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Midwest Governors All Aboard For High-Speed Rail

Eight Midwestern governors and Chicago Mayor Richard M. Daley (D) are seeking $3.5 billion in federal stimulus money for high-speed rail throughout the Midwest.

Wisconsin Governor Jim Doyle (D) joined Governor Pat Quinn (D-IL), Governor Tim Pawlenty (R-MN), Governor Jennifer Granholm (D-MI), Governor Chester Culver (D-IA), Governor Mitch Daniels (R-IN), Governor Jay Nixon (D-MO), Governor Ted Strickland (D-OH) and Mayor Daley in touting the benefits of Midwestern high-speed rail in a letter to U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood.

According to the letter, high-speed rail would reduce traffic and airway congestion and pollution, in addition to the country’s dependence on foreign oil. They specifically noted Chicago’s bid to host the 2016 Olympics and suggested improved rail transportation could help the city’s chances.

“President Obama’s vision of making high-speed rail a part of our nation’s future transportation network holds great promise,” Gov. Doyle and co-signers wrote. “We recognize that a high-speed rail network has the potential to reduce highway and airway congestion, greenhouse gas emissions and the nation’s dependence on foreign oil.”

Last month, Gov. Doyle applied for the full $519 million cost of a 110-mph passenger rail line connecting Madison and Milwaukee, Wisconsin’s two largest cities, with intermediate stops in Brookfield, Oconomowoc and Watertown.

The joint letter, dated April 10, stressed how that and other projects fit together as part of the Midwestern Regional Rail Initiative (MWRRI), a cooperative effort between Amtrak, the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) and nine Midwest states (Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, Ohio, and Wisconsin) to develop an improved and expanded passenger rail system in the Midwest that has been under way for a decade.

This vision has been transformed into a transportation plan-known as the Midwest Regional Rail System (MWRRS). The primary purpose of the MWRRS is to meet future regional travel needs through significant improvements to the level and quality of regional passenger rail service. The rail service and its stations will also provide a stimulus for joint development. Senior officials from the nine Midwest states and Amtrak have tested, refined and confirmed that it is indeed feasible to implement and operate this 21st century regional passenger rail system.

The major elements of the nine-state passenger rail initiative specified in the letter include:

“• 3,000 miles of existing rights of way to connect rural, small urban and major metropolitan areas. The states will work with freight railroads to assess where capacity is needed to provide reliable 110-mph service.
“• Operation of a hub-and-spoke passenger rail system that provides service to and through Chicago to locations across the Midwest. All corridors provide service to city-to-city pairs within 500 miles of each other.
“• Modern train equipment that operates initially at 110 mph. Current passenger rail equipment is outdated and designed for a 20th century train network, not a 21st century network. Next generation train equipment will travel at faster speeds with better acceleration and deceleration, will provide increased comfort and amenities for riders, and will provide travelers with more options than air or auto modes.
“• Multi-modal connections that will improve the entire transportation system network. The states engaged in the MWRRI understand the importance of intermodalism. The passenger rail network and feeder system will connect riders to their communities, airports, bus stations and highways.
“• Focus on reliability and on-time performance. We know that ridership depends on trains that arrive and depart on time. We are familiar with the predictable by-the-minute train service that exists in Europe and Asia. The MWRRI Plan recommends track and signal improvements to achieve the same level of on-time performance. That is the MWRRI vision.”

The governors are seeking funding for the projects through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA), which specifically mandates funding for improving and deploying high-speed rail systems in the United States. The letter presents the case that the MWRRI has done the needed studies and preliminary work for projects that would provide increased mobility for travelers and promote regional and economic development goals.

“I believe Missouri and the other states in our region present a compelling and united case to the Obama Administration to fund these projects,” Gov. Nixon said. “Our states have been working on this rail initiative for more than a decade, and we will aggressively compete for these Recovery Act funds specifically designated for high-speed rail projects.”

The Midwestern network would include 3,000 miles of existing rights of way to connect cities with trains capable of at least 110 mph. Chicago, which is bidding to host the 2016 Olympic Games, would serve as the hub, just as it does for freight. The rail network would link large and small metropolitan areas, airports, bus stations and highways.

The Milwaukee-to-Madison route would be the first segment of a larger high-speed route from Chicago to the Twin Cities. That’s part of $3.4 billion that the officials are requesting for three routes, including Chicago-to-St. Louis and Chicago-to-Detroit lines. The letter states that with ARRA funds, projects in these corridors can be completed between 2012 and 2014.

They also requested $130 million for preliminary work on other segments of the Chicago-to-Twin Cities route and other routes, including completion of corridors that extend from Chicago to the Twin Cities, Indianapolis, Toledo, Cleveland, Cincinnati and Pontiac, MI. In addition, further engineering and environmental work must be completed on routing alternatives between Dwight, IL and Chicago in the Chicago-St. Louis Corridor. Beyond these Phase II projects, the MWRRI states will also develop the remaining projects in the system plan, including: Chicago to Grand Rapids/Holland, Port Huron, Carbondale, Quincy, Quad Cities-Iowa City-Des Moines-Omaha and Green Bay; and St. Louis to Kansas City.

Ohio is developing its passenger rail service for its 260-mile “3-C” (Cleveland-Columbus-Dayton-Cincinnati
) Corridor
, which will reach 60 percent of Ohio’s population and is the most populated Chicago hub network corridor without rail service. Ohio is currently working on this project in partnership with freight railroads and Amtrak.

Much work has already been done to move these corridor projects closer to implementation. This work and the proposed next steps follow:

  • Wisconsin has completed preliminary engineering and an environmental assessment for 110-mph operations in the Milwaukee to Madison Corridor and has received a “finding of no significant impact” from the FRA. Funding will be sought for track, signal and other infrastructure upgrades, as well as new train equipment.
  • Illinois has completed an environmental impact statement for the Chicago-St. Louis Corridor and has received a “record of decision” for the portion of the corridor from Dwight to St. Louis. In addition, Illinois has already invested $143 million in the corridor. Funding will be sought for track, signal and other upgrades in the segment, as well as new equipment for the Chicago-St. Louis trains.
  • Michigan and Amtrak, working with the FRA, have implemented an “incremental train control system,” currently allowing 95-mph operations for portions of the corridor between Chicago and Detroit. The final audit report, which is nearing completion, and a request for increased train speeds up to 110 mph is expected to be submitted to FRA within the next few months. Funding will be sought for track, signal and other infrastructure upgrades.
  • Currently, freight and passenger trains are delayed by rail congestion in the Chicago hub terminal. Improvements in the Chicago hub are needed to achieve the goals of the MWRRI, including separation of passenger and freight movements to eliminate conflicts. Funding will be sought for infrastructure upgrades through a partnership of the State of Illinois, the City of Chicago, and the railroads serving Chicago.

Some Phase II projects are ready to go – for example, the St. Paul Union Depot project, which is being renovated to serve as a hub for Amtrak, inter- and intracity bus and passenger rail. In late 2009, the Northstar Commuter Rail Line, Hiawatha LRT and intra-city bus will all converge adjacent to the new Minnesota Twins Target Field in Minneapolis.

Since President Obama has outlined his high-speed rail vision for the nation, the nine states see a long-term policy and funding partner in the federal government for building the nation’s high-speed passenger rail network.

According to Transportation Economics and Management Systems, Inc., the development of the MWRRS will significantly expand the region’s economy. Economic gains include:

  • 57,450 permanent new jobs across the Midwest
  • $1.096 billion dollars of extra household income across the nine-state region
  • $4.911 billion dollars of increased joint development potential for the 102 cities with MWRRS stations

MWRRS will support existing industries and foster the growth of new businesses cross the Midwest by improving access between communities. It also will encourage large businesses to distribute their operations more widely into smaller, highly accessible Midwestern communities that provide a high quality of life for residents.

Opponents of high-speed rail claim the use of buses is less expensive and more flexible.

While buses do have a greater flexibility than rail they also contribute to increased highway traffic, pollution and congestion. The objective should be to use buses and rail in concert with each other to provide the optimum transportation system available.

The posturing of special interest groups is one of the contributing factors that have brought us to the uncoordinated transportation infrastructure we currently have. There is no single answer. Air, rail, waterway and highway transportation infrastructure interests need to focus on transforming our current transportation infrastructure into one that sets a new standard for the rest of the world.

ARTBA’s Critical Commerce Corridors (3C) (see video in sidebar) is an example of what our infrastructure could become. To get there we need a coordinated effort and right now we have the best opportunity we have had in decades and probably the only one for decades to come. We are making investments in our future. We need to invest wisely.

Greg Sitek

Ohio Transportation Program

Ohio Embarks On One Of It’s Most Ambitious Transportation Construction Seasons

Ohio Governor Ted Strickland (D) recently announced that 149 transportation infrastructure projects have been prioritized for full or partial funding from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) resources.

Federal transportation stimulus funds totaling $774 million will be spent in nearly every Ohio county. Based on federal calculations for transportation investment, an estimated 21,257 jobs will be created or retained through these stimulus projects, with thousands of additional jobs likely to be spurred by the economic development that will occur as a result of the projects.

The Ohio Department of Transportation (ODOT) will invest $603.5 million into 113 separate roadway projects. Of those 113 projects, $242.9 million is dedicated to 30 bridge projects, $200 million of which will go toward one of the biggest projects on the “to do” list; build a new five-lane Interstate 90 Innerbelt Bridge in Cleveland and $360.6 million to 83 pavement projects, including $150 million to complete a bypass of state Route 33 around Nelsonville in southeast Ohio.

Ohio will spend $57 million in federal stimulus money on highway projects that won’t begin for years, an unusual strategy for money that President Barack Obama said should be used to give the economy an immediate job-creating jolt.

Unlike other states that are using money only on construction to create jobs, Ohio steered 7 percent of its $774 million share toward studies of long-term projects that Gov. Ted Strickland hopes will encourage future economic growth.

The Federal Highway Administration has no other examples of states using stimulus money for planning, although some states haven’t completed their project lists, spokeswoman Nancy Singer said.

Obama’s $787 billion Stimulus Package, designed to help turn around the economy and pay for public works projects, allows money to be used for engineering and planning. But it also says priority should be given to projects that can start quickly and be completed in three years.

While the overall approach to Obama’s $787 billion Stimulus Package is to get money to projects that can be started right away, planning is a legitimate use of economic stimulus money, said Jill Zuckman, spokeswoman at the U.S. Department of Transportation.

Strickland said studies of long-term projects, as well as some types of preliminary work, position the state for future economic growth.

That includes a two-year study of a highway and rail project on the east side of Cincinnati and the design of a three-mile road connecting Interstate 490 to Cleveland’s art and museum district. The cost is $20 million apiece.

“We’re putting planners and engineers to work, too, so I think it does fit the spirit of the Stimulus Package to develop projects today that have opportunities for tomorrow,” said Scott Varner, spokesman for ODOT.

The projects were selected by a special team within ODOT that reviewed 4,600 applications from cities, businesses and individuals. Priority was given to those that would maximize job creation and economic growth, with agency director Jolene Molitoris having the final say, Varner said.

The agency balanced short-term projects designed to get people working right away with projects that have long-term potential and need further studying, he said.

The two-year, $20 million engineering and environmental study in Cincinnati will lay the foundation for a $1 billion highway, bus, bike and rail system that will open up economic development in the city and its eastern suburbs, eventually leading to 10,000 new jobs, said Hamilton County deputy engineer Theodore Hubbard.

Without the stimulus money, the project would have lingered, he said. Still, no money for future construction has been secured.

Other projects in the planning stage will get some of the stimulus funds. The state will spend $7 million of the money for engineering and design work on the Ohio Hub — a plan for high-speed rail — and give $10 million to ODOT to spend on various design work statewide.

Construction companies, which are evaluating projects to bid on, generally are happy with the list, said Chris Runyan, president of the Ohio Contractors Association.

“It’s going to give the construction industry a much-needed shot in the arm,” he said. Money for planning, while it won’t put shovels in the ground, still keeps transportation projects moving forward, he said.

Ohio’s push to fund transportation projects that can encourage economic development also shows up in the decision to buy heavy machinery at maritime ports. The number of jobs created by these projects isn’t easily defined.

ODOT will invest $34.5 million into five maritime projects, including about $6.8 million to demolish and replace cranes at the Port of Toledo. As business grows, more skilled crane operators will be hired, but how many is uncertain, said Carla Firestone, spokeswoman for the Toledo-Lucas County Port Authority.

Other maritime investments include major enhancement projects to the City of Lorain’s waterfront development along Lake Erie, along the Ohio River at the South Point Industrial Inter-Modal Transfer Facility in Lawrence County and about $5.7 million will build an overhead bridge crane and conveyor system that will allow a shipping port in Wellsville in eastern Ohio to become fully operational. The bridge crane will load cargo from a barge on the Ohio River onto trucks or railcars.

The number of jobs directly or indirectly related is hard to pin down, said Tracy Drake, executive director of the Columbiana County Port Authority.

The port’s recent work included loading 13 40-ton rocket segments developed at the NASA Glenn Research Center in Cleveland onto a cargo vessel bound for the Kennedy Space Center in Florida.

An additional $68.9 million will be directed to 22 separate railroad projects, mostly targeting the state’s busy freight rail system.

The state will invest $50.9 million to support improved intermodal connections, including $14 million at Franklin County’s Rickenbacker Intermodal Terminal and Global Logistics Park, and $6.5 million at Toledo’s Airline Junction Intermodal Terminal to connect freight shipments by air, rail, and truck.

When combine
d with Recovery Act funds allocated under Ohio’s Rural Transit Program, stimulus investments will be made in 87 of Ohio’s 88 counties. (Noble County, the remaining county, did not submit a federally-eligible transportation stimulus project; however the state will be investing more than $9.7 million in non-stimulus transportation funds over the next year.)

These stimulus projects will add to the more than $2.1 billion in capital/construction projects ODOT already has planned to undertake over the next 15 months (through state fiscal year 2010). That includes nearly $1.6 billion in investments through the end of this calendar year, encompassing more than 650 transportation projects in each of the state’s 88 counties.

Many of these non-stimulus projects will soon begin construction, as part of the department’s annual maintenance and modernization efforts identified in the Statewide Transportation Improvement Program (STIP). This includes 36 interstate projects and 125 bridge projects on the state’s highway system. The ceremonial start to ODOT’s 2009 Construction Season was April 7, although a number of construction projects are already active.

“These projects speak to the important transportation needs of our communities, while creating jobs and positioning Ohio for long-term economic growth and stability,” said Ohio Transportation Director Jolene Molitoris.

Combined, the stimulus resources and ODOT’s planned state construction spending will total more than $2.8 billion. Together, those investments will create or retain an estimated 79,637 jobs based on federal calculations for transportation investment.

ODOT Director Jolene Molitoris understands there is frustration on behalf of drivers who may be inconvenienced by the construction, but she hopes people view the orange barrels as something positive rather than something negative, particularly at a time when the state is hurting economically.

“What I’m hoping is that every time an Ohioan sees an orange barrel they are going to remember that it is connected to a job, and its connected to improvements for them and their family and their state and their city and so they will become something that people love.” Molitoris said.

The highway patrol is also urging drivers to be patient, rather than risk a hefty fine. Safety has always been a concern for drivers and for construction workers where work is being done, and troopers are not going to be sympathetic to anyone caught pushing the limits through construction zones.

Transportation projects in Ohio this summer will not be limited to highways and surface streets. ODOT says it is making significan investments in rail, airport infrastructure, foot and bike paths and even maritime transportation.

A full list of priority transportation projects and other information about the state’s transportation infrastructure investments can be seen here.
Recovery Funding will Create an Estimated 1,728 Jobs in Western New York
Local drivers will likely need a little extra patience this construction season, thanks in part to the federal stimulus package.
New York Governor David Paterson (D) returned to Niagara Falls on Thursday with a promise to create more than 1,700 new jobs by spending $72 million in American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) funding on local construction projects.

Speaking to members of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, Paterson told the gathering of construction workers that he wants to put them to work so they can help stimulate other aspects of Western New York’s economy. He also expressed hope the state’s version of the federal stimulus plan will not only combat rising unemployment, but help New York address its deteriorating infrastructure and uncertain financial future.

“Today’s announcement represents a small fraction of the total funds Western New York can expect to receive. Here in Niagara County, millions of dollars in paving projects on local roads are expected to be finalized and certified in the coming months, and will be just one visible example of these economic recovery dollars at work. These investments will update aging infrastructure, making our roads, highways and bridges safer while also creating jobs, bolstering economic development and ensuring a brighter future for our State,” Gov. Paterson said.

Paterson and other elected officials said Western New York is actually expected to receive a total of $180 million in highway and bridge funding in 2009-10, including $76 million set aside by the New York State Department of Transportation (NYSDOT) for highway and road repairs, bridge maintenance and other improvement projects and approximately $32.9 million in Consolidated Local Street and Highway Improvement Program (CHIPS) funding, which the recovery funds enabled New York to restore to the State budget.

Thursday’s announcement offered few details on specific stimulus projects in Niagara County, although references were to plans for nine road repair projects in the City of Niagara Falls and a highway maintenance effort along the upper portion of the Robert Moses Parkway.

Democrats joining Paterson made it clear that they viewed the influx of stimulus dollars into New York as a catalyst that will put people back to work and help New York’s economy recover along with the rest of the nation.

“It’s not just 1,700 jobs,” said U.S. Sen. Charles Schumer (D-NY). “It’s what economists call the multiplier effect, give money to an ironworker or an electrician and when they go spend it in the stores, buying things, that gives money to someone else.”
The economic recovery funds coming to New York for transportation projects must follow the same process required for distributing all federal transportation funds. The funds are allocated to projects that are selected by the 13 regional Metropolitan Planning Organizations (MPO’s) across the State, which are comprised of local elected officials, local transit operators and members of the DOT. MPO’s vote unanimously on projects for their Transportation Improvement Program (TIP), and economic recovery funds will be directed to projects on those lists. Similarly, regions of New York without MPO’s are served by the DOT, which consults with local elected officials and selects projects for the Statewide Transportation Improvement Program. The Department is working with local officials and the Governor’s Economic Recovery Cabinet to identify priority shovel-ready projects eligible for recovery funds.
“These projects will preserve the integrity of Western New York’s transportation infrastructure and improve the safety of motorists. Governor Paterson has worked hard to secure these valuable federal funds to bolster our transpor
tation infrastructure and invest in critical job creation,” said Astrid C. Glynn, DOT Commissioner.
Paterson spokesperson Erin Duggan said yesterday’s announcement included only those projects that have already been certified by the Obama Administration, including $6.3 million worth of improvements to roads and bridges in Erie and Cattaraugus counties. Certification is one of the final steps that needs to be completed before construction can begin.
The projects include:
  • $1.6 million of ARRA funding to replace two culverts on NY Route 242 in the towns of Ellicottville and Little Valley, Cattaraugus County. This project will eliminate culvert deficiencies and ensure good structural condition. Project completion is expected in the fall of 2009
  • $900,000 of ARRA funding for a project to repair culverts on US Route 219 and NY Route 400 in the towns of Boston and Concord, Erie County. This preventative maintenance work will eliminate corrosion and restore drainage elements to a state of good repair. Project completion is expected in the fall of 2009
  • $1.5 million of ARRA funding for resurfacing approximately three miles of pavement on US Route 219 and NY Route 417 in the City of Salamanca, Cattaraugus County, and Allegany Reservation of the Seneca Nation of Indians. The top layer of worn, deteriorated pavement will be removed and replaced with new asphalt and fresh pavement markings to extend the service life of pavement. Project completion is expected in the fall of 2009
  • $900,000 of ARRA funding for resurfacing approximately 1.5 miles of pavement on NY Route 78 in the Village of Depew and towns of Lancaster and Cheektowaga, Erie County. The top layer of worn, deteriorated pavement will be removed and replaced with new asphalt and fresh pavement markings to extend the service life of pavement. Traffic signal sensors will be replaced and the drainage system will be cleaned and repaired to improve the quality of storm-water runoff. Project completion is expected in the fall of 2009
  • $2.2 million of ARRA funding for a project to restore the deteriorating stone facing of an historic bridge carrying NY Route 198, the Scajaquada Expressway, over NY Route 384 in the City of Buffalo, Erie County. The bridge is located in the historic site of Delaware Park designed by landscape architect Frederick Law Olmsted. Drainage on the bridge will also be repaired and upgraded to protect the structure from future damage and keep it safe for pedestrians on Rt 198 and Delaware Ave. Project completion is expected in the fall of 2010
  • $500,000 of ARRA funding for a project to replace selected signs on state highways throughout the City of Buffalo, towns of Amherst and Cheektowaga and Village of Williamsville, Erie County. Installation is expected to be completed in the summer of 2010.
As for Niagara County, Paterson said “millions of dollars” worth of additional paving projects are expected to be certified and finalized in the coming months. The list is likely to include nine road repair projects submitted to the Buffalo Niagara Regional Transportation Council earlier this year. Those projects include the resurfacing of Pine Avenue from Main Street to Hyde Park Boulevard and the resurfacing of Main Street from Ontario to Walnut Avenues.

Schumer touched on plans to fund repairs to the upper portion of the Robert Moses Parkway, a controversial stretch of highway many in and around Niagara Falls would like to see torn out completely. “He used the money just as we are using the money — to put people back to work by building highways and bridges and roads,” Schumer said, referring to Moses who was instrumental in the parkway’s development.
Schumer said the plan is to use stimulus funds to re-construct the portion of the parkway from the I-190 to John B. Daly Boulevard, but will “not waste taxpayer money” between Main Street and Finlay Drive, a section being considered for removal.
“What we are trying to do is take community concerns into account, spend the money quickly and get the job done,” Schumer said.
Paterson said the state is making alterations to the original Robert Moses proposal because “it does not fit with what the local government wants to do here.”
U.S. Department of Interior Announces Economic Stimulus Projects
Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar today announced the Department of the Interior’s first projects under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) of 2009 – $140 million that will fund 308 U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) projects across the 50 states. The USGS, the leading science research bureau in the federal government, supports the science needs of all the other bureaus of the Department of the Interior (DOI) and other departments of the U.S. government. The USGS will play a critical role in addressing the nation’s energy and climate change challenges.
Overall, the DOI will manage $3.0 billion in investments as part of the recovery plan signed by the President to jumpstart our economy, create or save jobs, and put a down payment on addressing long-neglected challenges so our country can thrive in the 21st Century.
“These USGS projects not only stimulate job creation and preservation, but they stimulate the scientific research that must underpin the decisions we make on behalf of the American people as the stewards of the nation’s natural resources,” Sec. Salazar said in a teleconference today. “As America’s leading earth science agency, USGS is central to helping us meet the imperatives of the nation’s energy and climate change challenges.”
Among the programs funded through the Department’s ARRA investments, USGS will dedicate $15.2 million to volcano monitoring and $14.6 million to streamgage upgrades, support that will further the agency’s recent efforts to protect life and property in places such as Alaska and North Dakota.
The $140 million announced today for USGS will fund repair, construction and restoration of facilities; equipment replacement and upgrades; national map activities; and critical deferred maintenance and improvement projects.
Specific investments include:
  • Volcano Monitoring – $15.2 million to modernize equipment in the National Volcano Early Warning System (NVEWS) at all USGS volcano observatories. The U.S. and its territories include some of the most volcanically-active regions in the world, with 169 active volcanoes. As many as 54 of these potentially dangerous volcanoes need improved monitoring.
  • Upgrades to streamgages used in flood monitoring – $14.6 million to upgrade to high-data radio (HDR) technology and upgrade streamgages with new technologies for streamflow measurement. All 7,500 streamgages will be upgraded by 2012.
  • Water Program Deferred Maintenance – $14.6 million for remediation to remove streamgages, cablewa
    ys, and ground-water wells that are no longer in use, making these sites safer for public enjoyment and support local economies.
  • Deferred Maintenance of Facilities – $29.4 million for projects that address health and safety issues; functional needs such as improved laboratory space; make facilities more energy efficient, and incorporate sustainable design criteria in project implementation.
  • Earthquake Monitoring – $29.4 million to modernize the Advanced National Seismic System (ANSS) by doubling the number of ANSS-quality stations and upgrading seismic networks nationwide, to bring the total from approximately 800 to 1600. These improved networks will deliver faster, more reliable and more accurate information – helping to save lives by providing better situational awareness in the wake of the damaging earthquakes that can strike this nation at any time.
  • Construction – $17.8 million for research facilities at Patuxent Wildlife Refuge Research Center in Laurel, MD; the Columbia Environmental Research Center (CERC) in Columbia, MO; and the Upper Midwest Environmental Sciences Center (UMESC) in LaCrosse, WI. Work at these centers will improve the ability of scientists to conduct innovative research on contaminants and wildlife, endangered species, wind power and wildlife, adaptive management, wildlife disease and much more. The rehabilitation of these facilities will support jobs for the local community, improve functionality, and reduce long-term operating costs.
  • Imagery and Elevation Maps – $14.6 million to improve mapping data, which will then be made available for multiple uses including flood mapping, emergency operations, and natural resource management.
  • Data Preservation – $488,000 to the USGS Bird Banding Laboratory (BBL) to digitize, and make available to the public via the Internet, the historical banding recovery and bird banding records. Bird banding data have a wide variety of uses including applications for disease research.
“President Obama and this Department have ambitious goals to build America’s new energy future, protect and restore our treasured landscapes, and create a 21st Century Youth Conservation Corps,” added Salazar. “These USGS projects and the science that guides them will help us fulfill these goals while helping American families and their communities prosper.”
The USGS projects were selected in a rigorous merit-based process based on the longstanding priorities of the agency, as will all projects included in the Department’s Recovery Act funding.
Noting that he is visiting Alaska next week, Salazar emphasized the critical nature of USGS’ work in emergencies. “Their monitoring of Redoubt, which has erupted several times, alerted people in the pathway of the volcano to take precautions ahead of time. Protecting public safety is invaluable.”
The five USGS Volcano Observatories have been allotted $15.2 million to modernize monitoring networks and warning systems. Many of the dangerous volcanoes in the United States may not be monitored well enough for scientists to warn the public of explosive eruptions, alert aircraft of ash clouds or warn communities of ash falls and lava and mud flows.
The importance of these observatories was evident during the recent Mar. 22 eruption of Mount Redoubt Volcano, 106 miles southwest of Anchorage. The Alaska Volcano Observatory started issuing warnings of an impending eruption starting Jan. 23 after recording increased seismic activity at the volcano, giving communities and businesses time to prepare. The observatory’s top priority is to prevent repetition of the incident that occurred during Redoubt’s eruption 19 years ago, when a Boeing 747 passenger aircraft strayed into an ash cloud and nearly crashed.
Stimulus funds will improve AVO’s preparedness and vigilance, both at Redoubt and at other similar volcanoes in Alaska.
With respect to the funds for streamflow and flood monitoring projects, USGS has a network of 7,500 streamgages, most of which run on solar power. The streamgages feature radio transmitters that send data to satellites. Because of advances in satellite communication technology, these radios will be obsolete in 2013. The stimulus funds will enable USGS to upgrade streamgages with new radio transmitters that will reduce transmission time and make data available to the public hourly, an improvement from the current wait of 3-4 hours.
“This type of technology was pivotal to addressing the flooding hazards that recently threatened North Dakota,” added Salazar. “Stream flow monitoring is critically important to our understanding of the effects of climate change on water availability in some regions of the nation, and accurate long-term streamflow information is necessary to determine how water managers can respond and adapt to these changes.”
Sec. Salazar has pledged unprecedented levels of transparency and accountability in the implementation of the Department of the Interior’s economic recovery projects. The public will be able to follow the progress of each project at http://www.recovery.gov/ or www.interior.gov/recovery.
Greg Sitek

More Daily Dirt

Colorado Selects Contractors For First Stimulus Funded Transportation Projects

Colorado Governor Bill Ritter (D) announced Thursday that the Colorado Department of Transportation (CDOT) opened contractor bids on the first five transportation projects, nearly $15 million of Colorado’s expected $403 million worth of road projects, to be funded through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act. Colorado will receive $103 million for transit projects.

“This is a major step forward for Colorado,” Gov. Ritter said. “Construction is expected to begin on these projects in the next month, and that means jobs saved and jobs created for Colorado workers. We continue to move as quickly, efficiently and effectively as possible to ensure the Recovery Act is doing what it is intended to do.”

Contracting companies competing hungrily for work bid a total of $13.5 million for five paving projects.

The apparent low bids for all five projects came in under the price tag CDOT had estimated, with the apparent winners undercutting CDOT’s estimates by up to 30 percent. On Monday, Site-K Construction Zone reported that nationally, projects were coming in as much as 25 percent below project prices.

“It was very positive to see such competitive bidding on our first round of ARRA projects,” said CDOT Executive Director Russ George. “The project bids came in an average of 12 percent lower than expected. If this trend continues, we may be able to accumulate enough funding to add more construction projects to our list.”

The five paving projects and apparent low bidding contractors include:

  • I-25 between 6th Avenue and 23rd Avenue in Denver County, resurfaces approximately three miles of I-25 in asphalt.

    Total project budget: $5.5 million

    Bid amount: $2.8 million

    Contractor: Brannan Sand and Gravel Company

  • I-70 between Kipling and Wadsworth Boulevard in Jefferson County, (photo by Kathleen Lavine/Business Journal) repairs or replaces concrete slabs for approximately three miles of I-70.

    Total project budget: $1.8 million

    Bid Amount: $1.4 million

    Contractor: New Design Construction
  • State Highway 88 (Belleview Avenue) between Federal Boulevard and US 85 in Arapahoe County, resurfaces approximately one mile of SH 88 in asphalt.

    Total project budget: $1.2 million

    Bid amount: $407,400

    Contractor: Aggregate Industries
  • US 40 (Colfax Avenue) between Kipling and Sheridan in Jefferson County, resurfaces approximately three miles of US 40.

    Total project budget: $4.7 million

    Bid amount: $2.1 million

    Contractor: Asphalt Paving Company
  • I-70 Vail Pass to Silverthorne in Eagle and Summit counties, resurfaces 14 miles of I-70 from milepost 190 to 204 and the right lane of eastbound I-70 from milepost 180 to 190. The project also rehabilitates numerous bridges along the I-70 corridor by repairing expansion joints and making repairs to the bridge decks.

    Total project budget: $11.5 million ($8 million in ARRA funds)

    Bid Amount: $6.8 million

    Contractor: Asphalt Paving Company

CDOT expects to finalize contracts within the next few weeks, with work on the projects expected to start in May.

Bids for the sixth project — repairing two bridges on Interstate 76 that cross the Union Pacific railroad tracks and Colorado 224 in Adams County, and the last in the first group of CDOT’s federal stimulus projects — will be opened April 9.

Local Company Hopes Colorado Stimulus Money Kick Starts Road Projects

How important is the stimulus funding? For many contractors it’s critical since they derive a high percentage of their work from government contracts.

For nearly 25 years, family-owned and operated Jalisco International Inc., a heavy highway construction company based in Commerce City, CO has been working on roads and bridges in Colorado. More than 90 percent of its business comes from government and public construction contracts.

“Those contracts started drying up last summer and since then we laid off about 8 percent of our workforce,” Antonio Ledezma said.

Ledezma’s family owns Jalisco International. Last week, a small crew worked on an expansion project at the intersection of South University Boulevard and East Arapahoe Road in Littleton. They are among the ones that avoided lay offs, but were not spared other affects from the slow economy.


Jalisco International is hoping to hire back some workers if it can win contracts for some of the dozens of infrastructure projects funded by the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act.

Roughly $317 million has been allocated to the Colorado Department of Transportation (CDOT) for such projects and the department and contractors alike are eager to see the money serve its purpose.

“We’ll have 48 projects going to bid this summer as part of the recovery funds and this is going to be huge for contractors because it’s going to get their folks back to work. It’s also good for CDOT, without this money it would be a struggle for CDOT to build and maintain roadways like we need to,” CDOT spokesperson Mindy Crane said.

Due to the recession and the many contractors facing situations similar to Jalisco International, the bidding for the road and bridge projects will likely be fierce. Ledezma predicts the shortage of work will bring new meaning to “low bid contracts.”

“It’s going to be competitive. The state, the cities and counties involved in this are going to get a lot of work for probably the lowest amount of money than at any other time because everybody needs work,” Ledezma said.

It’s work Ledezma hopes his workers will win, if their price is right. Bids for the resurfacing/rehabilitation projects will open up on April 9 and the bid for the bridge replacement project will open April 16.

CDOT estimates the contracting process usually takes one to two months. The six projects now advertised will likely be awarded in May with construction beginning in late May or early June.

For more information about transportation projects visit the Colorado Economic Recovery and Accountability website or the CDOT website.

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


Public Facilities

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.

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.

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

National Infrastructure Bank In Budget

National Infrastructure Bank In Budget

Interesting issues are getting some serious media attention. The National Infrastructure Bank (NIB) is one and revising some regulations to better meet today’s needs is another. Too often regulations, existing legislation and out-of-date rules cause more problems than the lack of funds.

The creation of a National Infrastructure Bank was one of the promises made during President Obama’s campaign.

President Obama called for the creation of a National Infrastructure Bank in his budget released on Thursday, saying it would “expand and enhance existing federal infrastructure investments.”

“The mission of this entity will be to not only provide direct federal investment but also to help foster coordination through state, municipal and private co-investment in our nation’s most challenging infrastructure needs,” according to budget documents.

The budget, which must be approved by Congress, requests $5 billion for the bank in fiscal year 2010 which starts October 1, and anticipates that it will receive $25.2 billion from then through 2019.

For more than a year Congress has mulled creating what many have called a “Federal Reserve of Infrastructure,” which would use seed money from the federal government to establish an independent board for giving capital project grants to state and local governments.

When meeting with U.S. governors in December before he took office, Obama said the bank would be a top priority. During his campaign, he said an independent bank should receive $60 billion over 10 years from the federal government.

The Campaign Promise: New Jobs Through National Infrastructure Investment

During the campaign, Barack Obama and Joe Biden said that they “believe that it is critically important for the United States to rebuild its national transportation infrastructure – its highways, bridges, roads, ports, air, and train systems – to strengthen user safety, bolster our long-term competitiveness and ensure our economy continues to grow.

They stated that they would address the infrastructure challenge by creating a National Infrastructure Reinvestment Bank to expand and enhance, not supplant, existing federal transportation investments. This independent entity would be directed to invest in our nation’s most challenging transportation infrastructure needs. The Bank would receive an infusion of federal money, $60 billion over 10 years, to provide financing to transportation infrastructure projects across the nation. These projects would create up to two million new direct and indirect jobs and stimulate approximately $35 billion per year in new economic activity.

How good an Infrastructure Bank will be depends entirely on how well it is managed and whether or not it becomes one more target for lobbyists, earmarks, or a place from which political favors can be extracted.

We need to address the problem of outdated, failing infrastructure. And money is the only thing that can fix what ails it. The more money we pour into it, the better the fix. But, sometimes money alone won’t do the trick. Some of our outdated legislation may be a bigger problem than funding.

President Obama’s plan to inject billions of dollars into infrastructure projects is welcome news for the world of agriculture, transportation industry experts said.

But the government must also pass targeted legislation to iron out the sometimes outdated policies that slow movement and increase the cost of raw materials flowing into and out of crop producing areas of the world’s biggest grain exporter, they said.

U.S. farm exports totaled a record $115.5 billion in 2008. Commodities move from farms located mostly in the interior of the country to domestic markets and export terminals via truck, rail and river barge.

“We’re excited about the new administration, but this is going to be a mammoth challenge,” said Paul Rohde, vice president at Waterways Council, Inc., an advocacy group that works to sustain and improve the U.S. system of navigable rivers.

“The way we build these locks, the cost of overruns, our country is hamstrung by the process,” he said on the sidelines of the 2009 Commodity Classic grain industry

“I don’t know that it will happen in four years, but at least the trend line is changing,” he said.

In his budget proposal laid out this week, President Obama requested $5 billion to create a National Infrastructure Bank in fiscal year 2010, which starts October 1, saying it would expand and enhance existing federal infrastructure investments.

The transportation industry says that necessary repairs to aging roads, bridges, and river locks and dams have often been neglected until it is too late.

“The whole river works as a system. If just one lock goes down, there’s a ripple effect and all of a sudden the rail rates go up,” Rohde said.

Rail infrastructure has not been neglected as severely as U.S. roads, bridges and river locks because of private investment, but limited competition and a lack of government regulation of the industry has sometimes elevated shipping costs.

Businesses that transport grain and other goods via rail, represented by Jennifer Owen of the group Consumers United for Rail Equity, argue that railroads operate nearly as a monopoly but are not regulated by anti-trust laws as they should be.

The rail industry has consolidated from about 40 large railroads in 1980 to just 4 major players today, she stressed.

Efficiency in the trucking industry has been hampered by rigid regulation that should be updated, some in the industry believe. When you consider the fact that “rules of the road” can and do change from state to state.

“Truckers are limited to the hours they work and that’s for all of our safety,” said Russell Laird, executive director of the American Trucking Associations (ATA).

“But during the planting and harvesting seasons, while safety is still important, it’s really hard to get the job done without exemptions,” he said, citing proposed revisions to the number of hours a trucker must rest between shifts during busy periods.

He said ATA is also aiming to revise existing weight limits to ease gridlock and to help make truck transportation of goods more efficient.

Increasing the number of axles on a truck and spacing them out differently can increase the amount of material a truck can haul without undue wear on roads, he said.

Maybe it’s time some listened to the trucking industry and paid attention to some of the legitimate complaints they have. While we are deeply engaged in reinvesting in and rebuilding our infrastructure we should also be busy updating the other things that keep us from being globally competitive.

Greg Sitek