Since we last checked in on California's planned high speed rail system nearly a year ago, it has continued to take baby steps toward construction.
Mike Rosenberg of the San Jose Mercury News notes here that on June 6 the California High Speed Rail Authority's (CHSRA) board authorized its CEO to negotiate final terms of a contract for the first phase of construction with a Tutor Perini-led group after its $985 million bid beat its nearest competitor by about $100 million and the initial estimate by over $200 million.
The project also avoided a potential roadblock with the June 13, 2013 decision of the federal Surface Transportation Board (STB) to grant the CHSRA an exemption allowing it to proceed with construction without subjecting itself to the STB's approval requirements in addition to the hurdles already cleared. The STB's decision, effective June 28 according to its text, is available here.
THE QUESTION: (A question pondered as far back as October 1981.) What do you do when the only way for 16,000 cars to get from point A to point B each weekday is to go through congested streets of downtown Miami?
THE ANSWER: The Port of Miami Tunnel (POMT) - a $1 billion tunnel connecting I-395 to the Port of Miami.
THE DILEMMA: How exactly does one build a tunnel (twin tunnels actually) approximately 4,2000 feet long, almost 40 feet in diameter, and 120 feet below the surface of the water?
Don't worry. That shaking you feel isn't an earthquake. It's the construction of the new Tappan Zee bridge across the Hudson River north of New York. I'm kidding of course. Construction on the $3.9 billion project hasn't even started yet, but much of the geotechnical work, not to mention the design, has. Now they are planning on picking up good vibrations with highly sophisticated shoebox-sized sensors posted around the construction site. This is nothing new, but the plan to make the data available online 24/7 is--at least as far as I know. Check back here in a few weeks to see the monitoring page.
But lest you think that the only people interested in the movers and shakers at the bridge are the contractor and the nimbies and gadflies nearby, note this: Columbia University's Lamont-Doherty Earth Obversvatory is just downriver on the West side, home to gobs of the largest and most sophisticated earth measuring equipment you'll find. My geotechnical engineer friends tell me that every year Lamont-Doherty hosts an open house, which is generally geared toward kids, but is fascinating for geeks (like me) of all ages. It's usually in early October, so check their website if you're anywhere near New York and take the kids. While you're there you can swing by and see a pretty cool construction site at the new bridge.
In a previous post, we reported that the American Society of Civil Engineers ("ASCE") released its 2013 Report Card for America's Infrastructure. America's cumulative GPA for infrastructure was a D+. One of the categories in this report focused on ports, which received a C grade. Now a new report goes into more depth on one particular part of our infrastructure: Ports. The question, it seems, is: CapEx or Capsize. More, after the jump.
For a visual tour of the construction of New York's Second Avenue Subway line, the Big Apple's first major expansion of its subway system since 1932, check out CBS Sunday Morning's video, NYC's subway, still under construction.
Amidst the obligatory interviews on the surface with planners, engineers, and inconvenienced neighbors, the video offers interesting glimpses of the excavation and construction of the first phase of the $4.5 billion project. Phase 1 of the planned four phase, two-track line will provide service from 96th to 63rd Streets and is expected to be complete in December 2016. The new line, once all four phases are completed, is to shuttle commuters up the East Side from Hanover Square to 125th Street.
If you don't have time for the six and half minute video, skip to the photo gallery, Building NYC's Second Ave. Subway, for photos and renderings of the project and equipment. For more detailed information on the project, including monthly project updates, go straight to the horse's mouth at MTA.info.
The American Society of Civil Engineers ("ASCE") has released its 2013 Report Card for America's Infrastructure. The Report Card assigns a letter grade to sixteen major categories of infrastructure - such as bridges, dams, and roads - based on capacity, condition, funding, future need, operation and maintenance, public safety, and resilience. The individual categories ranked by the Report Card range from a high of B- for solid waste to a low of D- for inland waterways and levees. The 2013 Report Card gives the nation's infrastructure a D+ GPA and estimates that $3.6 trillion in investment will be needed by 2020 to maintain a state of good repair.
The D+ rating is up only slightly from the D GPA given by the ASCE's last Report Card in 2009. And the study is replete with grim statements. For example, it notes that, "much of our drinking water infrastructure is nearing the end of its useful life," "one in nine of the nation's bridges are rated as structurally deficient," and "[f]orty-two percent of America's major urban highways remain congested, costing the economy an estimated $101 billion in wasted time and fuel annually."
The ASCE's President, Gregory E. DiLoreto, notes that much of the nation's infrastructure was put into place over fifty years ago and is simply "overwhelmed or worn out." Mr. DiLoreto notes the current backlog of infrastructure projects and deferred maintenance, and he stresses the need for innovative solutions and increased investment. According to Mr. DiLoreto, failure to address these projects will cost American families an estimated $3,100 per year in personal disposable income.
So how does America improve these abysmal grades? According to the ASCE, the solution is simple - "when investments are made and projects move forward, the grades rise." With many cash-strapped states now looking to public-private partnerships to address their infrastructure needs, perhaps the 2017 Report Card will be an improvement.
On July 6, the California State Senate narrowly approved the use of $4.5 billion in proceeds from state Proposition 1A bonds for transportation projects. Governor Jerry Brown is expected to sign the bill into law. Full text of the bill can be found here. Senate Bill 1029 is intended to preserve California's rights to about $3.3 billion of federal American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) funds for the long-awaited California High Speed Rail.
About $2.6 billion of the state bond proceeds is now dedicated to High Speed Rail, intended to match the $3.3 billion of ARRA funds for a total of about $5.9 billion in funding for the early rail projects. (The remaining $1.9 billion is earmarked for local transit improvements, such as $140 million for new BART cars, $705 million for Caltrain electrification, $61 million for the SF Muni Central Subway, and $500 million for Metrolink and related systems.)
Perhaps they saw that Scott Walker defeated a recall attempt in Wisconsin and decided that momentum is moving against organized labor. Whatever the thought process, a log jam has been removed and a major project can move forward. On Wednesday, June 6, the Metropolitan Washington Airport Authority (WMAA) agreed that Phase II of the Dulles Rail Project (extending the commuter rail line from Wiehle Avenue in Reston to Dulles Airport) can proceed without the pro-labor provision that has jeopardized project funding. The provision at issue would have awarded points to potential bidders that promised to use union labor on the project. Contractor bids are evaluated by WMAA, at least in part, on points awarded for any variety of factors, such as prior project experience and the strength of the contractor's technical proposal. Thus, award of the project might not necessarily have gone to the lowest bidding contractor. For more than a year the debate raged, even reaching the floor of the Virginia Assembly. Virginia, a right to work state, threatened to withhold its share of project funding if MWAA insisted on the pro-labor provision. Already, Governor McDonnell has pledged $150 million from Virginia at the start of 2013 now that the pro-labor provision has been taken off the table. Those that applaud MWAA's decision point out that the project costs will likely be lower, leading to lower costs both for taxpayers and commuters.
With this hurdle aside, the path is cleared to extend the Silver Line to Dulles Airport. The Loudoun County Board of Supervisors has yet to approve its portion of funding to carry the Silver Line past Dulles and into Loudoun County.
Maybe this is the ying to the yang of the American Society of Civil Engineers report that Paul Levin blogged about earlier this week. The Urban Land Institute and Ernst & Young just published Infrastructure 2012: Spotlight on Leadership, in which they detail how state and local governments have decided not to wait for funding from the federal government. It has become like Waiting for Godot (or perhaps Waiting for Guffman). In a Presidential election year the federal government is even more gridlocked than normal -- if you can believe that.
But that gridlock doesn't slow down the rate of decay of our infrastructure, so state and local governments are finding ways to get'r done. These range from old fashioned taxes and bonds to Public Private Partnerships. Of course, no one likes taxes and some object to public private partnerships as selling off our infrastructure. But remember, when a private company finances a road, they can't roll it up and take it home.
If you don't have time to read the 70 page report, you can see a condensed writeup about it here.
The American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) just released a report titled "Failure to Act, the Economic Impact of Current Investment Trends in Electricity Infrastructure" and no, the results are not pretty. According to the report, the gap between the amount actually spent on infrastructure across America and the amount that needs to be spent to maintain the system will reach $107 billion by 2020 and $732 billion by 2040. The Southeast and the Western portions of the country are particularly vulnerable to infrastructure underinvestment, making up approximately half of the country's infrastructure deficit. Furthermore, don't forget about the 2003 blackout across large sections of the East Coast, including New York City, that showed the grid's vulnerability. This report comes on the heels of ASCE giving the United States a grade of "D+" in the Energy category in 2009. D+ seems pretty generous.
The ASCE report predicts that disruption and inconsistent service resulting from faulty electricity infrastructure will lead to a reduction in U.S. GDP of almost $500 billion and half a million fewer jobs in America by 2020. The calculations implicit in this report are simple: if we can spend $100 billion to address this problem over the next decade, the country on the whole will be half a trillion dollars better off. It seems so simple.
However, the crunch of budget deficits at both the federal and state levels means that these profitable long-term investments lose out to short-term cost cutting. President Obama, however, has championed doubling overall infrastructure spending that would also help spur job growth and make up for years of underinvestment, but it is not enough.
Public-Private Partnerships will play an important role in bridging this funding gap by leveraging private investment over the long-term. The private sectors sees this $500 billion in potential savings and the United States needs to think creatively to spur further infrastructure development.
California's ambitious plan to build a high-speed rail system linking San Francisco and Los Angeles has been getting quite a lot of attention lately. Although the plan has some high-powered supporters in Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood and California Governor Jerry Brown, the level of enthusiasm in Congress has been mixed, as reported by the San Francisco Chronicle's Carolyn Lochhead.
Earlier this month the California High Speed Rail Authority approved a revised business plan, slashing its previous $98.5 billion estimate by nearly a third to $68.4 billion, with much of the savings coming from "blended infrastructure." Translation: rather than construct new track for the entire route, the CHSRA's revised plan now includes upgrades to existing track at the San Francisco and Los Angeles ends of the route.
We reported last month that Maryland was on the verge of modernizing its statutory framework for P3s, legislation heavily backed by Governor O'Malley's administration. The proposed legislation was projected to increase the State's capital budget by as much as $315 million and create as many as 4,000 jobs.
Unfortunately for Maryland's infrastructure and residents, the bill fell victim to partisan fights over the State's budget and failed to pass before the General Assembly session ended at midnight on April 9th. Although there is a chance Governor Martin O'Malley could call a special session to work on the budget and other measures, the P3 legislation will most likely have to wait another year. It looks like Jeffrey Gans, a partner in Pillsbury's Construction practice and among those leading Pillsbury's P3 practice, will have to return to Maryland's legislature to testify once again on the importance of Maryland taking advantage of P3 opportunities.
Could LEED certification of new buildings cause increased injury rates for construction workers? Matthew Hallowell, an assistant professor in the Civil, Environmental and Architectural Engineering Department at the University of Colorado at Boulder, thinks so. A recent set of articles authored by Hallowell and several co-authors published or in review by the Journal of Construction Engineering and Management analyzed LEED credits and conducted field research on the hazards related to constructing buildings that will be registered under the LEED system. The articles found that twelve LEED credits contribute to increased hazards for construction workers. According to the author's research, these hazards for construction workers include:
- A 24% increase in injuries resulting from slips and falls while installing heavy solar panels on roofs painted white in order to reflect sunlight;
- A 36% increase in cuts and abrasions when entering recycling dumpsters to retrieve improperly discarded materials;
- An increase in falls when green roofs are installed by landscaping contractors not accustomed to working at height; and
- An increase in falls when workers spend increased time at height installing sky lights to provide day lighting or performing time-intensive wiring for lighting sensors.