Robert MacPherson, PE


“Our state’s infrastructure is vital to the economy, safety, environment and quality of life of all Georgians.” ASCE GA Georgia Report Card

Earlier this year, the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) provided an update to its landmark national Infrastructure Report Card by issuing state-specific report cards for a handful of states, including Georgia. Like expectant parents awaiting their child’s progress report from school, those of us who are active in infrastructure improvement awaited the grades with nervous anticipation.

Not surprisingly, we were both pleased and disappointed. Disappointed because we didn’t make much progress beyond our “C” grade (mediocre:  requires attention) from 2014. Pleased because there was some progress: We got a C+. Georgia’s initiatives with bridges, roads, and transit rose a bit; solid waste and wastewater dropped a bit.

So where do we go from here?

Over the last two and a half years, President Trump has declared it to be “Infrastructure Week” in the United States seven times. Unfortunately for those of us in the AEC industry, a multitude of other issues stole the national spotlight.

Yet despite other topics dominating the news cycle, talk of infrastructure continues. Recently, ASCE posted the following Twitter update discussing initiatives brought up by Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi:

Is there hope? Can we substantially improve Georgia and the nation’s infrastructure? To answer, I quote Bill Murray in What About Bob? — “baby steps.”

Despite moving only from a C to a C+ in five years, we’ve made real progress here in Georgia. It starts with the purse strings. In 2015, the state allotted almost $1 billion in new spending for roads and bridges (two favorite investments in this car-centric state). And last year, the Legislature allowed 13 counties in Metro Atlanta to vote to raise county sales taxes to fund mass transit. The Legislature also threw in another $100 million for bus rapid transit.

Both the City of Atlanta (read my last blog on Westside Atlanta’s revitalization to learn more) and DeKalb County ($1.165 billion through 2023) have made substantial investments in water and wastewater enhancements.

The federal and state government continue to make substantial investments in the Port of Savannah, which, according to the Atlanta Business Chronicle, “handled a record 4.5 million twenty-foot equivalent containers of cargo during the fiscal year that ended June 30, a 7.3 percent increase over fiscal 2018.” As with so many things related to infrastructure, those improvements have a direct impact on trains, planes, and trucks as well.

Yes, we’ve made progress. But we have a long way to go and some daunting challenges ahead.

Let’s start with water and wastewater. “From a bigger-picture perspective, Georgia’s population is growing and becoming more urban,” said Adjo Amekudzi-Kennedy of Georgia Tech’s Associate Chair for Global Engineering Leadership and Entrepreneurship. She cited forecasts from Georgia Tech’s Center for Quality Growth and Regional Development that project a 51% increase in people living along the Georgia coast by 2030. “The growth in coastal populations and the changing climate mean we must think about system resilience. We must work on adapting technologies to make our state’s infrastructure smarter, more resilient, and more supportive of healthy communities.”

But it’s not just the coast that’s growing. Outlying suburbs north of Atlanta will also see significant population growth. As an example, the Atlanta Regional Commission predicts a doubling in Forsyth County’s growth by 2040. Projects like the express lanes along I-75/I-575 have helped ease the impact of this growth, allowing drivers in the non-toll lanes to move 30% faster than before their construction. I live north of Atlanta along the I-75 corridor and have personally experienced my commute decrease by 10-15 minutes per day because of these managed lanes.

While DeKalb County has invested substantially in water, roads continue to consume attention and budgets. DeKalb County’s Infrastructure COO Ted Rhinehart says that roughly 300 miles of the County’s roads–more than 16% of its total roadways–are rated “poor and needing immediate work”:

The good news in all of this is that we have a pretty clear idea what we need to do to improve our national infrastructure. For many of us, it’s a daily task as our crews devote their brains and backs to make our airports more efficient, our roads safer, and our water cleaner and more abundant.

If our elected officials can come together and agree on how to invest in our nation’s backbone, we’re ready to improve our grades next time the ASCE issues its report card.

Do you have a transportation or infrastructure story to share? Please reach out to me at [email protected].

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