WATERBURY, CT — The Connecticut Section of the American Society of Civil Engineers
(ASCE) recently released the 2022 Report Card for Connecticut's Infrastructure, with five categories of infrastructure receiving an overall grade of a C. That means Connecticut’s infrastructure is in mediocre condition, but an improvement over the C- grade issued in the 2018 report card. The bump is thanks in large part to improved condition of assets across several categories and additional funding allocated for roads, bridges, and rail. Connecticut is also set to receive more than $5 billion from the federal bipartisan infrastructure bill, which was passed in late 2021. However, these improvements are threatened by Connecticut’s aging infrastructure — one of the oldest infrastructure networks in the U.S. — and the recent suspension of the state’s already-insufficient gas tax. Civil engineers graded bridges (C), drinking water (C), rail (B), roads (D+), and wastewater (C-).
“This report shows that Connecticut’s infrastructure has improved in recent years, but unreliable funding sources, increasingly severe weather, and high inflation combined with our aging systems puts forward progress at risk,” said Roy Merritt, Jr., Chair, 2022 Report Card for Connecticut’s Infrastructure. “Through the federal infrastructure bill and innovations in the field, we have an opportunity to transform the state’s built environment to support economic growth and keep residents safe.”
Bridges (C) and Roads (D+)
According to the Connecticut Department of Transportation
(CTDOT), 61 percent of Connecticut’s roadway network is in a state of poor or mediocre condition, with most of these poor conditions falling under town-maintained roads rather than state-maintained roads. Most road funding comes from the state gas tax, which was recently suspended. Prior to the gas tax suspension, the last change was a 2001 increase to $0.25 per gallon, which now has 50 percent less purchasing power today due to inflation.
Connecticut roads also face significant congestion issues, ranking 8th highest in the nation with 68 percent of urban interstates facing routine congestion. Significantly, six of the top 15 freight/trucking bottlenecks in the country are located on Connecticut highways.
Bridges have benefitted from more consistent funding, a preventative maintenance focus, and incorporation of innovative materials and techniques to achieve a drastic reduction in the percentage of bridges in poor condition (from nearly 12 percent in 2018 to the national average of 7.5 percent in 2021). The state has used Ultra High-Performance Concrete (UHPC) in recent projects. However, the average National Bridge Inventory (NBI) bridge in Connecticut is 53 years old, compared to the national average bridge age of 44 years. CTDOT estimates an approximately $650 million per year gap between current bridge funding levels and long-term preservation and enhancement needs. Without additional revenue, the percentage of bridges in poor condition is expected to rise back to 10 percent by 2032.
Drinking Water (C) and Wastewater (C-)
Most Connecticut water treatment facilities were built in the 1970s and 1980s to comply with the Safe Drinking Water Act (SDWA) of 1974. Many water systems have pipe networks dating back to the late 1800s or early 1900s and continue to be the weak link in providing reliable water service. As a result of aging infrastructure beyond its intended life, leaking watermains contribute to losses estimated between 15 to 20 percent of total water production. This is water taxpayers have already paid to have treated that never reaches their homes. Connecticut requires more than $4 billion to maintain existing infrastructure over the 20-year period of 2015-2034, but state and federal funding through the Drinking Water State Revolving Fund (DWSRF) has resulted in just $388 million through June 30, 2021. Although it will not fully close the gap, the federal infrastructure bill is expected to provide Connecticut drinking water systems an additional $445 million over the next five years.
Approximately 55 percent of the 3.6 million residents in Connecticut are served by sanitary sewers that flow to a wastewater treatment plant, meaning nearly half of residents rely on septic tanks. These systems were built prior to the knowledge of current climate impacts. Fifty of these treatment plants have been identified as “high-risk” for flooding during storm events. However, the state has been active in combatting combined sewer overflow (CSO) structures, which combine stormwater and wastewater systems into a single pipeline, and reducing CSO events, which occur when the system overflows during severe rain events. CSOs can result in contaminated local water supplies. Since the 1990s, Connecticut has spent over $1.2 billion eliminating over 130 CSO structures and reducing total CSO volume by approximately 22 percent.
The highest graded category in the report, Connecticut’s freight and passenger rail networks have benefitted over the past five years from upgraded facilities, improved safety, and invested in major infrastructure replacement and rehabilitation projects. Connecticut is part of the highest ridership passenger rail system in the nation, the Metro New York (MNR) network.
Train cars operating on CTDOT’s Hartford Line and Short Line East are all older than recommended and should be replaced. By contrast, most cars on the New Haven Line are newer and less costly to maintain. Bridge condition is also a major concern. Four moveable structures (draw, swing, or lift bridges) on the heavily traveled NHL are more than 125 years old. Furthermore, out of 195 rail bridges on the MNR system, 53 MNR bridges are rated in poor condition and 108 in fair condition.