Fingers Crossed: 15th Annual Municipal Survey

By Robert Carpenter, Editor | February 2012, Vol. 67 No. 2

After several years of the Great Recession, America’s underground infrastructure – already stretched thin before the economic crash – is rapidly approaching crisis levels, say city respondents to the 15th Annual Underground Construction Municipal Sewer & Water Survey. However, a majority of the survey participants believe that their city’s financial woes bottomed out in 2011 and anticipate the beginning of a slow turnaround late in 2012.

Municipal officials have budgeted an overall modest 1.3 percent spending increase for new underground infrastructure piping construction in 2012 to $7.8 billion. A more aggressive 3.5 percent increase is anticipated for rehabilitation at $5.7 billion.

Broken down more specifically, both new construction spending for water ($2.6 billion) and rehabilitation ($1.5 billion) will essentially be flat in 2012 before rebounding early in 2013. Storm water spending is expected to increase about six percent with storm water rehab remaining flat. New sewer spending should increase 2.3 percent to $4.3 billion with rehabilitation spending climbing to $3.4 billion (an increase of 5.9 percent).

Conducted in October and November 2011, the survey polled U.S. municipalities about their 2012 infrastructure funding plans along with perspectives on technologies, trends, issues and working relationships with consulting engineers and contractors. The survey results are subdivided by regions and city populations to develop a nationwide benchmark for projections.

Responding cities came in all sizes, from tiny Cherry Creek, NV (population 72) to the largest city in the U.S. (New York City, population 8 million).

Several years of tight or reduced budgets have forced sewer and water agencies into making painful decisions. “I feel like our sewer system is bordering on neglect,” bemoaned an Illinois city respondent.

Dare to hope
Still, there remains a strong feeling of encouragement and reason to believe that America’s cities have weathered the devastating economic storm, respondents said.

“I didn’t think it (budget cuts) could get much worse – then 2011 happened,” lamented an official from this Minnesota city. “But all our information indicates that we will probably see improvement in late 2012 and going forward into 2013, and we’re budgeting accordingly to address our many, many sewer and water problems.”

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