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US engineers seize initiative with infrastructure 'school reports'

A NATIONAL debate has been ignited by the American Society of Civil Engineers after it published school report style gradings of infrastructure in the US.

Low grades such as C- for bridges, D for drinking water and D- for roads have been seized on by the media and acted on by the Clinton administration.

The grades, based on condition, performance and funding need, rated each area of US infrastructure in the lower categories of mediocre, poor and inadequate. The document suggested that $1.3 trillion of investment was needed over the next five years.

ASCE executive director James E Davis, who was interviewed on the news programmes of 14 television stations after the reports were published, said: 'The report card brought ASCE to a new level of involvement and influence in the public policy arena.

'Lawmakers are now turning to ASCE and civil engineers as policy leaders with a strong voice rather than just technical experts. ASCE will continue to raise its stature in this arena and seek to build more public support for infrastructure renewal.'

The ASCE 1998 report card reveals that one in three bridges is structurally deficient, 22 airports are seriously congested, one third of all schools need repair or replacement and 29% of community water systems do not comply with Safe Drinking Water Act standards.

But Davis's TV appearances have changed the US media's usual view that infrastructure investment

is a low priority. The cards were seized on in newspaper editorials to back sudden claims that the recent Transportation Equity Act - the federal government's infrastructure investment plan for the next six years - did not go far enough to cover the country's future needs.

President Bill Clinton leads a list of politicians who have praised and thanked the ASCE for its intervention on the infrastructure debate. Clinton cited the report card's F grade for school buildings

in a speech on school construction.

Damian Arnold

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