Puerto Rico earned an average grade of “D-” in infrastructure on the report card of the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) for 2019, released today, Tuesday.
In total, the ASCE evaluated eight categories of infrastructure on the island, and energy received the lowest grade (“F”), which did not take the authors of the report by surprise.
“The energy infrastructure is critical and does not meet the needs of the population. After Hurricane Maria, the focus was to re-energize as quickly as possible, but the system lacks resilient and sustainable characteristics. The system is fragile, there are frequent interruptions and possibly the costs will continue to increase. The investment in the system must be accompanied by public policies and regulations in line with the industry, ”said engineer Hector Colon de la Cruz, president of the Puerto Rico Section of the ASCE and the Qualification Bulletin for the press conference. Puerto Rico infrastructure.
The other categories analyzed were bridges ("D +"), dams ("D +"), sewage or sanitary water ("D +"), drinking water ("D"), ports ("D"), roads ("D-") ) and solid waste ("D-").
Colon de la Cruz highlighted that it is the first time that ASCE evaluates and publishes results for Puerto Rico. For over a year, more than 30 people, including engineers and representatives of nonprofit entities, agencies and private companies, assisted in the preparation of the report.
The work consisted in the analysis of infrastructure investment for the past two decades in the eight chosen areas.
“We work with the purpose of seeing Puerto Rico improve. This document can serve as the main tool for the government, the Legislative Assembly, the private sector and citizens, so that we understand what can be done to improve the infrastructure, ”he said.
“Infrastructure is the basis of any country. Without that, the economy is affected, as well as the quality of life, ”he added, noting that the average grade of“ D- ”shows that the infrastructure in the country is in“ poor conditions ”and exhibits a“ significant deterioration ” .
The ASCE granted, in 2017, a “D +” note to the infrastructure of the United States, so that the data of Puerto Rico is below the national average.
The report concluded that much of the local infrastructure is reaching the end of its useful life, and that the networks are still rebuilt after the passage of hurricanes Irma and Maria.
For the authors, water infrastructure and water resources are of concern. According to the report, in 2018, 65,697 water leaks and pipe breaks were reported, for an average of 4.38 leaks or breaks per mile of underground line, or 180 leaks per day.
In addition, 97% of dams have a high risk potential, which means that any failure could result in loss of life. It is estimated that between 40% and 60% of the dam's storage capacity is lost due to the accumulation of sediments.
“We know what happened at the Guajataca dam with Hurricane Maria. Dams are viable for us, as a country, not only because they store water, but also because we have the possibility of producing hydroelectric power. But dams need good money to bring them to optimal conditions, ”said Colon de la Cruz, and noted that the Aqueduct and Sewer Authority (AAA) loses 58% of the water it produces due to physical and commercial failures (theft), which, in his opinion, raises vulnerability to rationing.
As for wastewater, the engineer explained that the AAA operates 51 treatment plants, 100,000 miles of sanitary pipes and 824 pumping stations. He mentioned that, during the past decade, the Puerto Rican population has decreased and, with it, the AAA's income, which makes it difficult for the public corporation to obtain funds to cover the improvements that this system requires.
On the bridges, the report concluded that only 19% is in good condition. The others, according to Colon de la Cruz, exhibit poor or satisfactory conditions. “It does not mean that they will collapse, but it does require investment to improve them. The good news is that there is a 10-year improvement plan, but it requires a lot of money and that those funds are guaranteed, ”he said.
The study also shows that hurricanes Irma and Maria aggravated the state of the already fragile port infrastructure and shortened the capacity of landfills.
Investment is needed
To modernize the infrastructure and support economic growth and competitiveness on the island, the report estimated that it is necessary to increase investment between $ 1.23 billion and $ 2.3 billion annually.
“Historically, Puerto Rico has subinvested in infrastructure. At least 10 years from now, we must invest an additional $ 13 billion to what is invested now, ”said Colon de la Cruz.
He noted, however, that, when considering deferred maintenance and hurricane-related recovery projects, the investment gap "can and should" be greater. He said the current situation represents an opportunity to finance projects with a combination of federal, state and private sector funds.
"We are not here to criticize (the state of) the infrastructure, agencies or people who have worked with this. We are here for Puerto Rico to improve. Our mission is to provide a document that serves as the basis for establishing public policy, ”he reiterated.
The report also mentions the budgetary limitations that the Fiscal Oversight Board imposes on the government, under the Promise law.
Colon de la Cruz and Brian Mckeehan, a member of the ASCE Board of Directors, agreed that the study's findings point to opportunities for resilient reconstruction.
In addition, the report emphasizes rebuilding following appropriate codes and standards, acquiring funds from various sources and incorporating resilience in the plans through the use of weather-resistant materials.
"Our future depends not only on an infrastructure that protects us from disasters, but also facilitates recovery," said Colon de la Cruz.
Another recommendation of the report is to develop a long-term “robust and complete” infrastructure plan. It would be created by a committee composed of experts in the field, owners of facilities, agencies, non-profit entities and the private sector, among other voices, who would be responsible for setting priorities with specific objectives and goals.
To implement this recommendation, Senate Vice President Larry Seilhamer, who is an engineer, reported that he will present legislation at the next regular session. He said he will seek the support of partisan minorities, so that the measure that eventually submits "survives" some political change.
“Improving infrastructure is directly proportional to the quality of life and economic development of the island. Therefore, public policy must be established with the input and feedback of the sectors that affect it, and ASCE has done a very good radiography in these eight categories, ”said Seilhamer.
In the report, the planning and execution of a “complete system” of maintenance and asset management databases is also recommended. In the opinion of Colon de la Cruz, the lack of maintenance is – in part – the great responsibility that a large part of the infrastructure is reaching the end of its useful life.
“Another situation is that the administrators and owners of the infrastructure lack resources and personnel with technical knowledge. If we manage to establish those necessary resources, the infrastructure in Puerto Rico can also improve, ”said the engineer.
Mckeehan indicated, meanwhile, that the ASCE published a series of codes and standards for the design and construction of networks, which can be incorporated into work in the country's electrical infrastructure.
The College of Engineers and Surveyors and the Polytechnic University of Puerto Rico are two of the entities that support the report released today, which is available by clicking here.
The ASCE, founded in 1852, represents more than 150,000 civil engineers in the world and is the oldest national engineering society in the United States. It is headquartered in Washington, D.C.