Civil Engineers Give Utah’s Infrastructure a “C+” in Infrastructure Report Card

Civil Engineers Give Utah’s Infrastructure a “C+” in Infrastructure Report Card

The Utah Section of the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) today released preliminary findings from its 2020 Report Card for Utah’s Infrastructure. Utah civil engineers gave 12 categories of infrastructure an overall grade of a ‘C+,’ one of the highest grades in the nation, meaning the state’s infrastructure is in mediocre condition, but there are some signs of improvement. Civil engineers graded aviation (C), bridges (B+), canals (D+), dams (C+), drinking water (B-), hazardous waste (C+), levees (D-), roads (B+), solid waste (B-), stormwater (C+), transit (B+) and wastewater (C). The full report will be released in early January and will be available on the Utah Section’s Report Card page.

“As one of the fastest growing states in the nation, infrastructure is what drives our economy, connects us with family and keeps us safe,” said K.N. Gunalan “Guna,” Ph.D., P.E., 2020 President, American Society of Civil Engineers. “The ongoing pandemic has illuminated the importance of efficient infrastructure during a crisis. Our freight system helps deliver necessities to our homes and our water network supports public health. It is essential that we continue to modernize our transit, bridges, and water systems if we want to bring back jobs and preserve the good quality of life that Utahns expect.”

Utah’s transportation networks received some of the highest grades in the nation in the 2020 report. Prioritization of the state’s bridges (B+), roads (B+) and transit (B+) infrastructure is attracting business opportunities, which is apparent in the recently completed Tech Corridor Projects. Over the past five years, Utah has seen more than a 40% decrease in structurally deficient bridges, going from 2.9% in 2015 to 1.7% in 2020— the fourth-lowest percentage in the country. This success is due, in part, to Utah Department of Transportation’s significant increase in funding, up from $26.5 million in 2016 to $48 million annually from 2018 to 2020. Only 4.2% of Utah’s roadways are rated as in poor condition and the long-term outlook of roadways is promising due to recent increased funding, rising from $1.2 billion in 2017 to $1.7 billion in 2020. The state has also streamlined Transportation Asset Management Plans (TAMP) and project risk analysis which looks at ways to preserve roadway infrastructure maintain its functionality after extreme events occur. 

Utah’s growing population— currently at 3.2 million people and expected to reach 5 million by 2050— makes robust transportation networks even more important. In addition to bridges and roads, transit (B+) has met increased demands with expanded services, including a connection between two major universities. Utah has over 100 miles of fixed guideway services and over 48 million annual riders, up an additional 2 million in the last five years. However, transit and aviation (C) struggle to generate revenue for smaller systems in rural areas, a common issue across the country. There are 36 public use airports in Utah and many of them are lacking investment, but 98% of enplanements go through Salt Lake City International Airport (SLC). SLC recently invested nearly $4 billion in a Terminal Redevelopment Program and has finished its first phase of development. 

We should be encouraged by the progress of our infrastructure, as outlined in this Report Card,” said Craig Friant, P.E., Chair, 2020 Report Card for Utah’s Infrastructure. “While we have some of the strongest grades across the country, it’s important to recognize there are still areas where we’re falling short, especially when it comes to our water and flood management assets. We need to address our dams, levees, and canals funding shortfalls and incorporate resilience for our systems that will feel the strain of an increased population and seismic activity.” 

Levees (D-) received the lowest grade in the report, as they are lacking in condition data and have an average age of nearly 60 years old. Between 102 and 112 miles of levees statewide protect over 125,000 residents and $10 billion in property, but these 252 individual segments average nearly 60 years old and most lack recent condition data. Many of the state’s canals (D+) were built over 100 years ago and are predominantly self-regulated. Dams (C+) will require an estimated $250 million to ensure all high hazard dams are up to minimum safety standards. The state has recorded 23 injuries and 30 deaths due to flooding since 2000, with 17 flood-related deaths coming in 2017 alone. 

Utah has done particularly well managing its hazardous waste (C+) and solid waste infrastructure (B-) over the years. Hazardous waste generation in Utah has decreased dramatically, from 82,259 tons in 2007 to 34,355 tons in 2017, a 58% reduction. For solid waste, the number of landfills has increased from 107 in 2013 to 122, while only 5% of the state’s total landfill area has been used.

The report also includes recommendations to raise the grades, including: 

  • Develop a statewide risk assessment framework that prioritizes funding for levee flood control and canal projects. 
  • Improve frequency of dam rehabilitation from 60 years to 25 years. 
  • Establish statewide guidelines for construction of drinking water, stormwater and wastewater systems that include seismic resiliency, low-impact development policies, and sustainable practices.

The Report Card was created as a public service to citizens and policymakers to inform them of the infrastructure needs in their state. Civil engineers used their expertise and school report card letter grades to condense complicated data into an easy-to-understand analysis of Utah’s infrastructure network. ASCE State and Regional Infrastructure Report Cards are modeled after the national Infrastructure Report Card, which gave America’s infrastructure a grade of ‘D+’ in 2017.  

A full copy of the Report Card for Utah’s Infrastructure will be available at  https://www.infrastructurereportcard.org/state-item/utah/.

Stuart is the founder, writer and wrangler at several sites including Gastronomic SLC, Utah Now and, The Utah Review; Stuart is a former restaurant critic of more than five years, working for the Salt Lake Tribune and has worked extensively with other local publications from Utah Stories through to Salt Lake Magazine and Visit Salt Lake.