$60 billion needed over 20 years for Utah roads, water, waste facilities


$60 billion needed over 20 years for Utah roads, water, waste facilities
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Leah Hogsten | The Salt Lake Tribune
Norm Manning releases water that flooded into his yard along 4700 West in Plain City Wednesday April 20, 2011 when the culvert next to the Weber River flooded. Manning has managed to build his own levy around his 22-acre property and kept the waters at bay. The overflowing Weber River breached an earthen levee in seven locations from Plain City to the Mariott-Slaterville area. Although the water has begun to recede, expected rainfall Wednesday night threatens to bring back floodwaters seeping toward numerous structures.

Much of Utah’s aging water, transportation and waste facilities are in mediocre condition, and will require more than $60 billion worth of improvements and maintenance during the next 20 years to meet the needs of the state’s rapid growth.

So says a report card issued Tuesday, after two years of study, by the American Society of Civil Engineers.

That $60 billion price tag “comes out to around $40,000 per family,” says David W. Eckhoff, project director for the report card. “To me, that emphasizes why we need to do some planning to get good efficiencies in place” and prioritize needs.

Eckhoff adds that about half the projected cost is for repair, renovation and replacement of current facilities that are often 60 to 70 years old. The other half is needed to meet the needs of a projected doubling of Utah’s population in the next 20 years.

Eckhoff says earthquakes and climate change add to the challenges the state faces.

“The report card reveals that Utah has some of the best transportation infrastructure in the country,” says Andrew Gruber, executive director of the Wasatch Front Regional Council. “This is due in large part to the prudent investments we have made in the past. However, more still needs to be done.”

The report gave an overall grade of C-plus for the current condition of Utah facilities. Individual grades range from a high of a B-plus for transit, roads and bridges, to a low of a D-minus for levees.

The report card comes as the Legislature debates how to raise or reform the gasoline tax to help cover part of a projected $11.3 billion shortfall for priority transportation and transit projects through 2040. It turns out those facilities are in better condition than those for water and waste.

Here are the grades in some key areas:

Drinking water and supply, grade C • “As reduced snowpack supply meets a growing population, aggressive water conservation alone may not be adequate,” the report says, “and new, significant infrastructure solutions must be considered.”

It projects that through 2060, repair and replacement of existing water facilities will cost $17.9 billion. Needed new facilities will cost another $14.8 billion.

• Roads, B-plus • “Many of Utah’s roads are over 50 years old, although most state-maintained pavement surfaces have had some kind of surface treatment in the past 10 years,” the report says. “Data shows that less-traveled roads and local roads are receiving less maintenance than needed. Since 1990, new lane miles in Utah have increased by only 6 percent, yet during that same time period, Utah’s population has increased by 60 percent and travel miles increased by roughly 80 percent.”

• Transit, B-plus • “With more than 100 miles of fixed guideway services and over 46 million annual riders, several transit providers have significantly improved their services over the past 30 years,” mostly by the Utah Transit Authority, the report says.

“Utah’s transit systems have been built with significant capacity, but challenges will include maintenance, operation, and modest upgrades of systems as they age as well as proper ticket pricing.”

• Bridges, B-plus • “Almost one-third of Utah’s bridges will reach their 50-year design life by the end of this decade,” the study says.

It adds that the Utah Department of Transportation, on average, builds 34 new structures and rehabilitates eight existing structures per year, which leaves a projected shortfall of 10 to 20 new structures each year.

• Canals, D-plus • The report says most Utah canals were built more than a century ago and face continued pressure from urban encroachment — making many of them “high-risk assets,” the report says.

“The tragic result of the unassessed canals is demonstrated with a number of recent failures resulting in property damage and even loss of life,” it says.

“Recent legislation has recognized these risks with safety and emergency action planning becoming more common, but stops short in providing the funding and personnel to accomplish” objectives.

• Dams, B-minus • “As dams approach the end of their design lives with downstream demand and development increasing, currently low-risk dams are gradually becoming high-risk dams through urban encroachment,” the study says.

“Utah also faces unique dam-safety challenges in regards to dam ages, regional seismic risks near population centers, and a continuing trend of urban growth in the flood paths of potential dam failures/breaches.”

• Levees, D-minus • “The Army Corps of Engineers is currently tracking roughly 21 miles of levees within the state as part of the National Levee Database; of these, 19.5 miles are considered unacceptable and only 1.5 are considered minimally acceptable,” the report says.

“If the remaining levees are in similar condition, this is highly concerning.”

• Wastewater and stormwater, C-plus • “There is significant deterioration of sewage collection systems that are 60-70 years old and beyond their expected useful life.”

The report adds, “Salt Lake City, South Davis Sewer District, Provo City and Logan City together face between $500 million to $1 billion in combined capital costs to meet nutrient limits and to repair or replace their treatment plants.”

• Solid waste, B-minus • In 2012, Utah households generated about 2.34 million tons of solid waste, the report says. “That’s 4.57 pounds of waste per person, and only half of a pound per person is recycled.”

It adds, “Utah’s Division of Solid and Hazardous has not published a statewide plan since 2007, and should be updated to better understand the state’s waste needs.”

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