those, 72,868 (12.1 percent) were categorized as structurally deficient and 89,024 (14.8 percent) were functionally obsolete. The condition of our bridges earns them a C on the report card.

The highest grade, C+, was for Sewage Treatment Facilities. Rail and Parks and Recreation received grades of C-. Energy got a D+, while every other category (aviation, inland waterways, rail, schools, and so forth) got a D or D-. If your kids or grandkids brought home these grades, you probably would not be too happy.

The bad news is that nothing comes cheap. Fixing this situation will take an investment of money. The ASCE report estimates that an additional $110 billion would need to be spent every year, for five years, to substantially improve conditions of the roads and bridges. This is in addition to what is already being spent. An additional $79.2 billion (for a total of $189.2 billion) would be needed per year, over the same period of time, to repair the remainder of the nation’s infrastructure.

The good news, if there is any, is that fixing this situation will require the use of aggregate, and lots of it. Aggregates commonly represent about 10 percent of the total project cost for construction. Therefore, upgrading our nation’s transportation infrastructure could require as much as $18.9 billion per year worth of aggregate for five years. Assuming aggregate is valued at about $10 per ton, 1.9 billion tons of aggregate per year may be required for the job. This is in addition to the regular demand for aggregate and amounts to an increase in aggregate production of about 100 percent over 2011 levels. Even using production figures from 2006, when aggregate production was at its highest, the new demand necessary to repair our infrastructure would require an increase in aggregate production of about 65 percent over 2006 levels.

This is not only good news for aggregate producers; it is good news for the economy in general. First, almost all aggregate is made in the United States. Next, every dollar spent on preparing aggregate results in the additional expenditure of 99.5 cents. Spend a buck on aggregate; move $1.99 through the economy. Spend $18.9 billion on aggregate; move $37.7 through the economy.

And get a smoother road for the school bus to boot.

Bill Langer is a research geologist who spent 41 years with the U.S. Geological Survey.

He can be reached at



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