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March 21, 2007

Dr. David Hartgen would love to see much of the attention go to the middle child.

He led a recent study released by the Reason Foundation indicating that traffic delays will increase 65% over the next 25 years, while the number of congested lane-miles on urban roads will rise by 50%.

Dr. David Hartgen would love to see much of the attention go to the middle child.

He led a recent study released by the Reason Foundation indicating that traffic delays will increase 65% over the next 25 years, while the number of congested lane-miles on urban roads will rise by 50%.

Los Angeles, Chicago, San Francisco and Washington, D.C., are again expected to top the list in 2030, but picking up traffic-snarling momentum are some cities from Middle America. Austin, Texas, Boston, Bridgeport-Stamford, Conn., Charlotte, N.C., Dallas-Ft. Worth, Detroit, Riverside-San Bernardino, Calif., Tucson and Tampa-St. Petersburg are among the 30 metropolitan areas that will experience a 50% increase in rush-hour trips, according to the report. Places like Boise, Idaho, and Albany, N.Y., also will see congestion more than double.

“[Congestion] is a pervasive problem everywhere and the growth of congestion is higher in the middle and smaller cities than the bigger cities,” Hartgen, a professor of transportation studies at University of North Carolina—Charlotte, told Roads & Bridges. “The telephones are going to ring a lot more in midtown America than they are in the big town.”

Businesses may be the voice that instills some common sense in some areas, according to Hartgen. “The real pressure has to come from the business community. When the business community says they are out unless the problem is fixed, then that gets the attention of local officials.”

Hartgen said the mind of the decision makers has been wandering when it comes to allocating funds. The money is there, it’s just not going toward the right type of development. Atlanta realized its congestion problem a few years ago, and has now changed its policies so that 70% of the project selection weight is on congestion reduction.

“They have actually set a congestion goal for their future,” Hartgen said. “No other city in the country has set a goal of reducing congestion.”

The Reason Foundation study did put a price tag on relieving rush-hour crawls by 2030—$533 billion. That comes out to a little more than $21 billion per year. The money would be put toward building the 104,000 additional lane-miles of capacity needed for easier travel.

“As a country, we spent $20 billion last year on pet food,” said Hartgen. “In terms of project allocation, congestion needs to move to the top of the pile. We need to deal with the left-hand turns and the bottlenecks on ramps rather than put the money into silly stuff that doesn’t matter.”

The report said the investment would save drivers 7.7 billion hours annually.

“We issue a stern warning to the country. The cities that don’t do this are going to be left in the dust economically. They will be doomed to a congestion purgatory.” added Hartgen.

Cave surveys help design new interstate

Cavernous underground chambers can be a hazard to construction. If the caves are not far underground, a bulldozer might find itself plunging through the surface to the bottom of a sinkhole.

To avoid such a disaster, the Tennessee Department of Transportation (TDOT) ordered surveys of the caves beneath the corridor for I-475, a beltway to connnect I-75 in Loudon and Anderson County, Tenn.

The 1,000-ft-wide stretch of land that the state is investigating for the new I-475 features extensive areas of the karst, according to Bill Davis, survey manager for Vaughn & Melton, Middlesboro, Ky. Karst is a region of limestone with sinkholes, caves and streams running through it.

TDOT selected engineering firm Vaughn & Melton to provide surveying and mapping services. As lead consultant to TDOT, Vaughn & Melton was responsible for locating 24 caves relative to the proposed I-475 corridor, surveying 10 caves and providing three-dimensional computer models of the four most significant caves.

Surveying was begun in 2004 with a list of only three known caves. More caves were discovered continually throughout the surveying project. By the time the cave survey was completed earlier this year, Construction Equipment Guide reported, the team surveyed 4,800 ft of passages.

Surveyors and technicians, at times assisted by a team of expert climbers, used laser beams to take measurements off the uneven surface of cave walls for the creation of 3-D models. Some of the caves featured passages 50 ft wide with 90-ft ceilings. And sometimes surveyors found themselves belly crawling in the mud, recording survey readings by hand.

“I’ve actually touched both shoulders and couldn’t raise my head any further,” Davis said. “I’ve never been lost, just slightly confused for a while.”

The group was able to complete surveys of some caves in just one day. However, one of the larger caves, Cherokee Caverns, took about three weeks to complete.

Upon completion of the surveying, TDOT will use Vaughn & Melton’s 3-D models in the design of I-475 to prevent or minimize damage to the caves and associated wildlife. The models also should reduce construction costs related to the caves.

MDOT fears TABOR

The Maine Department of Transportation (MDOT) is a little nervous heading into the November elections. A Taxpayer Bill of Rights (TABOR) is on the ballot, and MDOT believes it would result in fewer road projects in Maine, additional debt and cutbacks in maintenance and operations, such as snow plowing, line striping and summer mowing.

TABOR is designed to restrict future growth in government spending at the state, municipal and school district levels to increases in inflation and population growth.

In a memo, MDOT Deputy Commissioner Bruce Van Note wrote that if TABOR were now in effect the agency would be limited to spending increases of 3.4% for the upcoming 2008-2009 biennial budget while capital construction costs are increasing by an annual average of about 10%.

“The result of the basic math is simple but profound,” Van Note wrote. “The bottom line is that Maine DOT will not be able to maintain our existing level of capital program production.”

Bill Becker, president and CEO of the Maine Heritage Policy Center, told Maine’s Bangor Daily News that increasing the DOT budget at a 10% annual rate is not sustainable. He said TABOR would allow for additional spending if lawmakers approve it by a two-thirds majority and the spending is then approved by voters.

Public weighs in on DOT spending

A formal public meeting allowed local residents to comment on the future of transportation in Mississippi.

Sponsored by the Mississippi DOT (MDOT), the open-house meeting was one of six held across the state to present information compiled through the Mississippi Unified Long-range Transportation Infrastructure Plan (MULTIPLAN). MULTIPLAN is a 30-year planning initiative assessing all modes of transportation, including recommendations about future needs.

“Statewide we’ve found there won’t be enough revenue generated to do everything we would like to do,” Robert Burt, statewide planning manager for the MDOT, told The Meridian Star. “Whether it be maintaining the roads we currently have or expanding the roadways, including more lanes, more new roadways and upgrading or modernizing the roads we currently have.”

Residents viewed a PowerPoint presentation, which provided an overview of MULTIPLAN, and were asked to complete a questionnaire which asked, “What do you want to accomplish with MDOT’s limited financial resources?”

Burt said response at the meetings was positive.

“Public transit has been a popular topic,” he told the Meridian Star. “But one of the main things we’ve been asked is, ‘What can people do to help MDOT?’ and ‘What are some other alternatives to the funding shortfalls we’ve identified?’”

Cement use on the rise

Experts at the Portland Cement Association (PCA) expect a slowdown in the U.S. economy but an increase of 2.3% in cement consumption this year, compared with 2005, for a total of 129.6 million tons.

“Higher interest rates, oil prices and inflation will slow consumer spending,” Edward Sullivan, PCA chief economist said. “These forces will result in a harsh decline in residential building and slow the recovery in nonresidential construction activity in 2006 and 2007.”

The PCA summer forecast also reports that the tight market conditions seen during the past two years have been dramatically reduced. According to PCA’s most recent survey, only two states reported tight conditions, compared with 30 states in 2004 and 2005. Large gains in imports in the first half of 2006 contributed significantly to the easing of supply shortages.

The PCA also has announced its spring course schedule. Courses use a combination of practicing professionals with solid experience and the latest in simulations to enable participants to understand real-world problems.

Registration is available online (www.cement.org/et) or by phone at 847/972-9032.

Skanska stakes claim on I-285

Skanska USA Civil, Atlanta, intends to submit a competing proposal for the expansion of I-285 from I-20 north to I-75 in northwest Atlanta.

Following guidelines set forth by Georgia’s Public-Private Initiatives (PPI) legislation, Skanska has sent a Letter of Intent to submit a proposal to the Georgia Department of Transportation (GDOT), which can accept and evaluate proposals from private businesses and corporations for transportation projects. To date, the department has received one unsolicited proposal and two other letters of intent for the same corridor.

“We appreciate the opportunity offered by the state of Georgia to submit innovative proposals to meet transportation needs,” said Randy Schultz, director of special projects for Skanska USA Civil. “The team we are assembling is first-rate. Through the PPI process, we hope to address needed improvements to this corridor, as well as improve traffic flow and highway connectivity for the region’s motorists.”

According to GDOT, competing proposals for the I-285 Northwest Corridor must be submitted by Oct. 30.

Va. receives innovative money

The Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) has awarded the Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT) $1.15 million under FHWA’s Innovative Bridge Research and Construction (IBRC) program to use innovative materials on three new Virginia bridges. Virginia is the only state to receive more than $1 million from this program this year.

VDOT, through its research division, the Virginia Transportation Research Council, will use the money to replace or build new bridges in the following locations:

  • Canton Road (Rte. 1302) over Canton Creek, Town Tangier, Accomack County;
  • Rte. 16 over Fox Creek, Troutdale, Grayson County; and
  • Rte. 28 over Broad Run, Bristow, Prince William County.

The IBRC program helps state and local governments incorporate new materials and other technologies in their bridge work to reduce traffic congestion and maintenance, increase savings and productivity by lowering life-cycle costs, and generally enhance safety. A complete list of grants is at www.fhwa.dot.gov/bridge/ibrc/awards.cfm.

Deere teams with Qualcomm

John Deere Construction & Forestry Co. has signed an alliance with Qualcomm Inc., San Diego, to create an equipment and machine monitoring and information delivery system to be sold across North America by Deere dealers.

Beginning this fall, customers will be able to order JDLink on select John Deere construction and forestry equipment.

JDLink automatically collects, transmits and manages information about where and how construction and forestry equipment is being used as well as critical machine health data for improved utilization, productivity and revenue. The system leverages Qualcomm’s GlobalTRACS equipment management system.

Four levels of service will be available with JDLink.

NAPA asphalt scholarship

The Roads & Bridges Ecological Award Scholarship is available for a student pursuing an education in civil engineering in the U.S. The program, which was established by the National Asphalt Pavement Association’s (NAPA) Ecological Award Program, provides $1,000 per year to an undergraduate or graduate student who is a U.S. citizen and enrolled in a full-time civil engineering, construction management or construction engineering curriculun at an accredited four-year college or university or a two-year technical institution.

The institution selected by the student must offer, and the student must take, at least one course on hot-mix asphalt.

A panel of judges will select the winner from the pool of eligible students provided by the NAPA Reserarch and Education Foundation (NAPA REF). NAPA REF will notify the winning student and present the scholarship in the fall of each year.

Correction

In our June 2006 issue (WAY better, p 80) we incorrectly stated the professional affiliation of the contributing author. Dr. Shad Sargand actually is a professor of civil engineering at Ohio University, in Athens, Ohio. We regret the error.

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