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Report: Region's infrastructure needs improvement, funding

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When it comes to the quality of the roads, sewers, water pipes, roads and highways throughout the county, San Diego is barely making the grade, according to a new report from a group of local civil engineers.

The San Diego chapter of the American Society of Civil Engineers on Tuesday released a report card two years in the making that gave the region a C+.

The authors of the report noted that a B is "meeting acceptable standards."

Gordon Lutes, senior vice president for local engineering firm Project Design Consultants, said that while most of the systems are adequate operationally, the issue is that no money is being spent on maintenance.

"We need to refocus the public officials on the importance of the infrastructure," Lutes said. "The main problem is that we're not investing in it."

The analysis team, made up of a board of local engineers, looked at six areas including open space and parks; land and sea ports of entry; storm water collection and treatment systems; surface transportation infrastructure; wastewater collection and treatment facilities; and water supply.

At the head of the class for the county were the water supply, which received a B, and open space and wastewater systems, which both received a B-.

One of the most important grades was local surface transportation, which received a C.

F.R. Clark Fernon, managing engineer for Boyle Engineering Corp., said the major point detractor was the lack of funding for the projects.

"If the surface roads could locate a local and state or federal funding source, that grade would rise one full mark," Fernon said.

The lack of state and federal funds for new roads, coupled with the increases in population, has caused congestion.

Between 2002 and 2003, the number of congested freeway miles jumped 22 percent.

According to the report, 45 percent to 50 percent of all local highways, roads and streets were judged to be in fair to poor condition and received a D+.

The transportation score also highlights the importance of the TransNet tax on the Nov. 2 ballot, he said.

TransNet, or Proposition A, is a half-cent sales tax for transportation improvements that runs out in 2008. If passed, the tax would be extended by 40 years and is anticipated to raise about $14 billion.

Without the extension, the region could face a funding shortfall of $37 billion by 2030, Fernon said.

A key argument for the "No on Prop A" campaign is that more money is needed for the construction of local streets and highways.

Fernon does not agree that the proposed funding breakdown for different projects under TransNet, which focuses a portion on mass transportation projects, needs to be changed.

"I don't think that changing the funding structure would change the grade," Fernon said.

The land and sea ports of entry also received a C.

The lowest score on the report card, D+, was given to the storm water collection and treatment systems.

Doug Isbell, deputy director of the County Department of Public Works, said that little effort or funding has been provided to reduce wastewater in older developments.

The county currently has a set of "best management practices" for new developments. These basically state that in certain instances it is up to the contractor or developer to do their best to mitigate or collect wastewater.

Isbell also said municipalities have not been working together as efficiently as possible.

"The number one thing we need to do is develop a regional master plan," he said.

The national chapter of ASCE issued its first national infrastructure report card in 1998, with subsequent reports in 2001 and 2003 to set the stage for local chapters to issue the ratings.

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