California infrastructure grades are in: “Needs Improvement”

150 150 Cheryl Getuiza

The Gerald Desmond Bridge in Long Beach is literally falling apart, with netting catching chunks of concrete falling from the bottom. Ground was broken on a replacement bridge this year. (Photo Credit: Eric Fredericks/Flickr)

Do you remember report card days in elementary, middle and high school? Some dreaded those days, while others, jumped for joy. Well, today is not one of those days.

The grades are out and California’s infrastructure received an overall grade of C. That’s right, the Golden State’s infrastructure is mediocre, which is “cause for concern,” said John Moossazadeh, president of the American Council of Engineering Companies of California.

The American Society of Civil Engineers released its latest national report card and for the first time, the report card includes grades for each state and evaluations on the state’s infrastructure over the last four years. That means our roads, bridges, drinking water systems, ports, mass transit, and the electric grid.

“For California to remain competitive, we need a first class infrastructure system—transport systems that move people and goods efficiently and at reasonable cost by land, water and air; transmission systems that deliver reliable, low cost power from a wide range of energy sources; and water systems that drive industrial processes as well as the daily functions in our homes,” said Moossazadeh.

For some, the state’s fair-to-middling score is not too shocking.

“I totally believe that the state of California received a C grade, in fact, it’s better than expected,” said Sean Randolph, President of the Bay Area Council Economic Institute.

Here are some of the lowlights from the state’s report. You might want to sit down, the following is not good news and should “open our eyes wide to the importance of investments that we must make if California is even going to come close to maintain our current standard of living.”

  • California has 807 high hazard dams overseen by a dam safety program that has 60 full-time employees—with each one responsible for overseeing an average of 20.9 state regulated dams. “High hazard” means a failure by the dam would mean almost certain death and major destruction.
  • Only 45 percent of the state regulated dams in California have an Emergency Action Plan.
  • California reported that it needs to invest in $39 billion just to keep up with drinking water needs over the next 20 years and another $29.9 billion for the proper infrastructure required to treat wastewater.
  • About 12 percent or 2,978 of our 24,812 bridges are considered structurally deficient and 16 percent, 4,178, functionally obsolete.
  • Driving on roads in need of repair — and that’s 68 percent of the state’s roads — costs California motorists $13.892 billion a year in extra vehicle repairs and operating costs. That’s $586 per motorist.

“Many people don’t realize that those who make decisions on where to locate new business expansions, new jobs and major corporate investments, consider the health of a state’s infrastructure as a key decision point,” says Moossazadeh. “The fact that we received barely a passing grade is of little solace when you consider the economic perils we face, the potential devastating impact on both our economy and lifestyle, and the need for a sustained investment in our infrastructure facilities.”

According to Region 9 of the American Society of Civil Engineers, in 2012, California’s total unfunded infrastructure investment was $65 billion. The billion dollar question will be what the next step is. Reports like the Engineers’ report card have been saying for years that infrastructure is underfunded and deteriorting.

“Those of us who study our state’s infrastructure see those deficits everyday,” said Randolph. “It’s well known we have an aging infrastructure, but the question is, what are we going to do about it?”

It appears California’s infrastructure investment is not keeping up with the state’s growing population demands and is continuing to delay much needed renewal and maintenance.

Investing in the state’s infrastructure was one of seven Signature Initiatives from the California Economic Summit. Action teams have made progress on a number of actions. To follow their work as well as the other action teams, jump over to our Progress Tracker.

“Part of the answers we talked about in the Economic Summit process,” said Randolph. “There are several different infrastructure solutions. One is the idea of giving local governments bigger authority by lowering the voting threshold for them to pass measures for infrastructure dollars. Two, we need opportunities to get more private financing. These won’t solve our major problem, but fix a big part of it.”

A poll released today showed more support for lowering the voting threshold specifically for local transportation project taxes than for taxes in general.

But, the size of the problem shows the state will also need coordinating planning and the political will up and down the state to make a big lane change. 


Cheryl Getuiza

All stories by: Cheryl Getuiza