Twin Ports’ civil engineers grade region’s infrastructure a ‘C’ in   inaugural report card

Congress should set aside more money for infrastructure improvements and spend less on wars, said U.S. Rep. Rick Nolan.


The Duluth Section of the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) released the 2018 Report Card for the Twin Ports Area’s Infrastructure Monday, giving seven categories of infrastructure an overall grade of ‘C.’ That compares with a ‘D+’ nationwide.

“That’s a pretty darn good scorecard,” said U.S. Rep. Rick Nolan, who addressed the group.

The report includes an evaluation of the region’s aviation, bridges, drinking water, ports, roads, solid waste and wastewater. Aviation and bridges both received the grade of ‘B-,’ while drinking water received the lowest grade of ‘D.’ This is the first Infrastructure Report Card for this region.

“We developed the Infrastructure Report Card to evaluate where progress has been made in the region, but also where we need to prioritize infrastructure investments to support our industries and maintain the high quality of life we enjoy,” said Craig Bursch, chair, 2018 Report Card for the Twin Ports Area’s Infrastructure.

Other categories and their grades include ports (C+), roads (D+), solid waste (C+) and wastewater (C+). That suggests much of the region’s infrastructure has gone beyond its expected service life, Bursch said.

The report finds that while the Duluth region has had recent infrastructure successes in the transportation sector, aging infrastructure and lack of funding for maintenance and upgrades are issues for other sectors such as drinking water and wastewater.  Findings include:

  • In the City of Duluth, between 30 and 40 percent of the 400 miles of wastewater pipes are between 60 and 100 years and needs to be replaced.
  • Much of the region’s drinking water infrastructure is beyond its useful service life. To keep up with pipe replacement, the city of Duluth needs to replace 4.33 miles of pipe per year at $4.33 million, much more than the current $2.5 million budget for pipe replacement. Rates are being increased to begin covering the costs.
  • Seven percent of the 1,529 bridges in the Twin Ports Area are structurally deficient, lower than the national average.
  • Road conditions in Duluth are in poor condition, but the city’s request to the state legislature for a 0.5% dedicated sales tax for streets represents an attempt to close the funding gap.
    “Some of the worst roads in our region, I hate to say it, are in the city of Duluth,” Bursch said. But the problems are so bad that they can’t be fixed with “bandaids,” added Mayor Emily Larson.
  • Investment in the Twin Ports Area airport infrastructure continues at a steady pace with pavement maintenance and commercial airport terminal building updates in Brainerd, Duluth International, Falls Regional and Range Regional Airports.  
  • About 35 million tons of cargo move through the port annually, which is more than 20 percent of all tons moved by ship on the Great Lakes and St. Lawrence Seaway combined. Although capacity is sufficient, the ability of each facility to secure funding to improve condition is highly dependent on which state the dock is located in.
  • Solid waste abatement programs and solid waste management facilities are adequately funded, in good condition and have capacity for current and projected demand. However, availability of that capacity is a concern beyond 2022.

A lack of funding is a major obstacle preventing more infrastructure investment, Nolan said. Although President Donald Trump recently announced an investment program, Nolan said it puts most of the financial burden on localities. Money is available, he argued, but Congress must set priorities. More should be spent on infrastructure, education and healthcare, Nolan said, and less on war.

In Minnesota, for example, there’s a $600 million annual funding shortfall, said Duane Hill of MnDOT. Ports face a similar monetary shortage, added Deb DeLuca of the Duluth Seaway Port Authority.

The 2018 Report Card for the Twin Ports Area’s Infrastructure was created as a public service to citizens and policymakers of the state to inform them of the infrastructure needs in their community. By using school report card letter grades, civil engineers used their expertise to condense complicated data into an easy-to-understand analysis.

ASCE will release a Minnesota report card later this year.