Monthly Archives: June 2013

US transport infrastructure: time to bridge the funding gap

The recent spate of bridge collapses in the US provides a graphic illustration of the state of the nation’s aging infrastructure. The American dream of big cars and freeways has run its course…

Funding the vital infrastructure upgrade is taxing both state and federal administrations…

Gail Taylor reports

So how big is the issue? Statistics from the US Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) state that some 68,842 bridges – more than 11% of the nation’s total highway bridges – are classed as ‘structurally deficient’. Such bridges are defined as needing significant maintenance, rehabilitation or replacement. Add to that The American Society of Civil Engineers’ 2013 Report Card for America’s Infrastructure which currently rates US bridges at a middling C+ and the picture’s not looking too rosy. According to ASCE there’s also a significant percentage of bridges classed as ‘functionally obsolete’, with the average age of a US bridge currently standing at 42. Many of the bridges built in the great infrastructure boom of the 50s and 60s were only designed and built with an intended lifespan of around 50 years.

Alarming as these figures sound, there has been some improvement over the past two decades: back in 1992 a massive 22% of bridges were deemed structurally deficient. The ASCE also claims that most of America’s bridges are regularly inspected and are “extraordinarily safe”. However, with rapidly dwindling state and federal funding for on-going maintenance programmes, there’s a large and brooding question mark over how to keep such progress going in coming years.

It’s a question that needs some progressive answers urgently, because as the ASCE’s Managing Director of Government Relations and Infrastructure Initiatives, Brian Pallasch, states, “America’s bridges and roads are the foundation for connecting our communities and businesses. Our transportation infrastructure is essential for connecting our lives to an ever-expanding world of opportunity. However, the Federal Highway Administration estimates that to eliminate the nation’s bridge deficit backlog by 2028, we would need to invest $20.5 billion annually, while only $12.8 billion is being spent currently.”

The cost of not spending money
Not only is there potential damage to both local and national economies to consider, there’s the threat to human lives. Although being rated ‘structurally deficient’ doesn’t necessarily mean that a bridge is unsafe – and collapses are mercifully rare so far – when a bridge does fail the consequences can be catastrophic. Notable tragedies in recent years include the collapse of the Queen Isabella Causeway in Texas in 2001 in which eight people died. Then five years ago in 2007, the world looked on horrified as the 35W bridge collapsed into the Mississippi River, killing 13 and injuring 145.

Next came WashingtonState. On 27 May 2013, the four-lane interstate 5 bridge collapsed about half-way between Seattle and Vancouver. It now seems the failure was caused by a truck’s load hitting one of the overhead trusses, but interestingly the bridge was not classified as structurally deficient as first reported. It was however, functionally obsolete and, in common with thousands of US bridges, ‘fracture critical’. In other words it would only take one component of the bridge to fail or be seriously damaged for the whole structure to crumple. Several vehicles were sent plummeting into the icy waters of the SkagitRiver, but thankfully there were no fatalities this time round.

What’s going wrong?

James Corless, Director of Transportation for America – a non-governmental organisation advocating investment in fixing existing infrastructure – states, “While this particular bridge was not considered structurally deficient at the time of its shocking collapse, it is one of thousands that are well past their intended lifespan and carrying far more traffic than intended at the time they were built. Considering that progress on repairing deficient bridges has slowed in the last ten years, Congress took a major gamble in last summer’s new transportation law by eliminating dedicated funding for repairing highway bridges. Now bridge repair is forced to compete with other transportation needs for funding.”

Quote_3And therein lies part of the rub. Many states have been using funding from the ailing federal Highway Trust Fund to plough into new infrastructure, rather than devoting it to maintenance and repairs. Quite simply, a beaming state official cutting the ribbon on a flashy new project makes for better PR vote-wise than an engineer in a hard hat fixing an old bridge. Perceived wisdom is that new infrastructure equals new jobs and a boost to the economy, which of course it does. However, according to Transportation for America repair work on roads and bridges “generates 16 per cent more jobs than construction of new bridges and roads”.

Another important factor is a reduction in revenue from both federal and state motor fuel tax, referred to as ‘gas tax’, through which state governments have historically paid for a large part of their transportation infrastructure costs. Gas tax has not risen since 1993, Americans are driving less according to the US Department of Transportation, and the cars they drive are more fuel efficient. Gas tax is paid into the Highway Trust Fund, but the combination of falling revenues and massive demands on the Fund have led to a prediction by the Congressional Budget Office that it will be bankrupt by autumn 2014.

Funding the way forward

A report published by The Heritage Foundation in 2012 states, “Governments clearly need to find some source of funding in the coming years to rebuild the ageing road network that has fostered US economic productivity for the past 50 years. The federal government is steadily backing away from this responsibility, but it still restricts states’ options for financing and modernization of their own roads. If Washington is not going to be part of the transportation solution, it should simply get out of the way and let states find their own ways forward.”

Some states have already implemented their own funding programmes with great success. Glenn Myers is Chief Technical Professional – Transportation for civil engineering giant, Atkins Global (North America). He comments, “Many bridge owners – state, county or municipality – are also turning to tolling and Public-Private Partnerships (PPPs) to fund capacity improvements and some rehabilitation projects.”

And funding needn’t necessarily come from domestic investors alone. Myers continues, “A number of international investors have already provided financing for several PPP projects in the US.” One such example is that of global specialist in project finance, Macquarie Capital, which has backed a number of US projects including the Port of Miami Tunnel.

Quote_1While PPPs can be a very valuable tool, as evidenced by neighbouring Canada’s successful and increasing use of them, they cannot provide the entire solution. To this end, a number of federal initiatives have been put in place. Myers continues, “Funding not only has to address ageing bridge infrastructure, but also address increasing capacity demand of functionally obsolete highways and bridges. The funding requirements to meet the needs of all the infrastructure in the US is tremendous. To help address the funding issue, U.S. Rep. John Delaney (Democrat-Maryland) introduced The Partnership to Build America Act (H.R. 2084) with bi-partisan support, co-sponsored by 13 Republican and 13 Democratic representatives. This bill proposes to create financial resources to help upgrade the nation’s aging infrastructure, creating a $50 billion American Infrastructure Fund (AIF) that could be leveraged to $750 billion.”

Last year’s Moving Ahead for Progress in the 21st Century (MAP-21) Bill has set aside £1 billion for projects of national and regional significance and extended the Transportation Infrastructure Finance and Innovation Act (TIFIA) credit support programme. This can now led up to $750,000 million in financial year 2013 and $1 billion in 2014. Discretionary grants are available from the US Department of Transportation’s Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery (TIGER) programme which has $473.847 million in its coffers this year.

Whatever route Congress and individual states do eventually choose adopt, there is no doubting the US has come to that bridge and it is now high time to cross it. When it does, as Myers concludes, “Business opportunities for engineering firms and associated businesses will follow the funding.” There is certainly plenty of work out there to be done.

Gail Taylor

Philip Bates, director of strategic transport at Buro Happold responds;


Ethiopia Diverts the Blue Nile to Egypt’s Dismay

700 nile dam

The flow of the Blue Nile is set to be diverted by the Great Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD), much to the chagrin of water-starved and Nile-dependent Egypt, the Press Association has reported. The contract for the hydroelectric dam, costing in the region of £3.1bn, was awarded to Italian firm Salini Construttori without competitive bidding. The project is part of a larger, export-boosting investment programme, which will cost around £8bn.

The GERD will be located on the Blue Nile approximately 500km north west of Addis Abba. It will be the largest dam in Africa, at 1,800 metres long, 170 metres high, and with a total volume of 10m cubic metres. Two powerhouses will be installed at the toe of the main dam – which will consist of roller compacted concrete. These powerhouses will be located on the right and left banks of the river, and will contain 16 Francis turbine units. Their total installed capacity will reach 6,000MW, with a generation capacity totalling 15,000 Gwh/y. Completing the project layout, a 5km long, 50m high saddle dam, along with a concrete-lined gated spillway, will sit on the left bank.

Countries downstream of the Nile are less than happy about the news. Egypt and Sudan have claimed the dam will violate a 1959 that gives Egypt almost 70% of the total water in the Nile. Ethiopian deputy prime minister Demeke Mekonnin, however, has reportedly declared that the dam will provide hydroelectricity for Ethiopia’s neighbouring countries as well as itself.

Mekonnin also stated that the colonial-era agreement ignores the needs of five up-river states, and that the dam will not affect Egypt. Ethiopia claims to be the source of some 85% of Nile River waters.

Chief executive officer of the state-run Ethiopian Electric Power Corporation, Mihret Debebe, said: “The dam is being built in the middle of the river so you can’t carry out construction work while the river flowed.” Debebe continued, “this now enables us to carry out civil engineering work without difficulties. The aim is to divert the river by a few metres and then allow it to flow on its natural course.”

The Grand Renaissance Dam will be situated in the Benishangul-Gumuz region, which borders Sudan. The Ethiopian government claims that when running it will provide a 6,000 megawatt capacity – the equivalent of six or more nuclear power plants.

Richard Greenan

Arup to Transform Sydney’s Congested Business District with Light Rail

Sydney’s public transport network is due a mass-upgrade in the form of the Central Business District (CBD) and South East Light Rail project (CSELR). This major project, headed by Arup, will transform and bring significant benefits to Sydney, expanding the city’s light rail through the CBD to the south eastern suburbs.

Construction work in the CBD poses several major challenges; the area boasts the highest concentration of jobs and people in Australia, with the figure expected to grow by 31% over the next 18 years. Astonishingly, a bus passes Wynyard station on average every 12 seconds. These escalating, unsustainable levels of congestion are the country’s worst.

Minister for Transport Gladys Berejiklian writes that “This modern, high capacity transport system will improve public transport, reduce congestion and provide access to key sporting, entertainment, health and education precincts.”

This new light rail system will extend 12km from Circular Quay along George Street towards Central Station. It will then pass Anzac Parade and Devonshire Street to the stadiums at Moore Park, before forking and terminating at Randwick and Kingsford. The development will run alongside the extension of the existing Inner West Light Rail, due to be completed in 2014.

20 stops and interchanges at rail, bus and ferry stations will be included in the CSELR route, with the service able to carry as many as 9,000 people per hour in each direction. New quiet, air-conditioned trains will be able to carry 300 passengers each. Help will be sought by the Government from the private sector for the financing of project delivery and operations.

Sydney Light Rail map

Richard Greenan
Follow @WorldInfraNews



Written By admin 
June 07, 2013 13:53 pm
Posted In Metro, TRANSPORT

Meet Phyllis and her seven sisters – Going underground in London

Special insight: Behind the Hoardings at the new Crossrail Station at Tottenham Court Road

Special insight: Behind the Hoardings at the new Crossrail Station at Tottenham Court Road

London is having open heart surgery. It’s an arguable and compelling analogy when you peer into one of the gaping holes for the 37 new Crossrail stations connecting 42 km of new arteries which will eventually pump 200 million people around the metropolis every year. People still being the lifeblood of a vibrant city even in this increasingly virtual world. And there isn’t much virtual about this project. Crossrail is real, it’s gritty and amazingly it’s on time.

With construction work reaching its peak on London’s new East/West metro, six of the planned eight TBMs delivering 100 m of tunnel per day each, over 40 construction sites running flat out, it all sounds too good to be true, so I wanted find out what’s happening behind the hoardings, what are the day to day challenges in realizing a mega project in the centre of large commercial city.

It’s easy to fall into the numbers game, and review a project simply by reeling out  the usual range of stats, how many km of running tunnels have been built so far (12 out of 42) or how many months behind schedule the programme is (0) but as I surveyed the frenetic activity of the Tottenham Court road site from the urban eyrie of Crossrail’s office, nine floors above, I knew there was much much more.

TBM Elizabeth breaks through at Tottenham Court Road

TBM Elizabeth breaks through at Canary Wharf

Today was a big day for the Crossrail team which saw TBM Elizabeth breakthrough at Canary Wharf station. The staged breakthrough infront of VIP and press was nonetheless a major milestone for the complex project providing a graphic representation one project’s successful third complete stage.

My guide was Crossrail Project Manager Tony Bryan and our site was the Tottenham Court Road (TCR) western ticket hall. Adjoining London’s infamous Oxford Street, at five levels below ground, and serving the northern line, central line and of course, Crossrail, TCR was one of the more complex of the 37 stations on the line.


The current phase of construction work was being undertaken by Bam Ferrier Keir (BFK).  As we descend down to the -5 base level through a horizontal  forest of huge props holding apart the diaphragm walls, Tony explains that the Western Ticket Hall site is using a temporary bottom-up approach which is faster (than the permanent top-down method), which allowed them to reach the depth needed in order to facilitate the passage of the TBMs. The permanent support/structure will be added later.

Preparations for Phyllis

Preparations for Phyllis

TBM Phyllis is currently passing through a few metres inside the sprayed concrete wall but will not actually breakthrough. Instead, a hybrid concrete chamber has been constructed in advance, which Phyllis will bore through enabling a much easier connection through to the ticket hall box at a later date.

The Crossrail construction operation revolves around the TBMs. Their progress defines the entire programme and all the timeline charts on the project managers’ walls have the arrival of the respective TBM as a red milestone. Their works have to be ready for the arrival of Phylis or one her seven sisters. I can’t imagine why they are named after women.

Section showing fit out works by Laing O' Rourke

Section showing fit out works by Laing O’ Rourke

BFK are preparing to hand over to Laing O’ Rourke next summer. They are already ensconced somewhere in the bowels of One Dean Street making preparations for the fit-out, these works will include  threading London Underground’s longest continuous escalator (possibly, apparently Angel is close) manufactured by Otis.

This is the first of series of special Crossrail reports. More coming soon.

Michael Hammond

Crossrail Quick facts
200m passengers/year
37 Stations
21 km of twin bore tunnels
8000 workers
40 construction sites
57 Escalators supplied by Otis

Written By admin 
June 07, 2013 13:19 pm
Posted In Metro, TRANSPORT

Seattle welcomes Bertha


The world’s largest tunnel boring machine, Bertha,  manufactured by Hitachi Zosen in Japan has taken up residency in Seattle. The TBM is named  after Seattle’s first female mayor, Bertha Landis.

At 57.5 ft, Bertha has the widest diameter of any boring machine ever built and will be used to dig a highway tunnel as part of a $2 billion project to replace the Alaskan Way Viaduct with a tunnel under downtown Seattle’s waterfront.

Going underground, according to Washington State Department of Transportation (WSDOT), will be a safer alternative to the viaduct in the event of an earthquake, and also opens up prime real estate for business and city infrastructure along the Sound. Tunnelling is expected to begin in the next few months.

A section of Bertha's trailing gear is lowered into place

A section of Bertha’s trailing gear is lowered into place

Moving the 7000 ton machine will not be easy, Deputy Project Director Gregory Hauser  said; “We should have a penetration rate, if you can imagine the whole machine going forward, of one, two or three inches per minute,” taking up the rear, Bertha’s trailing gear runs to some 300ft installing segmental concrete rings for the double decker State Route (SR) 99 highway.

The SR 99 Tunnel  Design-Build Project is being constructed by a joint venture of Dragados USA and Tutor Perini Corp.

Michael Hammond