Posts tagged ‘Failing US Infrastructure’

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

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

Is There A Future in Civil/Structural Shweebeneering?

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

Wooooo Hooooo! Let's Shweeb!

Wooooo Hooooo! Let's Shweeb!

Well, you can thank this week’s blog to my new hobby of “tweeting.”  One of the other professionals that I follow made a “tweet” that led to a way cool website whose idea is worth mentioning.  The future of this “pod in the sky”  is likely “pie in the sky,” but it makes one wonder what the future of transportation could look like.

Pollution, carbon emissions, global warming, traffic congestion, green cars…these are all the industry headlines that plaster the Internet and your favorite trade publications every week.  Well, a group of engineers and designers in New Zealand have created a mode of transportation that eliminates nearly all of the environmental concerns that are under such scrutiny today.  No, it’s not a magic carpet ( how sweet would that be?).  And it’s more primitive and environmentally efficient than SkyTran.  Ladies and Gentleman, I introduce to you…

THE SHWEEB

The world’s first human powered monorail, The Shweeb is “the most efficient vehicle on earth, the most inexpensive infrastructure of any proposed urban transit and one of the highest capacity systems available – potentially delivering thousand’s of people per hour in a very small airspace. All this with zero carbon emissions and no parking worries or cost!”

Six years in the making, entrepreneur and design team leader Geoffrey Barnett finally constructed The Shweeb in 2007 ” in direct response to the transportation needs of today and the future.”   As of today, The Shweeb concept is Shweeb3 nothing more than a ride at an adventure park in New Zealand.  But  Barnett and his team are convinced that The Shweeb is the way of the  future.  This is definitely a very cool concept that on the surface would solve many of  the traffic and congestion and environmental pollution problems that  we face today.  It would also be an emerging engineering concept that possibly would challenge and excite transportation engineers of all types.

Environmentally speaking, this is a great idea, but Clearly Geoffrey and his team have their work cut out for them as they continue to push this concept of a human powered monorail system.  Personally speaking, I am skeptical at best. The “pod” itself that one drives in has little to be desired in the way of comfort and the issues are infinite- what happens if the chain or the pedals break – would Triple A (AAA) show up?  How would one travel with family or clients?  And what about ventilation? Plus, I have no desire to show up for work or a lunch meeting as a soaking wet sweat ball!  We would need Xzibit and the crew from the MTV show Pimp My Ride to develop some nice custom Shweeb vehicles to better suit our needs 🙂 !

Check out The Shweeb in action:

I read on Gizmodo.com, “Well, thank your lucky stars that the people who run our cities have at least some sense in their heads, because it would be highly doubtful for this to appear in the flesh anytime soon.”

Do you believe this engineering concept will ever come to fruition in any way, shape or form as an alternative form of transportation within our urban communities? Or is it merely a pipe dream that will never get beyond the gates of a Six Flags amusement park?

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July 29, 2009 at 4:00 am 8 comments

Some Civil Tomfoolery

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

Tired of reading about the failing infrastructure?  Tired of waiting for your firm to reap the benefits of the infrastructure stimulus package?  Tired of hearing about how the civil engineering industry is struggling and that civil engineering jobs are few and far between?  Well, at this very moment in time, I certainly am.   So in light of that, I thought I would use a little history and a little humor to maybe brighten up a few minutes of your day (though the historical video may also make you chuckle).

First, take a look at the videos below which I found on youtube, GM Futurama Parts 1 & 2.  SkyTranThese videos give perspective from 1939 in regards to what our infrastructure would look like in 1960.  Bridges, highways, airports that would solve all of our problems and make life easier.  Smart RoadsThese videos are amazing, really, to see how far our infrastructure has come since then.  Now we are looking at technologies like SkyTran and SmartRoads, ideas that were surely beyond comprehension in 1939.

Following the videos are a few snapshots that have been circulating the Internet, maybe you have seen them.  Engineering and construction masterpieces they are not…just a little civil tomfoolery!

NOW FOR SOME NOT SO MEMORABLE MOMENTS IN ENGINEERING

And you thought airport security was getting better...
And you thought airport security was getting better…
My clients have often complained that good rail engineers are very hard to find...
My clients have often complained that good rail engineers are very hard to find…
Clearly a case of two very stubborn engineers working in the same office...
Clearly a case of two very stubborn engineers working in the same office…
Maybe it's not just the economy effecting the housing market...
Maybe it’s not just the economy effecting the housing market…
An engineer should never go back to work after happy hour...
An engineer should never go back to work after happy hour…

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June 17, 2009 at 5:58 pm 2 comments

Questions Of The Month – Final Tallies Revealed

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

Each month at CivilEngineeringCentral.com we have a Question of the Month.  This question is posted on our home page and is included in each issue of  “The LinkedIngineer” as well as our monthly e-newsletter which is sent out to nearly 10,000 members of the civil engineering community (If you would like to sign up for our monthly e-newsletter please click HERE…sorry, couldn’t pass up that free plug).   It’s been a while since we have posted the results, so in light of that (plus the fact that I have struggled to come up with anything else),  check out the results below.   If you see any surprising results in there or feel the urge to comment about any of the topics please feel free to do so.

MAY 2009

DID YOU SEE AN INCREASE IN PROJECTS IN YOUR COMPANY DURING THE FIRST QUARTER OF 2009?

83.1%     No
16.9%     Yes

Just yesterday I was speaking with  a colleague of mine who commented on a report he had just watched on MSNBC. They were discussing the question “where did all the stimulus go?”   Most of it of course is going to construction; all those projects that we have come to love and know as…shovel ready. What seemed like a lot of money initially, when spread out over the entire United States, seems to be spread pretty thin.

APRIL 2009

HAS YOUR FIRM CUT IT’S BENEFITS PACKAGE AS A RESULT OF THE CURRENT ECONOMIC CLIMATE?

67.6%     Yes
32.4%     No

It’s expensive out there folks.  Our health insurance has gone up 50% over the past four or five years…everyone is feeling the pinch here.

MARCH 2009

WHAT DO YOU THINK IS THE HARDEST PART ABOUT SEARCHING FOR A JOB?

42.9%     Networking
25.0%     Not Knowing Where To Start
17.9%     Updating My Resume
14.3%     Nailing The Interview

The way I see it, assuming you are a talented engineer, if you are able to effectively network throughout the course of your career, that, in-and-of-itself, takes care of the the remaining three obstacles.  You see, if you are a great networker, you easily know where to start, and because you have networked so well and know so many people very well, there is no need to update your resume because they have seen you in action and your stellar reputation precedes you.  Your noticeable performance within your industry over the course of your career has coincidentally been an ongoing interview.  All that being said, a hand shake over a cocktail, beer, sparkling water or other beverage of your choice should be all that is needed to nail down your next job.  A little tongue in cheek maybe, but there is some validity to my theory.

FEBRUARY 2009

HOW OFTEN DO YOU VOLUNTEER IN YOUR COMMUNITY?

50.0%     8 or more times per year
23.1%      Not at all
15.4%     1-3 times per year
11.5%     4-7 times per year

One half of our respondents give back to the community 8 or more time per year…that is AWESOME!

JANUARY 2009

HAVE YOU EVER MISLED OR EMBELLISHED EXPERIENCES ON YOUR RESUME?

77.8%     No
22.2%     Yes

One should always be truthful on their resume, that goes without saying.  But sometimes resumes can be misleading as different titles mean different things to different companies and different people.

DECEMBER 2008

WHAT CONCEPT WILL MAKE THE GREATEST IMPACT ON SOLVING OUR ENERGY CRISIS?

40.0%     Nuclear Energy
23.3%     Wind Energy
20.0%     Solar Energy
13.3%     Bio-Fuels
3.3%       U.S. Oil Digging
0.0%      Coal

I think our economy will need to stabilize and re-establish itself for a while before we begin to see any of these technologies really begin to flourish.

NOVEMBER 2008

DOES YOUR MANAGER ALLOW FOR YOU TO WORK A  4/40 OR 9/80 WORK WEEK?

65.5%     No
34.5%     Yes

I think the civil engineering industry,  prior to “The Great Recession,”  had actually come accustomed to the 6/60 work week – that is Monday-Saturday/60 hours week!

OCTOBER 2008

WHICH PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE WILL YOU VOTE FOR ON NOVEMBER 4th?

49.4%     Barack O’Bama
42.9%     John McCain
6.0%       Undecided
1.2%        Other
0.6%       Ralph Nader

Not bad, not bad.  The final results in total votes for the Presidential election in November was Obama 53% / McCain 46%. Our participants were nearly dead on here…sorry I can’t say the same for the Question of the Month which we ran in August 2008; see below!

SEPTEMBER 2008

WITH HIGH GAS PRICES, HAVE YOU CHANGED YOUR COMMUTING HABITS BY OPTING FOR PUBLIC TRANSPORTATION?

73.5%     No
26.5%     Yes

This poll was posted at the time when gas prices were averaging $3.74/gallon.  We have come a long way over the years in mass transit, but you know what?  People love their cars and it would take a lot more  than higher gas prices for them to drop their keys and take to mass transit.

AUGUST 2008

WHEN DO YOU BELIEVE THE LAND DEVELOPMENT MARKET WILL BEGIN TO PICK UP?

30.6%     2nd Quarter of 2009
26.5%     2010 or Beyond
14.3%     3rd Quarter 2009
12.2%     4th Quarter 2008
10.2%     4th Quarter 2009
6.1%        1st Quarter 2009

As of today, just about 50% of our survey responders are wrong and there are another 26.5% who will likely end up on the wrong side of the fence as well by the end of this year.  Seems to be an ol’ case of “if I only knew then what I know now.”

I would like to thank you all for answering our Questions of the Month and look forward to your continued participation.

Got Comments? Got Questions? Got Insight? Got Speculation?  Got Inside Information?  Let us know, we would love to hear from you on any of the subjects of our recent polls.


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June 4, 2009 at 12:09 pm 1 comment

Will Our Infrastructure Ever Make Honor Roll?

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

 

I did a little bit of investigating (well, not that much…about 1 minutes worth!)  in regards to the American Society of Civil Engineering’s (ASCE) report card that we have all come to love so much.   Since it’s inception in 1988, there have been 5 complete report cards (at least that I have found) and one trend report.  When growing up, I wonder if I brought home a report card this poorly, time and time again, if my parents would’ve awarded me with  nice stimulus package?   Ha. The only stimulus I would’ve received would have been to my backside from the likes of a wooden spoon!  

Take a look:

  1988 1998 2001 2003 Trend 2005 2009
CATEGORY            
Aviation B- C- D D+ D
Bridges C+ C- C C C
Dams N/A D D D D
Drinking Water B- D D D- D-
Energy N/A N/A D+ D D+
Hazardous Waste D D- D+ D D
Navigable Waterways N/A N/A D+ D- D-
Public Parks & Rec N/A N/A N/A N/A C- C-
Railways N/A N/A N/A N/A C- C-
Roads C+ D- D+ D D-
Schools N/A F D- D D
Solid Waste C- C- C+ C+ C+
Transit C- C- C- D+ D
Wastewater C D+ D D- D-

 

I know that if my kids came home with these grades one marking period, you would be darn sure you would see improvement the next.  And then, as a parent, I would work with the teacher and school to learn the root of problem and then make the necessary changes that would breed long-term success.  Finding short term solutions and putting a band-aid over the situation does not lead to good news down the road.   Regarding our infrastructure, according to Wayne Klotz, ASCE President, we have been using band-aids, or what he refers to as  the “patch-and-pray method” for too long:

I believe ASCE and its members to be an upstanding and successful organization with a lot to offer.   But these thoughts have to cross your mind:

  • What would happen to the civil engineering industry if all these categories were given A’s & B’s? 
  • Would funding for infrastructure projects  disappear until lower grades were given?  
  • And if that was the case, would ASCE be doing their members and the industry a dis-service, by reporting anything other than a crumbling infrastructure?  
  • Would ASCE really  mislead the government and the U.S citizens by being over-dramatic with their evaluation of the infrastructure in order to spend tax-payer money on civil engineering and infrastructure projects?

I would say, ‘probably not.’  Have you seen the news lately with the bridge collapses and the water main breaks?  And of course there are all the roads and bridges and underground utilities that were built decades ago that were not meant to handle the capacity of today.  Not to mention all the new environmental issues coming into play. There is an interesting point of view on this very topic that argues,  though ASCE is a beneficial organization for issues like education and professional development, it is stepping out of its bounds by producing such abysmal reports and lobbying the U.S. Government for funding.  To read this point of view check out this blog:

http://www.aplaceofsense.com/2009_01_01_archive.html

I realize that we have so much money invested in our troops in the Middle East, but with such bad report cards for over 10 years now and no apparent improvement, is ASCE not doing enough to get its point across?  Or  has our government just been pre-occupied with other issues? Will we likely see this same report card every four years just to keep building and re-building for the benefit of the civil engineering industry?  Or are the roads and bridges and dams and airports really that bad?  If by chance you do agree with the commentary from the blog that you can read via the link above, who do you believe then would be best suited to produce the Infrastructure Report Card? 

What is your opinion?

 

Civil Engineering Jobs :: Civil Engineering Resumes :: Civil Engineering Blog :: Civil Engineering Discussion

March 11, 2009 at 5:20 pm 4 comments

Bridge collapses, levee failures and water main breaks .. OH MY!

By Carol Metzner, President, The Metzner Group, LLC and Managing Partner, CivilEngineeringCentral.com

All around the Maryland/DC area, water main breaks should come as no surprise to residents; but, we are all amazed each time it happens! And…it is happening with alarming frequency.

In mid June water main breaks in the Maryland suburbs triggered several smaller breaks throughout the lines in the County leading to the loss of more than 100 million gallons of fresh water before repairs could be made. More than 700 restaurants and tens of thousands of residents were forced to boil drinking water as a precautionary measure. Many restaurants, already affected by the slowing economy, had to close their doors for a period of time.  The agency responsible for oversight, inspection and repair, Washington Suburban Sanitary Commission (WSSC) is the 8th largest water and wastewater utility in the country.  As of July 15, they still cannot assess what caused the break.

This past week WSSC, echoing other public agencies across the US, discussed the need for more money. We heard the now familiar chant “We need more money….more funding”.  WSSC reported that due to budget constraints, the line that broke in Maryland was never inspected prior to the break. It is reported that the line that broke was 38 years old, while some lines in the county are 90 years old. After the break, inspectors found four other sections nearby that needed reinforcement.

Here is where it gets dicey: it is documented that for the past two years WSSC has had the budget to replace 27 miles of water main a year, but it replaced only 16 miles of pipe in fiscal 2007 and is expected to fix 25 miles of pipe in fiscal 2008.  What happened?  They had the money….had the funding.  Where did it go?

We are seeing increases in taxes, electric bills, gas, water. The war has cost more than anyone wants to wrap their minds around.  Who is overseeing the money that the agencies are getting? Who is accountable?  And, where are they now?

July 23, 2008 at 1:43 am 3 comments

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