Vermont gets a C on latest ‘infrastructure report card’

The report identifies wastewater as the only aspect of government infrastructure that is in “poor” condition, with a D-plus rating. File photo by Bob LoCicero/VTDigger

Vermont’s infrastructure is “mediocre” — it would get a C on a school report card — according to a report released Thursday by a statewide panel of civil engineers.

The report gives Vermont letter grades in nine categories, ranging from a B-Minus for its bridges to a D-Plus for its sewage systems. Energy, roads and waste received a C-plus; Aviation, dams and drinking water scored a C; and rainwater systems pulled a C minus.

The state’s overall score is the same as it was four years ago, when Vermont’s chapter of the American Society of Civil Engineers last published a letter. The C grade is slightly above society’s national average, which is currently a C minus.

The group of engineers said Vermont has one of the oldest infrastructures in the US and the state needs to make its existing systems more resilient to deal with the impact of the climate crisis.

At the same time, according to the Society of Civil Engineers, the pandemic has brought additional challenges, including higher building material costs and fewer people working in industries like engineering and construction, which has even slowed existing maintenance projects.

“As a parent of two teenagers, a C grade on my child’s report card wouldn’t necessarily evoke a sense of excitement. It would probably give me pause,” Vermont Agency of Natural Resources secretary Julie Moore said at a news conference at the statehouse Thursday that detailed the report. “But if you think about it, the grade itself shows effort – and also the opportunity for growth.”

The report identifies wastewater as the only aspect of government infrastructure that is in “poor” condition, with a D-plus rating. About half of Vermont homes rely on septic systems to treat their wastewater — but when those systems fail, the consequences can be health hazards and polluted waterways, Tara Kulkarni, associate professor of civil and environmental engineering at Norwich University, told the news conference .

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The report finds that between 2018 and 2021, the number of state permits to repair failed sewage systems increased by more than 20%, but annual statewide investment in sewage infrastructure fell by $17 million.

To complement federal relief funding for Covid-19, the Society of Civil Engineers said the state needs to continue investing in water and sanitation infrastructure to meet its goals of reducing the amount of harmful chemicals in waterways and improving climate resilience .

Engineers also said in the report that Vermont will need to spend about $2.3 billion over the next two decades to help its cities and communities tap even more federal funds that are available for stormwater infrastructure projects, as well as those for the Construction and supervision required manpower them.

Moore acknowledged that “there is a lot of work to be done” to ensure cities can meet the state’s clean water goals, but said she believes the state is on track with plans to invest about $750 million in water over the next five years investing in water infrastructure is on the right track.

Bridges are the only aspect of Vermont’s infrastructure that is rated “good” in the report. The number of bridges that are considered “poor” in Vermont has declined from 5% to about 2.5% in recent years, a number that the report says is well below the national average. But the state can’t rest on its laurels, according to engineers: The average age of bridges in Vermont is about 35% older than the national average, leading to a need for more bridge financing in the years to come.

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Kulkarni also noted that Vermont’s energy rating — an area where the state has set ambitious goals — has remained the same this year as it was in 2019. Households in Vermont use less energy than those in most other states, the engineers said in the report, but Vermont still uses more than three times as much energy as it produces. That means the state has to import additional energy, giving Vermont residents some of the highest energy rates in the nation.

The key to the state’s success in improving its energy system, Kulkarni said, is increasing the capacity of its electricity transmission infrastructure. From 2015 to 2020, she said, Vermont quadrupled its solar power production, but the state’s transmission lines can’t carry as much solar power across the state or to the rest of New England.

The Society of Civil Engineers also said Vermont’s roads are in better condition than many states, with about 40% considered to be in good condition (although this is a decrease from the 2019 report, where 45% of the roads were rated as “good”). However, the number of roads in ‘fair’ condition has increased this year from 25% earlier to 31% this year.


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