In 1988, the congressionally chartered National Council on Public Works Improvement assessed aviation, drinking water, hazardous waste, inland waterway, road, school, solid waste, transit, and wastewater assets and gave them an overall grade of C.

The American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) assumed the task when the council declined to update Fragile Foundations: A Report on America’s Public Works a decade later. ASCE’s released seven updates since then, adding the asset categories of bridges, dams, energy, levees, ports, public parks and recreation, and rail.

It’s also changed how investment need is estimated, and this is where things get interesting when you study this chart. “Cost to improve” wasn’t calculated for the first few reports. In 2001, '05, and '09, five years’ worth of maintenance and repair costs were used to develop projections. In 2013, eight years. The recently released 2017 report uses 10 years.

Part of ASCE’s mission is to advocate for public works, so I applaud the organization for doing whatever it takes to break through the hundreds (probably thousands, actually) bits of useful and useless information the public and lawmakers sift through every day. These infrastructure reports are extremely popular with the general media. Newspapers like The Wall Street Journal and The New York Times, television shows such as "60 Minutes," and even comedians use the data.

However, it shouldn’t surprise anyone that, with the exception of rail, performance and capacity have fallen since 1998.

I’m sharing this obvious observation because my first question was how the 2017 grade compared to 2013’s and it took some digging to find the answer: the same (D+).

Drinking WaterB-DDD-D- D
Hazardous WasteDD-D+DDDD+ 
Inland WaterwaysB--D+D-D- D-D
Public Parks & Recreation---C- C-C-D+
Solid WasteC-C-C+C+C+B-C+
Transit C-C-C-D+DDD-
Cost to Improve (in trillions of dollars)--$1.3$1.6 $2.2 $3.6 $4.59