Spanning the News

March 16, 2004

A group of Peoria middle school students were getting a taste of something new in the engineering and information technology fields on a Saturday in late January. Pizza didn’t stand a chance.

A group of Peoria middle school students were getting a taste of something new in the engineering and information technology fields on a Saturday in late January. Pizza didn’t stand a chance.

“We survey the students at the end of each session and one of the questions asks them to name their favorite part of the day,” Tami Nelson, corporate employment services manager for Caterpillar Inc., told Roads & Bridges. “We served pizza. They all love pizza. But not one student said their favorite part of the day was pizza. They gave us comments like building prototypes and working with the mentors.”

Those who work Destination Technology, a cooperative effort between Caterpillar and Peoria School District 150, are constantly fed positive feedback. Originally set up to recruit women and minorities into engineering and information technology careers, Destination Technology has taken over the recreational lives of middle schoolers. The program holds classroom sessions one Saturday a month during the school year and caps the theme with a week-long summer camp.

“We’re starting to see larger numbers of students per (middle school),” Mary Ward, lead teacher for Destination Technology, told Roads & Bridges. “With the school district you have the intramural basketball program, softball, volleyball, music. The kids are pulled in many, many different directions. I think (the increase in enrollment) speaks well for the program, the staff and the mentors.”

Teachers nominate students for the three-year program based on math, science and technology aptitude, problem-solving skills and the ability to work individually and within teams. From there, a selection committee comprising teachers and Caterpillar employees makes the final selection. Seventy-two eager learners filled the program during its inaugural year in 2001-2002. That number has swelled to approximately 86 this year, and schools are constantly being chased by hopeful parents looking to get their child enrolled.

The magnetism of Destination Technology comes from the opportunity to receive hands-on experience in the engineering and information technology fields and to hear from those who already have established careers. A new component to this year’s program was the addition of mentors. Professionals from the engineering and IT research divisions at Caterpillar provide a true picture of the two fields.

“The mentors are able to bring in a component that really helps us grow,” said Nelson. “They bring in real-life, real-world examples.”

The current focus of Destination Technology is Peoria’s own I-74 construction project, which was named to the Roads & Bridges Top 10 Roads list in 2003. The project was formally introduced on the Saturday leading into Engineer’s Week (Feb. 23-27). The students, who received copies of Roads & Bridges magazine, were able to mix their own concrete mixes, perform tests, take a tour of the Caterpillar facility and study topics like corrosion and tensile strength. Teachers will expand on I-74 later in the program, discussing the job’s environmental and economic consequences, traffic patterns and global positioning satellite technology. During the summer camp, the Illinois Department of Transportation will take the students out in the field so they can see the industry in action. The program’s grand finale will be a bridge-breaking competition.

“We’re naming the teams after different bridges, and part of their assignment is to study the construction of the different structures,” said Nelson. “They’ll be using that study this summer when they build their own bridges.

“We also help the students develop that sense of teamwork, interpersonal relations and presentation skills. We spend a lot of time working that side of the equation too.”

To keep the learning adrenaline going after Destination Technology, Caterpillar works the Society of Manufacturing Engineers (SME) through Bradley University in a program called “STEPS,” which is offered to ninth graders. A new activity is in the works for the 10th grade, and students can take advantage of Caterpillar’s student trainee and internship programs later in their high school and college careers.

Va. advisory panel recommends STAR proposal for I-81

The advisory panel reviewing two detailed proposals to improve the I-81 corridor in Virginia recommended to Transportation Commissioner Philip Shucet that he enter into negotiations with STAR Solutions for a comprehensive agreement. The STAR proposal is based on the separation of car and truck lanes along the I-81 corridor.

The majority of the panel supported the concept of widening I-81 to four lanes in each direction, with tolls applied to both cars and trucks. The panel also strongly endorsed the need for a multistate effort for rail improvements.

The panel’s recommendation and its supporting documents will go to Shucet for his review. Shucet will determine whether to accept, reject or modify the recommendation. He also will determine whether to enter into negotiations for a comprehensive agreement.

“The panel has reached its recommendation following a diligent and objective review of the proposals and all other relevant documents and studies,” said Pierce Homer, deputy secretary of transportation and chair of the advisory panel. “Before making its recommendation, the panel also took into serious consideration the public comments received from citizens and local governments along the corridor.”

The panel’s recommendation came with several conditions.

The panel stipulated that no improvements should be made to the corridor unless they are part of a federally approved environmental impact statement.

A comprehensive agreement with STAR Solutions cannot be implemented if the outcome of the environmental review process does not support the proposal. If the comprehensive agreement cannot be implemented, STAR Solutions will bear the total cost of developing and negotiating the proposal with the state.

The comprehensive agreement is contingent on the project’s receiving $800 million in the pending federal highway legislation.

The comprehensive agreement should be based on a tolling framework that minimizes car and truck traffic diversion to other major roadways in Virginia and recognizes the potential effects on existing and future economic activity in the corridor.

The comprehensive agreement should incorporate a phased approach to construction that addresses the most serious congestion and safety problems first.

The panel reached its recommendation after an extensive review of proposals from two parties: Fluor Virginia Inc. and STAR Solutions. These proposals were submitted under the Public-Private Transportation Act, which allows Virginia to partner with the private sector to build projects more efficiently.

Dangerous work-zone conditions probably caused fatal accident

The failure of the Nebraska Department of Roads (NDOR) to recognize and correct the hazardous condition in one of its construction work zones probably caused a school bus crash in Nebraska, according to the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB). The irregular geometry of the roadway, narrow lane widths and speed limit all contributed to the dangerous condition, the NTSB said in a report issued on Feb. 10.

On Saturday, Oct. 13, 2001, a 78-passenger school bus carrying 27 high school students and three adults plus the driver was traveling westbound through a work zone on U.S. Route 6 in Omaha, Neb. As the bus entered the lane shift area at the approach to the West Papillion Creek Bridge, it encountered a 52-passenger motorcoach carrying high school students traveling eastbound.

Alarmed that the buses might collide, the driver of the westbound school bus swerved off the roadway and struck a barrier, steered to the left and then steered abruptly back to the right, striking the barrier again and, finally, a three-rail barrier between a guard rail and a concrete bridge railing.

The bus passed through the remains of the three-rail barrier, rode up onto the bridge’s sidewall, and rolled 270° as it fell about 49 ft, landing on its left side in the creek below the bridge.

Three students and one adult were killed. The remaining passengers and the bus driver sustained injuries ranging from serious to minor.

“The roadway geometry in the work zone resulted in extremely tight tolerances on driver performance,” the NTSB said, especially for drivers of large commercial vehicles.

The board was not able to determine whether either bus strayed over the center line, but it said the configuration of the work zone made the bus driver perceive that the oncoming bus was encroaching on the school bus’s lane. The driver anticipated a collision and acted to avoid it.

The NTSB also concluded that the configuration of the work zone could cause drivers to misjudge clearances and that the work zone speed limit was too high for the conditions. Contributing to the dangers in the work zone were the lack of a site-specific traffic control plan and inadequate inspections of the work zone by NDOR as required by the Federal Highway Administration.

NDOR failed to maintain the barrier system on the northeast corner of the bridge as required by the construction contract, and the poor maintenance contributed to the severity of the accident. If the barrier had been repaired to its original design and strength, the bus probably would have been deflected back into its lane instead of falling off the bridge.

The NTSB also found fault with the emergency preparedness of the students, the emergency equipment on the bus and the extrication training of the emergency responders.

Also, the school bus driver’s unfamiliarity with the vehicle was a contributing factor. The NTSB made safety recommendations to the FHWA, the NDOR, the Omaha Fire Department, the National Association of State Directors of Pupil Transportation Services and the maker of the school bus that crashed.

The recommendations to FHWA were for stricter criteria for work-zone safety and management, more diligent inspection and monitoring of work zones and to maintain traffic safety features, such as barrier systems, in a work zone to their prior design and strength or better.

Construction crane plunges from bridge ramp over I-280

Three construction workers were killed on Feb. 16 when a 1,000-ton construction crane collapsed and fell between the northbound and southbound lanes of I-280. Five other workers were injured. The falling crane narrowly missed the highway where traffic was flowing.

The 315-ft-long crane was assembling pieces of a ramp leading to a new interstate bridge across the Maumee River. When it fell it crushed a tractor-trailer carrying an 85-ton section of the new roadway and fell on the back of another trailer.

Fire crews pulled five workers out of the wreckage, according to an Associated Press report. One worker, suspended 70 ft in the air from a support for the new bridge, had to be rescued with the use of a second crane.

The victims were working on pylons below the crane. They were employees of suburban St. Louis-based Fru-Con, the primary contractor for the project.

Construction jobs predicted to grow 15% in the next decade

The construction industry is the only goods-producing sector in which employment is expected to grow over the next decade, according to the latest projection from the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

In response to the new report in mid-February, the Associated General Contractors of America (AGC) was talking up careers in construction.

“Construction is still an industry where you can climb the ladder of success as high as you want. The opportunities for women, minorities, youth and others are endless,” said AGC Chief Executive Officer Stephen E. Sandherr. “Moreover, construction jobs pay well. BLS figures show the average construction job pays 23% more than private-sector jobs overall.”

BLS’s 10-year projections of economic growth, employment by industry and occupation, and labor force are widely used in career guidance, in planning education and training programs and in studying long-range employment trends. Construction and extraction occupations are projected to grow 15%, the same rate as the average for all occupations. “Construction has provided a more stable employment environment in the past three years than most industries,” Sandherr commented. “You can’t export schools, roads and bridges, libraries, churches and other buildings. We need people to build them here.”

Mineta asks, Senate answers

Transportation Secretary Norm Mineta toured an elevated section of the Cleveland Innerbelt on Feb. 11. During the tour, Ohio Department of Transportation Director Gordon Proctor pointed out early signs of the need to replace the aging freeway, including rapidly deteriorating pavement decking.

Mineta used the occasion to call for the passage of a six-year transportation reauthorization bill that would provide funding for surface transportation construction such as the Innerbelt.

“Systems like the Innerbelt are crucial for bringing workers, fans and customers to downtown Cleveland,” Mineta told the tour group. “You know how important the Innerbelt is to the health of this city and the strength of the local economy. We need to recognize that by completing our work on this bill as soon as possible.”

The Bush administration has proposed a $256 billion bill that Mineta said “will get the job done without raising taxes or increasing the deficit.”

The day after Mineta’s statement in Ohio, the Senate voted by 76-21 to pass a more generous $318 billion package, so generous in fact that the White House has threatened to veto the bill. The Senate vote would be enough to override a presidential veto.

Some members of Congress see the highway bill as a means to create jobs as well as improve deteriorating infrastructure, according to a report in the Sacramento Bee. The White House is more interested in taking a little air out of the ballooning deficit.

The U.S. House of Representatives has not yet passed its version of the transportation reauthorization bill and may not until June. After that, the two Republican-controlled houses will have to reconcile their bills and decide whether they want a showdown with their Republican president.

—edited by Allen Zeyher

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