Alabama’s Infrastructure Grades Are In


ASCE-Alabama-Logo-2015 smallThe inaugural Report Card for Alabama’s Infrastructure, released today, reveals that Alabama’s aging infrastructure needs attention, especially its dams. As the only state without a dam safety program, Alabama does not have a complete inventory of all the dams in the state. Without this, Alabama is unaware of its dam safety risk. At the last survey in the 1980s, 147 high hazard dams were found and do not have Emergency Action Plans. Because of the unknowns surrounding Alabama’s dams, the Report Card graded it an “Incomplete,” signified by a question mark to demonstrate the uncertainty caused by of a lack of inventory and dam safety program.

With a cumulative grade point average of “C-,”Alabama’s infrastructure is only as strong as its weakest link. All of the highest grades are linked to the lowest grades in the report, as infrastructure works as a system. Plans and funding to address the state’s aging infrastructure assets fall significantly short of needs. Of note:

  • Only an estimated 2% of all known dams in Alabama are being inspected for safety, maintained, and have emergency action plans in place for use in the case of an incident or failure. Without a dam safety program, communities that live under dams may not be aware of their risk, and emergency action plans for high hazard dams may not be in place to mitigate property damage and save lives in the case of a breach or failure.
  • The majority of the state’s drinking water infrastructure was installed from the 1960s to the 1980s and operating beyond their useful design life.
  • 1 in 3 wastewater utility providers statewide report having inadequate rate structures to cover normal operating expenses.
  • Septic systems are commonly used in more rural parts of Alabama; 25% of the estimated 850,000 on-site septic systems are in failing or failed condition and could be polluting the community’s groundwater.
  • Alabama has 1,388 structurally deficient bridges, ranking 15th most in the country, with many of these being bridges funded and maintained locally.
  • Nearly 50% of interstate and state highways are in fair, poor, or very poor condition. Driving on rough and congested roads costs the average Alabama driver at least $300 a year in extra vehicle repairs.
  • Much of the inland waterway lock and dam infrastructure within the state is breaking down and has passed the 50 year design service life or is approaching it. As an example, Coffeeville Lock and Dam has a throughput of 10 million tons in spite of vessel delay rates and durations in excess of 90% and 150 hours.

Released in Birmingham, the Report Card also highlights ways to improve the grades, including:

  • Finish the dams inventory and pass legislation to create a dam safety program, establish emergency action plans, and use periodic safety inspections to keep communities safe.
  • Prioritize routine maintenance to save money and prevent emergency repairs across all infrastructure types.
  • Increase replacement of structurally deficient bridges, which are mostly owned and operated locally.
  • Create state funding strategies that recognize the importance of functional drinking water, stormwater, and sewer infrastructure to support the economic development of Alabama.

View the full report to learn more about the challenges facing Alabama’s infrastructure and solutions to raise the grades.

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