Virginia gets a ‘D+’ for infrastructure

The state chapter of the American Society of Civil Engineers found funding gaps in everything from the state’s ports to its dams. The below-average grade is still above the 'D' assigned to the US’ infrastructure as a whole earlier this year by the ASCE.

The Commonwealth of Virginia, the US state with one of the busiest deepwater ports in the country and one of the oldest and most advanced public-private partnership (PPP) laws on the books, has earned a grade of D+ for the state of its infrastructure.

The mark was assigned to the state by the Virginia chapter of the American Society of Civil Engineers, which did a similar ranking for the US as a whole earlier this year. That ranking assigned US infrastructure a collective grade of “D” and placed a $2.2 trillion sticker price on the cost to bring it up to a passing level.

“There’s components of infrastructure in Virginia that have had good investment in the last year and we were hoping that the grades would be a little higher,” said Thomas Fitzgerald, president of the Virginia chapter of the American Society of Civil Engineers.

Fitzgerald singled out ports as one of the best-capitalised sections of Virginia’s infrastructure. But even Virginia’s ports, which are primarily self-sustaining due to their steady income streams, earned a grade of “C+” and require $400 million over the next 15 years to meet security and infrastructure upgrades.

That – along with the “C+” earned by the state’s aviation assets, such as airports – was the best grade earned among the 13 types of infrastructure examined by the state’s engineers, excluding the “B-“ earned by the state’s park and recreation assets.

The state’s dams fared the worst, earning a “D-” from the engineers. The 1,637 regulated dams in Virginia may require as much as $220 million to reduce their hazards to surrounding communities at risk of flooding. Last year, Virginia passed a law – the Virginia Dam Safety Program – which introduced stringent new requirements for the maintenance and operation of dams without providing additional financial resources for the dams to meet those requirements, Fitzgerald said.

Virginia is among a growing number of states that has robust enabling legislation for PPPs. Its 1995 Public-Private Partnership Transportation Act is one of the oldest statutes of its kind on the books in the US. Since then, it has enabled a number of unsolicited proposals for improving the state’s infrastructure.

The Port of Virginia is currently in the midst of a bidding process triggered by an unsolicited bid received earlier this year from Chicago-based industrial property manager CenterPoint Properties. CenterPoint offered $500 million up-front for a 60 year concession of the port. In August, The Carlyle Group indicated it may be willing to pay between $500 million and $700 million for a similar concession.

Fitzgerald thinks this may provide some relief to the state’s below-average infrastructure grade. But it’s not a panacea: “privatisation of infrastructure is a solution. It’s not the only solution. Ultimately, the users of infrastructure have to pay for it and the problem we’ve been having in Virginia is funding a sustainable source of funding,” he said.

“Transportation in Virginia has been woefully underfunded,” he added.

The office of Virginia Transportation Secretary Pierce Homer did not respond to a request for comment before press time.

A full report on each of Virginia’s 13 infrastructure sectors’ grades will be published in January 2010 by the state's engineers.