WSSC Seeks to Rebuild ‘Buried Assets’

How good is American infrastructure? The American Society of Civil Engineers rates it as a “D-plus.”

The ASCE rating comes as the Trump administration is seeking support for infrastructure improvements across the country. During his report to Congress last week, President Trump said he would pursue $1 trillion in infrastructure projects—roads, bridges and other major projects.

For the Washington Suburban Sanitary Commission, it makes sense to first repair the underground infrastructure, such as water and wastewater pipes, before rebuilding what’s on the ground.

“We’ve got to pay attention to our buried assets before we start fixing roads and tunnels and bridges,” said Carla Reid, WSSC’s general manager/CEO.

The ASCE report presents a laundry list of unmet needs in Maryland, including:

  • $615 million gap in estimated school capital expenditures
  • $79.91 million in unmet needs in the parks system
  • 308 bridges that are structurally deficient
  • 24 percent of its 32,037 miles of public roads in poor condition
  • $550 spent by motorists each year driving on roads in need of repair

The report also says Maryland needs, over the next 20 years, $6.9 billion in drinking water projects and $9.92 billion in wastewater projects.

WSSC, which services most of Montgomery and Prince George’s counties, has scheduled $1.9 billion in projects over the next six years, Reid said.

The utility is still repairing the Piscataway Wastewater Treatment Plant in Accokeek. A burst pipe Feb. 9 has spewed millions of gallons of raw sewage into Piscataway Creek, which flows into the Potomac River south of Washington.

The cost of funding the gap between needs and budgets won’t necessarily mean increases in water and sewer rates, Reid said. (For fiscal 2018, which begins July 1, WSSC has proposed a combined 3.5 percent rate increase for water and sewer rates.) WSSC has access to no-interest loans, and because of the utility’s AAA bond rating, it can borrow at the lowest possible rate, she said.

And the utility is hoping for federal assistance as well.

“We want to make sure our voice—the voice of the water and wastewater utility—is heard as this national discussion is advanced,” Reid said.

Douglas Tallman

About Douglas Tallman

Reporter with 35 years experience throughout Maryland. Reach me at dtallman@mymcmedia.org or via Twitter at @MCM-Doug

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