ACEC Weekly NewsLine
March 23, 2011

Land/Buildings

Earthquakes Pose Additional Challenge to Solar Industry

Transportation

FHWA Looks at Climate Change Impact on Infrastructure

Other

Bipartisan Group Calls for National Infrastructure Bank




Energy

Bechtel Might Turn to Smaller Nuclear Plants
San Francisco Chronicle (03/16/11) Ross, Andrew

Bechtel Corp., which has built more than half of the 104 nuclear power plants operating in the United States, says it has on its drawing board "the world's first commercially viable, small modular nuclear power plants," described by the president of Bechtel's power unit as a "real game changer." Given the fresh wave of fear about nuclear power in the wake of the quake- and tsunami-related accidents at Japanese nuclear facilities, such a design may be in demand. While the Obama administration has re-emphasized that nuclear power remains a part of its overall energy plan, there are concerns that $54 billion in industry loan guarantees the administration is seeking may be stymied in Congress. Last week, Bechtel announced the appointment of senior executives to head up a joint venture to develop "the next generation of nuclear power plants." The joint venture - called Generation mPower, launched last July with Babcock & Wilcox, whose technology is being employed - is one of several companies developing "small modular reactors." They include Westinghouse and Oregon's NuScale Power in the United States, and firms in China said to be furthest along in development. The reactors are said to be considerably cheaper and quicker to build and operate than their predecessors and, for communities of up to 100,000 people, to get electricity from. Described by some as a "Mini Cooper version of a nuclear reactor," they can supposedly be built in factories and shipped by truck, barge or rail cars and are also said to be safer. "They're very attractive, especially for cities and developing nations, but their claims have yet to be tested," says Burton Richter, a Nobel laureate in physics at Stanford University and member of the Department of Energy's Nuclear Energy Research Advisory Committee. "At this stage, I'd have to say, 'convince me.' " Richter said he was not speaking for the Energy Department's advisory committee.
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Ford Installs Solar and EV Charging Stations at Michigan Plant
CleanEnergyAuthority.com (03/15/11) Miller, Amanda

Ford Motor Company recently launched a pilot solar photovoltaic and energy storage project at its Michigan Assembly plant. The solar installation will generate 500 kilowatts of power and the 750-kilowatt battery storage bank will store 2 million watt-hours, enough to power 100 average Michigan homes. The installation will feed into a 10-unit electric vehicle charger that the plant will use to plug some of its moving machinery into and to test its new hybrid plug-in vehicles. The renewable energy captured by the energy system will help power the production of Ford's all-new Focus, set to hit showrooms in March. The solar and battery installation is just one of several renewable energy pilot programs Ford has implemented at various plants. The project is funded through a combination of grants from DTE Energy's pilot SolarCurrents program that calls for solar photovoltaic systems to be installed locally on customer roofs and the Michigan Public Service Commission. In addition to powering the production of Ford's electric vehicles, the project will include a 50-kilowatt-hour facility to demonstrate the potential reuse of vehicle electric batteries for stationary energy storage. Supporters of solar power have been touting electric vehicle batteries as potential storage devices that could be used to offset peak demand issues with solar power generation.
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Land/Buildings

Earthquakes Pose Additional Challenge to Solar Industry
Los Angeles Times (03/13/11) Finnegan, Michael; Holland, Gale

Major errors and miscalculations in the Los Angeles Community College System’s $5.7 billion plan to revamp its nine colleges with solar, wind, and geothermal power can provide a lesson to other builders of public and commercial buildings. The biggest blunder was the loss of $4 million in designs of solar and wind installations that, it turned out, could never be constructed because they were planned to be built on seismic faults. Two fields of solar panels that were planned along the Newport-Inglewood fault had to be abandoned after the plans were rejected by the State Architect, as well as solar arrays and wind turbines planned for a fault at Mission College in Sylmar. The original plan was to build 60 megawatts of renewable energy to make the college system self-sufficient, but so far only six megawatts have been built and 16 more are planned.
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Making Buildings Safer With Earthquake Shock Absorbers
CNN Money (03/14/11) Clifford, Catherine

New York company Taylor Devices sells patented earthquake shock-absorbers to prevent buildings, bridges, and elevated roads from falling during a quake. The dampers dissipate the energy of the quake and increase a building’s earthquake resistance threefold, says CEO Douglas Taylor, and the company hopes that its technology could help Japan to rebuild with more stable buildings. The technology was developed during the Cold War to protect U.S. missile silos, and the U.S. government was the company’s only customer during that period. But now its customer base is varied, including 40 percent of sales in Asia and 10 percent in Japan—indeed, the 22 bridges and buildings in Japan where the dampers are installed have survived the recent earthquake intact. Its devices are in place at the Guggenheim Museum in New York and the Seattle Mariners’ baseball stadium, and work best in large commercial buildings.
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Much Ado About Building Costly Arts Centers
Chronicle of Higher Education (03/18/11) P. A1; Biemiller, Lawrence

Numerous U.S. colleges are planning or opening multimillion-dollar performing-arts centers and similar venues, many of them underwritten by state funding. Such projects have people raising questions about administrative priorities as colleges hike tuition costs and eliminate programs. "In the order of sins, performing-arts centers are probably a tad better than rec centers, student-union buildings, and indoor-practice facilities," says Ohio University professor Richard Vedder. "They present events that have some tie to artistic expression, and that's part of what universities do." Yet Vedder notes that "we simply can't afford this stuff" when staff costs, heating and air conditioning, and depreciation are added up. Meanwhile, SmithGroup's David B. Greenbaum observes that performing-arts centers' glamor may be very appealing for college presidents and boards, particularly as more and more of the venues open on campuses that are not system flagships. "I wouldn't be surprised to think that a performing-arts center is going to be something you have to have," he says. "Maybe it's going from a luxury to a necessity." Some arts professionals are debating whether university performing-arts centers are contributing to a general overabundance of theaters. Yet executive director of the California State University at Northridge's Valley Performing Arts Center W. Robert Bucker argues that the San Fernando Valley has "a pent-up desire to see high culture and a tremendous interest in pop culture"—both of which will be offered by the new facility. He says one of the venue's major enticements is its location in a populous region from which driving to older facilities can present difficulties.

New NIST Testing Device May Help to 'Seal the Deal' for Building Owners
NIST Tech Beat (03/15/11)

About 50 percent of a building's joint sealants degrade in as little as 10 years after installation. For U.S. homeowners, moisture damage due to failed sealants is responsible for much of the $65 billion to $80 billion spent on house repairs each year. National Institute of Standards and Technology researchers are developing a toolkit of measurement devices and scientific data that will help manufacturers of sealants systematically improve the protective performance of their products. The most recent addition is an outdoor testing system that tracks real weather conditions, by the minute, and measures the squeezing and stretching that takes place in sealants as the building expands and contracts with temperature changes. The testing devices being developed by the NIST could replace several existing methods, which generally involve exposing sealants to the elements for extended periods and then inspecting them for signs of degradation. NIST research chemist Christopher White says the motion of buildings causes the material equivalent of fatigue, creating tears and adhesion loss and allowing water to breach sealants. The designs of the experimental testing devices have been shared with several U.S. sealant manufacturers, who have largely already adopted the new technology.
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Water

Feds Probe Chronic Sewage Overflows Into Lake, Streams
Chicago Tribune (03/19/11) Hawthorne, Michael

Heralded as an engineering marvel and a model for the rest of the nation, Chicago's Deep Tunnel was designed to protect Lake Michigan from sewage overflows and permanently end the once-frequent practice of disposing of human and industrial waste in rivers. However, nearly four decades after the country's most expensive public works projects, billions of gallons of bacteria-filled sewage and storm runoff regularly infect the Chicago River and suburban waterways during and after storms, according to records obtained by the Chicago Tribune. In the past four years, Lake Michigan has been hit harder then it was during the previous two decades combined. Records show that between 2007 and 2010, the agency in charge of the Deep Tunnel disposed of nearly 19 billion gallons of storm water filled with waste into Lake Michigan, which is the source of drinking water for 7 million people in Chicago and the city's suburbs. Only 12 billion gallons were released into the lake between 1985 and 2006. The tunnel, which is nine to 35 feet in diameter and up to 300 feet below city streets, has been fully operational since 2006, but the systems final piece, a giant flood-control reservoir, is not expected to be complete until 2029. The completed tunnels have prevented billions of gallons of polluted water from reaching fresh water sources, but the ongoing sewage overflows has prompted the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to investigate. The EPA says the chronic sewage overflows are a threat to human health and wildlife.
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Further Considerations for Laboratory Waste Design
Plumbing Systems & Design (02/11) Vol. 10, No. 1, P. 24; Ismert, Luke

There are a number of areas of laboratory waste designs that deserve investigation, such as continuous versus batch neutralization. In general the two main considerations when sizing a chemical waste tank are the waste stream properties and the flow rate, and many projects are designated with an acid waste drain, waste, and vent system and a limestone-filled acid neutralization tank, even though influent pH is unknown. This system will not insulate the sewer from an alkaline waste stream, nor will it shield the owner from system failure and potential fines. Using a correctly-sized limestone-filled tank with a calcium carbonate content of at least 90 percent is the most common neutralization strategy for continuous flow acid neutralization systems. For batch flow neutralization systems, it is critical to have as much information as possible about both the chemical properties of the waste stream and the properties of the fixtures and processes contributing to the waste stream, while the reagents that will be employed and how they will be fed into the system also are worthy of consideration. Limestone maintenance needs to be considered during the design phase, as a sludge will eventually build up in the tank, requiring regular removal. The limestone will eventually require replacement, so the neutralization tank should be positioned in a site that is accessible and is as near as possible to an outside door or a truck dock. Meanwhile, a pH monitoring system should be installed on all neutralization systems to function as an alarm in case the system fails, as well as to indicate when the neutralization media need to be replaced or refilled. A pH probe should at the very least be installed after the neutralization tank.

Transportation

FHWA Looks at Climate Change Impact on Infrastructure
Successes in Stewardship (02/11)

The nation's transportation systems could be severely impacted by projected climate changes, such as rising sea levels, increasingly extreme temperatures, changes in the frequency and intensity of storms, and other events. In addition to the obvious challenges posed by changes like rising sea levels and increased storm intensity, there will also be more subtle changes, like changes in temperature that will likely necessitate a change in the design, construction, and maintenance of infrastructure. New materials and building techniques capable of withstanding temperature extremes will be needed. There may be some positive changes, as higher average temperatures in some areas may reduce safety problems associated with snow and ice accumulation. Recognizing this need for adaptive transportation systems, the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) has developed several programs to provide transportation agencies with the data and tools needed to adapt infrastructure to climate change concerns. In 2009, the FHWA started developing a conceptual model to guide State DOTs and MPOs in the evaluation of the vulnerability of their existing and planned transportation infrastructure. The model will provide a framework for agencies to inventory their transportation assets, collect climate information, and conduct a systems-level analysis of the likelihood and consequences of climate change. Agencies will use the model to develop a prioritized list of at-risk assets, enabling them to focus adaptation efforts on assets that have a high likelihood of suffering severe damage.

An Innovative Solution for Rock Slope Stabilization
Focus (Federal Highway Administration) (02/11)

When the rock slopes along Virginia’s George Washington Memorial Parkway needed to be stabilized to protect passing drivers while preserving the road’s scenic beauty, officials from the Federal Highway Administration’s Eastern Federal Lands Highway Division used a rock-gluing technique that both improves appearance and supports the rocks. The slope had failed in 2002, sending rocks onto the road and disrupting traffic, and the agency asked Schnabel Engineering to design a stabilization method that would not harm the visual appearance of the rock slopes, as most traditional stabilization methods do. The rock-gluing method was used in the 1960s to prevent water from seeping into tunnels, and involves injections of polyurethane resin grout into the rock. "This is not a new method but it was new to the transportation field," says Khalid Mohamed of FHWA. "It was particularly effective in this case because of the aesthetics of the roadway." Some rock anchors were also used and a horizontal drain was installed to relieve groundwater pressure, and the injection holes were drilled behind the rock face three meters apart. The technique is also inexpensive—the stabilization project was budgeted with $315,000, and the glue process used only $150,000.
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Carnegie Mellon Taps Tech To Tackle the Problem of Potholes
Campus Technology (03/17/11) Schaffhauser, Dian

Carnegie Mellon University (CMU) researchers have developed the Road Damage Assessment System (RODAS), a project that enables users with global positioning system-linked cell phone cameras and Facebook accounts to participate in road-improvement efforts by linking photos of potholes to a central tracking site. RODAS, created by CMU professors Robert Strauss and Takeo Kanade, is based on a similar system used in Chile. When a RODAS user takes a photo of a pothole, the system pinpoints its location on an online map, creating a database of road conditions that is independent of any governmental body. "We are creating a secure, independent source of information about potholes that can be used to alert government agencies and to monitor their response," Strauss says. The researchers say citizens can update the site when a pothole is repaired, when the repair fails, or when it is ignored. "This new public database is a new tool people can use to monitor what road crews are doing and to judge the efficiency of government," Strauss says.
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Other

Bipartisan Group Calls for National Infrastructure Bank
New York Times (03/15/11) Cooper, Michael

A group of Democrats, Republicans, and labor and business leaders recently called for the creation of a national infrastructure bank to help fund the construction of roads, bridges, water systems, power grids, and other infrastructure. The proposal would establish an independent bank to provide loans and loan guarantees for projects of regional or national significance, with the goal of attracting more infrastructure investment from the private sector. Supports say that creating an infrastructure bank of $10 billion now could lead to up to $640 billion in infrastructure spending over the next decade. "We have a choice," says Senator John Kerry, D-MA. "We can either build, and compete, and create jobs for our people, or we can fold up, and let everybody else win. I don’t think that’s America. I don’t believe anybody wants to do that." Despite collaboration between Republicans, Democrats, and labor and industry leaders, the proposal is not certain to be a success. Senate officials say the outlook for such a program is not bright, due to current fiscal constraints, and Congress is hesitant to relinquish control of choosing which projects to finance, despite questions over their spending priorities. President Barack Obama has been calling for establishing an infrastructure bank since 2010, and his budget calls for establishing the I-Bank, which would create a $30 billion bank that would invest in transportation projects alone and provide grants as well as loans.
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Administration Backs Delay of Contractor Tax Withholding
GovExec.com (03/15/11) Brodsky, Robert

The Obama Administration is backing the postponement of a mandate for federal, state, and local governments with expenditures of more than $100 million to withhold 3 percent of payments for products and services worth more than $10,000 for tax purposes. Industry contractors and trade associations have opposed the requirement, which is set to take effect Jan. 1, 2012. "Given the significant implementation challenges involved with the 3 percent withholding requirement, the Administration would consider a delay to help implement the requirement as long as it were fully paid for," says OMB's Moira Mack. Under the new process, the government would put aside 3 percent of the gross payments and the information and funds would then be sent to the IRS—and at year's end the amount withheld would be credited toward taxes owed. "This withholding is much more trouble than it's worth," warns TechAmerica CEO Phil Bond. "Agencies will incur costs so significant that they are likely to consume any revenue gains the government is anticipating." Bond says the withholding is especially burdensome for small and midsize contractors, "whose margins could be completely obliterated." In an April 2008 memo to the House and Senate Armed Services committees, James Finley, then-Deputy Undersecretary of Defense for Acquisition and Technology, wrote that deploying the withholding tax provision would cost DoD more then $17 billion in the first five years.
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Plan to Revive Construction Industry Released by Trade Group
Associated General Contractors of America (03/15/11)

The Associated General Contractors of America (AGC) released a new national plan designed to stimulate demand for construction. AGC officials say the plan is needed to reverse construction employment declines in 317 out of 337 metro areas since January 2007, according to new data from the association. "Our goal is to rebuild a devastated construction market that has left millions jobless, littered cities with incomplete projects and sapped much needed revenue, commerce and customers out of our economy," says AGC chief executive officer Stephen E. Sandherr. "Considering the scope and impact of construction job losses, the last thing any of us can afford is a repeat of the past four years." The plan, called "Building a Stronger Future, A New Blueprint for Economic Growth," establishes measures to help increase private sector demand for construction, work through a growing infrastructure maintenance backlog, and reduce red tape and regulations. Sandherr says the plan was developed to overcome the construction downturn that has left over 2.2 million construction workers unemployed, creating an industry unemployment rate of 21.8 percent, more than twice the national average. Only 14 metro areas managed to add construction jobs during the past four years, while another six metro areas went unchanged. "In too many metro areas, the construction industry is a mere shadow of what it was just four years ago," says AGC chief economist Ken Simonson. "This new data should make it pretty clear that the sector’s revival is anything but guaranteed."
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Contractors Need to Be Wary of VEQ Clauses
Roads & Bridges (02/11) Vol. 49, No. 2, Caudle, Larry

Variation in Estimated Quantity (VEQ) clauses are used in construction contracts that involve federal or state funding, and while they allow unit-price adjustments that protect contractors from the financial risk of under-runs or over-runs in estimated quantities, they have limitations that ultimately offer more protection to state highway departments. This leads many contractors to try to avoid application of the clauses, as they can increase costs if estimated quantities over-run, and they allow the state to demand lower prices if the contractor’s costs decrease, and in the case of under-runs, lost profits cannot be recovered on work not performed. In the case of M. Matt Durand v. Louisiana Department of Transportation, the contractor was enlisted to repair embankment and shoulders of a road that was eroded by hurricanes. LA DOT’s calculations for 140,125 cubic yards of limestone over ten miles of roadway turned out to be way off, with only 40,854 cubic yards of material ultimately used for 30 miles of roadway. The parties could not agree on a price reduction, so the contractor filed a lawsuit arguing breach of contract for refusing to change the order, which would mean the VEQ clause could not be used to limit recovery. The contractor sought $5,237,969 in breach of contract damages for unused aggregate as well as $2,128,187 in lost overhead and profit. The initial court sided with LA DOTD, but the contractor appealed the decision and won.
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