New report outlines Vermont's crumbling infrastructure

SOUTH BURLINGTON, Vt. (WCAX) How safe are the roads on which you drive, the bridges you cross, or the water you drink? A new report Wednesday gives Vermont's infrastructure a grade of "C."

An Interstate 189 overpass got a lot of attention last week after a small chunk of the structure fell off and hit a car. Officials Wednesday called that a "unique situation." While Vermont's bridges barely got a passing grade -- squeaking through with a "C+" -- there are two areas of the report where Vermont is really struggling and both have to do with water.

Sewage overflows, burst pipes, flooding streets, and blue-green algae blooms are just some of the water woes plaguing Vermont according to the report from the American Society of Civil Engineers.

"Stormwater and wastewater categories both received a D+," said Jessica Louisos, the American Society of Engineers Report Card Committee chair.

A "D" grade means conditions are generally poor, with elements or large portions of systems significantly deteriorating. And capacity is a concern, with a strong risk of failure. "These are categories where we really need to put a lot of investment in improvement," Louisos said.

For stormwater, the report found several problems. Of the $2.3 billion in investments Vermont needs to make in the next 20 years, only half is funded. The state also lacks enough stormwater utilities and personnel. And there are growing demands on systems that are deteriorating or undersized.

The report identifies several solutions including state budget funding, an inventory of stormwater assets, retrofits of older systems, and new innovations.

Wastewater overflows made headlines last summer, often in tandem with stormwater runoff. Burlington's systems overflowed several times, leaving beaches closed and the public frustrated. Voters approved shelling out millions in bond money to make fixes. And Rutland had similar issues. Issues that the report says are not limited to the cities.

The state processes 15 billion gallons of wastewater a year through 92 municipalities and the report says Vermont will need to invest $154 million over the next 20 years. That money would go to fix problems like expensive upgrades needed for wastewater systems and aging pipes. But the report says there's a gap of anywhere from $6 to 13 million in funding each year.

The fixes include federal funding for surveys, having utilities charge enough to cover their service costs, and encouraging upgrades.

The report said in some respects Vermont is on the right track, like with the recent focus on water quality. But recent water main breaks in places like Montpelier, that left streets closed and flooded, highlight the urgency of failing systems beneath our feet.

"Infrastructure is important and I think some people are really starting to realize that -- even some of our infrastructure under the ground. I think a lot of people don't think about their water pipes until they break," Louisos said.

The report says over the past five years, Vermont has made strides in fixing structurally-deficient bridges. It found 5.6 percent of the state's bridges are right now considered structurally deficient, down from 9.2 percent in 2012.

But without long-term funding plans for bridge work, the report says some of that progress could be lost.

Vermont's mediocre scores in the report carried over to aviation and drinking water which both got a "C-." Dams got a "C." Energy and solid waste got a "B-." And Vermont's Roads earned a "C+," although about a quarter of them are in poor condition.