2019 Report Card for Puerto Rico’s Infrastructure

From left, Sen. Larry Seilhamer and engineers Brian McKeehan and Héctor Colón comment on the need of establishing an aggressive public policy to improve the island’s score on infrastructure categories. >Courtesy

On Tuesday, the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) released its 2019 Report Card for Puerto Rico’s Infrastructure, concluding that much of the island’s foundations are reaching the end of their useful lives.

The report evaluated eight infrastructure categories—bridges, drinking water, dams, energy, ports, solid waste, roads and wastewater. Of these, seven are in poor or at-risk condition and one is failing or in critical condition.

Overall, the cumulative score or grade point average was ‘D-.’ The individual grades were: bridges (D+), dams (D+), drinking water (D), ports (D), roads (D-), solid waste (D-), wastewater (D+) and energy (F). These scores are well below the U.S. national average.

During the press conference, held at the Puerto Rico Engineers & Land Surveyors Association (CIAPR by its Spanish initials) headquarters, ASCE Technical Region Director Brian D. McKeehan said that this report, the first that ASCE has conducted for Puerto Rico, is a “benchmark” that will allow the local government to determine the public policy necessary to improve the scores of these categories.

“It’s not intended to be a commentary or evaluation of the performance of any particular government department or agency. On the contrary, the team found that in many cases government officials are doing exemplary work with the limited resources allotted to them. Puerto Rico continues to prioritize investment in infrastructure even during challenging cycles and they need to be commended for that,” McKeehan stated.

In order to boost Puerto Rico’s scores, ASCE highlighted the need to increase the resiliency of Puerto Rico’s infrastructure by creating a multi-sectorial committee comprised of a wide variety of stakeholders and experts in the corresponding fields as to establish a plan for an affirmative course of action.

ASCE also recommended the implementation of comprehensive and consistent maintenance programs and databases.

The report stressed that many of the island’s public agencies have a small number of technical experts to operate the infrastructure in accordance with regulations and customer expectations. As such, these government instrumentalities must improve and increase their technical expertise so that they can comply with regulatory requirements.

For his part, engineer Héctor Colón, president of the ASCE chapter in Puerto Rico, explained that this non-profit organization’s goal for the island is to provide guidelines that enhance the local economy, quality of life and infrastructure.

“Looking at these dire grades across all categories, I believe we have an opportunity here to make our island more resilient, sustainable, improve our economy and be better prepared for when the next disaster strikes… Infrastructure is the basis of any country. Without good infrastructure, our economy is affected, as well as our competitiveness and quality of life. For this reason, it is imperative to improve our infrastructure and that is why we are here,” Colón said.

As an example, he noted that the government invests $1.3 billion annually on infrastructure, but the ideal amount should be $3.3 billion.

THE WEEKLY JOURNAL asked Sen. Larry Seilhamer, who was present at the conference, if that recommended allocation would be feasible, considering that the Financial Oversight & Management Board (FOMB) is requiring more budget cuts in Puerto Rico’s fiscal plan.

“Everyone knows the condition to which the government of Puerto Rico is subject to under the PROMESA law due to an insolvency situation. Thus, the oversight board is responsible for budget allocations, but $3 billion seems to me to be an attainable figure. Doing nothing would cost more than the $3 billion,” Seilhamer responded. He added that the island’s “historical juncture” allows for federal funding to rebuild the island resiliently, which means that the report’s suggestion is “an attainable and reasonable figure.”

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THE WEEKLY JOURNAL followed up with a question concerning the private sector’s possible involvement in the process to improve Puerto Rico’s infrastructure.

The senator affirmed that the government will create a task force, which will include the ASCE-Puerto Rico chapter, to establish guidelines and recommendations that will lead to effective public policy, thus complying with the report’s recommendation for a multi-sectorial committee.

The Report Card for Puerto Rico’s Infrastructure was created as a public service in order to inform citizens and policymakers on the infrastructure needs in their state. Civil engineers use their expertise and school report card letter grades to condense complicated data into an easy-to-understand analysis of Puerto Rico’s infrastructure network.

ASCE typically evaluates 16 main categories for each jurisdiction and expects to include more of these in future reports for Puerto Rico.

The full report with a detailed analysis of each category is available at www.infrastructurereportcard.org/puerto-rico.

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Editor's note: This story was published on the November 13 print edition of The Weekly Journal.

Reporter for The Weekly Journal. She is a journalist with experience in social media management and digital marketing. Giovanna is currently pursuing a master’s degree in Digital Narratives at Sacred Heart University in San Juan.

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