ACEC Weekly NewsLine
September 21, 2011

Land/Buildings

Hospitals Turn to BIM as Cost-Saving Measure

Transportation

Minnesota Considers Partnerships to Pay for Infrastructure Work

Other

Construction Execs on Tech Adoption: Win the 'Tweeters'




Energy

Agriculture Secretary Vilsack Announces Funding to Create Jobs, Improve Rural Electric Infrastructure
U.S. Department of Agriculture (09/15/11)

U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack announced on Sept. 14 that $603 million in loans for generation and transmission projects, distribution facilities, and smart grid technologies will be allocated to 27 rural electric cooperative utilities. These loans, provided by USDA Rural Development's Rural Utilities Service (RUS), will generate jobs and underwrite rural electric utility improvements benefiting over 28,000 rural customers in 18 states. "Improving the electric infrastructure in rural areas creates jobs by ensuring that businesses have reliable and affordable power supplies," Vilsack said. "Electric cooperatives are leaders in rural economic development by helping rural areas retain existing jobs and attract new ones." Vilsack also pointed out that USDA Rural Development is supplying over $35 million to fund smart grid technologies that utilities employ to better manage electric supply and demand. RUS funding will help construct or enhance 5,000 miles of distribution line and more than 100 miles of transmission line. USDA Rural Development additionally finances energy conservation and renewable energy projects.
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Energy Department Announces $1.2 Billion Loan Guarantee to Support California Concentrating Solar Power Plant
U.S. Department of Energy (09/13/11)

The Energy Department has finalized a $1.2 billion loan guarantee to Mojave Solar for the development of the Mojave Solar Project (MSP). When complete, the 250MW solar generation project located in San Bernardino County, Calif., will increase the nation’s currently installed concentrating solar power (CSP) capacity by approximately 50 percent. Abengoa Solar Inc., the project sponsor, estimates it will fund more than 900 construction and permanent operations jobs. The Mojave Solar Project will avoid more than 350,000 metric tons of carbon dioxide annually and is anticipated to generate enough electricity to power more than 54,000 homes.
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PVs Play New Roles as a Teaching Tool
Building Design + Construction (09/11) Brady, Susan

Federal and state incentives across the country have renewed interest in solar photovoltaic systems among K-12 schools as a way for them to lower their utility bills and educate students about the benefits of alternative energy sources. Solar PV providers in California, Colorado, Massachusetts, New Jersey, and Utah are partnering with school districts to install solar equipment and develop a teaching curriculum, all thanks to funding from a variety of government and private sources, with the bulk coming from the American Reinvestment and Recovery Act of 2009. Some organizations are sponsoring their own solar-school initiatives in conjunction with the National Energy Education Development Project (NEED), and The Wal-Mart Foundation is partnering with NEED and the Foundation for Environmental Education to implement solar schools in five cities: Chicago, Los Angeles, Minneapolis, Seattle, and Washington, D.C. In 2010, Utah launched its Solar for Schools program after the state received ARRA funding to install and promote renewable energy. Teachers from around the state crafted educational material geared for students in all grade levels in order to give them hands-on, educational experiences focused on the alternative energy their schools are using. In California, the public sector is expected to save $2.5 billion from solar installations over the 30-year life of the systems, part of the California Solar Initiative, a statewide solar rebate program. Interest in solar for schools has been accelerating as a result of a growing emphasis on energy conservation. Despite its benefits, initial costs remain an issue for many considering solar power.
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Land/Buildings

Hospitals Turn to BIM as Cost-Saving Measure
North Bay Business Journal (09/12/11) Quackenbush, Gary

Building information modeling (BIM) has become a major force in construction simulation and visualization over the past ten years, particularly on large hospital projects in the North Bay counties. About half of the U.S. building industry is using BIM, up 75 percent since 2007, as the industry realizes benefits such as major cost and time savings, higher return on investment, better designs, improved project scheduling, increased accuracy of documentation, more-efficient collaboration among contractors, and an overall improved final product. BIM is being used for all Sutter Health projects, including the new $284 million Sutter Medical Center Santa Rosa, according to Tom Minard, the company’s development project manager. “With BIM, we know the cost and the schedule ahead of time and can drive costs down,” he said. Likewise the St. Joseph Health System is using BIM in the construction of a new 72,000-square-foot, three-story advanced diagnostic and surgery pavilion at the Queen of the Valley Medical Center. Karen Vegas, director of construction on at the Center, says BIM “is an effective cost avoidance tool helping us prevent clashes in the field.” The company is using it to calculate materials needs, schedule work flow for each section, and “reduce negative constructability issues,” she adds.” Jim Bostic, assistant vice president for construction for St. Joseph Health System, said BIM has delivered a 20 percent to 30 percent reduction in change orders already, and the technology helped save more than $2 million on recent work at a St. Joseph hospital in Mission Viejo.
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Big Budget Squeeze Looms for Major New Facilities
Science (09/09/11) Vol. 333, No. 6048, P. 1366; Mervis, Jeffrey

Recent congressional actions raise serious doubts about the National Science Foundation's (NSF) ability to acquire funding in a timely and orderly manner for major new facilities. An August budget agreement between Congress and President Obama is expected to shrink all discretionary spending programs, impacting NSF and every other research agency. NSF's nearly $7 billion budget is flat this year, and while the Obama administration kept its promise by requesting a 13 percent boost for the foundation next year, Congress is unlikely to go along. NSF's Major Research and Equipment Facilities Construction (MREFC) program is particularly susceptible to congressional budget hawks due to its year-to-year fluctuations. In any given year, the facilities account contains four to six projects in various construction stages. Even a one-year funding shrinkage for MREFC can have significant effects in the long term, delaying construction, driving up project costs, disrupting the personal lives of the participating researchers, and postponing or even missing the project's scientific payoff. Among the projects that could face difficulties is the National Ecological Observatory Network (NEON), which seeks to enhance projections of ecological change at continental scales over multiple decades. The $9.5 million NEON has received for construction is less than half the $20 million requested by NSF, while its $88 million request for 2012 is extremely vulnerable. The current budget squeeze would be far worse if not for the $400 million allocated to the MREFC account by Congress in March 2009 as part of the $787 billion federal stimulus package. Scientists participating in large MREFC-built facilities laud NSF's policy of sticking with projects once funding begins, and withdrawing before construction starts if an initiative no longer fulfills criteria.

Building Codes May Underestimate Risks Due to Multiple Hazards
National Institute of Standards and Technology (09/13/11) Bello, Mark

National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) building researchers caution that a double hazard of seismic and wind dangers can raise the risk of structural damage to as much as double the level implied in building codes. NIST's Dat Duthinh says that current codes' individual consideration of natural hazards is at the root of the problem, and he and other scientists demonstrate that in regions vulnerable to both seismic and wind hazards, the risk that design limits will be exceeded can be as much as twice the risk in areas where only one hazard occurs, even accounting for the fact that these multiple hazards almost never happen at the same time. Consequently, edifices designed to meet code requirements in these double-jeopardy locations "do not necessarily achieve the level of safety implied," the researchers write in the Journal of Structural Engineering. The researchers devised a technique to evaluate risks due to wind and earthquakes using a common metric of structural resistance. With the consistent maximum lateral deflection measure, the combined danger of failure can be compared to the risk that design limits will be surpassed in areas prone to only one of the hazards, the platform for safety requirements specified in current building codes. Among the case studies the researchers used to illustrate their method was a configuration of a 10-story steel-frame building that connected girders to columns using reduced beam sections (RBS). They learned that RBS links do not lower the risk that a steel-frame building will exceed its design limit when used in a region exposed to high winds or a region exposed to high winds and earthquakes. Subsequently, the risk of failure doubled under dual-hazard conditions, when those conditions are of similar severity. Still, the researchers observe that RBS connections can decrease the risk that limits corresponding to seismic design will be exceeded during the building's life.
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Empire State Building Achieves LEED Gold Certification
SustainableBusiness.com (09/14/11)

The Empire State Building in New York City has officially been awarded LEED Gold for Existing Buildings certification from the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC). The 2.85 million-square-foot building is nearing the completion of a $550 million renovation that included an extensive energy efficiency retrofit process. The analytical model created by the team of the Clinton Climate Initiative, Johnson Controls, Jones Lang LaSalle, and the Rocky Mountain Institute is non-proprietary and open-source. In fact, it is being replicated at other properties around the globe. The retrofit aims to reduce the building's energy consumption by more than 38 percent. Consequently, the landmark structure should save $4.4 million in annual energy costs, representing an approximate three-year payback of the cost of implementation. Rick Fedrizzi, president and CEO of the USGBC, remarks, "By earning LEED Gold, the Empire State Building has sent a powerful message that green buildings don't have to be new - even the most iconic, historic buildings, as grand in scale as in reputation, can be among the most high-performing, energy-efficient, green buildings." The green building improvement will reduce carbon emissions by approximately 105,000 metric tons over the next 15 years. Earlier this year, the Empire State Building Company purchased carbon offsets totaling 55 million kilowatt hours per year of renewable energy, making the iconic skyscraper carbon-neutral.
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Prices for Key Construction Materials Fall in August, Even as Annual Materials Cost Increases Outstrip Building Prices
Associated General Contractors of America (09/14/11)

Construction materials prices fell in August but remain overall higher for the year and contractors continue to deal with costs that are rising higher than the price of finished buildings. The price of diesel fuel fell 6.2 percent in August but was up 32.9 percent for the year, while steel was down 1.0 percent for the month and up 14.3 percent for the year and copper was down 3.3 percent but up 21 percent for the year, according to the Associated General Contractors of America. “The disparity between contractors’ materials costs and their selling prices threatens to push some firms and their hard-pressed workers out of business,” said Ken Simonson, the association’s chief economist. “Contractors just aren’t catching any breaks when it comes to current market conditions.” Changes in global demand will likely lead to continued volatility in prices, he adds, and the best contractors can hope for is more short-term price relief along with unpredictable price increases that could “hit several materials at once and jeopardize firms’ viability.” The index for new construction was unchanged from the previous month for all but new industrial buildings, which were down 0.2 percent, while the increase in new construction prices was only between 2.1 percent and 3.2 percent compared to much larger annual increases for materials prices, Simonson noted. With demand for construction remaining somewhat weak, contractors will continue to have to pay more for materials while charging less for their work, he added.
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Water

A Dynamic Coastline
Point of Beginning (09/11) Grahl, Christine L.

A comprehensive LiDAR dataset along the Northeast U.S. coastline is the result of unprecedented cooperation between the USGS National Geospatial Program (NGP) and a six-state collaborative. "Their goal of getting continuous LiDAR coverage from Maine to New York fit beautifully with our objective to obtain data along the coastal areas, and we believed the collaboration would lead to cost-effectiveness and consistent datasets across a large area," says Teresa Dean, American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) coordinator for the USGS NGP. The collaborative requested and was allocated $1.4 million in ARRA funding by USGS in January 2010. Photo Science was awarded the job of making the LiDAR data collection flights, which were complicated by inclement weather. The Photo Science team flew over 2,000 flight lines and more than 23,000 flight line miles to amass almost 13,000 1500 x 1500-meter tiles, and each tile is being converted to the LAS v1.2 format and sorted in accordance with standard LiDAR classes. In addition, the team devised the new bare water classification to address challenges in processing coastal water data. "By using a bare water classification, the team is able to retain the actual water elevation surface while eliminating noise and outliers," says Photo Science's Michael Shillenn. "The classification also enhances islands smaller than one acre, wave action and near-shore shallow water definition." Featured in the final deliverables will be all return data in the raw point cloud, a fully classified point cloud, a georeferenced bare-earth digital elevation model raster rendered in an ERDAS IMG format, and shapefiles of hydro breaklines, along with project reports and metadata. Michael Smith, director of GIS' Maine office, thinks most of the information will be consumed as digital elevation models for applications that include identifying coastal erosion, determining flood risk, performing studies on ecosystems, and mitigating the impact of rising sea levels.
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Transportation

Minnesota Eyes P3s to Build Infrastructure, Stimulate Growth
Finance & Commerce (09/14/11) Clements, Bill

Minnesota is looking for new ways to pay for repairs and expansions for its transportation infrastructure. According to one estimate, Minnesota could spend more than $670 million a year over the next two decades just to fix its existing roads. Meanwhile, the state is facing a projected 20 percent cut in federal funding for roads. Without a new way to pay for infrastructure projects, the state's growth could be hindered. Minnesota Department of Transportation official Phil Barnes says transportation projects are more than just temporary construction jobs, as they also create permanent jobs in the form of expanding businesses looking for improved highways that allow workers to travel more efficiently. John Gunyou is the head of a 28-member statewide task force charged with making recommendations for alternative public-private financing methods, as well as drafting the legislation needed to enact such methods. Public-private partnerships (P3s) are deals in which a private company pays for part of a transportation project, like a highway interchange or bridge. A common pitfall in P3s is letting private companies completely take over full ownership of transportation infrastructure. For example, the public sector in of California had to buy back toll roads that went belly up because the private sector set the toll prices too high. Minnesota is already in the middle of a P3 project that looks promising: the reconstruction of the Highway 169 and Bren Road interchange. The project may serve as a model for others because of the participation of a private company providing a share of the money but not owning the project. The company, UnitedHealth, is funding the project in part to improve transportation to its business park.
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Credit Ratings Agency Warns of Tolling Troubles
TheNewspaper.com (09/15/11)

Fitch Ratings Agency has issued a report on toll roads, bridges, and tunnels that finds slowing growth in traffic volumes on tolled roads, with traffic declining as much as 10 percent during the recession. Ongoing economic problems and unemployment are the cause of the problem, the agency says, as motorists are cutting back on driving to save gas while those who were laid off no longer commute every day. A sluggish economy also means less commercial transportation services on the roads, and generally Fitch says the economy and the transportation sector are directly linked. The ratings agency is not downgrading credit ratings for toll roads, though, because they are monopolies with the power to increase tolls. Indeed, tolls saw low or negative traffic growth since 2007, however revenues grew at a much higher rate due to rate increases. Public infrastructure facilities will survive the next few years but newer toll facilities with higher debt profiles may struggle, the agency says.
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Process Helps Restore Older Bridges
Register-Herald (09/13/11) Kuykendall, Taylor

Hota GangaRao, the founder and director of West Virginia University's Constructed Facilities Center (CFC), is exploring a solution for the widespread deterioration of West Virginia's bridges. GangaRao is has developed a process for preserving bridges that has already rehabilitated 30 bridges throughout the state, at an average cost of about a quarter of the bridge's original cost. “West Virginia is among the leading states with bridge deficiencies for a couple reasons,” says GangaRao. “No. 1, the state does not have the funds to rehabilitate all its old bridges. No. 2, traffic intensity and load capacities have increased significantly since these bridges were built.” GangaRao says once a bridge has been identified for rehabilitation, it is stripped down to a solid portion of the original concrete or steel, and then covered in a 2-inch mortar and wrapped tightly with either glass fabric or carbon fiber and resin. “Not only does it hold things together, but the wrap also enhances the strength of the overall structure,” says GangaRao. The CFC trains contractors and the state's Division of Highways to wrap bridges, in addition to doing some of the work itself. Citing numbers from the American Society for Civil Engineering, GangaRao says the U.S.'s failure to sufficiently invest in transportation infrastructure, including bridges, has lost the U.S. economy an estimated 870,000 jobs and $3.1 trillion in declined growth. GangaRao says he believes U.S. infrastructure is going to deteriorate even more over the next five to 10 years simply because the U.S. does not have the money to keep pace with the rate of deterioration.
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Other

A/E/C Industry Struggles to Find Innovation Balance
Engineering News-Record (09/13/11) Joyce, Erin

Use of technology is growing in the construction industry, but many firms are concerned about avoiding big tech expenditures that show no return on investment. The best way to manage return on investment is to clearly communicate the plan and goals to everyone in the firm and get employees at all levels on board, from the older engineers who use slide rules to the younger ones who expect the use of Twitter and tablet computers on the job, says Bill Brennan, chief operating officer of Skanska USA. Speaking at a conference of construction executives sponsored by field management software firm Vela Systems, Brennan said that promoting a culture of innovation is the way to ensure the success of new technology such as tablets, he said. Senior management will also have to spend some time finding the right metrics to use to calculate return on investment before making the actual investment, Brennan added. Also speaking at the conference was Frank Longo, Skanska’s senior project manager, who said the use of iPads and other tablets has cut the number of hours the firm spends on punchlisting hours and field reports from 240 to about 80. And Jason Bentley of Balfour Beatty Construction noted that tablets are easy to use and do not require sophisticated technology skills. His company is piloting the use of iPads on job sites and finds that the younger users are helping the older workers to understand and use the technology.
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States, IRS to Join Probe of Pay Practices
Wall Street Journal (09/17/11) Whelan, Robbie

The U.S. Department of Labor, the IRS, and seven states are working together to step up enforcement of labor laws by employers misclassifying employees as independent contractors. As many as 30 percent of employers misclassify their employees as independent contractors, so they do not have to pay employees minimum wage, overtime, or provide benefits, while avoid paying payroll taxes, which cost the federal government $2.72 billion in 2006 alone.
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The Jobs Proposal Will Impact Construction
Constructech (09/13/2011)

The proposed job creation plan includes increased investment in infrastructure, which would significantly boost job creation in the construction industry. Stephen Sandherr, CEO of the Associated General Contractors of America, said more than 20 percent of the jobs lost in the country came from the construction industry, and the unemployment rate for construction is now 13.5 percent. The stimulus plan that created new projects boosted employment for the industry, and Sandherr says without that the numbers would have been even worse. Indeed, employment levels in heavy and civil construction, which were the areas most affected by the stimulus spending, have been stable to slightly higher since the stimulus, he adds. The stimulus affected not only employment in construction, but also technology and transparency. Many contractors discovered greater transparency requirements for government-funded projects and had to make sure they followed proper reporting and project management standards, and many turned to new software to help manage schedules and budgets and to improve collaboration. These new levels of transparency and technology are likely to be expected of new government-funded projects should the new job-creation proposal be approved.
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