Posts filed under ‘US Infrastructure’

Are You High On Speed…Rail?


 Matt Barcus
President, Precision Executive Search, Inc
Managing Partner, CivilEngineeringCentral.com

View Matt’s profile & connect with him on LinkedIn

It’s been quite some time since I have touched on this subject, so at the risk of “beating a dead horse,” here I go again!

Have you ever known anyone who has traveled via high-speed rail?  Have you actually experienced High Speed Rail yourself?  At the very least you have recently read about it or heard about it on the news.  I have never personally experienced it myself, but I’ve read enough about it  and viewed enough videos to know that I am very excited about what the future holds.  I have also spoken to folks who have actually traveled on High Speed Rail and the reviews were glowing!

Imagine blowing up a balloon; you’ve populated the balloon with enough air that is appears to be at full capacity, but maybe you want it a little bit bigger, so you put two more breaths into it.  It’s good.  It hasn’t popped, so you put two more breaths in.  It’s now stretched pretty thin, but maybe the kids are chanting, “Bigger! Bigger! Bigger!”   You push your luck one more time and in the middle of your next breath….POP!  As I write, our highways and airspace are pretty much maxed out when it comes to capacity, and as our population grows and our economy inches its way back into growth mode the constraints will be even heavier.  In fact,  on Monday CNN reported the following from the FAA:

Air travel in the United States is expected to more than double in the next 20 years, according to the Federal Aviation Administration’s annual forecast released on Tuesday.

It also predicts U.S. airlines will carry 1 billion passengers a year by 2021, a milestone that will come two years earlier than previously thought. (To put that number into perspective, about 712 million passengers flew on domestic carriers in 2010.)

 

If we fail to truly embrace High Speed Rail our infrastructure will share the same results as the balloon.

Last week Joe Biden announced a comprehensive plan that would allow for 80% of our hard-working population to have access to High Speed Rail by 2035 and has committed to $53 billion over six years.   Check out what the US High Speed Rail Association’s vision of what a national High Speed Rail system would look like:

The build out of High Speed Rail lines is a lengthy process; the environmental planning and reports, the public meetings, more reports, more meetings,  and one of the most, if not THE most sophisticated engineering and construction processes in the world requires much patience.  Of course the longer the discussion gets hung up in DC the even longer this will take.  As the United States continues to talk about High Speed Rail, the other countries on our globe continue to stay one step ahead of us.  I personally am not concerned about competing with other countries because at the end of the day I think the US rocks!    But all this talk over the years surrounding High Speed Rail, and the limited action is getting old – the advantages of High Speed Rail, as you and I both know, are enormous:

*Job creation

*Increased opportunities for employment due to easy access between cities

*A reduction in carbon emissions

*A national HSR system could reduce oil consumption by 125 bbl / year (according to Environment America)

*Reduce the stress already on existing, over-capacity infrastructure

*Ability to text message and check Facebook on phone without having to lookup for oncoming traffic 🙂

Look, the list goes on and on as to the advantages, no doubt.  A couple of years ago I wondered if people would really be able to give up their connections to their cars  on a daily basis.  The convenience they provide; the status they may show, etc.  But I think with all the studies that have been compiled, and the horrible recession that we have recently passed through, that particular mentality has passed its prime.   The development of true High Speed Rail has begun in FL and CA and significant investments have already been made in those regions.  May the rest of our country follow in their footsteps…let’s get this show on the road, or  shall I say, on the rail!

So, are you high on speed…rail?  I know I am and I would love to hear your thoughts – especially from anyone who may be against this type of innovation in our country…

Thanks for reading!

civil engineering jobs :: civil engineering resumes :: civil engineering blog :: civil engineering discussion

February 16, 2011 at 5:11 pm 32 comments

Civil Engineering Concept – The Road Straddling “Fast Bus”


 Matt Barcus
President, Precision Executive Search, Inc
Managing Partner, CivilEngineeringCentral.com

View Matt’s profile & connect with him on LinkedIn

I am a die-hard Philadelphia sports fan.  I’m a Phitin’ Phillie Phan during baseball season, I bleed green during football season, and I bleed orange during hockey season (and if the Sixers could give me an inkling of hope…anywhere…I would bleed for them as well!).  I am blessed with a wonderful wife who is pretty patient with me when it comes to watching the games on TV, especially the Phillies since every game is on TV – not that I watch every game, but I watch enough to admit that I may get in trouble in other homes.  In any event, a couple of times a year I score some tickets to head into Philly to watch a game or two. A few  weeks ago was one of those times.  Under normal circumstances, during non-rush hour times, I can make it down to the Philadelphia sports complex in about fifty minutes.  During rush hour I would give myself an hour-and-a-half just to be safe.  This would give me enough time to enjoy a few cold one’s at McFadden’s before hand, or enjoy some crab fries from Chickie & Pete’s.   Well, two weeks ago I left at 4PM for a 7:05PM game where Roy Halladay would be vying for his 20th win of the season…plenty of time to sip a few suds and grab a bite to eat before game time, right?  As it turns out, from 4PM – 6:30PM I had the following view:

Now, at the end of the day, after parking and walking to my seats I was able to grab a beer and a kielbasa sandwich from Bull’s BBQ in time to see Halladay’s first pitch on his way to his 20th victory of the season.  It was all good.

Where am I going with all of this and what could this possibly have to do with civil engineering?  Well, I would have much rather taken a 3D Fast Bus:

A DETAILED PRESENTATION (apx. 5 minutes):

90 SECOND VIDEO ONLY SIMULATION:

As U.S. cities continue to pursue funding and public support for light  and high-speed rail services, Civil, Rail, and Transit Engineers in China continue to develop advanced concepts that will help alleviate congestion on our roads and make travel a much more enjoyable, less stressful experience.  There is not a doubt in my mind that we will eventually get there ourselves, as not only do we have the some of the most creative and innovative engineers in the world, but we really do not have a whole lot of choice based upon the current state of our infrastructure and the needs of our society…I just wish a 3-D Bus was in place a couple of weeks ago!

civil engineering jobs :: civil engineering resumes :: civil engineering blog :: civil engineering discussion

October 13, 2010 at 7:31 am 3 comments

How to Prevent Infrastructure Disaster?

By Carol A. Metzner
President, The Metzner Group, LLC and
Managing Partner, A/E/P Central, LLC home of CivilEngineeringCentral.com

This August will be the 3rd anniversary of the I-35W bridge collapse in Minneapolis and the 5th anniversary of the New Orleans levee system failure. July brings with it the 19th year mark of the Kansas City Hyatt Regency walkway collapse. While we now understand how these events occurred, has the civil engineering industry implemented systems to help prevent future disasters? Has our government implemented systems to help?

Cutbacks in civil engineering staff across the US’s civil engineering companies and  low bid contract awards from local, state and federal agencies cause some to question whether projects are being completed by the best talent available. As we discussed in a previous blog, some firms that previously hired the best engineering talent have now cut them in favor of less experienced, less expensive engineers. What effect, if any will this have on our future infrastructure?

This week it was reported that the Michigan Department of Transportation has been late on inspections on bridge reports.  A state audit determined that about 10% of bridge inspections were overdue, some for 36 months or more. It was further reported that the Federal Highway Administration “ordered the state to complete hundreds of crucial bridge inspections by Dec. 31 or risk losing highway funding, a last-ditch punishment that MDOT says it will avoid.”

Similarly, Stamford, CT advocate news just announced “Hundreds of state bridges rated deficient.” Specifically: of the state’s 5,300 bridges, 10 percent, or 509, are structurally deficient and ranked in poor condition, according to the state Department of Transportation. Fifty-four percent are in fair condition, while 36 percent are in good condition.

The Monitor reporter Jared Janes wrote this week  that lower than expected bids from contractors eager for work will allow the U.S. section of the International Boundary and Water Commission, in charge of the construction, to complete more than 40 additional miles to raise and rehabilitate Rio Grande levees.

Our government has implemented guidelines for engineering designs and mandated structural inspections. Private industry and public agencies struggle with budget cuts. How can we prevent infrastructure disasters with  contract monies put on hold and experienced staff being caught in layoffs? What are your thoughts?

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June 23, 2010 at 9:42 am Leave a comment

Storm Water Job Trends

By Carol Metzner
President, The Metzner Group, LLC and
Managing Partner, A/E/P Central, LLC home of CivilEngineeringCentral.com

The ever-shrinking job market, aging baby boomers and rapid technology growth have created a need for storm water generalists who can do it all—use off-the-shelf and proprietary tools to conduct modeling studies; plan, assess and design storm water and water resource projects; resolve complex problems such as conflicting design requirements and unsuitability of conventional materials; and prepare and review a myriad of reports, including technical and regulatory specifications, contract documents and cost estimates.

No longer is storm water management a niche position filled by hydraulic and hydrologic specialists; now it encompasses everything from business development to contract bidding and administration to project management.

Furthermore, storm water-related jobs are not limited to civil engineering and construction companies; they now are found in federal, state and local governments, scientific consulting and services firms, research and development companies and waste management organizations.

At the same time, rising population growth, crumbling infrastructure, growing concern for the environment and a need to comply with tighter environmental laws and regulations have created increasing demand for environmental engineers knowledgeable of storm water management. Many developers today are taking a proactive approach by working to prevent rather than control problems, requiring engineers who can use science and engineering principles to ensure the preservation of natural resources, the use of environmentally beneficial materials and the health and safety of residents. Environmental engineers also design remediation systems to counter the effects of pollutants on soil and groundwater and retrofit existing storm water systems to mimic predevelopment hydrology and restore ecosystems to their predevelopment state.

Storm Water Staff as Generalists

With unemployment on the rise, it is no surprise that some career boards report a 50% decline in the number of storm water-related jobs over the past two years. Fewer jobs usually means that the people who do have jobs have more to do, and that seems to be the case here. More storm water-related employees are expected to come to the job not only with knowledge of the general engineering field, hydrology, hydraulics and water quality, but also knowledge of best management practice design and local, state and federal water programs’ regulations as well as experience in site design, work plan development, data collection and analysis and preparation of technical memoranda, reports and presentations.

To get a job in today’s tight market, storm water-related workers must possess technical knowledge dealing with a range of topics, including soils, pollutants, watershed management, storm water/drainage management, water rights, water quality modeling, environmental permitting and economic analysis. In addition to these hard skills, engineers are expected to be fluent in softer interpersonal skills involving organization, management, communication and problem solving. Successful employees also need to be self-motivated, with the ability to work both on one’s own and within a large team environment.

Higher-level jobs require knowledge of and experience with more advanced topics such as conducting hydraulic, hydrologic and water quality modeling studies, using specialized computer software for data analysis, developing GIS applications and developing and updating computer code to create new analysis tools. Advanced workers also provide senior leadership for engineers involved in storm water-related projects and may prepare proposals and conduct other marketing activities to gain new business.

Storm Water Staff as Environmentalists

Engineers have a long history of working to minimize the environmental impacts of land development and to maintain or improve our nation’s environmental health. Many storm water-related workers are tasked with protecting our natural habitats, systems and resources by finding ways to maintain existing hydrologic patterns, reduce impervious surfaces, maximize undisturbed natural areas, minimize runoff and pollutants and take advantage of the natural retention, absorption and infiltration capabilities of vegetation and soils. Increasingly, environmental engineers are required to provide “green” and sustainable site management technologies and practices, making sure to integrate sustainability into every aspect of the development project.

In 1972, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) enacted the National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System storm water permit program to regulate sources, such as developments, that discharge pollutants into U.S. waters and waterways. In 2007, the EPA introduced the Green Infrastructure initiative to highlight opportunities for municipalities to increase the development and use of green infrastructure to infiltrate, evapotranspirate or reuse storm water.

Legislation is changing at a fast pace, and environmental engineers have to keep up with the latest rules, regulations and enforcement procedures at all government levels. Increasing numbers of localities are adopting low-impact development ordinances as treatment control for pollutants and pursuing the U.S. Green Building Council Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design certification. To comply with these environmental regulatory requirements, engineers must be familiar with the specifics of the ordinances and engineering standards related to storm water management in addition to keeping accurate, clear and concise records.

To complete a land development project successfully, environmental engineers have to examine the project in its entirety, considering each design decision in terms of costs and benefits not only to the company and client but also to the environment and balancing the costs of different types of green materials with the benefits of long-term storm water management.

Keeping Employed/Staffed

As this article has shown, storm water management trends, technologies and legislation are ever-changing. In order to maintain a job in this field, it is more important than ever for storm water-related workers to take advantage of every continuing education opportunity that comes their way.

To be successful, storm water-related engineers need a strong understanding of the water/storm water industry and new design standards and technologies. They also need experience in water resources, drainage, flood control and green infrastructure technologies. These individuals must read technical journals, attend professional conferences and interact with colleagues in order to keep up to date on the latest materials, standards and technologies and offer the greatest value to their employers. Even experienced storm water-related engineers need to keep abreast of the latest topics and often can benefit from a refresher course on the basics.

In the same way, if companies want to keep their employees, they must provide not only competitive salaries and benefits but also opportunities for continuing education and enhancement. In today’s work environment, learning new things can be a win-win situation for both employers and employees.

This article was written for Storm Water Solutions publications.  Please visit their site: http://www.estormwater.com/Storm-Water-Job-Trends-article11464

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March 15, 2010 at 9:21 pm 6 comments

The National Infrastructure Bank

By Carol A. Metzner
President, The Metzner Group, LLC and

Managing Partner, A/E/P Central, LLC home of CivilEngineeringCentral.com

Press releases reported last month that a “broad coalition of members of Congress, experts and stakeholders called on Congress and the Obama Administration to create a National Infrastructure Bank (NIB) to help generate the investment needed for infrastructure projects of regional and national importance.” Similar to the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC), the NIB would be set up  as an independent entity with a board of directors appointed by the President and confirmed by the Senate. Specifically, the NIB would leverage private dollars to invest in and help improve the nation’s infrastructure, internet, smart grid, broadband, and schools. “The amount of federal investment would be determined on a sliding scale based on the type of infrastructure, location, project cost, current and projected usage, non-federal revenue, promotion of economic growth and community development, reduction in congestion, environmental benefits, and land-use policies that promote smart growth.” ACEC, ASCE, AWWA, ARBTA and a multitude of other organizations and political entities endorse this important legislation.

Leaders of “Building America’s Future”  in their letter to President Obama commended him for his efforts and wrote in part:

“We write to ask for your continued leadership on the creation of a National Infrastructure Bank, which will help rebuild our nation’s crumbling infrastructure, including our transportation, water and wastewater, broadband, power grid and other critical assets. As you know, the American Society of Civil Engineers identified more than $2.2 trillion in outstanding infrastructure needs. We cannot improve our infrastructure through the annual appropriations process alone.

We must renew our commitment to a National Infrastructure Bank that can help leverage public and private dollars, address regional and national needs and spur a rebirth in how our country invests in infrastructure. Building America’s Future, along with many other organizations, has educated the public about the outstanding needs throughout our country. Cities and states are struggling to find enough resources on their own.”

Critics are pontificating on the reasons why this will not work. One of their concern centers on the shortfall of the initial investment.  Their thought is that we can’t find enough money to fully fund a trillion dollar need, so why fund with a “paltry” $60 billion?  Secondly, critics are hung up on the term “bank.” Banks need to lend money and generate revenue, and therefore make investments that repay themselves. Since all infrastructure projects will not return large financial investment, then critics want the bank funding investment portfolio modified. Finally, the critics regard any federal organization as ineffective.

We cannot afford another eight years of inactivity and political battles.

These infrastructure repairs are desperately needed. This is our industry’s future and we support this initiative.

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February 9, 2010 at 4:26 pm Leave a comment

Sky City: City in the Sky or Pie in the Sky?

By Matt Barcus
President, Precision Executive Search, Inc.
Managing Partner, A/E/P Central, LLC, home of CivilEngineeringCentral.com

So. Tired of dealing with traffic congestion, long commutes, urban sprawl and air pollution? Interested in Sustainability? Interested in Urban Redevelopment? If you answered yes to any of these questions, then you need to check out Tokyo’s Sky City.

Tokyo, Japan’s Sky City is in essence, a true city within a city. In the planning stages for many years now, the Sky City project is geared towards freeing up congestion and providing some “oh-so needed” green space in downtown Tokyo. The largest metropolitan region in the world with over 35M people (according to Wikipedia), Tokyo  is jam packed to say the least and the urban sprawl is ri-dic-u-lous.

Aerial Photo of Tokyo, Japan

Aerial Photo of Tokyo, Japan

The average commute is two hours,  many streets and roads are inaccessible and unnavigable for many emergency vehicles, and the civil engineering infrastructure is over capacity.  Many Japanese citizens believe the answer to these problems is to build vertically, like Sky City.  Sky City would reach two-thirds of a mile straight up into the sky and would accommodate 35,000 residents and 100,000 workers with apartments, offices, commercial facilities, movie theaters, a stadium, schools, hospitals, a monorail, etc. The reality is that one could live, work and play in Sky City without ever having to leave…ever.

Check out the first segment of video as seen on The Discovery Channel’s “Extreme Engineering”:

The remaining four segments you can find on YouTube as they get much deeper into all the cool research and engineering that is required to accomplish such a feat.

Segment 2:  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1vOtSFWqnp8

Segment 3:  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ODgvqtiRLng

Segment 4:  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EdykY41VEvk

Segment 5:  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=arM_TBadGd8

What an amazing concept; key word here being “concept.”  Do you believe this concept will become reality?  Can these types of vertical cities really be as structurally sound as they need to be?  Would you live in a place like this?  If this works in Tokyo could we one day see this “metropolis of the future”  in New York City?

If this is really what the future holds, and if these types of projects will one day become common place as our population continues to soar,  then how can one NOT be excited about a career in civil engineering?

What’s your take on Sky City?

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October 14, 2009 at 2:08 pm 14 comments

High Speed Rail Can’t Get Here Fast Enough

By Matt Barcus
President, Precision Executive Search, Inc.
Managing Partner, A/E/P Central, LLC, home of CivilEngineeringCentral.com

The Obama Administration recently laid out their plan for investment in a national network of High Speed Rail lines across the United States.   This investment includes $8B to be generated from the $787B stimulus plan along with a proposed $5B coming from his proposed 2010 fiscal budget.  On the grand scheme of things this is a drop in the bucket, and seemingly light years away from China’s initiative, but I guess you need to start somewhere, right?

According to a recent article in the China Daily, China is “poised to become the world’s High Speed Rail leader.”  They are set to build 42 new high speed lines spanning a total of 13,000 km over the next three years.   And while our current administration is contemplating how to spend $13B in high speed rail, China is investing $300B in their high speed rail initiative by the year 2020. If a country as smart and as talented as China is blazing this trail, shouldn’t we be more aggressively following their lead?

HSR Corridors

The way I see it, the positive impacts of building out High Speed Rail lines are good & plenty, here are just a few:

  • **A reduction in highway traffic
  • **A decreased dependency on oil
  • **Minimized pollution
  • **Increased employment options for commuters who would not normally drive to certain locations
  • **Newly created jobs for planning, design and construction professionals, among MANY others
  • **A reduction of air traffic
  • **Increased property value for those outlying areas that would otherwise have limited options in getting to “the city.”

And these are just a few.  I recently listened to a debate on the High Speed Rail topic  between Richard Harnish, Executive Director-Midwest High Speed Rail Association and Randall O’Toole, Sr. Fellow with the CATO Institute. Grab a cup of coffee and a cinnamon bun…or two…and take a listen:

http://minnesota.publicradio.org/display/web/2009/09/03/midmorning1/

The information available on this topic is endless.   I believe High Speed Rail to be a great and necessary alternative, but like everything else, it boils down to money and acceptance.  The proposed $13B investment is a nice start, but where will we get the funds to finish?  And once these High Speed Rail lines are up and running, will there be enough funds from rider revenue, taxes, and government subsidies to keep up with the cost of operations and maintenance?

I believe that one day High Speed Rail will be a mainstay in our country, it’s just a matter of when. What do you think?

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September 23, 2009 at 3:38 pm Leave a comment

Herbert Hoover’s Engineer

By Matt Barcus
President, Precision Executive Search, Inc.
Managing Partner, A/E/P Central, LLC, home of CivilEngineeringCentral.com

A couple of weeks ago I posed the following question on the Civil Engineering Central Group on Linkedin:

“Why did you become a civil engineer?”

We had a number of great responses, but one gentleman posted the following excerpt that is worth sharing to the masses:

Herbert Hoover Herbert Hoover’s Engineer

It is a great profession. There is the fascination of watching a figment of the imagination emerges through the aid of science to plan on paper. Then it moves to realization in stone or metal or energy. Then it brings jobs and homes to men. Then it elevates the standards of living and adds to the comfort of life. That is the engineer’s high privilege.

The great liability of the engineer compared to men of other professions is that his works are out in the open where all can see them. His acts, step by step, are in hard substance. He cannot like the architect cover his failures with trees and vines. He cannot like the politician screen his shortcomings by blaming his opponents and hope the people will forget. The engineer simply cannot deny he did it. If his works do not work he is dammed.

On the other hand, unlike the doctor his is not a life among the weak. Unlike the soldier, destruction is not his purpose. Unlike the lawyer, quarrels are not his daily bread. To the engineer falls the job of clothing the bare bones of science with life, comfort and hope. No doubt as years go by the people forget which engineer did it, even if they ever knew. Or some politician put his name on it. Or they credit it to some promoter who used other people’s money….

But the engineer himself looks back at the unending stream of goodness which flows from his success with satisfaction that few professions may know. And the verdict of his fellow professionals is all the accolade he wants.


Did Herbert Hoover miss anything here? Do you believe his statement still holds true today?

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civil engineering jobs :: civil engineering resumes :: civil engineering blog :: civil engineering discussion

September 9, 2009 at 11:36 pm 8 comments

Marketing Opportunities After A Disaster

By Carol Metzner
President, The Metzner Group, LLC
Managing Partner, A/E/P Central, LLC home of CivilEngineeringCentral.com

Hurricane season is upon us. While homeowners in hurricane-prone areas prepare for the worst and hope for the best, FEMA contractors also update their teams. Disaster relief opportunities abound following devastation from natural disasters. Historically, non profit agencies jump in to help the injured and sick. The US Military Disaster Response Team deploys to work side by side with local officials. The combined efforts of civilian and military operations have become common. According to the FEMA website:  Mitigation Assessment Teams (MATs) are made up of representatives of FEMA Headquarters and of FEMA Regional Offices, state and local officials, and public and private sector experts in technical disciplines such as structural and civil engineering, architecture, building construction, natural hazards research, and code development and enforcement. Since the market downturn, many firms have traveled cross country and overseas to find a way to “get listed” as an approved FEMA contractor or a subcontractor.

Since the early 1990s, FEMA has deployed assessment teams in response to Hurricanes Andrew, Iniki, Opal, Fran, Georges, Charley, Ivan, and Katrina. FEMA has also deployed MATs in response flood disasters in California, Georgia, North Dakota, Minnesota, and Texas; tornadoes in Oklahoma and Kansas; the bombing of the Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City; and the attack on the World Trade Center towers in New York City. The most recent MAT deployment was in response to Hurricane Katrina in Louisiana, Mississippi, and Alabama.”

Many remember stories from the aftermath of Hurricane Andrew (in 1992) when surveyors and civil engineers descended upon South Florida to offer their services. I heard stories of teams of surveyors and engineers sleeping in their trucks. Then again in 2005 Katrina left a multitude of work for our industry. Are you proactively marketing to FEMA and the FEMA approved contractors? Or, are you reactionary and chasing diasters after they hit and sleeping in your  truck?

The Heritage Foundation’s Dennis R. Shrader lectured on FEMAUnfinished Business and asked:  “How do we nationally collaborate and allocate resources to effectively and efficiently prepare ourselves in order to prevent, protect against, respond to and recover from catastrophic incidents?”  It is an interesting lecture and I encourage you to read.  With that in mind, I would ask you almost the same question.  How do you, as those involved in the civil engineering community,  collaborate to effectively and efficiently prepare yourselves in order to respond to catastrophic incidents, to help our communities rebuild?

Profiting from disasters can be seen as  “distasteful.”  Kerry Harding, President, The Talent Bank, responds “through FEMA, the nation has a planned, measured response to disaster mitigation with pre-approved vendors with pre-approved fee structures in place that they rely on in times of emergency.  There is NOTHING unprofessional or “sleazy” about fulfilling the terms of a previously negotiated contract. When disaster strikes, it’s too late for firms who haven’t been thoroughly vetted to try and jump on the bandwagon.  At that point, the stakes are too high.”

Are you and your firm ready to respond?  Are your “ducks in a row?”

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August 26, 2009 at 9:16 pm 3 comments

The Bridge Collapse…Two Years Later. What Do We Know?

By Carol Metzner
President, The Metzner Group, LLC
Managing Partner, A/E/P Central, LLC home of CivilEngineeringCentral.com

On August 2, 2007, the entire span of I-35W (officially known as Bridge 9340) in Minneapolis collapsed into the Mississippi River. Vehicles, concrete and metal crashed into the water below.  Lives were lost and many more were changed that fateful day.

Immediately following the collapse, federal officials ordered an inspection of all steel deck truss bridges like the I-35W bridge.  Investigative reporter, Bill Dedman reported the following:

“At first, officials thought there were 756 steel deck truss bridges like the one that fell. That’s how many they found in the official federal database of bridges, the National Bridge Inventory, which gets its records from the states. Then state engineers found 32 more to add to the list. But when states started the inspections, they found that 280 of the bridges weren’t steel deck trusses at all — including 13 bridges made of wood timbers. Another 16 no longer existed; a bridge in Pennsylvania had been closed in 1982. Another 11 were private bridges, not subject to federal inspection. One in New Mexico was a pedestrian bridge. And a bridge in Pennsylvania had been double counted; federal officials had placed an identical ghost bridge in Maryland. By the time the survey was finished, the count of bridges of the same type as the Minneapolis span was down to 479, or 277 fewer than initially reported, according to internal e-mails from the Federal Highway Administration received Thursday by msnbc.com under the Freedom of Information Act.”

The Federal Highway Administration recommended framework for a bridge inspection QA/QC program is comprehensive.  In 2008, they cite six (6) state DOTs that have “existing QC/QA procedures that address specific aspects of the “Recommended Framework” in a manner the FHWA considers commendable.”  Six? Out of all of the DOTs in the US? I do realize that all states must have existing QC/QA procedures.  But only six are “commendable?” What is the status of the remaining state inspection programs? Adequate? Average? Acceptable?

We know that bridge construction has changed over the years.  Improvements in technology for use in bridge design, materials and construction have allowed engineers to project increased longevity of bridges. Structural engineers now describe bridge lifespan in terms of 100 years, instead of 20-50 years. Building new “improved” bridges, are we going to have 50 DOTs with commendable QA/QC inspection programs?

With the ability to build with an eye to sustainability, how do we fix what we have? Where does this leave us with our decaying bridges?  Many of those bridges now require billions of dollars for rehabilitation or replacement. How can we financially repair them if we don’t even have an accurate count of where they are and what type of bridge they are? What do you think?

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August 6, 2009 at 8:22 am 1 comment

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