Industry News Briefs
Surety Insurance Shortage May Slow Construction Market
Pittsburgh Business Times (10/03/08) Semmes, Ben
An expected slowdown in commercial construction over the coming years could hinge on the fate of the surety insurance market, which is expected to follow along with credit markets' tightening. "I think that is one of the components that may slow things down or limit the amount of work that contractors can chase," says Joe Milicia Jr., vice president and general manager of the Pittsburgh office of Turner Construction Co. Already, "the demand is way more than the supply" for surety bonds, according to Milicia, with consolidation in the international surety market having made just 10 to 15 companies responsible for some 80 percent of all bonds. Travelers and Chubb have said they will no longer be issuing the bonds as co-participants with American International Group, while consolidation has continued in recent weeks with Liberty Mutual's acquisition of Safeco. According to Jim Bly of Marsh Inc., the exit of companies from the market is an important matter because some large commercial jobs require multiple sureties for bonding. In addition, the more difficult environment for financing is likely to increase the need for bonding as bonding requirements become stricter.
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9/11 Prompts Code Changes by International Code Council
NIST Tech Beat (10/01/08)
The International Code Council (ICC) recently authorized 23 building and fire code changes based on recommendations from the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) stemming from NIST's probe into the fall of New York City's World Trade Center (WTC) towers on Sept. 11, 2001. The new codes cover topics that include enhancing structural resistance to building collapse from fire and other incidents; mandating a third exit stairway for tall buildings; extending the width of all stairways by 50 percent in new high-rises; fortifying criteria for the bonding, proper installation, and inspection of sprayed fire-resistive materials; making active fire protection systems more reliable; requiring a new class of robust elevators for access by emergency responders in lieu of an additional stairway; increasing the prevalence and visibility of exit path markings; and guaranteeing effective coverage throughout a building for emergency responder radio communications. The revisions will be inserted into next year's edition of the ICC's I-Codes, which is used as a foundation for building and fire regulations disseminated and enforced by U.S. state and local jurisdictions. Nine additional code change proposals based on NIST's WTC recommendations were not passed for inclusion in the 2009 edition of the I-Codes, and the areas addressed by the proposals include designing structures to alleviate disproportionate progressive collapse, requiring the employment of a nationally accepted standard for conducting wind tunnel tests, installing stairway communication and monitoring systems on specific floors of tall buildings, mandating risk assessments for buildings with substantial hazard, and restricting the length of horizontal transfer corridors in stairways. "The lessons learned from the tragic events of 9/11 have yielded stronger building and fire codes for a new generation of safer, more robust buildings across the nation," says Commerce Secretary Carlos Gutierrez.
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Making a Case for Diversity in Engineering Fields
Inside Higher Ed (10/06/08) Chubin, Daryl E.; Malcom, Shirley M.
Diversity is often lacking in the science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) fields, and Daryl E. Chubin and Shirley M. Malcom with the American Association for the Advancement of Science lament that "at a time when STEM fields are increasingly important to our national security, health, and competitiveness, we are neither supporting the research nor producing the diverse pool of scientists and engineers we need to fuel our future." They cite research implying that diverse viewpoints enhance science and boost engineering's responsiveness to an international client base, and note that although just 5 percent of American workers were employed in STEM occupations as of 2006, they had a disproportionately large impact on the national and global economies. Chubin and Malcom say women, Native Americans, African Americans, and Latinos are sorely underrepresented among all STEM majors at the undergraduate level, despite the growing diversity of the student population overall. The authors identify several issues that must be addressed to boost the diversity of colleges' STEM departments, starting with the clear articulation of the educational case for diversity, illustrating its advantages for both students and society in general so that appropriate policies, practices, structural revisions, and resources can be identified and provided to offer the optimal path to diversity. A more holistic way of thinking about diversity in STEM must then be implemented, while a third issue Chubin and Malcom cite is an acknowledgment that stereotypes are still relevant and have an impact on people's views of quality and expectations for performance. "We must move toward strategies to transform an entire institution--to serve the needs of all students and faculty members, regardless of discipline, not just those with certain characteristics," the authors contend.
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With Financial Rescue Signed, Contractors Hope for a Revival
ENR (10/03/08) Ichniowski, Tom
Contractor associations expressed hope for a business revival as Congress and the president approved a rescue plan for the financial markets, whose credit tightening had been a worrisome sign for the construction industry. "In the last week, AGC members generated an unprecedented number of letters to their senators and representatives because congressional inaction was affecting their businesses," says Associated General Contractors CEO Stephen E. Sandherr. Similarly, Associated Builders and Contractors National Chairman Bill Fairchild says, "We hope this bill will restore investor confidence on Wall Street and boost one of the few sources of meaningful economic expansion in the U.S.--commercial construction." Under the package, the Treasury Department is authorized to pay up to $700 billion for "troubled" mortgages and related securities as well as for "any other financial instrument" that must be bought "to promote financial market stability" in the Treasury's judgment. The intention is that banks that are able to sell such low-quality assets will be led to extend more credit.
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NSF Awards 10 Grants for Studies of Coupled Natural and Human Systems
National Science Foundation (10/03/08)
Ten grants have been awarded by the National Science Foundation (NSF) and the U.S. Forest Service to researchers, engineers, and educators across the United States to investigate coupled natural and human systems, which will furnish a better comprehension of natural processes and cycles, human behavior and decisions, and the ways they interact. Among the topics that will be addressed by this year's Dynamics of Coupled Natural and Human Systems (CNH) program awards are the outlook for coastal barrier islands, urban areas, and their susceptibility to climate change; tree growth and carbon cycling in agricultural areas undergoing conversion to residential areas; and the optimal approach for combining industrial ecology and ecological engineering. "Several of these awards will investigate how climate change will impact human and natural systems, and how these coupled systems may respond adaptively," notes James Collins, NSF assistant director for biological sciences. "The awards highlight the relevance and interdisciplinary nature of the CNH program in NSF's portfolio of investments in climate change research." Timothy Killeen, NSF assistant director for geosciences, stated that the CNH program has pioneered research that is fostering a better understanding of how mankind relates to life's underlying environmental and biological systems, which will become increasingly valuable as the awareness that Earth's resources are not inexhaustible spreads.
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Foresight Issues Challenge DOT'S Efforts to Assess and Respond to New Technology-based Trends
U.S. Government Accountability Office (10/01/08)
U.S. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) officials' usual criteria for responding to issues—quantitative evidence of a sizable problem and knowledge of a countermeasure with promise—is insufficient for addressing the sort of uncertainty that is characteristic of new fast-moving technology-based trends. Crash-avoidance technologies is an example of a technology-based trend that could offer the opportunity to improve future safety, and NHTSA is working to pursue these opportunities despite somewhat limited data about the actual safety benefits; one way it is doing so is by providing consumer information about new crash-avoidance technology. Meanwhile, the proliferation of electronic driver distractions is an example of a technology-based trend that appears to threaten safety, and NHTSA is conducting studies to understand the nature and scope of the potential threat. However, it is not self-initiating actions or research specifically for countering new distractions, because it has not seen evidence that the problem is as significant as some other threats, such as not wearing seatbelts. The Department of Transportation has attempted to use both new and old methods to obtain appropriate data on how the safety impacts of these trends are changing, but producing additional, higher quality, or more timely evidence is a challenge. For example, real-world crash data sets take so long to compile and analyze that they cannot keep up with fast-moving trends. Therefore, the government is looking for new and innovative approaches, such as using wireless technology to collect crash data, or making use of new analysis techniques.
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Entire Neighborhoods Decide to Go 'Green'
Seattle Times (10/04/08) Ramer, Holly
As the residential property market holds in a down cycle, more and more consumers are seeking out energy-efficient lifestyles--not only in their individual homes but also in the surrounding neighborhood. There already are more than 100 U.S. communities in place that embrace co-housing design: an earth-friendly and sustainable development approach where neighbors own their homes but share common areas. But mainstream projects are jumping on the "green" bandwagon, too. In Ocean View, Del., for instance, builder Robert Thornton is working on a development of 350 upscale homes that will boast high-performance insulation, efficient heating, irrigation systems, and other environmentally friendly components. "A lot of the builders out there are naysayers," according to Thornton. "Once they see that's where their economic impact is going to be most effective, they get on board. They see that's what our customers are demanding." The trend is so pronounced--McGraw-Hill Construction estimates the market could hit $20 billion in sales this year--that the U.S. Green Building Council will, beginning in 2009, start applying a variation of its Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) rating system to whole communities rather than just single structures.
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Reducing Pipeline Construction Costs With Firth Weld ECA
Pipeline & Gas Journal (09/08) Vol. 235, No. 8, P. 64; Lee, Kenneth Y.
Girth weld engineering critical assessment (ECA) keeps construction costs for transmission pipeline projects down by keeping unnecessary repairs to a minimum. An alternative defect acceptance criterion based on fracture mechanics principles, ECA methods most frequently used in North American pipeline projects include API 1104, Appendix A, and CSA Z662. Pipeline girth weld acceptance standards are based on good workmanship and structural flaws detected by radiographic testing. With ECA, engineers are able to determine the suitability of a pipeline that has imperfections for intended service conditions or fitness for service. High toughness in the weld metal and heat-affected zone (HAZ) is necessary to achieve the maximum benefits of ECA. Specimens are gathered from the top, bottom and side of the pipe in the weld and HAZ to gauge the toughness around the pipe circumference. Afterwards, the allowable height and length of surface and buried imperfections are determined using the minimum crack tip opening displacement, maximum axial design stress, pipe diameter, inspection error and wall thickness.
Civil Engineering (09/08) Vol. 78, No. 9, P. 64; Marshall, David H.; Gibson, Russell L.; Hutson, Alan C.
The Eagle Mountain Connection Project allows the Tarrant Regional Water District to pipe water from a pair of eastern reservoirs to a lake that will serve expanding populations on the north and west sides of Fort Worth, Texas, reducing the likelihood of drought in the service areas from once every decade to once every five decades and making the installation of a longer and costlier pipeline unnecessary. The project featured a system reliability and enhancement study and the design and erection of 20 miles of 96-inch and 84-inch pipeline, the 430 mgd Rolling Hills booster pump station, the 230 mgd Benbrook booster station, a 120 million-gallon balancing reservoir, the Clear Fork flow control and outlet structures, and the Eagle Mountain flow control and subaqueous outlet structure. The project's total construction cost came to just north of $139 million. The Eagle Mountain pipeline is steel lined with mortar, while protection against corrosion is provided by a polyurethane coating and a cathodic system. Two storage tanks are utilized in the project: A tank at the Rolling Hills booster station can store 7 million gallons, while the other at the Benbrook facility has a maximum capacity of 14 million gallons. The tanks are made from prestressed concrete, which have lower expected lifecycle costs than steel and do not require painting. The eastern Texas water is pumped to Trinity River's Clear Fork via a 120 mgd river outlet, and the Holly Water Treatment Plant uses the discharge into Clear Fork, making the Tarrant Regional Water District's delivery system more flexible and redundant. The district asked that the pipeline discharge into the main body of Eagle Mountain Lake to augment water mixing conditions and water quality, and this was done by laying a 700-foot section of subaqueous pipe into the lake and linking it to an outlet structure submerged in 20 feet of water. Centrifugally cast fiberglass-reinforced polymer mortar piping from Hobas Pipe was selected as the pipe material.
Plastic Bridge in Huron County May Be Path to the Future
Toledo Blade (OH) (10/06/08) Patch, David
A 17-foot-long bridge carrying Ridge Road over a Huron River tributary in North Fairfield, Ohio, has become a test case for a new type of road bridge that is made of fiberglass-reinforced plastic rather than steel or concrete. Douglas Nims, an associate professor of civil engineering at the University of Toledo, and some of his students will be taking readings from sensors built into the structure, which was installed as a replacement for a previous bridge in September. "Per square foot, it's probably the most instrumented bridge in the world," says Nims, whose ongoing bridge research also includes Toledo's Veterans' Glass City Skyway on I-280. "Salt eats the deck. What could [it] eat on a plastic bridge? What could rust?" says Joseph Kovach, the Huron County engineer, who received a $155,000 grant from the Federal Highway Administration for installing and studying the hand-built structure. The bridge's $73,000 price tag was somewhat higher than that of a similarly sized concrete or steel-beam structure, but it is expected to be much more long-lasting, and the price would likely come down if the components can be made in bulk. Kovach and Nims have speculated that the portability and speed of installation of the modular plastic bridge could make it ideal for military engineers. The bridge incorporates panels made by Kansas Structural Composites, which tested a sample panel before installation and found that it could take a maximum load 10 times stronger than expected.
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Carbon Sequestration Along Highway Rights of Way: Piloting a Concept
Successes in Stewardship (09/08)
The U.S. Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) Office of Natural and Human Environment is performing a Carbon Sequestration Pilot Project (CSPP) to investigate the potential for reducing CO2 emissions by modifying state transportation agencies' vegetation-management practices in their rights-of-way (ROW). The CSPP's objectives include determining how much carbon can be sequestered using native vegetation management and calculating how much revenue could be produced via the sale of "carbon credits" on an emissions trading market. The New Mexico Department of Transportation (NMDOT) was chosen by FHWA to quantify and encourage the cultivation of existing trees, bushes and native grasses growing in highway ROW that would naturally remove CO2 from the air. Factors that led to NMDOT's selection included National Highway System rural road mileage; total state acres of potential forest and grassland if permitted to grow naturally; NMDOT's expressed interest in potential participation; the presence of state policies or indicators that would encourage participation; information on the quantity of different vegetation types; and state membership in an emissions-trading platform. FHWA intends to collaborate with NMDOT to help ascertain and confirm the available acreage for carbon sequestration and to estimate the vegetation costs and potential value of marketable credits. The pilot should help NMDOT significantly in fulfilling its emissions reduction goals, lowering fuel costs from mowing and creating revenue. The vegetation that can sequester carbon has other potential benefits, including serving as a wildlife habitat, reducing storm water runoff and preventing erosion.
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