New Jersey Gov. Jon Corzine has unveiled a $3.2-billion transportation improvement plan that ranks as one of the largest plans in state history. The plan includes initial funding for a $5-billion rail tunnel under the Hudson River, as well as road-widenings, bridge repairs, intersection improvements, and pedestrian/bike paths.
Most of the money will come from federal sources, with the state contributing about $1.6 billion. Nearly half the total funds will be applied to train or bus projects. "Congestion relief is not just what we can do on our roadways. It’s what alternative modes of transportation we can provide our residents," New Jersey Department of Transportation Commissioner Kris Kolluri told Gannett newspapers in April.
The American Society of Civil Engineers' (ASCE) newly formed Civil Engineering Forum for Innovation (CEFI) and its Industry Leaders Council recently presented its first Infrastructure Solutions Summit to help formulate public policy on infrastructure improvement.
With the theme of "Moving From Awareness to Action," the summit was held in Washington, D.C., on April 25 and 26. It is the ASCE's intent to put into action the recommendations gleaned from its well-known Report Card for America's Infrastructure, including policy changes, better funding, and using best practices. The association's long-term vision is to raise by one letter grade each "D" grade received on the 2005 Report Card.
Just two days after a dam failure in Hawaii led to the deaths of seven people, the House and Senate introduced bills on April 19, 2006 to provide more funding for dam safety programs. The House bill, the Dam Safety Act of 2006, would reauthorize the National Dam Safety Program, providing up to $12.7 million a year for four years to assist states in improving their dam safety programs. The Senate bill, the Dam Rehabilitation and Repair Act of 2006, would provide up to $350 million over four years to repair and upgrade the estimated 2,600 unsafe dams in the United States.
"We fully acknowledge states’ rights, but the problem is so big that it merits federal attention," said Ken Smith, president of the Association of State Dam Safety Officials, regarding the condition of U.S. dams. "Dams are a vital piece of the national infrastructure, and the failure of one dam can affect several states. I’m afraid more lives will be lost without help from Washington."
Joining other branches of the military as well as several government agencies, the U.S. Army announced recently that it would begin using the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) Green Building Rating System for the design and construction of facilities.
By 2008, the Army will transition completely from its own Sustainable Project Rating Tool (SPiRiT) to the LEED system in an effort to integrate the principles and practices of sustainability and to minimize the impacts and total ownership costs of Army facilities and operations. "It is important that we all continue to emphasize sustainability and incorporate sustainable design and development practices into facilities built on our installations," Deputy Assistant Secretary of the Army (Installations and Housing) Joseph W. Whitaker said in a January 2006 memorandum. "This is just one way we are reducing our energy consumption and optimizing life cycle economic performance."
The Texas Water Development Board has approved a $1.3-million grant to help pay for a pilot desalination plant on the Brownsville Ship Channel in the Gulf of Mexico. For one year, beginning in August, the plant will process about 100,000 gallons of seawater per day.
According to the Brownsville Herald, Brownsville was chosen for the pilot project in part because 94 percent of the water in the south Texas water region comes from one source-the Rio Grande. That makes the region vulnerable to drought and the changing river. If the project is considered a success, the city’s Public Utilities Board will seek funding to build a full-scale desalination plant by 2010.
The High-Rise Building Safety Advisory Committee of the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) has determined that the organization’s model codes need not include specific requirements for terrorism resistance. Instead of recommending specific code changes, the group advocates that NFPA technical committees consider updating certain design requirements, including thresholds for requirements based on high-rise height, emergency egress elevators, wider stairwells, and redundant fire-alarm systems.
For more information on the fire safety codes, visit www.nfpa.org.
During routine maintenance on the Brooklyn Bridge late last month, city workers found a Cold War-era bunker within the masonry of the bridge. Located on the top floor of a three-floor space at the bridge’s base, the bunker contained medical supplies and food from the 1950s and 1960s meant to sustain survivors in the event of a nuclear attack.
According to the New York Department of Transportation (NYDOT), the space has historically been used for storage, but the NYDOT did not have any indication that the war supplies were there. "It’s hard to believe that the space was meant to be a fallout shelter because it is not underground and light and air does get inside it," a NYDOT spokesperson told the New York Times.
Three U.S. Senators have introduced a bill to establish a National Commission on Infrastructure of the United States. The bill, announced by Sen. George Voinovich (R-Ohio), Thomas Carper (D-Del.), and Hillary Clinton (D-N.Y.), would charge the commission with aiding in the nation’s economic growth and ensuring the ability of the country’s infrastructure to meet current and future demands.
In addition, the bill would: Call for the completion of a study by February 2009 that will address all matters relating to the state of the nation’s infrastructure; recommend a federal plan for outlining infrastructure priorities; and mandate a report to Congress detailing infrastructure legislation deemed necessary for the next five, 15, 30, and 50 years.
"Our nation’s economic strength throughout history has been inexorably linked to the investments made in our public infrastructure," said Sen. Clinton. "From the Transcontinental Railroad to the National Highway System, the public sector’s investments in our roads, our waterways, our railways, and our aviation systems have defined the bedrock strengths of the American economy and its people."
The White House and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (Corps) once again find themselves on the defensive regarding the reconstruction efforts in the Gulf of Mexico following Hurricane Katrina. This time, a Louisiana panel appointed to monitor rebuilding efforts in New Orleans and a team of engineers on a National Science Foundation-funded inspection, have criticized the federal government about the quality of materials being used to reconstruct the levees around New Orleans.
The groups' findings-in which they claim substandard soil is being used and shortcuts in reconstruction are being taken-were first published in The Washington Post on March 6. Both the Corps and White House have denied the groups’ claims, stating that the monitors have been testing the wrong soil. The Corps is trucking in soil from Mississippi to rebuild the levees because the local soil does not meet quality standards.
"We are using the right kind of materials," Lt. Gen. Carl Strock, head of the Corps, told The Washington Post. "There is no question about that. ...If we were going to have another Katrina-like event, I think I can say with a high level of confidence you wouldn’t see the catastrophic flooding that we saw in the first event."