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EDITORIAL: C Isn't Good Enough: Engineers Rank N.C. Infrastructure Barely Above Nation

Sep 22, 2006 The Charlotte Observer

While the Easley Administration is trying to decide how to restructure the N. C. Progress Board report cards on how the state is doing in specific policy areas, North Carolina's civil engineers have produced their own report on the state's foundations.

It's a sobering report, a timely reminder that a fast-growing state such as North Carolina must make regular investments in its transportation facilities, schools, water supplies and even waste disposal systems. The N. C. Section of the American Society of Civil Engineers says the state earns a passing grade -- barely -- on eight of nine areas.

The sole bright spot in the state's infrastructure was rail traffic, where North Carolina got a B-, the engineers said. The state has made some investments in rail line upgrades that eventually will help provide eight daily round-trip passenger trains between Charlotte and Raleigh as part of the Southeast High Speed Rail Corridor.

But grades in other areas indicate how much work the state has to do. The engineers gave the state a C on bridges, drinking water, schools, stormwater disposal and wastewater disposal, and a D for airports, dams and roads.

The report -- available online at http://sections.asce.org/n_carolina/ReportCard.html -- follows a 2005 nationwide report by the American Society of Civil Engineers, which gave the nation a cumulative grade of D in 15 infrastructure areas; this state's cumulative grade of C- "shows that North Carolina cannot support its increasing population" as it expands to become the eighth largest state in a few years.

"Crumbling infrastructure cannot support a healthy economy," said Ron Geiger, chairman of the engineers' report committee. Citizens must "realize how the deteriorating condition of those systems compromises their ability to support the state's economy and protect the natural environment that makes North Carolina so attractive. "

Most folks who spend much time in their cars already understand this point. They know that overcrowded roads and poor maintenance contribute to accidents, slow traffic and increasing frustration -- and may regard the D as charitable. The report card said only two-thirds of the state's roads were in good condition, and with insufficient long-term funding of $29 billion over the next quarter century to build and maintain roads, the state "lags most other states in supplying sufficient roads to handle congestion. "

But the grade of C+ on water supplies was only a little better. The report card said the state must spend up to $3. 4 billion upgrading drinking and wastewater facilities over five years and another $4. 5 billion by 2030 to comply with federal clean water mandates.

North Carolina's s civil engineers have done our state a favor in making the assessment of its infrastructure needs and pointing out the challenges. If they could also point to a way to pay for these needs, most folks would award them an A.

 
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