US infrastructure is crumbling, and it needs lots of money to fix it: Civil engineer group

  • Tesla CEO and entrepreneur Elon Musk sees commuters using a system of high-speed tunnels below ground in Los Angeles and other cities to beat the traffic.
  • In a recent interview with CNBC, the head of the American Society of Civil Engineers agreed that the ambitious idea is no pipe dream, but it needs vast sums of federal funding to become a reality.

Elon Musk has tunnel vision, and its giving several cities similar ideas.

The Tesla CEO and entrepreneur sees commuters using a system of high-speed tunnels below ground in Los Angeles and other cities to beat the traffic.

In a recent interview with CNBC, the head of the American Society of Civil Engineers agreed that the ambitious idea is no pipe dream.

"It's absolutely viable. It's the infrastructure of the future," ASCE Executive Director Tom Smith said about The Boring Company's proposed underground transportation network.

"There's a lot of innovation that's sustainable that we can use, hyperloop and tunneling is one example, " Smith told CNBC's "On The Money" in a recent interview.

But while he saw the opportunity for successful future projects, the ASCE gave the United States a current overall grade of "D+" in its most recent "Infrastructure Report Card" in 2017. Smith acknowledged that a "D+" is a "very lousy score."

The poor grade "reflects unfortunately, a failure to invest in our infrastructure in the United States. We've been relying on the work that was done by former generations," he said. "And there's an investment that we need to make to make sure we're protecting future generations going forward."

Smith explained the ASCE has a panel of civil engineers who analyze federal government data in 16 categories, releasing the "report card" every four years.

"We're looking at aviation, bridges, roads, transit, dams, levees, schools, parks, solid waste, drinking water, waste water," he told CNBC. "Unfortunately, 12 out of 16 categories are in the "D" range, which is "poor" or "at-risk", which is really reflecting a lot of our infrastructure being at the end of its useful life."

Smith said the ASCE calculated a $2 trillion dollar infrastructure funding gap between 2015 and 2025. He added that about half of that is for surface transportation, which includes transit, roads, bridges and rail.

In the ASCE's report card, transit scored a "D –", the nation's roads rated a "D", and bridges got a "C+", but the organization did reveal some positive news.

"The highest grade right now is in the rail category. And I think that reflects freight rail with a lot of private investment," Smith stated. "But on the passenger side, I think that's really bringing that score down. We need a lot of investment there."

'This is a bipartisan issue'

It all raises a central question: Who will pay?

"It certainly needs to be federal tax dollars," Smith explained. "It needs to be state and local tax dollars. And it also needs to be private investment."

Smith said he believes "the dialogue has changed, the conversation is changing" around infrastructure spending and that more people are "recognizing this is a real problem. Fortunately, President Trump as well as Speaker Pelosi have both talked about infrastructure. This is a bipartisan issue."

In terms of funding, the ASCE recommends "increasing the federal gas tax, is the easiest short-term solution," Smith said.

That could be a tall order amid strong political opposition to making it more expensive for drivers to fuel their cars. The federal excise tax on gasoline has remained at 18.4 cents per gallon since 1993.

"But ultimately," Smith said, "the people who use infrastructure, and that's all of us, we have to pay for it. We have to recognize that."

He added: "In some ways this maybe is a culture change, we need to recognize how important our infrastructure is for our quality of life. We need to be willing to invest in it, and pay for it. "

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