Monthly Archive for March, 2009

Construction Projects Coming In At Bargain Prices

Reports are beginning to come in that construction projects are on sale and that companies hungry for work are cutting prices to try to win the first round of public works projects that are being funded by stimulus dollars.

According to reports, some of the projects are being let 25 percent below the projected or expected bid. While this can be good for us as tax payers and the states, because they can get more done with fewer dollars, let’s hope it doesn’t turn around and bite us.

Hopefully, the low bids are a reflection of an overall drop in prices for materials and supplies, fuel, transportation and labor. Then this is good. More work means more jobs, and more jobs means more money flowing back into the economy. If this is the case then we should see the economy rebounding quicker than expected.

But, this does cause one to consider what the heck is going on since the stock market did a dip rather than a blip – down not up. Why?

A couple of construction stocks that I watch (actually there is a list of 30 companies but not daily) regularly have gone down when they should have gone up. It appears that my old barometer isn’t working the way it did just a few months ago.

According to the New York Times, Pennsylvania officials said contractors competing for their first round of road and bridge projects had offered bids 15 percent lower than the state had expected. Utah officials said some of their bids were coming in 25 percent lower than expected. And a bid to build a 4.7-mile extension of Interstate 49 (pictured) from Shreveport, LA toward the Arkansas state line came in at $31.1 million, about $4.7 million less than the Louisiana Department of Transportation and Development had estimated the project would cost.

“The bids are coming in lower than we would have imagined,” U.S. Department of Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood said in an interview, adding that the low bids should provide good value to taxpayers. “I think there’s a huge appetite for these projects, and people are raring to go. There’s pent-up demand for people to get these bids and get the work.”

If the low bids keep coming and the price of construction material stays low, the Utah Department of Transportation (UDOT) hopes to get more work done with the stimulus money than expected, said Nile Easton, a spokesman for the agency. “We’re hoping that we can actually stretch that money,” he added.

The low bids do reflect the obvious lack of work in the industry. It is a buyer’s market, but it has been for a while. Contractors are eager to get back to work. Realistically, if a contractor owns equipment and it isn’t working, it is costing. The fixed costs like insurance, storage, depreciation and even maintenance continue even though a machine isn’t running. So, contractors will bid to win, but if the contractor doesn’t make any money on the job …

It sounds great, being able to get more for less, but there is a point when this could be tragic rather than beneficial. Bankrupt contractors won’t do the economy any good.

“I think it’s a good deal for taxpayers, and taxpayers need a good deal right now,” Patrick Cooney, a spokesman for the Oregon Department of Transportation (ODOT), said last week after coming back to work from a furlough day to save the state money.

Some argue that low bids should raise red flags. Barry B. LePatner, a construction lawyer, said that unless states performed independent estimates to find out the true costs of their projects, they risked awarding contracts to companies whose low bids did not reflect the true cost of the work. In such cases, he said, it is common for a company to try to undercut its competition with a low bid and then, once it has won the job, try to eke out a profit by putting in numerous change orders that drive up the price and delay the project.

If this is the case, there is always the prospect of getting the materials at a lower cost or saving some other way.

States are gearing up to begin work now that spring and the construction season are at hand. By last week, 34 states had been given the go-ahead for nearly 1,000 projects worth $3.4 billion, transportation officials said.

Officials in many states see the low bids as a sign that they are in a buyer’s market. A few years ago transportation officials in Utah, concerned that there was little competition for their construction work, put together a team to try to entice more companies to bid for the jobs. Now, as the first stimulus projects get under way, they are getting a half-dozen bids for each job — and many are coming in at 25 percent below their estimates.

“Boy, it’s a great time to be putting projects out,” Mr. Easton said.

So, let’s get to work.

Greg Sitek

Alaskan Women As Equipment Operators

Construction equipment is designed with the operator in mind. Environmental cabs, state of the art sound systems, ergonomically designed seats and controls make the operator’s station on most machines functional and comfortable. In today’s world this can be a critical factor in keeping quality operators or attracting them to start.

The day of the muscle-bound John Wayne type of “Cat Skinner” depicted in his WWII movies are long gone. Women are finding their way into the operator’s seat for a variety of reasons and construction companies and mining operations are finding them to be exceptional operators.

Ashley Wood is a good example. Although she may be a wisp of a young lady, you better not underestimate her ability to handle mega-machines on construction jobs.

The 21-year-old Soldotna, Alaska native comes by her ability to operate heavy equipment naturally.

“We grew up with equipment in our yard, so I just naturally did everything that my brothers did too,” said Wood, a student at the Alaska Operating Engineers/Employers Training Center that was built by the Operating Engineers and the Associated General Contractors, Alaska chapter, in the Matanuska-Susitna Valley (Palmer) in the 1980s to prepare Alaskan workers with the skills necessary to meet the ever-changing needs of the construction industry.

Weighing in at 120 pounds and 5 feet, 2 inches tall, Ashley Wood (pictured below – photo by Rob Stapleton/AJOC ) can be found demonstrating her operating skills as she steers a 980H Caterpillar in front of a of pile of snow in the yard, skillfully raising the shovel on the loader back and forth. A Cat 980H is a 349 horsepower wheel loader the weighs a whopping 67,294 pounds and can handle a bucket with a capacity ranging from 3.8 cubic yards to 8 cubic yards. In other words, it’s big.

Wood is attending a 10-week school to learn how to operate a wide variety of construction equipment, such as forklifts, loaders, dozers, graders, backhoes and track excavators.

“The track excavator is my favorite,” said Wood. “It is the most difficult.” It is also one of the more versatile machines used on construction jobs today.

She stands out among her peers. She could be seen last summer working on the Fifth Avenue project in Anchorage, on a skate park project in Wasilla or at the Eklutna gravel pit-moving earth.

According to statistics with the Alaska Department of Labor, women made up 5 percent of the operating engineers and other construction equipment operators in 2007, the latest year statistics were available. That’s about 185 women compared to more than 3,500 men in the field. Nationally, women make up less than 3 percent of the operating engineers sector.

Wood decided to make a career out of operating heavy equipment after laying asphalt for Alaska Road Builders, based in Soldotna.

“I decided to move on up to larger equipment and to go union after realizing that if I didn’t make a change, I would be operating an asphalt roller for the rest of my life and have no benefits,” she said.

Wood enjoys the lifestyle and the challenges, as well as the work schedule that comes with operating heavy construction equipment.

“I enjoy working the summers and getting my winters to go play,” said Wood.
She loves to snowmachine and race snocross, a sport involving racing specialized high performance snowmobiles on artificially-made tracks consisting of tight turns, banked corners, steep jumps and obstacles. Riders race at speeds of up to 60 miles per hour.. “A four-year college degree was not of any interest to me. I barely went to high school,” Wood added.

She says that working with a group of men is not a problem for her.

“Most of the time when there is a woman in the crew, the guys are more respectful,” said Wood. “I remember one case, after the job foreman saw how myself and another woman were working – quicker and more efficiently than some of the guys – he started coming to us for our opinion on how to get some things done. I think we had more of a say-so in the long run.”

Still, Wood says women tend to take criticism from the foremen differently. “Women take things more emotionally, take things to heart, you know, more seriously,” Wood said. “Most of the time when you get an ass-chewing by guys, it’s a thing of the moment. Later the same guy won’t even remember that he yelled at you.”

The job requires different skills and the job offers variety, according to Wood.

“While the work is hard it is also fun,” she said. “Some days you are down in a hole digging and shoveling, other days you are sitting all day, and sometimes you move dirt for three weeks.

“I would say that the most important aspect of this career to me now is how to continue my lifestyle of working summers and getting the winter to play, and to have good healthcare benefits,” said Wood.

The apprentice training coordinator, Betty Jo Dibble, said the training center offers a lot for entry-level aspiring equipment operators, and the schedule is accommodating. Most classes are held over a 10-week period during the winter and spring, before the construction season starts up.

The apprentice training center offers classes for heavy equipment operator, heavy equipment mechanic, heavy equipment service oiler and basic equipment training, all at no cost to the apprentice.

The Alaska Apprenticeship Training Coordinators Association (AATCA) recognizes the importance of training a workforce to help meet Alaska’s needs today and in the growing needs of the future. Alaska’s construction industry has experienced a steady growth in recent years and a 15.7% growth rate is predicted through 2012.

“The selection process is very competitive,” said Dibble.

Starting wage for an apprentice is $21.62 per hour the first year. After every 1,000 hours of work experience, the wage goes up 10 percent, according to Dibble. After 6,000 hours are reached, the apprentice becomes a journeyman with a wage of $36.19 per hour.

In the lower 48, just before the economic crunch, a number of construction companies were having problems finding and keeping good employees. The smart ones started looking for women operators and were more than happy with the results.

I remember in the late 70’s, while covering the construction of the Trans Alaska Pipeline, a couple of the contractors pointed out the fact that they had women operators. The three managers I interviewed made basically the same comments, “They were great operators; took better care of the equipment; and never pushed it beyond its
limits.” Adding, “And they put in a full day without complaining.” Point to remember, this was before today’s comfort cabs with ergonomic enhancements.

Greg Sitek

Bobcat Continues Fight Against Flood

The Red River in North Dakota crested at 39.93 feet today at 2:15 pm, lower than its Saturday level of 40.82 feet, and is expected to stay below 41 feet and slowly drop over the next three to seven days, according to the National Weather Service. Is the worst over? Only God knows the answer to that question. The residents in the area are still fighting to salvage as much as they can and to keep the floodwaters from annihilating their homes, churches, schools and everything else they have spent a lifetime developing.

HESCO Concertainer Flood Barriers have been used as emergency dikes, but at a City of Fargo press conference they remarked that the HESCO dikes are leaking. Approximately 10 miles of HESCO Concertainer units have been deployed throughout the 35 to 40 miles of dikes in the Fargo area; roughly 7 miles of HESCO barriers have been successfully installed in strategic locations along the Red River.

Mark Bittner, the Fargo city engineer, said HESCO barriers have failed twice and probably wouldn’t be able to withstand water at any significant height.

“As far as a long-lasting flood-protection device, you have to be prepared to address seepage and reinforce them from behind,” Bittner said.

HESCO barriers were originally designed as blast walls that could be quickly assembled in military zones. They are gabions (i.e. wire cages), lined with mesh that hold compacted sand. They assemble quickly and can be used for a variety of applications requiring barriers. A typical wall of HESCO Concertainer units — equivalent to approximately 1500 sandbags — can be erected and installed by two people, using a standard front loader, in just 20 minutes. A similar sandbag wall would take ten workers roughly seven hours to erect. Even if they are leaking, where would Fargo be without them?

I guess if I thought I could help, I would have been on my way to Fargo a couple of days ago.

When a situation like this occurs I think about all the many times such incidents do challenge us. In recent times, there have been earthquakes, tsunamis, hurricanes, tornadoes, floods, plane crashes, train wrecks and accidents, not to mention those deliberately caused by people, like 9-11.

As far as we have come scientifically, technologically and intellectually, we still cannot triumph over the forces of nature. Every flood, hurricane, tornado or the like should humble us and remind us that we are not in control.

Friday, after posting the informa- tion on the flooding in the Fargo area, I e-mailed a friend who lives there and works at Bobcat. He took the time to answer and I thought his comments were worth sharing with you. I wanted to make sure it was ok with him, so I sent him a follow-up letting him know my plans. His response was, “That would be fine.”

Dear friend:

Thanks for writing.

So far, so good here in “river city”. As I write, there are military Blackhawk helicopters flying over my house, inspecting the river. The crest appears to have hit (at 40.8 feet) this morning, but we’ll be at this flood stage for most of a week. Schools will remain closed for another week, as some are being used as evacuation shelters, and it’s really not safe until the river drops down again.

Quite an amazing volunteer effort that has gone on here, and now we have some 1700 National Guard troops assisting. One guardsman said, “Finally, we’re doing what we’re supposed to be doing.”

I worked along many of the guardsmen making sandbags, and most Bobcat employees have been assisting in one way or another. The Guardsmen showed great attitudes, even after working 10-12 hour days for about seven days straight (for those who arrived last weekend). In the city’s “sandbag central” and the Fargodome, volunteers made some 3 million sandbags in the past six-seven days. Since my back won’t allow me to sling sandbags at the dike building sites, making up the bags is something I can do.

There are about 40 miles of temporary dikes (some on top of permanent levees) protecting the two cities, if you can imagine that.

Ernie (our retired company photographer) has been back “on the job” taking pictures of our Bobcat people (and machines) at work. The attached photos show the working conditions on early Wednesday morning, when our guys assisted the Guard in building a HESCO dike near the Fargo Country Club. The group photo (you know Ernie) shows our guys with the Guardsmen. The photo of the street sign is at the end of my block. The area on the other side of the HESCO dike was evacuated the night before last, so those houses are mostly empty now. None are flooded out, but they’re considered “at risk” if the sandbag or clay dikes would fail.

Regards,

Leroy Anderson
Marketing Communication Manager
Bobcat Company

He shared some additional information with me and sent links to a site that is loaded with flood photos and another that is a link to the Fargo Forum with extensive flood coverage.

Greg:

Here are some interesting shots of the HESCO construction. In this case, they stacked them two high, so they place two back to back, then another on top.

The other two shots show how the sandbags were stored in neighborhood garages, to keep the bags from freezing until they were needed.

Leroy

What more can I say…

Greg Sitek

Daily Dirt

LaHood Announces $36 Million In Recovery Funds For Phoenix Light Rail Project

U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood was joined in Phoenix, AZ this morning by Valley Metro Rail officials and local leaders to take part in a ceremony announcing $36 million in American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) funds for the Central Phoenix/East Valley Light Rail Project.

“This light rail project has been an engine for growth in the Phoenix area,” LaHood said. “And these recovery funds will ensure that transit continues to stimulate Arizona’s economy.”

The ARRA funds will help to complete the rail line and allow Valley Metro to begin work on the extension, which is expected to create 10,000 jobs over the life of the project. Funds will be used for signal work, communications, an operations control center, and further testing of two light rail cars to be put into service.

The arrival of federal funds supple- ments local resources, which have declined during the economic downturn, and allows for a quicker investment in the extension.

In 2005, the Federal Transit Administration signed a “full funding grant agreement” to provide $587 million, or 42 percent, of the $1.4 billion, 19.6-mile project, to be paid out over six years. Today’s allotment amounts to an advance of a portion of the project’s 2010 payout amount.

“This project demonstrates that transit serves as a focal point for new development in Phoenix, Tempe and Mesa,” LaHood said. “By getting these funds to you now, we’re providing a boost that will help other very important transit projects to keep moving forward – while also stimulating the local economy.”

Major activity centers along the light rail route include Sky Harbor Airport, Arizona State University, Papago Park Center, the Phoenix Convention Center, Chase Field, US Airways Arena and Sun Devil Stadium. Valley Metro Rail expects to carry almost 50,000 riders each weekday by the year 2020.

LaHood said later Friday, as he spoke before the Greater Phoenix Chamber of Commerce about the $787 billion stimulus plan, that he expects to see federal stimulus spending to start showing up in earnest this summer and is hopeful for an economic rebound in 2010. He said federal money has already started to flow to states and cities and he expects transportation and public works construction projects to begin this summer.

He defended the process in which stimulus money is being dispersed by saying that sending money to state transportation agencies instead of directly to cities and other localities is the most efficient way of doling out the construction dollars.

MI Senate Approves $900 Million In Transportation Funds

The Michigan State Senate approved legislation on Thursday appropriating $900 million in stimulus funds for transportation projects. The approval paves the way for Michigan Department of Transportation’s (MDOT) shovel-ready projects to start accepting bids on April 2, and opens the door to hiring as many as 25,000 people.

The bill passed the Senate by a 37 to 0 vote.

Governor Jennifer M. Granholm (D) issued the following statement on the bill’s passage authorizing millions of dollars in federal recovery funding for road projects.

“With authorization for these vital road and transit projects accomplished so quickly, we can put this money to work for citizens throughout the state. The 25,000 jobs created by this funding will help us rebuild Michigan’s infrastructure and revitalize our economy. It is urgent that we get Michigan’s share of federal recovery money into our state’s economy in order to accelerate our own recovery plan. I want to thank our legislators for acting quickly to clear the way for this important economic opportunity for Michigan.”

The largest area projects funded by the federal transportation stimulus include:

  • $76 million on three repair projects on I-75 in Crawford and Ogemaw counties
  • $4.35 million for work on US-23 in Alcona County
  • $2.7 million for asphalt work on M-72 in Alcona CountyHouse

Bill 4582 will now go to the Governor for final approval.

KFC Filling Up Potholes

For more than half a century, Kentucky Fried Chicken (KFC) has “filled up” its fans with the Colonel’s world famous, freshly prepared fried chicken. In a marketing first, KFC is celebrating its continued dedication to freshness by launching a pilot infrastructure renewal program, becoming the first-ever corporate sponsor of “fresh”ly “filled up” potholes in up to five major cities across the U.S.

The KFC Colonel and his professional road repair crew got started in their hometown of Louisville by filling up potholes and re-freshing roads around the city. KFC also issued an open offer to mayors of cities nationwide, asking them to describe their city streets’ state of disrepair. Four of these lucky cities, chosen at random, will receive KFC’s road re-“fresh”ment, promising citizens a smooth drive that is fit for a Colonel.

In today’s troubled economy, cities across the nation are left with potholes in desperate need of repair. It is estimated that U.S. roads are riddled with more than 350 million potholes nationwide – that’s one mini canyon for every man, woman and child in America.

“This program is a perfect example of that rare and optimal occurrence when a company can creatively market itself and help local governments and everyday Americans across the country,” said Javier Benito, executive vice president of marketing and food innovation for KFC.

“Everyone could use a little help during these tough economic times and this initiative – like our commitment to provide affordable, freshly prepared chicken – is our way of carrying on Colonel Sanders’ legacy.”

“Budgets are tight for cities across the country, and finding funding for needed road repairs is a continuing challenge,” said Louisville’s Mayor Jerry Abramson. “It’s great to have a concerned corporation like KFC create innovative private/public partnerships (PPP) like this pothole refresh program.”

KFC-refreshed potholes will be branded via a large stencil that reads “Re-Freshed by KFC” in eye-catching, but non-permanent street chalk.

The following is a copy of the letter that was sent out to mayors across the country. Maybe your city could be next!

March 25, 2009
Dear Mayor:

It is estimated that U.S. roads are riddled with more than 350 million potholes nationwide – that’s one for every man, woman and child in America! Bec
ause of long, harsh winters and heavy traffic, cities everywhere are left with more potholes than ever. Add in the fact that asphalt is an expensive product, and the cost of those repairs is higher than ever.

Because of the financially tough times, many cities are delaying construction projects because they need to spend money patching these potholes instead. Some cities are even being forced to cut back on road services and maintenance crews. We at KFC understand that filling every one of these potholes is important and we’re here to help!

In honor of our “Fresh Tastes Best” campaign, we want to come and Re-“Fresh” your roads! The Colonel and his crew are on a mission to help out America and sponsor your city’s “Fresh”ly repaired roads. Every patched pothole comes with the Colonel’s very own stamp of approval.

KFC has been bringing communities together over buckets of chicken for more than 50 years. We invite you and your city to become a part of a new tradition and accept our offer to Re-“Fresh” your roads. Together, we can give your community a much needed break and help keep America moving.

Sincerely,
Roger Eaton
President of KFC

Greg Sitek

ASCE 2009 Report Card For America’s Infrastructure – The Details

I can’t remember anything being talked about as much as the infrastructure since the TV show Dallas captured the country’s imagination with the ever-invasive question, “Who shot JR?”

It’s all about infrastructure… there is little doubt that the economic future of our country is based on how well we handle the current situation and how well we manage our investments into the rebuilding of our infrastructure.

The American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) released their 2009 Report Card for America’s Infrastructure earlier than planned (January) in order to make us more aware of how deficient our infrastructure had become and to garner support for President Obama’s stimulus plan.

Our grade was a D.

Earlier this week, ASCE unveiled the complete details of that report along with an announcement regarding the opening of its infrastructure website.

Since the last ASCE Infrastructure Report Card in 2005, we have done little or nothing to improve our grades. According to the 2009 Report Card, we have improved in only one category, going from a D to a D+. If I had brought home a report card that showed so little improvement, I would not have been able to sit for a week. No, in case you wondered, my television would not have been taken away; my report cards were in the pre-TV era.

As I re-read through the list of infrastructure problems we face, I couldn’t help but think about the Idaho legislature rejecting Governor Butch Otter’s plan to increase user fees so the state could reinvest in its infrastructure. Shortly after reading about that setback, I came across an article that listed the ten worst, or most in need, infrastructure projects in the country. Guess what? Right. Idaho was in that list of 10.

What are we going to do about the situation; wait for the government to wave its magic wand and “poof” all our problems will have vanished?

Don’t hold your breath…

The 2009 Report Card for America’s Infrastructure grades 15 categories of infrastructure, including a new category since 2005: levees. For the second time, America’s infrastructure rates a cumulative grade of D. While not all categories fare as badly or are plagued by the same problems, delayed maintenance and chronic under funding are contributors to the low grades in nearly every category.

Read through the ASCE 2009 Report Card, and when you have finished, make sure everyone you know reads it. Decide. Are you going to sit and wait, or are you going to contact your Congressional representatives and let them know how you feel about the situation? Make sure your lawmakers have this important information when making decisions on legislation that affects infrastructure.

It’s your country and you have a right to express your opinion.

Trends In The Grades
Grades ranged from a high of C+ for solid waste to a low of D- for drinking water, inland waterways, levees, roads, and wastewater. U.S. surface transportation and aviation systems declined over the past four years, with aviation and transit dropping from a D+ to D, and roads dropping from a D to a nearly failing D-.

Showing no significant improvement since the last report in 2005, the nation’s bridges, public parks and recreation, and rail remained at a grade of C, while dams, hazardous waste, and schools remained at a grade of D, and drinking water and wastewater remained at a grade of D-. Levees, the newest category, debuted on the 2009 Report Card at a barely passing grade of D-.

Just one category—energy—improved since 2005, raising its grade from D to D+.

A quick review follows. (If you want more details, see 2/10 Yo-Yo Economics blog. There, we listed the grades for each category and a brief description of what some of the problems are that influenced the grade.)

Water And Environment
DAMS: D
DRINKING WATER: D-
HAZARDOUS WASTE: D
LEVEES: D-.
SOLID WASTE: C+.
WASTEWATER: D-

Transportation
AVIATION: D
BRIDGES: C
INLAND WATERWAYS: D-
RAIL: C-
ROADS: D-
TRANSIT: D

Public Facilities
PUBLIC PARKS AND RECREATION: C-
SCHOOLS: D

Energy
ENERGY: D+ (This is the only category that improved since last the last report card.)

Raising The Grades: Solutions
According to ASCE, the nation’s infrastructure faces some very real problems that threaten our way of life if they are not addressed. These problems are solvable if we have the needed vision and leadership. Raising the grades on our infrastructure will require that we seek and adopt a wide range of structural and non-structural solutions in every category, including technical advances, funding and regulatory changes, and changes in public behavior and support.

ASCE has developed five key solutions to begin raising the grades:

  • INCREASE federal leadership in infrastructure to address the crisis
  • PROMOTE sustainability and resilience in infrastructure to protect the natural environment and withstand natural and man-made hazards
  • DEVELOP national, state, and regional infrastructure plans that complement
    a national vision and focus on system wide results
  • ADDRESS life-cycle costs and ongoing maintenance to meet the needs of current and future users
  • INCREASE and improve infrastructure investment from all stakeholders

Raising The Grade: Case Studies
While the conditions listed in the Report Card mean low grades for all categories,
there are positive examples from across the country that demonstrate some progress is being made. Throughout the report, case studies of how public and private organizations have addressed specific problems are included to demonstrate how these innovative solutions can be applied on a larger scale. The case studies for each category may not contribute to an overall improvement of the grade, but they illustrate that the problems facing the nation’s infrastructure are solvable with some creativity and determination.

History
The concept for a report card to grade the nation’s infrastructure originated in 1988 with a congressionally
chartered commission, the National Council on Public Works Improvement. Titled Fragile Foundations: A Report on America’s Public Works, the council’s report issued recommendations on how to improve the nation’s infrastructure. As a way to guide the study, the authors used the report card concept to establish a baseline evaluation of the infrastructure. This first report card included eight categories of infrastructure and assigned letter grades on the basis of performance and capacity of existing public works. In 1988, when the report was released, the nation’s infrastructure earned a “C,” representing an average grade. Among the problems identified within Fragile Foundations were increasing congestion and deferred maintenance and age of the system; the authors of the report worried that fiscal investment was inadequate to meet the current operations costs and future demands on the system. Since 1998 ASCE has released four Report Cards and found each time that these same problems persist.

Methodology
The Report Card advisory council comprises 28 engineers with expertise in the disciplines represented in the report. For nearly a year, the council worked to analyze current data and conditions within the 15 categories, consult with additional technical and industry experts and assess and assign grades.

In assigning grades, the council considered several fundamental criteria. These included:

  • capacity
  • condition
  • operations and maintenance
  • current and future funding
  • public safety
  • resilience

The grade determination was based on both publicly available data and the subjective judgments of the engineers serving on the advisory council.

The 2005 Report Card featured a category called “Security” that sought to rate the ability of infrastructure to meet manmade threats. In the four years since that report, engineers have begun to look at security in the context of infrastructures overall resilience—or the ability to withstand and recover from both natural and man-made hazards. Since the likelihood of natural disaster is sometimes much higher than that of a man-made threat, and resilience must be determined on a system by system basis, the 2009 Report Card now incorporates resilience as a grading factor in each category.

The Need For Investment
In 2009, ASCE estimates that $2.2 trillion needs to be invested over five years to bring the condition of the nation’s infrastructure up to a good condition—an increase of more than half a trillion dollars since the 2005 Report Card’s estimate of $1.6 trillion. This number, adjusted for a 3% rate of inflation, represents capital spending at all levels of government and includes what is already being spent.

Current spending amounts to only about half of the needed investment, which means the U.S. must invest an additional $1.1 billion over the next five years.

When I am driving down the road and approach an overpass, I look at the superstructure of the bridge that’s immediately above me and have to wonder how long it will be before it comes tumbling down. I have become more aware of the cracks, eroding concrete, rust, and other deterioration. Everywhere I look I see “need.” When I think about taking a flight the AVIATION: D light starts blinking in my head. Do I really want to do this? How comfortable would I be letting a brain surgeon who passed medical school with a D remove a tumor from a critical area in my cranium? Or, would I let an eye surgeon who made it through with a D remove cataracts from my eyes?

Investing in the infrastructure is important not only because it will generate jobs, improve the economy and make us more globally competitive, it will also improve our transportation safety.

Note: Get all the facts behind the overall D grade announced by ASCE in January. The complete 2009 Report Card for America’s Infrastructure is now available, detailing the rationale behind the grades in 15 categories, with the guidance from professional engineers that helped determine the grades. Visit the upgraded Report Card site for detailed yet easily accessible analysis of each category. We have posted a separate listing of ASCE’s assessment of how each state’s infrastructure measures up. Click here to get your state’s statistics.

Greg Sitek