Infrastructure Needs Bring Big Cost for Northwest

By Tom Bacon

A new report from the American Society of Civil Engineers may be an unpleasant reality check for political budget and deficit hawks.

The things that get us where we want to go - highways, bridges and such - and that bring us what we need - power lines, dams, water pipes and the like - are falling apart, and we need to spend money - a lot of money - to bring them up to snuff. Altogether, those things are called infrastructure.

The ASCE report gives Idaho and Oregon "C-minus" grades for their infrastructure health. Washington is not graded in the report, but the cost estimates to bring the state up to par are in the billions of dollars.

For example, Washington has 227 high-hazard dams, it needs about $9.8 billion in drinking water infrastructure projects over the next 20 years, and more than $5 billion in wastewater structures in the next two decades.

366 Washington highway bridges are considered structurally unsound, and more than 1,600 of them are functionally obsolete. Even so, Washington got only $146 million - enough for perhaps one bridge - from the Federal Highway Bridge Fund in fiscal 2011.

Idaho's assessment is also gloomy. The engineering group found 122 high hazard dams in the state, and 45% of its roads in poor or mediocre condition.

In Oregon, bad roads cost drivers an extra $495 million a year for repairs - about $173 per driver. And it has fewer than three full-time employees to oversee more than 450 state regulated dams - 135 of those ranked as high hazard.

In sum, the report's call for spending more public money to fix or replace vital infrastructures runs headlong into fiscal realities of deficit-ridden state and federal budgets and determined political efforts to wipe out public debt.
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