Thoughts on the Engineering Industry

A blog covering engineering, technology and business topics

Archive for the tag “infrastructure”

The state of infrastructure funding and the crisis in Flint, Michigan

Hello everyone, I know I’ve been away for awhile.  The truth is that I have trouble staying motivated with my blogpost, but hopefully this will be the start of a more productive year though.  As many of you know, there has been an infrastructure crisis going on in Flint, Michigan that is very serious and was very preventable.  There has been plenty of coverage on the crisis and the root causes of the whole situation there, but I wanted discuss a couple themes that are indicative of our problematic infrastructure policy in the U.S.

The initial fact that jumped out at me in the coverage is that engineers knew that this crisis would occur when the city of Flint, Michigan went through with its proposed plan.  It is one thing to go with a more budget appropriate option to resolve an engineering issue within a city.  Most engineers believe that it is better to have a higher quality engineering system in most cases.  We also realize that it isn’t always within the budget to do so. However, that does not mean that we reduce the quality of the engineering systems such that public lives are at risk.  To do so is to not only break our engineering code of ethics, but to also commit a criminal act and should at least warrant a loss of your professional engineering license.  In my opinion, the professionals involved with this project should have taken any and all actions to prevent the city from going through with these plans.

Furthermore, the fact that the city pushed for this unsafe plan, let alone considered it, is irresponsible of the city government.  In the least, the safety of all it’s residents should be the local, state, and federal government’s main concern.  That’s why we have police officers, fire fighters, social workers, etc.; because the government is an organization that is run for and by the people.  By placing the budgetary concerns before the safety of the residents of Flint, Michigan, the local government broke that implicit agreement and has failed as a government agency.

Additionally, the fact that they felt this pressure at all is indicative of a problematic policy in regards infrastructure spending as a whole.  In my opinion, there a some areas of responsibility that the government should not have strict budgetary constraint.  Most of them have to do with public/citizen health and safety.  Some of those organizations are obvious to identify such as police officers and fire fighters.  There are also some areas that indirectly affect public safety.  In my opinion, one of those areas is infrastructure, and we are failing on multiple counts.  There are bridges that are structurally deficient – a few that have collapsed endangering the public.  There was Hurricane Katrina where the failure of critical flood prevention infrastructure due lack of maintenance contributed to a massive loss of life in the days following the natural disaster.  The crisis in Flint, Michigan is another bullet point on a list failures that have recently occurred in regards to infrastructure maintenance and funding.

Moving forward from the Flint, Michigan crisis, I believe there needs to be a focus on improving infrastructure management on all government levels.  The situation in regards to the infrastructure management in the U.S. has gotten to the point that the safety of the public is increasingly at risk and it is unacceptable that this should be the case.

What are your opinions on the Flynt, Michigan crisis moving forward?  What steps should be taken to improve the situation overall?   If you enjoyed my post, hit the like button, follow my blog for updates and share this post with your friends.  Thanks for reading and have a good week!

Applications of Shape Memory Alloys in Concrete Infrastructure Rehabilation

Hello, I hope everyone is doing well.  I’ve been busy with the holidays but I’m finally going to get back to my blogging and will hopefully maintain my weekly posting schedule this time around.  Today, I would like to talk about some research on applications of shape memory alloy (SMA) in concrete infrastructure rehabilitation being done at University of Houston and Qatar University.

SMA’s are metal alloys that can be deformed and then return back to their original shape when re-heated.  In this case, researchers are testing the usage of SMA’s in a rod that would be wrapped around concrete beams or columns.  Their ability to deform, then return to their original shape, would apply an active confinement pressure.  The design/usage of SMA’s would perform the function of current fiber-reinforced polymers (FRP’s); however, FRP’s only apply a reactive confinement pressure.  The confinement pressure provided by the SMA’s would, in theory, further reduce long-term deterioration and degradation.

The researchers will focus on determining the best available material for concrete columns and beams.  There are three types of metal alloys being tested.  The alloys that are most commonly available are the nickel/titanium alloys, referred to as binary alloys.  Ternary alloys include a third metal in addition to the binary alloy metals.  A third option are the iron- and copper-based alloys, which are generally less expensive.  Since binary alloys require constant heating to have continuous active confinement pressure, the scientist are focusing their studies on a Ternary alloy using Niobium and Iron/Copper alloys.

I believe the application of SMA’s in this application could improve infrastructure rehabilitation.  However, there are some concerns I have.  I think we need to see definitive proof with testing that, by adding the active confinement pressure, we effectively improve the serviceablity life of the infrastructure. The other concern is that we don’t know how much the rods will expand due to creep – especially since the rods will be continuously loaded with an outward force and have already been deformed to a previously outward deformed shape.

What is your opinion on this application for shape memory alloys?  Do you think it will be effective and practical for concrete infrastructure rehabilitation?  If you enjoyed reading, like the post and share it with your friends.  Thanks for your time and have a good week!

Source 

“Shape Memory Alloys Could Bring Stabilizing Force To Concrete Infrastructure”, David Hill, Civil Engineering Magazine, June 2014

Image Source

“Shape Memory and Palladium Iron Alloys”, taboodada.wordpress.com/2011/03/31/41/, March 31, 2011

Application of 3-D Printing and Modular Design to Construction

Hello everyone, I hope you guys had a good weekend.  Today I would like to discuss a couple innovations which apply 3-D printing and modular design innovations to construction practice.  These are applications that were more common in manufacturing and prototyping initially but can be applied to construction as well according to the article by Business Review Weekly.

The first innovation is the application of 3-D printing to the creation of moulds for precast concrete.  Traditionally, other materials such as wood, foam or rubber have been use, and constructing these moulds could take months to construct.  The Laing O’Rourke Company has developed a method that 3-D prints a large scale wax substrate mould at a rate of 150 kg/hr using a robots.  They have applied this to common projects such as stormwater pipes and have achieved cost savings of 50% to 90%.  Additionally, this solves the waste problem because the wax mould is lifted off or melted away in a water bath after the concrete is cured.  The wax can then be filtered and recycled.

The second innovation is the use of modular components in hospital construction.  Hospitals are one of the most expensive areas of infrastructure because they are individually designed.  Hickory Group has developed a modular panel for use in reception and administrative areas.  These areas use what is referred to as “accommodation components” which constitutes up to 40% of the construction cost of a hospital.  By using the modular panel, construction time can be cut by 40%.  Furthermore, the panels are easily replaceable.  If a panel is damaged, the hospital  can simply order a replacement and have their maintenance worker install the new panel.

Both of these are very good innovations in my opinion.  They are taking methods that have been proven effective in several previously tested applications and expanded their usage.  Furthermore, a reduction in time of construction and cost of maintenance/construction has been achieved.  I would be interested in seeing a more detailed account of the numbers and statistics.   However, based on the information provided, these are great examples of low risk/high reward solutions that can greatly improve construction practices.

What is your opinion on these innovations?  Do you think they’ll be effective?  If you enjoyed reading, like the post and share it with your friends.  Thanks for your time and have a good week!

Sources

Michael Bleby, “BRW Most Innovative Companies 2014: Why Construction Companies Are Thinking Like Manufacturers”, Business Review Weekly, October 9, 2014, http://goo.gl/O0oD6E

Image Source

Anne-Mette Manelius, “Concrete After Dark – Is There An Afterlife for Concrete?”, Concretely, October 17, 2014, http://goo.gl/IYI6q2

The Balance of Public Private Partnership and Government Funding in the Infrastructure Industry

 

     Hello everyone, sorry about being away for a bit.  I had an exam and had to focus in on school work, but I feel like I did good on the exam and can get back to a normal rhythm.  Today I would like to pose an interesting question.  What is best for the infrastructure industry – public private partnerships or government funded projects?

     I read a good letter-to-the-editor piece in CE Magazine recently that was critical of politicians who only wanted to pursue the infrastructure investment bank option for increasing investment.  In the author’s opinion, it is the job of the government to do whatever it takes to provide the infrastructure systems for this country.  I don’t see it as one dimensional as the author does, but this brought an interesting point to my attention.  A lot of people involved with the infrastructure industry like the public private partnership type projects as a way to bring more investment to the infrastructure construction and maintenance process.  Since increased funding in this area is needed ASAP, I have no problem with them pushing for this option if people are willing to do this.  However, issues in the infrastructure industry that can’t be addressed through a public private partnership system are largely over looked.

    Public Private Partnerships can help relieve a lot of the issues that drag our infrastructure down right now.  For example, a private company could charge tolls for a road and use that to maintain the road as part of a business plan.  This is a great system once you solve the oversight and standards issues.  Another area that this could be beneficial for is management of projects and procuring construction manpower and equipment.  As people have discovered with the government projects, having to maintain a large bureaucracy in managing these large projects is expensive.  Off loading those expenses to companies willing to do the work would allow for increased efficiency in the infrastructure construction process.

    However, there are some parts of the infrastructure industry where government investment is required to some degree.  The main one I see is the initial investment stage of these large scale projects.  Any private company will need some help (or at least an incentive) to take on the large amount of initial investment required.  Private businesses in general prefer projects that have large profits and the lowest possible expenses.  Government can provide a lot of aid to the infrastructure industry by allowing private companies to apply their preferred model for business.  The other area I see the government being essential are the parts of infrastructure where for profit motives aren’t the bottom line.  A great example of this is public transportation.  Overall, it is a largely inefficient industry in regards to cost and maintenance.  However, it doesn’t mean that it is something that shouldn’t be promoted as a part of our infrastructure improvement plan.  I’m not saying that we should take a loss in these projects, but it is something that should be offered without an eye towards massively cutting cost or increasing profits.  Since a company will not see the same high margin of profits they might find in a large highway construction project, they are more like to not take the project or to maintain an inadequate system due to their goals of minimizing inefficiencies and increasing profits.

    To sum it up, a balance needs to found between the application of public private partnerships and government funded projects in the infrastructure industry.  Some of the ways I think we can find a good balance are listed above.  What is your opinion about the balance of the infrastructure industry?  Is there anything you think we need to do to improve it?  Thanks for your time and have a good week!

Benefits of BIM Modeling in Project Pricing for Head Contractors and Subcontractors

     Hello.  How is everyone doing?  Today I would like to discuss the statistical breakdown of the benefits in project pricing BIM modeling can provide for the head contractors and subcontractors involved in the design process.  BIM modeling is something that is collectively touted by most innovators in the building and infrastructure design/build field.  However, it would be helpful to understand who has the most motivation to implement improved BIM modeling.  As stated by David Mitchell, “For different types of projects the people you need to engage, changes. We need to acknowledge that the savings arising out of a building project differs significantly to those of a civil or resource project.  There also needs to be an appreciation of when a construction contract or subcontract is formed as well as the type of construction contract that has been entered into.”  Therefore, the issue is approached in regards to those factors.

For a commercial scale building project, the indirect cost such as design and overhead management amounts to 17% as compared to 83% for the construction costs.  In addition, the ratio of margins between subcontractors and contractors is 7 to 1.  Therefore, it benefits the subcontractors the most to apply the BIM modeling.  However, when a civil project is considered, the head contractor sees most of the benefits because subcontractors only control 17% of the costs.  The resource sector has some interesting statistics as well.  First of all, for a pipeline, the indirect cost is far greater at 45% of the cost going to head contractors.  In addition, the head contractor owns the material production plant/labor and the resulting cost accounts for 83% percent of the other 55% which amounts to an additional 46% of the direct cost and 91% of the overall cost.  Therefore, in this case, the head contractor holds a large portion of the cost control.  However, when building a refinement plant there are some critical differences.  There is a similar level of indirect cost cost at 45%, but the subcontractor sees 88% of the direct cost in this case.  The result is the subcontractor seeing 48% of the cost of the project as compared to 9% in the previous example.

The above statistics are interesting for several reasons.  The first one, as stated in the article, is the fact that BIM modeling is implemented by head contractor and other associated designers; yet in some cases, the subcontractors see the benefits.  Seeing as changes in pricing are based on estimation based on previous projects, pricing benefits aren’t planned for in the budget as efficiently, and, depending on the project and head contractor, a subcontractor could see large and consistent benefits.  This means that the benefits of using BIM might not be maximized aside from time and documentation for the head contractor in that situation.  And if it is a case where head contractors see a large amount of the cost savings, they can more readily pass along the cost saving of BIM modeling. But the subcontractors may not be motivated to help improve the BIM modeling because it doesn’t help their bottom line.  For both of these reason, it makes sense why it is most common for head contractors and designers to push for improvements and BIM modeling.  However, an often overlooked requirement is that the subcontractor needs to work with the head contractor in implementing the improvements and have proper motivation to pass along the savings the see the full benefit for everyone involved with the project.

What is your opinion on BIM model implementation in regards to subcontractors and head contractors?  Are there any ways to promote a shared interest in BIM modeling?  Thanks for your time and have a good week!

Start Up Plans and Revisions for the Hyperloop Design

Hello everyone! I hope y’all are doing well.  It’s the same old stuff for me.  Looking forward to Halloween though– it’s always my favorite holiday.  And I want to go to a haunted house since I haven’t been to one in a long time.  Today, I want to talk about updates on the hyperloop concept since Elon Musk has made the proposal.

JumpStartFund has recruited two people, Marco Villa (former director of operations missions at SpaceX) and Patricia Galloway (first female president of ASCE) to coordinate the month long fund raising process.  Dirk Ahlborn, CEO and co-founder of JumpStartFund, has said “a lot of people talk about why this project will never work and how difficult it is to realize,…We are honored to have Dr. Villa and Dr. Galloway on board to lead our community, and their involvement goes a long way to proving that our platform’s processes, along with our community, can actually bring mega projects to life, such as Hyperloop.”  This fundraising is unique in that JumpStartFund will apply concepts of crowd space design used in the design of open-source software.  Galloway is interested in the project because it offers some unique challenges.  According to her, the challenge in this stage of the project is to verify its viability and prove that it can be practically designed and constructed.  They will have to bring people into the project that can not only bring in useful expertise but some much needed equity as well.  Galloway said “I believe this project will revolutionize how transportation will be viewed for future travel to and from major cities similar to the way the Concorde almost changed air travel,…What is different today is the opportunities that crowdsourcing and crowdfunding offers in getting dreams and innovations off the ground to allow the Concordes of the future become reality today.”

The Technology Futurist of AutoDesk, Jordan Brandt, has also added some significant input as well.  He says “Elon Musk put a lot of this energy into designing the pod capsule, and the power requirements, and things like that,…but not so much into the infrastructure, which by the way is the most expensive aspect of the project.”  Using 3-D modeling software, Brandt has redesigned the tubes such that they are stacked in a vertical figure 8 design.  According to his calculations, this should reduce land area requirements and the quantity of pylons needed to support the tubes.  Along with other engineers at AutoDesk, he also devised a system, called a mobile braiding system, which would use carbon nanofibers to create the tubes as it moves along the planned route.  With a refinement in the carbon nanofiber manufacturing process the material could be cheaper and the transportation for the construction costs could be greatly reduced as well.  In his final estimate, he believes this will save billions of dollars on the project.

In my opinion, these are the types of innovations I was hoping would be made on the design.  In my previous blog post (http://goo.gl/X1UgIK, second to last paragraph), I cited construction costs as one of the critical issues to address and this is an innovative idea.  I worry that the refinements in manufacturing the carbon nanofiber might not be as effective as thought and I also worry about the need to create yet another untested machine to complete the project.  However, these are the types of creative ideas that I think are needed in transportation design going forward.

What are your thoughts on these new developments?  Do they help or hurt the viability and the implementation of the project?  Thanks for your time and have a good week!

Sources:

Rogowski, Mark, “With Engineers On Board, A Startup Is Driving The Hyperloop Idea Forward”, Forbes Online, 9/26/2013, http://goo.gl/uMjgGH

Jessica Leber, “What Will It Take to Actually Build the Hyperloop?”, Co.exist, 10/10/2013, http://goo.gl/j3ESai

Basic Overview of the Hyperloop

Hello everyone, I hope y’all are doing well.  I’ve taken a bit of a vacation, both literally for a weekend, and then for longer in regards to my blog.  I feel guilty but it just felt like the right time to do something like this.  Nothing else new has really been going on with me – still just looking for work as an engineer and keeping my resume up to date.  I have taken the time to really learn Revit which should help me and my next big to do list in regards to personal learning is getting sharp on AutoCAD again.  One fun thing is that I’m also working harder on getting my Spanish to a conversational level, it would really be nice if I could put that on my resume too although not as important.  I will also start working as a substitute teacher again and I hope that won’t cut into my job hunt and personal job training right now.  We’ll see how that goes.  Anyways, that’s about all as far as updates go – today, I want to talk about the recent Hyperloop Alpha Proposal published by Elon Musk (founder of Paypal, SpaceX and Tesla Motors).  It has created quite the stir in the engineering community and I thought it would be a good topic to come back on. For this blog post, I am going to reference Elon Musk’s Hyperloop Alpha Proposal (http://bit.ly/16LCXwt).  However, this is a complex enough idea with enough attention that I might do some more detailed analysis in another blog post.

The hyperloop is a combination of a maglev and vacuum tube system.  Similar concepts have been proposed by Rand Corporation and ET3.  The main difference is that the previous designs involve using a hard or near hard vacuum in the tube; however, the Hyperloop uses a low pressure system.  The low pressure system is supposed to be much easier to maintain using standard pumps and maintenance than a hard vacuum.  The propulsion system involves a combination of air pumps and magnetic levitation.  An air pump will be put in the front of the train and will pump air below and behind the train.  This will accomplish several things: reduce air pressure in front of the train, create a buffer of air below the train, and reduce drag behind the train.  A pump will also be used directly below the train to reinforce the buffer of air as needed.  The maglev system will propel the train forward and will be powered by a battery similar to the battery found in the Tesla Model S.  There are two options for the size and purpose of the train: one is a smaller passenger train and one that is a larger passenger train that can also carry several vehicles.  The Hyperloop is theoretically designed to travel at 700 mph according to the proposal.  However, the critical part of this design not the propulsion system but the tube system.  The proposal suggests a tube system that is supported above ground using precast reinforced concrete columns that would take up no more room than a power line pole would require.  The track would follow the I-5 Highway and only deviate from the highway when necessary.  Also, due to changes in elevation, it is estimated that the tube would occasionally have to be placed at or below grade.  The track would be stabilized using dampers and minor adjustments would be allowed for to account for foundation settlement.  The different sections track would be connected using expansion and contraction joints that would help account for lateral loads due to earthquakes and other lateral vibrations.  The rest of the report is numbers and calculations used for estimation and comparison in regards to other systems.  The specific numbers and calculations read like a rough estimate and aren’t worth discussing in this post in my opinion; however, I would recommend quickly browsing the numbers and calculations just to get a quick idea about the comparisons to other modes of transportation.  Elon Musk in closing goes on to list the critical issues that need to be considered to implement the idea:

“The authors recognize the need for additional work, including but not limited to:

1. More expansion on the control mechanism for Hyperloop capsules, including attitude thruster or control moment gyros.

2. Detailed station designs with loading and unloading of both passenger and passenger plus vehicle versions of the Hyperloop capsules.

3. Trades comparing the costs and benefits of Hyperloop with more conventional magnetic levitation systems.

4. Sub-scale testing based on a further optimized design to demonstrate the physics of Hyperloop.

Engineering News Record wrote an article (http://bit.ly/1a7MWQQ) recently sharing some professional critiques.  The first one is a quote from an unnamed source:

“Many media sources offer commentary from professors about the impossibility of the hyperloop. One of those same sources told ENR off the record that “the idea of building a $68-billion rail line that takes 25 to 30 years to complete is just as absurd.””

They go on to say that Elon Musk has addressed the issue that testing and further research is required, but that some blow back has come his way for that.

“Other media critique Musk for being only an idea man who is hiding behind his massive business responsibilities and not moving toward implementation of the hyperloop. Musk admits as much in his proposal and, noting that the hyperloop idea is not complete, asks for help from “all members of the community.””

The article then goes on to share some thoughts Ted Zoli of HNTB, National Chief Bridge Engineer.

““Just the substructure costs alone for elevated structure over the entire length of the alignment is enormous,” says Ted Zoli, national bridge chief engineer at HNTB. The hyperloop’s proposed design requires elevated piers every 100 ft. Zoli says if the structure was built instead at grade, the construction costs could be “sharply reduced.” He adds that it conceivably could be built at grade for much of the route, “particularly if it is in the median of I-5,” which is where Musk envisions much of the transit tube being placed.

Zoli suggested that, given the hyperloop’s 88-in.-dia passenger pipe, any necessary tunneling could be done with horizontal directional drilling (HDD), “an inexpensive pipe installation technique.” Zoli adds that the largest HDD done now is 56 in. in dia, but he thinks custom HDD equipment readily could be developed, given the size of the hyperloop project.””

In closing, a final addition to the list of concerns is added in reference to another comment by Ted Zoli.

“5. A closer look at expansion joints.

“The expansion joints have not been figured in, in any meaningful way, and would be required much more often than at the terminal stations [as the current proposal outlines]. I would expect something on the order of every mile or thereabouts, even with a telescoping connection. Bearings would also have to accommodate relatively large relative movements for this distance between expansion joints,” says Zoli.”

In my opinion, there will be several critical issues if this is pursued.  The main one is the tube system in regards to column supports or on grade and expansion and contraction joints.  Given the high portion of the budget it involves, the high maintenance cost, even if it is designed well, could make it infeasible.  That combined with the earthquake and dynamics issues make that the most critical issue.  Another possible issue is testing – this is a system that has never been used on this scale before and would need significantly more testing and research to make a final decision, both of which cost money and won’t magically happen overnight.  And the final issue I see that has not been mentioned in the article at all is the reticence of the government to use unproven systems.  Take a look at how long it has taken to get high speed rail going in California and that is a system that has been proven to work for a couple decades in other countries.

Well this post got longer than I expected for my first post back in a while but thanks for reading if you got to this point.  What are your thoughts on the Hyperloop?  Do you have any concerns about the hyperloop?  Do you think this system can realistically be designed and implemented?  Thanks for your time and have a good week.

Improving Our Infrastructure to Be Competitive as a Nation

Hello everyone, I have been away from my blog because I was on vacation the last two weekends.  However, now I am back and feeling good.  I finally took my comprehensive exam for my ME program and I am now just waiting to formalize the graduation process.  I probably won’t walk across the stage but it feels good to know all my education is done.  I can now focus on finding work and some other personal education stuff. (like learning Spanish, how to use Revitt, etc.)  Today I want to talk about improving our infrastructure so that it can be the best in the world.

I was just reading this article (“Can ‘D+’ in infrastructure lead to ‘A’ in economics?”, http://tinyurl.com/lfxn4kt) earlier this week and it really made me rethink the whole infrastructure improvement concept.  For a while now, I have been a proponent of improving our infrastructure so that it will improve the economy and give us the much needed infrastructure repairs that are needed.  As someone who lives in Texas, I can tell you a lot needs to be done here and this is one of the places that is better in regards to infrastructure.  However, this article put it in a light that I think is important – how we can use the opportunity to surpass other countries with a system overhaul.

Our infrastructure is ranked at a D+ right now by ASCE – definitely not a good grade and one that needs to be improved.  And I think that instead of just repairing it like it was before, this complete repair of the whole system that is needed gives us a great opportunity.  We can put in new and improved roads, public transportation, energy grids, monitoring technology, etc. into every new road, rail, or energy system.  As soon as I read the article I thought of this analogy – getting a new car.  Going out and getting a car that looks exactly like your old car without any new features seems a little wasteful right.  If you are like most people you have had your car at least 5 years, and by then a lot of improvements have been made and can be implemented for the same price as buying the same car you had before.  That’s the logic we need to apply now.

The article outlines three main areas that the author thought that we can easily do some upgrades.  The first idea is in interconnected public transportation.  This is something I have talked about for years amongst my friends.  Having interconnected hubs of planes, trains, buses and any other modes of public transit would greatly improve traffic flow on roads and allow people to travel easier.  Places like California have already started and I think it’s something that needs to be done all across the country.  The second idea is a micro-grid energy system that can work together with other systems or work independently.  This would give the system freedom to disconnect if needed in an emergency or work together and share excess energy in peak usage hours as needed.  A good example of this is a neighborhood in Brooklyn which could operate during Hurricane Sandy by disconnecting their micro-grid system from the larger system.  The last idea is increasing efficiency in newer buildings.  When building new buildings or renovating old buildings, money is already being spent to get new materials.  By using systems that are more energy efficient and environmentally friendly, improvements in energy and resource usage can be obtained for very little extra cost.

Do you think that these ideas will help improve our infrastructure?  What are some other ways that you think we can improve our infrastructure?  Thanks for your time and have a good week!

“Fracture Critical” Bridges and Other US Infrastructure Issues

Removal of the fallen Interstate 5 bridge over the Skagit River begins Monday, after barges carrying heavy cutting and lifting equipment from Atkinson Construction arrived in Mount Vernon. After removing the fallen span from the river, final inspections can begin before WSDOT can begin designing a preferred option for repairing the bridge and reopening the interstate.

Hello everyone.  I hope y’all are doing well.  Nothing new has really happened with me; just enjoying summer and my family visiting – all the summer type things.  Today I want to discuss “fracture critical” bridges and the issues in regards to US infrastructure in regard to the bridge collapse of the I-5 bridge in Seattle, Washington.  A recent article I read from the Associated Press, “Thousands of Bridges at Risk of Freak Collapse”, has discussed some of the statistics related to the issue.

The article opens with this quote to describe the bridge category of “fracture critical”: “Thousands of bridges around the United States may be one freak accident or mistake away from collapse, even if the spans are deemed structurally sound.”  In essence, this means that these bridges have no extra level of strength or redundancy incorporated into their design.  Further more these bridges carry millions of drivers every day.  This is the stated reason for the I-5 bridge collapse a couple weeks ago.  Recently, the government has focused on repairing bridges in the “structurally deficient” category – this means that portions of these bridges are poor condition or worse.  The most recent bridge failure in the “fracture critical” category was the I-35W bridge failure in Minneapolis which had a much higher passenger injury rate and even some deaths.  A study performed in the wake of that bridge failure revealed that only a few “fracture critical” bridges fail overall.  However, the government still builds these type of bridges in the belief that they won’t fail – the reason this design is still being used instead of the more conservative redundant design methods is monetary issues.  18,000 “fracture critical” bridges have been built from 1950 to 1980.  On a similar note, 30% of the bridges in the US fall into the “structural deficient” and “functionally obsolete” category; the “functionally obsolete” means that the design of the bridge is not suitable for it’s current usage.  The current spending on these repairs is $28.5 billion and this spending is double that of the budget in 1998.  However, this increase has barely kept up with the demand for repairs and while public officials agree something has to be done, they have not agreed on any solutions to effectively increase the bridge repair budget.  Currently, progress is being made by states in that they are trying to increase state budget investment using toll roads, gas taxes and sales tax.  Along with that, $3 billion of the $27 billion stimulus went to bridge repair budget as well.  Washington state Rep. Judy Clibborn states that “We can’t possibly do it all in the next 10 years, but we’re going to do the first bite of the apple.”

There are several things that can be learned from this bridge collapse.  The main one is that the analyzation of a bridge structure is more complicated than being structurally safe or unsafe.  While some of the bridges that get the most concern are the ones that aren’t structurally safe, there are a lot more that fall into that gray zone.  The secondary thing in relation to that is that in order to understand the complexity politicians need to have a better understanding of bridge design philosophy – especially the importance of redundancy and increased strength.  There also needs to be understanding by the population and politicians alike that there needs to be an increase in budgeted time and money to implement these concepts in order to construct the best quality bridges for our infrastructure.  What are your opinions on how to implement this?  What do you think are the best ways to increase the budget in regards to time/money and improve design/construction methods?  Thanks for your time and have a good week.

Source:
“Thousands of bridges at risk of freak collapse”, Associated Press, May 26th, 2013, http://tinyurl.com/myor9uf

Can a study on Texas infrastructure ignore public transportation concerns?

Hello everyone, I hope your week went well.  I actually felt a little off in the middle of the week due to grass allergies which is annoying.  I did have a bit a good luck though in getting a job interview for a small structural engineering firm in Dallas.  It turns out he was looking for someone who knew revit though which I don’t know, but it gives me something to work on for the future and he did recommend a good tutorial book which I appreciate.  Overall, the experience was good.  Today I wanted to share with you an article I found talking about how Texas has the best infrastructure in the country.  When it comes to roads, I could find it believe-able but I think there is something essential that is not mentioned even in passing – our severe lack of public transportation options in places.

In the study by CNBC, they say that they “measured each state’s transportation system by the value of goods shipped by air, land and water.  The availability of air travel and the quality of the roads in each state were also examined.”  I’ll grant them one thing – this is an easy statistic to quantify.  It takes a lot more effort to do an in depth study of the number of commuters combined with all the transportation options and travel times to see a complete picture.  That, however, is not my issue.  It’s the fact that they neglect to mention this element they over looked at all.  The only thing they say that is closely related to this fact at all is this – “Despite Texas’ number one ranking in terms of the value of items shipped over its transportation system, North Texas drivers are dealing with some high numbers of their own as they contend with the most congested freeways in the state.  A 2011 study by TxDOT found that the LBJ Freeway carries more than 300,000 cars per day despite being built to handle only 120,000.”  I don’t see how you say that you are proud of your infrastructure and claim that it is meeting your states need when the roads are only designed to meet a fraction of the demand.  Not only that, they look into the topic any deeper on any level; if they did, I would think they would find research like this or this.  Even if the original assessment by CNBC is accurate by their standards, their choice to ignore the transportation system as a whole makes the conclusions in the study highly flawed.

What is your opinion on this?  Should studies like this be done as long as other elements are considered as well?  Or do studies like this always lead to a flawed analysis like in this article?  Thanks for reading and have a good week. 🙂

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