Infrastructure in Tampa region graded 'C' overall
TAMPA - An intensive, year-long study of infrastructure in the Tampa region by 10 civil engineers working for free came up with this assessment of roads, stormwater drainage, schools and more: It's about average. The region, which included Hillsborough, Pasco, Pinellas and Manatee counties, garnered a "C" grade overall in what was the first infrastructure report card by the American Society of Civil Engineers' West Coast Branch. The national society does similar ratings every three or four years, the last one completed in 2009. That report card graded the entire nation, handing down a disappointing "D." Engineers, apparently, are tough graders. Elie Araj, president of Applied Sciences and chairman of the report card committee, said the project yielded "exciting news." Information from municipal, county, state agencies and authorities in all four counties was crunched and pored over by local engineers who came up with simple letter grades.Here's how the four-county area scored: The seemingly low grades were not totally discouraging, the study's engineers said. The resurfacing and widening of the downtown section of the Selmon Expressway and the nearly $400 million elevated highway that connects the expressway and Port of Tampa to Interstate 4 were iconic projects, said Matthew Crosby, president of the West Coast Branch. "We are proud of this grade," he said. The coastal areas aced the course. That's because the swath of beaches along the Gulf coast are well-maintained and undergo regular projects to replace washed away sand. Bridges also are in good shape because state and federal funding is enough to keep them sturdy, the study found. Problems arose in schools because there are a lot of old campuses in the four-county region that need renovation, Araj said. And stormwater runoff systems need fixing, as evidenced by the pockets of flooded streets after heavy rains. Pasco County was declared a disaster area after Tropical Storm Debby swept through in July. Even though Tampa International Airport and the Port of Tampa are considered top-notch facilities, the grade takes into account all the other air and sea ports in the region, Araj said. Hillsborough County Commissioner Sandra Merman, who sits on the Tampa Port Authority board, welcomed the ports' grade. "I'm just as thrilled as I could be that we got a 'B+'" she said. "But I'm asking you why you didn't give us an 'A.'" Kathy J. Caldwell, past president of the national ASCE, stressed the importance of having good roads, working water systems, schools, ports and airports. "Many of us don't recognize the value of infrastructure until it fails," she said.
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