As BPC has previously discussed, compiling “asset inventories” is the first step to modernizing the United States’ infrastructure. An asset inventory is a comprehensive list and assessment of all infrastructure assets that are owned by a federal, state, municipal, or county government. Before we can deliver a Great American Rebuild of our infrastructure, we first need to figure out what all we have, what condition it is in, and what it costs to maintain over its useful life.
In October, the District of Columbia did just that. Detailed in the release of the 2017 Long-Range Capital Financial Plan, D.C. has created perhaps one of the most comprehensive public sector asset inventory to date. The Capital Asset Replacement Scheduling System (CARSS) is a centralized database of the life-cycle costs for nearly every vehicle, road, sidewalk, building, and piece of equipment that the District owns.
Though the District of Columbia has one of the most comprehensive inventories to date, other governing bodies are also making progress to create and advance their own asset management systems.
In 2016, the District had 14 percent of its assets inventoried. Today, the CARSS inventory includes 96 percent of all assets and tallies a running list of the deferred maintenance that has accrued. The inventory also estimates the funding that is required for any new projects. This critical information allows the District to calculate its total unfunded capital infrastructure needs, which comes to $4.2 billion.
Though $4.2 billion is a daunting figure, the Long-Range Capital Financial Plan doesn’t stop there. The report also includes a scoring system based on the Mayor’s priorities and the urgency of each project, providing the District with a roadmap to bringing all assets to a state of good repair by 2028.
Though the District of Columbia has one of the most comprehensive inventories to date, other governing bodies are also making progress to create and advance their own asset management systems. The Northeast Ohio Areawide Coordinating Agency, which includes the five counties in the greater Cleveland area, has established a “Transportation Asset Management” program that tracks pavement conditions, in addition to bridges and transit assets. The county of Oakland, Michigan, northwest of Detroit, has maintained a standardized inventory of the county’s water, sewer, storm, and road infrastructure since 2011. Building off of Oakland County’s inventory, the state of Michigan is also developing an Asset Management Pilot program to eventually create a centralized, state-wide infrastructure database. On the other side of the country, the Treasurer of California has recommended that the first step to rebuilding California’s infrastructure is to create its own state-wide asset inventory. At the federal level, the Federal Highway Administration maintains the National Bridge Inventory, a state-by-state database of structurally deficient bridges.
Importantly, the District’s report also includes a screen for potential public-private partnerships (P3s). The District is one of the few government entities with an established P3 office (a dedicated agency that is charged with evaluating and facilitating P3s). As BPC’s Executive Council on Infrastructure recommended in the report Bridging the Gap Together: A New Model to Modernize U.S. Infrastructure, combining a P3 office with a comprehensive asset inventory creates new opportunities to strategically manage assets. Not only does the public get a better picture of their current infrastructure and their needs across all agencies, but it can provide the private sector with the full spectrum of potential investment opportunities, creating a project pipeline. The District’s report finds that $1 billion to $1.5 billion of the current needed projects could potentially be completed as a P3.
As the report concludes, the asset inventory can serve to immediately improve the District’s planning process, and, as it is refined and updated over time, it will inform policy debates over the District’s future with transparent, data-driven analysis.
Creating an asset inventory does not come without costs; it can require intensive data collection, data matching, and resources to get up and running. Notably, the report concedes that the District is starting off in a uniquely secure financial position, with fully funded pensions, strong reserves, and solid credit ratings. Though other governments may not have the benefit of such a position, asset inventories are essential to strategically and sustainably managing infrastructure.
Creating equivalently comprehensive inventories should be an immediate priority for all levels of government, and Congress should promote the use of asset inventories in its planned infrastructure package. Without knowing the condition and needs of our existing infrastructure assets, we cannot fully plan for the future.