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Business and Economy

Maine Earns C- On American Society of Civil Engineers' Infrastructure Report Card

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Robert F. Bukaty
/
Associated Press file
In this Aug. 6, 2017, file photo, motorists travel on Rte. 11 south of Patten, Maine, near the Katahdin Woods and Waters National Monument.

The American Society of Civil Engineers recently gave the state of Maine a rather disappointing C- on its infrastructure report card, which it issues every four years. And every four years, the state’s roads and bridges, dams and water systems could do a little bit better.

Daniel Bouchard, president of the Maine chapter of the ASC, spoke with Maine Public host Jennifer Mitchell about Maine’s infrastructure situation.

This interview has been edited for clarity.

Mitchell: So a C-, can you put that in perspective for us?

Bouchard: It is an A-through-F scale that people are familiar with from grade school. But an A is really not financially feasible. An A basically means that nothing is wrong with the entire system, and there’s nothing we can do to improve it. What we kind of strive to see is categories in the B range. With that being said, the current overall GPA for Maine is a C-. If we put that into context with the national grade, that was a D+. So we are doing slightly better than the national average. But it really all comes down to investment in our infrastructure.

So what are some of those areas that stick out to you as really needing more of that investment?

Bridges are always a concern just because of their stature, and they are seen by everyone. But one of the categories that concerns me the most are state parks.

That might actually take some folks by surprise, who didn’t really think of maybe state parks as essential infrastructure. Tell us a little bit more about that.

When we started in 2008, parks were graded a B-, but has slowly slipped to the current C just because of a lack of investment. Outdoor recreation in Maine generates approximately $8.2 billion in annual consumer spending and supports over 75,000 jobs. Our state parks and the rest of our outdoor systems in the state are certainly an economic driver for the state and support a lot of jobs. And it certainly would be nice to have an investment in them to be able to keep them pristine for years to come.

What about water systems? It seems like I’m always hearing about towns that are trying to replace sections of water main or pipe that have been in the same place since, say, 1915. How are we doing with that?

Some of them actually date older than that, back to the 1800s. Currently, with our drinking water, we are missing the annual goal of a 1% replacement rate of the drinking water infrastructure in the ground. And what that effectively does is take a 100-year cycle of replacing the pipes and turns it into more of 110-, 120-, 130-year replacement cycle. So those pipes are staying in the ground longer than we’d hoped they would.

You’ve said now that really the issue is infrastructure investment and that more money needs to be put into those things to support them. But of course, it’s 2020 and we’ve had a pandemic. Is there any way to look forward to when the next report card comes out in four years, what is the story going to be regarding investment?

That is certainly the big question. There definitely will be an effect on all parts of infrastructure. The report card data that we have is prepandemic since it was based on the publicly available data, the data that was available before the pandemic was in the United States. The next few months are definitely going to be critical. I believe most agencies are moving forward cautiously with their plans. But there’s a lot of moving parts right now within the agencies, and a lot of moving parts with how the next few months ago.