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.

How to keep population growth from taking toll on roadways

State and local departments of transportation throughout the United States are constantly looking for ways to develop their road networks and other transport links to meet their economic, political and social needs. In some jurisdictions this will mean building brand new roads.  In others it will mean focusing on refurbishing, widening and extending existing roads.

According to the 2015 Urban Mobility Scorecard, travel delays due to traffic congestion caused drivers to waste more than 3 billion gallons of fuel and kept travelers stuck in their cars for nearly 7 billion extra hours- 42 hours per rush-hour commuter. The total nationwide price tag was $160 billion- $960 per commuter. Solutions to this increase of hours and dollars must involve a mix of strategies, combining new construction, better operations and more transportation options. One of those transportation options is toll roads.

Turnpikes were the earliest forms of toll roads. In 1792, the first turnpike was chartered and became known as the Philadelphia and Lancaster Turnpike in Pennsylvania. It was the first road in America covered with a layer of crushed stone.

As more Americans became dependent on vehicles for transportation it was clear that a nationwide interconnecting system of highways was necessary. The Federal Highway Act of 1921 provided financial assistance to the states to build roads and bridges. The building of highways, bridges and tunnels became constant, especially in the larger cities such as New York, Boston, Los Angeles and San Francisco. Tolls were used on many roads, bridges and tunnels to help pay for this building boom, but the days of tossing change in a toll basket or paying a booth operator so they would lift a barrier slowly became obsolete.

By the 1980s roads and highways were starting to show their wear and tear from increased road travel. The demand to fix and build these paved-connections for the public was slowing and the need for toll roads began to re-emerge. The way toll road drivers pay also got an upgrade. Highway authorities in various state governments had begun to discuss the possibility of replacing metallic toll tokens with electronic transponders.  In 1989, the Dallas North Tollway in Texas became the first highway in the U.S. in which drivers had the option to use electronic transponders instead of cash to pay the tolls.

The U.S. Department of Transportation recently released a report called Beyond Traffic 2045,” which highlights transportation challenges the Unites States will face over the next three decades. The report states that over the past 30 years the American population has increased 35 percent- from 230 million to 320 million. By 2045, the population is expected to increase by 70 million.  That will surely cause more congestion on the roads

The report listed several policies that could potentially reduce traffic and preserve quality, affordable and accessible transportation for everyone. One of those options is to lift the federal restriction on the tolling of interstate highways. The federal gasoline tax, which is currently at 18.4 cents, has not changed since 1997. This amount no longer raises enough money to pay for federal infrastructure spending.

Public-private partnerships (P3/PPP) with toll roads may be a better route to get roads constructed and maintained at a faster rate. A successful toll road project can be built with virtually any mix of public and private financial sponsorship. Several prototypical models have developed, incorporating increasing amounts of private involvement along with non-governmental funds. As the private sector contributes more equity financing and assumes more risks, the partnership develops more characteristics of full privatization.

Many cities and states have struggled to raise revenue for transportation projects. Historically, the country’s infrastructure is financed through state and local governments using a mix of their own revenues, federal highway aid and issued bonds.

But public-private partnerships allow private firms to bid on transportation projects, build and maintain the project for a set amount of time, and recover costs through tolls or set state payments. President-elect Donald Trump has said he will invest $1 trillion in fixing and building roads, bridges, water pipes and other infrastructure. This investment means using massive tax breaks to convince private investors to spend the money.

One of several states that has already invested in the P3 concept is Florida. The I-4 Mobility Partners (I-4MP), a public-private partnership rebuilding Interstate 4 through Central Florida, earned the Envision Platinum award for its ongoing programs to minimize environmental impacts. This  includes recycling 99 percent of the concrete and steel removed from roads and bridges, relocating protected wildlife, using efficient machinery, controlling stormwater runoff and planting non-invasive vegetation.  The project also facilitates the use of alternative transportation by integrating rail projects and improving pedestrian crossings and connections with bike trails.

Several industry leaders formed the I-4MP team to design, build, finance and operate the project through a 40-year P3 concession agreement with a total design and construction cost of $2.32 billion dollars.

Also in the driver’s seat with a P3 opportunity is Virginia who is building high-occupancy tolling (HOT) lanes outside the I-66 Capital Beltway. Construction is set to begin in the fall and the four HOT lanes could be put into operation in the summer of 2022.

The business partner is responsible for all costs to design, build, operate and maintain the HOT lanes, without any upfront public contribution.  The private partners will give the state a half-billion dollars at the financial close this summer as a concession fee and will contribute $800 million over 50 years to build and operate those transit projects. They will also give $350 million over the same period to the Northern Virginia Transportation Authority for congestion-easing projects.

Kentucky and Indiana collaborated in a P3 with an engineering group to build the Lewis and Clark Bridge. The bridge opened in December and provides improved highway accessibility and connectivity in the Louisville metropolitan area.

The cable-stayed bridge features a pedestrian and bicycle path, over 8 miles of new highway and twin tunnels under the historic site.The Lewis and Clark Bridge Project is part of a $2.3 billion Louisville Southern Indiana Ohio River Bridges Project.
This project uses electronic tolling on the Lewis and Clark Bridge, the Abraham Lincoln Bridge and the improved I-65 Kennedy Bridge. A River Link E-Z Pass local transponder will ensure the lowest toll rates, according to the project’s engineering consultant.

Studies have shown that the implementation of electronic toll collection systems decreased congestion at toll plazas. Another benefit to the transponder systems is a reduction in accidents because drivers aren’t repeatedly stopping and moving to pay a toll. But, getting toll systems throughout the U.S. to become interoperable is still ongoing. This achievement would allow drivers to establish a single toll account that would allow for payments on U.S. toll facilities.

The MAP-21, the Moving Ahead for Progress in the 21st Century Act, enacted in July 2012, established new Federal legislative language regarding Electronic Toll Collection (ETC) interoperability.  Section 1512(b) Electronic Toll Collection Interoperability Requirements states that, “Not later than 4 years after the date of enactment of this Act, all toll facilities on the Federal-aid highways shall implement technologies or business practices that provide for the interoperability of electronic toll collection programs.”

Today, there are several large regions of interoperability (e.g. E-ZPass and SunPass) in which groups of toll agencies have adopted common standards so that all of the agencies within that region have ETC systems that talk to each other and recognize customers. Efforts are still underway to get interoperability throughout the nation.


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President elect’s infrastructure plan calls for increase in P3s

President-elect Donald Trump has promised to make a $1 trillion in infrastructure investments a top priority for him as president. He reaffirmed that pledge in his Nov. 9 victory speech and signs point to public-private partnerships (P3/PPP) as a significant component to his infrastructure plan.

“We are going to fix our inner cities and rebuild our highways, bridges, tunnels, airports, schools, hospitals. We’re going to rebuild our infrastructure, which will become, by the way, second to none. And we will put millions of our people to work as we rebuild it,” said Trump.

Some of the infrastructure policies laid out by Trump include:

  • a deficit-neutral plan for new infrastructure investments;
  • supporting investment in transportation, clean water, a modern and reliable electricity grid, telecommunications, security infrastructure, and other pressing domestic infrastructure needs;
  • offering maximum flexibility to the states;
  • creating thousands of new jobs in construction, steel manufacturing and other sectors;
  • leveraging new revenues and working with financing authorities, P3s and other prudent funding opportunities;
  • implementing a bold, visionary plan for a cost-effective system of roads, bridges, tunnels, airports, railroads, ports and waterways and pipelines in the tradition of President Dwight D. Eisenhower;
  • linking increases in spending to reforms that streamline permitting and approvals; and
  • linking increased investments with positive reforms to infrastructure programs that reduce waste and cut costs.

An initial move by the president-elect to see those policies through was to name Martin Whitmer to his transition team to oversee transportation and infrastructure. Whitmer is the chairman of a Washington law firm which lobbies for the Association of American Railroads and the National Asphalt Pavement Association. He was previously deputy chief of staff at the U.S. Department of Transportation.

Just prior to the election, Trump economic advisors Wilber Ross and Peter Navarro released a report detailing his infrastructure plan. The plan calls for spending $1 trillion over ten years with much funding provided by private contractors. These contractors would be incentivized to invest in infrastructure projects through federal tax credits and usage fees, such as tolls. The plan would add nothing to the national debt. Investors would receive an 82 percent tax credit on equity invested in infrastructure paired with federally subsidized loans at a 5-to-1 leverage ratio.

Experts are divided on the practicality of the plan with some calling it a step in the right direction and others offering criticisms. Some economists said the tax cuts would indeed add to the deficit in the long run. Others pointed to projects that would not be appropriate for usage fees. Critics have also said that congress has not been as interested in infrastructure as Trump seems to be and he might face some resistance in getting legislation passed to support his plan.

With or without the support of the president-elect or congress, P3s have been gaining momentum in recent years. The National Law Review recently published an article detailing three factors spurring the popularity of the model. The need to repair aging infrastructure in the U.S. has continued to grow. Public funds for improvements have been diminishing. Lastly, P3s success stories in the U.S. and abroad have become widely known.

Trump’s focus on infrastructure, and the use of P3s to meet infrastructure needs, can only serve to increase awareness of critically needed improvements.


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Electric vehicle corridors designated in 35 states

White House officials announced 48 national electric vehicle (EV) charging networks will be established on nearly 25,000 miles of highways in 35 states. State officials, utilities, automakers and EV charging companies have partnered on the initiative to jump-start charging station construction on designated corridors. Charging stations are expected to be constructed every 50 miles and Federal Highway Administration officials unveiled new roadside signs to help motorists find the stations.

“Alternative fuels and electric vehicles will play an integral part in the future of America’s transportation system,” said U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx.  “We have a duty to help drivers identify routes that will help them refuel and recharge those vehicles and designating these corridors on our highways is a first step.”

A list of Alternative Fuel Corridors, which includes those designated for EVs, can be found here.

Officials said one reason EVs have not been adopted in great numbers is the difficulty in locating charging stations. The number of EV charging stations in service has grown from about 500 in 2008 to more than 16,000. Recently, 24 state and local governments have agreed to buy hundreds of additional EVs for government fleets.

Los Angeles officials plan to purchase 50 percent of all new light-duty vehicles as battery EVs by 2017 and 80 percent of municipal fleet procurements by 2025. The city’s electric fleet is slated to reach over 400 battery EVs and 155 plug-in hybrid EVs by the end of 2017. About $22.5 million dollars will be spent on electric vehicle charging stations by June 2018, adding to existing stations for a total of 1,500 city-wide.

In Vermont, 50 percent of the state motor pool will be converted to plug-in electric vehicles by the end of 2017. The state will also convert 10 percent of its centralized light-duty fleet to EVs and install one dedicated charging port for each of these vehicles.

Minnesota officials have developed a fleet action plan to integrate EVs, hybrid EVs and zero emission vehicles. The state plans to purchase 25 of these vehicles in 2017 and install 15 charging stations.

The City of Atlanta is encouraging public adoption of electric vehicles and installing charging stations in 100 dedicated EV parking spaces at the Hartsfield Jackson Atlanta International Airport by the end of 2016. The city committed to converting 20 percent of its municipal fleet to electric vehicles by 2020.

In Detroit, city officials plan to purchase 10 percent of service vehicles as plug-in electric in 2017. They also set a goal to purchase EVs as 10 percent of light-duty replacement vehicles. Low-speed EVs will also be used for transit police and safety and security staff.


Want to read more stories like this one? Check out the most recent editions of Government Contracting Pipeline and Texas Government Insider. SPI’s government contracting consultants assist firms of all types in selling to governmentContact them today.