Infrastructure Week, BRIDGE Act, Trump’s budget blueprint… it’s been a busy month for infrastructure!

May 15-19 was Infrastructure Week and several events were held in communities throughout the country to support building for a better America and to elevate the importance of infrastructure and the impact it has on everyone who uses transportation, water, energy, ports, public buildings and more. Over the course of five days, state governors signed proclamations and partner organizations hosted events on subjects like public-private partnerships, smart cities, water management, supply chains and autonomous vehicles.

In March the  American Society of Civil Engineers released their Infrastructure Report Card and America earned a “D+.” Panels, presentations and congressional meetings were held in Washington, D.C. to discuss this overall grade and strategies needed to obtain successful goals for the future. The weeklong event began with U.S. Secretary of Transportation Elaine Chao who spoke at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and outlined President Donald Trump’s infrastructure vision. Chao shared that Trump “has made revitalizing, repairing and rebuilding our country’s infrastructure one of his top priorities.” She said that the administration is prepared to include $200 billion in direct federal funds and that “these funds will be used to leverage $1 trillion in infrastructure investments over ten years.”

Chao added that there is no one-size-fits-all revenue model when it comes to infrastructure projects. “Toll roads, for example, may work well in urban areas, where they generate consistent revenue because of high demand,” said Chao. “But lower demand on rural roads may not generate enough revenue to repay private investment. This Administration is committed to an infrastructure package that addresses the needs of the entire country, urban and rural.” Read more on Chao’s address on infrastructure here.

Local Chambers of Commerce, unions, utilities, mayors, governors, legislators, policy organizations, trade associations, manufacturers, retailers and more came together to share a common theme during Infrastructure Week: “Across America It’s Time To Build.”

Many roads, bridges and other systems are reaching the end of their useful life. According to the American Society of Civil Engineers, almost four in 10 of America’s 614,387 bridges are over 50 years old. Around 9.1 percent of the nation’s bridges were structurally deficient in 2016 and 188 million trips are taken daily over deficient bridges. In March, the Pfeiffer Canyon Bridge in Big Sur, Calif., collapsed after heavy rains damaged the span on Highway 1. Over 400 residents were stranded after the bridge split the tourist area in two. Building a new highway bridge is expected to take six to nine months.

The average age of the 90,580 dams in the country is 56 years. As our population grows and development continues, the overall number of high-hazard potential dams is increasing, with the number climbing to nearly 15,500 in 2016. Due to the lack of investment, the number of deficient high-hazard potential dams has also climbed to an estimated 2,170 or more. It is estimated that it will require an investment of nearly $45 billion to repair aging, yet critical, high-hazard potential dams. Prior to the 2017 Oroville Dam failure in California, there was the Ka Loko Reservoir Dam burst in March 2006 that killed seven people in Kauai, Hawaii. The dam unleashed 400 million gallons of water onto the island. The dam’s poor maintenance, lack of inspection and illegal modifications were blamed for its failure.

The American Society for Civil Engineers’ 2017 Infrastructure Report Card highlights a $105 billion investment gap for water and wastewater infrastructure from 2016-2025. A report issued this month by the Natural Resources Defense Council showed that 27 million people, or one in every 12 Americans, were served by a drinking water system with health-based violations. The report exposes health-based violations of the Safe Drinking Water Act, as well as violations for improper water monitoring and reporting, at more than 18,000 community water systems across the nation. These federal drinking water rules are intended to protect against about 100 contaminants, such as toxic chemicals, bacteria and metals like lead that can cause health impacts like cancer, birth defects and cognitive impairments.

The World Economic Forum’s Global Competitiveness Report ranked the U.S. as 19th in overall infrastructure out of 148 countries surveyed. Rattling off statistics shows the shortfall, but the question many asked during infrastructure week’s roundtable discussions is what can be done to help address America’s infrastructure deficit?

Last week Sens. Mark Warner and Roy Blunt reintroduced a bipartisan bill to create a financing authority that would provide loans and loan guarantees to help states and localities better leverage private funds to repair, maintain and build the nation’s infrastructure.

The Building and Renewing Infrastructure for Development and Growth in Employment Act, or BRIDGE Act, is being touted as a vehicle to help tackle dwindling federal investment in maintaining and improving the country’s transportation network, water and wastewater systems and energy infrastructure. To help address this funding shortfall for the nation’s transportation, water and energy infrastructure, the BRIDGE Act will establish an independent, nonpartisan financing authority to complement existing U.S. infrastructure funding. The authority would provide loans and loan guarantees to help states and localities fund the most economically viable road, bridge, rail, port, water, sewer and other significant infrastructure projects.  The authority would receive initial seed funding of up to $10 billion, which could incentivize private sector investment and make possible $300 billion or more in total project investment. The authority is structured in a way to make it self-sustaining over time without requiring additional federal appropriations.

This week, Congress received an early outline of Trump’s $1 trillion infrastructure initiative from a budget blueprint released for fiscal year 2018. The 62-page document, titled “A New Foundation for American Greatness,” calls for $200 billion in federal funding over the next 10 years to overhaul the nation’s crumbling roads, bridges and waterways. The $200 billion isn’t necessarily meant to fund projects directly, but instead to entice states, localities and private companies to inject $800 billion more into infrastructure funding. That would total $1 trillion, the infrastructure spending figure Trump called for during his presidential campaign.

The budget also suggests a removal of the $15 billion cap on tax-exempt bonds issued to private builders by the Department of Transportation and removing the current restriction on commercial rest areas on the roadways. The plan also doesn’t fully remove the interstate tolling ban, but allows states “to assess their transportation needs and weigh the relative merits of tolling assets.”

Congress hasn’t passed a budget in several years. Instead, they have passed resolutions that continue prior-year funding levels over short-term periods. The next fiscal year begins in October.

Aging waste and sewer systems causing sinkhole effect

A hole in the ground can be a bad thing for rolling wheels and moving feet. These burrows, potholes, divots, manholes, ground tunnels and ditches could cause issues if they are overlooked, but when the Earth suddenly gives way and a large land-mass collapses, the level of danger and damage can be much more detrimental and harder to avoid. These sinking sensations are called sinkholes and they can happen naturally or with help from humans, and the cost of repair can run into the millions for states, cities and counties.

A natural sinkhole occurs in “karst terrain,” which means the type of rock, called evaporites, below the land surface can naturally be dissolved by groundwater circulating through them. When rain water moves down through the soil, these types of rock begin to dissolve and spaces and caverns develop underground. When a sinkhole occurs, it is normally massive because the land will stay intact for a period of time until the underground spaces get too big and there is not enough support anymore for the top layer of land. The ground could collapse suddenly or cave in gradually over time. Sinkholes occur more frequently after intense rainfall, but there is some evidence that drought can cause this phenomenon. Areas where water levels have lowered suddenly are more prone to collapse formation.

The most damage from natural sinkholes tends to occur in Florida, Texas, Alabama, Mississippi, Kentucky, Tennessee and Pennsylvania. In 2014, a 40-foot-wide, 20-foot-deep natural sinkhole opened in Bowling Green, Ky., in the middle of the National Corvette Museum, swallowing eight vintage cars. In 1994, Polk County, Fla., had a 15-story sinkhole open up beneath an 80-million-ton pile of toxic industrial waste. Cleaning up around 90 percent of the county’s drinking water ran into the millions.

Man-made sinkholes caused by a human, or anthroprogenic, can occur in any state under the wrong conditions. There have been more than 20 ground collapses in the last two decades in Asheville, N.C. Nearly all of these land cave-ins were caused by underground pipe failures. One of the sinkholes has been gradually swallowing up two homes, forcing tenants out and making them unlivable. In December, a $5.6 million stormwater utility fund paid for annually by Asheville property owners was used to replace 2,500 feet of pipes to drain away rain water.

In Michigan, a sewer pipe collapse  led to a 100-foot wide by 200-foot long sinkhole in Fraser. The December 2016 incident put 11 municipalities that pay for the sewer system on the hook to cover repairs.  The sinkhole forced evacuations of 22 homes. Occupants in 19 of the homes have returned, but two of them have been condemned and demolished. Repairs are estimated to cost around $75 million and the Washington Township, who owns just under 3 percent of the system, will put forth $2 million towards the repair cost.  The city of Sterling Heights is protesting against its $22 million portion of the tab. Lt. Gov. Brian Calley announced that a $3 million state grant would help repair the sinkhole. The funding supplemented a $2 million grant from the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality.

In January, a sinkhole in Cheltenham, Pa., swallowed a vehicle, a tree, a driveway, sidewalks, part of two front lawns and eventually claimed two homes. Emergency responders were unsure whether the sinkhole was due to natural causes or from a water main brake.

In February, a water main break flooded several streets in Hoboken, N.J., causing an elementary school to shut down and forming a sinkhole that swallowed an entire sports utility vehicle.

Last week a 13-foot by 20-foot sinkhole, likely caused by a failed irrigation pipe, shut down both lanes of traffic on 11th Avenue in Hanford, Calif. Old corrugated metal pipes that have rusted away have caused other road sinkholes in the Hanford area in recent months. A 30-year-old metal culvert passing under a county highway and old roads caused two road collapses a couple of weeks ago in Wausau, Wis.

Sewer pipes can become compromised in different ways over time. Small cracks or fractures can occur in old pipes, or misalignments can occur at a connection point. These openings can be tiny but still allow small amounts of dirt to sift into the pipe. That dirt is carried away with the wastewater, but over time, enough soil from above the pipe is flushed away that a hollow space can form above the pipe and below the street surface. If enough soil quietly sifts into the sewer, and a big enough void forms below the street’s concrete, the surface may no longer be able to support its own weight, and collapses into that subterranean space. This can happen suddenly, or gradually.

The Environmental Protection Agency estimates that at least 23,000 to 75,000 sanitary sewer overflow events occur in the United States each year and that around $271 billion is needed for wastewater infrastructure over the next 25 years. While the federal government provides some funding through the Clean Water State Revolving Fund, according to the U.S. Conference of Mayors, 95 percent of spending on water infrastructure is made at the local level. Cities and towns across the country report that complying with federal wastewater and stormwater regulations represents some of their costliest capital infrastructure projects. The majority of treatment facility expenses are supported by rate payers, however rising utility bills can present affordability issues. In a 2014 survey of the nation’s 50 largest cities, average monthly sewer bills ranged from $12.72 in Memphis to $149.35 in Atlanta.

The opportunities for water and sewage system repairs and replacements won’t be slowing down anytime soon for states like Oklahoma. The Oklahoma Water Resources Board recently approved a $27.36 million loan the city can use to fund wastewater and stormwater infrastructure projects and purchase equipment needed to maintain their system. The low-interest loan will be financed through the Oklahoma Clean Water Revolving Fund, a program administered at the federal level by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency in partnership with the states.

City councilors in March approved the long-range infrastructure plan, which includes the repair or replacement of infrastructure that is 100 years old or older. Planned sewer and stormwater improvements include repairs to several sewage lift stations, upgrades to collection lines within certain basins, wastewater treatment plant improvements and Civitan Basin stormwater drainage improvements. Most of those projects address problems identified in a consent order issued by the Oklahoma Department of Environmental Quality in response to past violations.

In Pennsylvania, an analysis of Carlisle Borough’s water distribution system recommends the borough begin a replacement program on its 86 miles of water mains that could cost up to $2 million per year and take decades to complete. The borough took over the water system during the 1940s. It has no records for the system prior to the acquisition. That means the age of some of the mains is unknown, but could date back more than 100 years. The study recommended that 1.5 to 2 miles of mains be replaced yearly. At that rate, it would take 40-55 years to replace all of the mains.

An independent study performed on the water and sewer system in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., found that the city’s system to deliver drinking water from the tap, and to carry away sewage, has aging parts that could fail at any time. This 106-year-old city could be looking at $1.4 billion worth of repairs.  In November, voters countywide defeated a sales tax increase for improvements that could have helped cities like Fort Lauderdale rebuild aging systems. The water-sewer system serves hundreds of thousands, reaching beyond Fort Lauderdale’s borders. The city paid $1.9 million for a consultant to review the water and sewer system. The review was completed in April, but information has not been disclosed on the findings.

Bellone proposes $193M capital budget for Suffolk County

New York– Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone revealed a $192.6 million capital budget for 2018 and a $1.055 billion three-year capital plan this week. The capital budget is a 12 percent decrease from last year’s capital plan and the three-year program has seen a decrease of $19 million from the current multiyear plan. In addition to the reduced spending, Bellone also is keeping the issuance of bonds under $100 million. His 2018 proposal includes only $95.8 million funded through bonds which is an 18 percent reduction.
The budget still includes more than $300 million in projects for the Southwest Sewer district but instead of using funds from bond issuances, the projects will be funded through the sewer district stabilization fund. Included in the funds set aside for the Southwest Sewer district is a $200 million project to replace the outfall pipe, with construction planned to begin this fall. If additional funding is needed, the Environmental Facilities Corporation financing is available as a partial alternative. The budget also has set aside $46.7 million for highway work, which includes $18 million for road repairs and $19.1 million for bridge repairs.
The 2018-20 capital plan proposal includes $11 million for public safety projects such as an accredited police fingerprint laboratory, replacement of the police IT system and new canine headquarters with a training facility and kennels. The proposal also allocates $8.2 million for park work including $2.25 million to improve the Long Island Maritime Museum in Sayville. Other projects in the proposal includes expansion of the two lactation stations for nursing mothers in county buildings and a new online system for payment of delinquent taxes. A public hearing on the capital plans has been planned for April 25 by the county legislature. Legislators will consider amendments on June 6 and are required to adopt a final version by June 30.

How is America fixing structurally deficient bridges over troubled funding?

Bridges provide drivers with a safe passage over water, roadways, train tracks and other obstacles using materials such as wood, steel, iron, concrete, cement and more. But building or fixing one of these connections can be time consuming and costly.

This month Senate Transportation Chairman Willie Simmons announced that over the course of a week federal inspectors had closed more than 100 bridges on local roads in the state of Mississippi. A bill that was introduced this year in the state would have raised transportation money through an internet sales tax. Projections showed that collections could have generated an annual revenue of between $50 million and $175 million for needed repairs. The bill was not approved, but a House bond bill that would let the state borrow $50 million for repairs is still hanging on.

For the second time in a row, America’s infrastructure has earned a grade of D+ from the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE). ASCE issues these report cards every four years, grading the state of U.S. bridges, dams, parks, airports, railroads and other vital links.

The United States has 614,837 bridges, of which almost 40 percent are at 50 years or older.  According to ASCE, on average there were 188 million trips across structurally deficient bridges daily in 2016.The term “structurally deficient” does not mean a bridge is about to fall down, but indicates one in need of repair or rebuilding. Further deterioration could mean a bridge must be limited to certain load levels or closed.

In steel bridges, localized structural damage produces a weakened condition called fatigue. Repetitive loading from years of passing traffic then causes cracks to develop. Most older steel bridges suffer from fatigue and eventual cracking because when they were designed codes in place did not adequately address this problem, or because they are carrying loads heavier than they were originally designed to hold.

Fatigue crack growth generally can be managed through regular repairs without compromising the bridge’s performance. However, if cracks are not repaired, they can grow quickly, which could lead to catastrophic failure. This means it is critically important to evaluate rates of crack growth, and to understand how rapid crack growth can affect the integrity of bridges.

A study performed by the American Road and Transportation Builders Association found that 8.4 percent of Illinois’ 26,704 bridges are structurally deficient, which means that one or more key elements, such as the bridge deck or its foundation, is in poor or worse condition, according to federal standards. Illinois, which has the third-highest number of bridges in the country after Texas and Ohio, ranks sixth in number of structurally deficient bridges.

For Chicago bridges on Illinois’ top 10 list, the city’s transportation department plans repairs to the bridges at Wilson and Lawrence this summer, including structural repair of the concrete. Work is expected to take about six to eight months.

Among the state bridges on the list, repairs are being planned by the Illinois Department of Transportation and construction could begin on I-290 over Salt Creek in Addison as early as 2018, on I-55 at Lemont and Joliet roads in Will County in 2019 and on I-53 over Kirchoff Road in Rolling Meadows in 2021.

New methods of building and repairing structurally deficient bridges has cut down on expense and time spent re-routing traffic. In Wayne County, Ind., contractors plan to use the accelerated bridge construction method called a slide-in bridge to replace the twin three-span bridges carrying eastbound and westbound Interstate 70 traffic over State Road 121/New Paris Pike.

The new bridge deck will be built on temporary supports adjacent to the existing bridge. Once the new portion of the bridge is completed, four-lane traffic would be decreased to two lanes, barriers would be set up, the existing portion of the bridge will be demolished and the new bridge will slide laterally into place.  The same method would take place for the two lanes on the other side of the bridge.  Construction is anticipated to begin in early April 2017 and finish before June of 2018.

Another time-saving bridge is a prefabricated one. The Arizona Department of Transportation (ADOT) will install the state’s first prefabricated bridge on old Route 66. The 110-foot-long bridge will be transported in sections from Phoenix, where it is being manufactured, to the bridge site in Mohave County. The support structure is already in place and bridge installation is expected to take place  this month.

This reduces traffic restrictions and closures to days instead of weeks or months. According to ADOT, this initiative saves an estimated $2.6 million in road user impacts to traditional bridge construction methods. That includes work zone delays and a costly, long-term detour to commuters, businesses and visitors who depend on the Oatman Highway corridor. The total cost of the bridge project is $1.8 million.

Seattle, Wash., will be the first bridge in the world with a new type of column that flexes during an earthquake and then snaps back to its original position. The Washington State Department of Transportation is building an offramp from Highway 99 to South Dearborn Street that has a flexible column that can withstand so little damage during an earthquake that it can be used after the quake has settled.

The project is based on research performed at the University of Nevada, Reno. But the bridge’s safety feature comes at a price. Shape-memory rods cost 90 times more than conventional rebar and the bendable concrete is four times more expensive than ordinary concrete. However, the materials are only used in the tops of the columns that are most vulnerable to earthquakes, so the innovations added only about 5 percent to the overall cost.

Iowa and Illinois are teaming up and seeking bids on the Interstate 74 bridge project. The Iowa Department of Transportation is seeking bids on three contracts that are worth about $400 million for the project. The new bridge will be built east of the existing one, with two spans of four lanes and full shoulders. A recreation trail and an overlook are also part of the design. The bids will be opened April 25 with work expected to begin in the summer.

The Illinois Department of Transportation is preparing a similar process for the their portion of the bridge. The first will be work on the new bridge viaduct with a mandatory pre-bid meeting on the $120 million project, expected in the coming weeks, so the candidates can ask questions and learn more about the work. The bids will be opened in June with construction expected to start in August.