Dhanada K Mishra

TThe American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) just released its quadrennial infrastructure report for 2021 on March 3. It assessed the state of infrastructure in the United States of America in 17 different categories such as aviation, roads, bridges, dams, energy, ports, solid waste, etc. He estimated a cumulative grade point average of C- which is only slightly better than the GPA calculated in 2017, which was D +. ASCE is the oldest national civil engineering organization in the country, established in 1852, representing more than 150,000 civil engineers in private practice, government, industry and academia with chapters all over the world. They are dedicated to advancing the science and profession of civil engineering and protecting public health, safety and welfare.

It is interesting to note that the first such survey was conducted in 1988, and the score was then slightly better at C. In the meantime, the best score was no better than a D +. While the top A rating means “outstanding and fit for the future”, C means “poor requiring special attention”, while F or the fail rating means “critical, unfit for use”. Thirty-one industry experts with the assistance of ASCE staff prepare the report taking into account the following criteria: capacity, condition, funding, future needs, operation and maintenance, public safety, resilience and innovation. They base their assessment on all publicly available data and reports, expert consultations before awarding ratings.

In the 2021 report card, the best B grade was achieved by rail, while the worst D- was achieved by the transit infrastructure intended for public transport for commuters. The report identified a funding gap of US $ 2.590 billion over the past 10 years, which can be bridged by increasing investment from 2.5% of GDP to 3.5%. It also recommended that among other things, action should prioritize the assessment of life cycle costs as the basis of project decisions, promote the sustainability of the triple bottom line of economic, social and environmental benefits, and encourage l ‘innovation. The integration of new technologies such as big data analytics and Internet of Things to have sensors and drones for predictive maintenance based on intelligent inspection to increase lifespan. From the perspective of extreme weather events that significantly disrupt critical infrastructure, as was evident in the recent Texas snowstorm, the report recommended emphasizing resilience in the design. Such infrastructure can recover quickly from an extreme event to minimize loss and damage.

As infrastructure becomes a key driver of post-Covid recovery around the world, the focus is on ‘building it back better’. This official buzzword of the new Biden administration in the United States is now a buzzword of the global industry. It is driven by the demand that, as economies reopen and large construction projects are launched to drive growth, the focus should be on resilience, sustainability and the triple bottom line, in particular the social impact. This imperative is now visible in all countries and regions of the world and it could not have happened sooner given the race against time to contain the ongoing climate crisis.

Comparing the United States with a small, autonomous city like Hong Kong may be unfair, but can be helpful given that Hong Kong sets the standard with world-class cities like Singapore when it comes to infrastructure. Hong Kong is the benchmark for civilian infrastructure. Although the idea of ​​an infrastructure review has yet to take shape for Hong Kong, it has nevertheless received international recognition, such as the world number 1 in infrastructure competitiveness in the Global Competitiveness Report 2017- 2018 from WEF. With over 7.4 million people living in an area of ​​just 1,073 square kilometers, Hong Kong is one of the most densely populated cities in the world, with each square kilometer hosting more than 6,800 citizens on average. Meeting the needs for mobility, economic productivity, livability and sustainability has prompted the city to envision and achieve unique infrastructure feats. In his Vision 2030, he describes the vision of Hong Kong integrating as the central engine of the Pearl River Delta (PRD) mega-city which includes Shenzhen and Guangzhou with ambitious infrastructure development from which the high-speed rail connection is already in place. Having lived and worked in both the US and Hong Kong, I would give Hong Kong a relatively B + if not A- rating for its infrastructure versus C- for the US.

The concept of an infrastructure scorecard would be very relevant to India as it embarks on building large-scale infrastructure at breakneck speed. This is an area in which the current government appears to be performing well. To the best of the author’s knowledge, however, detailed information on the condition, quality and condition of our infrastructure is neither systematically collected nor readily available, being largely under government control. A happy exception is the Indian Bridge Management System (IBMS), although developed by a group of consultants under the Ministry of Transport, which now has nearly 162,000 bridges. On the other hand, the Integrated Database on Infrastructure Projects (IDIP) had data on 250 roads across the country, built on a public-private partnership (PPP) model, developed at the initiative of the ‘IIT Madras. Launched in 2019, it aims to help improve the efficiency of infrastructure development. Due to the lack of concrete data and valuations, it’s hard to imagine what rating Indian infrastructure would give, but given the US rating, one can only think of anything much lower than C- and high regional variability.

India in general and Odisha in particular would do very well to undertake a periodic comprehensive assessment of the infrastructure sector on the basis of comprehensive publicly available data, which will be critical to achieving sustainable economic growth.

The author is Professor of Civil Engineering at KMBB College of Engineering, Biju Patnaik University of Technology, and is currently working in Hong Kong. He can be contacted by email at [email protected]


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