Category Archives: Road/Traffic

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.

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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;
http://www.wantoday.com/wia_blog/2013/06/19/comment-philip-bates-director-of-strategic-transport-buro-happold/


 

Seattle welcomes Bertha

700Bertha

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


Rail, Air, Road and Rail Projects Consolidate at Miami Intermodal Center

miami interm 1

The Florida Department of Transportation’s Miami Intermodal Center is scheduled for completion in 2013. The project’s final component, Miami Central Station, covers 16.5 acres and is scheduled to open in early 2014. It will join the Miami Rental Car Center and the Miami International Airport (MIA) Mover (completed in 2010 and 2011, respectively) to bring travellers a wealth of new options in the area.

The linking of the Intermodal Center to MIA via a rapid-transit system is seen to herald a new era of consolidated, modernised infrastructure and connectivity for Miami-Dade County – developments largely thanks to construction work carried out by Odebrecht USA and its Partners. The Central Station will connect passengers with services including Amtrak, taxis, Greyhound, heavy rail to Palm Beach, Broward ans Miami-Dade, Tri-Rail and Miami Dade Transit’s Metrobus.

The director of the Miami-Dade’s Aviation Department, José Abreu, said: “Moving people is what we are all about, and we have now reached the day when our passengers can move seamlessly between various forms of ground transportation, mass transit and air travel.” The new MIA Orange Line Service and Metrorail Station, operated by the Aviation Department, boasts a 2.5 mile-long elevated spur constructed by a joint-venture between OHL and Odebrecht. The project cost $360m.

railcorridor2

Atkins served as engineering and architectural consultants for the Metrorail project. A 20.5 mile aerial heavy rail system including 20 stations comprised the first stage of the system. Ultimately, the network will be 50 miles long, and will offer feeder bus and direct rail services to all 1.5m Miami-Dade residents.

Richard Greenan

 


Atkins Wins Transport Design Services Contract for On-Call Consultancy Team in Georgia

Atkins has been awarded a state-wide consultancy contract by the Georgia Department of Transportation (GDOT) to enhance traffic signalling and intelligent transportation systems (ITS) in the area. The contract encompasses all phases of traffic signal design and ITS, from the collection of field data to the development of final construction plans. Atkins will also develop project specifications, design regional transportation control centres and perform other functions to support the GDOT’s traffic operations.

Atkins ITS practice manager John Hibbard states that the company’s Atlanta team has formed a close relationship with the GDOT, and possesses a firm grasp of Georgia’s transportation needs. Hibbard said: “We’ve assembled a highly qualified, comprehensive team of professionals with local understanding and nationally recognised expertise.” He continued, the “GDOT requires an on-call consultant team made up of experienced professionals who provide innovative solutions. We have that.”

The GDOT’s Atlanta-based, statewide Transportation Management Centre (TMC) has been operated by Atkins under a six-year contract since 2011. A team of about 50 TMC employees monitor traffic movement, manage incident response, provide accurate roadway information to travellers and respond directly to drivers’ calls about conditions.

The GDOT’s Regional Traffic Operations Program (RTOP) also receives engineering support from Atkins. This multijurisdictional structured program strives to improve traffic signal operations statewide through active monitoring, managing and maintenance of traffic signals. This begins in the metro Atlanta area – home to over half of Georgia’s traffic signals, half of all lane miles travelled, and three-quarters of the state’s traffic congestion.

Atkins has developed ITS solutions for clients US-wide, including Departments of Transportation in Florida, North Carolina and Nevada, as well as the city of Arlington, Texas.

Richard Greenan


Arup and PB deliver in Brisbane

© PBA

© PBA

As Australia’s largest ever single investment in transport infrastructure, Brisbane’s AUD$5.6b Airport Link was always going to be a landmark project. Traffic congestion was tackled, the city’s busway network enhanced and an infamous traffic bottleneck removed through an innovative and revolutionary design.

Parsons Brinckerhoff and Arup joined forces – as PBA – to deliver the design, providing technical input to the tender and delivering the detailed design and construction phase services. It was a highly effective team that drew on their combined extensive local and international skills and resources.

The Airport Link includes three separate projects: the Northern Busway (a 3km two-way dedicated busway from Windsor to Kedron), the Airport Roundabout Upgrade, and AirportlinkM7 (a 6.7km toll road including 5.2km of tunnel). Together, they represent the largest single investment in transport infrastructure ever undertaken in Australia.

Aside from 15km of tunnel, the scheme boasts 26 bridges, 15 cut and cover structures, 7km of new surface roadways and bicycle paths, 3.5 hectares of new parklands, one million new trees and shrubs, three ventilation stations and an operations control building.

© PBA

© PBA

PBA used more than 1,000 staff and worked more than one million hours from the starting point in November 2006 through to demobilisation from site in late 2012. Over 18,000 construction drawings were delivered by PBA in 700 packages, with a total of 3,600 total submission cycles.

The scale and complexity of the project, along with very tight constraints imposed by a highly populated environment and the need to keep roads open, presented a formidable design challenge. Key technical challenges included a difficult geological environment and intricate geometry due to underground interchange under traffic.

The PBA design solution essentially “buries” all the large, heavy traffic movements, leaving a surface solution for local movements to cater for buses, pedestrians and cyclists. Design innovations have alleviated potential noise and visual impacts, delivering positive overall benefits to the broader community.

PBA’s scope of works included tunnel, road, geotechnical, electrical and mechanical, fire and life safety, structural and civil works design and construction phase support, as well as co-ordinating the urban design via subcontracted resources. Ground-breaking both above and below ground, Airport Link delivered on its sustainability commitments and provided an economic and social legacy for Brisbane.

Richard Greenan

 


The car is dead. Long live the car.

connected-cars WIRED

Just when we thought the car was dead, just when we thought the age of the train was finally here, (again) so the great wheel of history/technology/advance/ cycle of transport could actually be oscillating back towards a new era of the car. Impossible? Maybe, but some very influential people and organisations are predicting just that.

The shift started as an amusing, eccentric experiment by Google. A driverless car. What fun. How silly.  You may even have read about it while relaxing on a high speed train, flying over endless snarled up highways.

To add some perspective to the idea, 100 years ago, today’s commercial flights would have been dismissed as mere science fiction, the jump to driverless cars using the latest technology, GPS, sensors, algorithms, big data, is much less significant, more a bringing together of what we already have.

So what’s the big deal about driverless cars? In short, self-drive cars could increase capacity on highways by up to 500%. The investment needed to get this level of upgrade would be a mere fraction of conventional methods. Studies by the University of Texas suggest that smart intersections could perform 200-300 times better than existing traffic signals. Other organisations like PWC and leading US Think Tanks are already exploring the wider impact of this transformation, from self-parking, increased mobility for the elderly and infirm, car sharing, freeing up of urban parking spaces; the list is endless.

Could it really happen? Google has already clocked up some 400,000 incident free miles with their experimental car, and Abu Dhabi’s futuristic city, Masdar already has driverless cars known as Personal Rapid Transit (PRT) vehicles. But already, even that that strategy has changed as the technology has advanced so quickly in electric vehicles. It’s a bit like hitting a moving target. And if you miss, it can be an expensive mistake, but still the technology, albeit in its infancy is already here.

Should this reversal in direction happen, the landscape of our cities could be redrawn, the widely acclaimed attributes of densification would be diluted, the creep of the urban sprawl could return…

Michael Hammond


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