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Engineers to assess structures in Utah

While the nation smarts from an infrastructure report card from the American Society of Civil Engineers, Utah may get its own wake-up call in a few months.

The Utah branch of ASCE will prepare a state-specific report card within the next six months, said president Craig Bagley. The national report, released Thursday, gave the country a D+ grade with regard to public works infrastructure, and called for $1.3 trillion to fix problems.

The report noted that more than one-fourth of U.S. bridges needed repairs, one-quarter of the nation's urban freeways were congested, and the aviation system has not kept pace with the sharp increase in passengers and flights. Additionally, the engineers said that three-fourths of school buildings were either too old, outdated or overcrowded.

Bagley said Utah might not be much better off. The local ASCE branch will use many of the same standards ASCE used in its report, which judged based on infrastructure condition, capacity vs. need and performance funding. The branch has not yet begun compiling its information, but it plans to evaluate Utah's infrastructure based on information from government agencies such as the Utah Department of Transportation and Environmental Protection Agency.

Although Utah's roads, water pipes, bridges, schools, dams, sewer systems and airports aren't crumbling yet, they may not be serving the public as they ought to. Infrastructure needs manifest themselves with traffic jams, low water pressure and outdated buildings and bridges.

"We're just saying some priority needs to be given to take care of what we've got and replacing the stuff that's falling apart," Bagley said. "It needs to be taken care of before it becomes a safety issue."

Schools, in particular, must be brought up to date before an earthquake.

"We have to look at the condition of the schools and say, 'Structurally, will this make it through an earthquake?' " Bagley said. "Is it safe for our kids to be there in an earthquake?"

Some Utah agencies say they're doing fine, however. UDOT vouches for its budget, which works on a five-year funding plan, and project choice, which operates off a 20-year plan.

"We don't have a serious state of disrepair because we have long-range planning," UDOT spokeswoman Amanda Covington said. "Our duty is to strike a balance between what projects need to be built today and what projects sit out there in a five- or 20-year plan."

The national report claimed that replacing or improving drinking water and sewer systems would cost $23 billion a year more than government is now spending.

But Kevin Brown, director of the Utah Division of Drinking Water, said that generally, Utah's water utilities' infrastructure is in pretty good shape. Replacing older pipes and transportation lines is always an issue, but "there's a plan to replace that," Brown said.

Before releasing a Utah study, Bagley is waiting for local data from ASCE, which he expects to get within a few weeks.

Contributing: The Associated Press