ACEC Weekly NewsLine
February 22, 2012

Land/Buildings

Study Finds LEED Projects Have Higher Risk of Worker Injuries
Healthcare Projects to Focus on Renovation

Water

Panama Canal Widening Leads to Boom in Port Upgrades




Energy

Hurricanes Pose Risk to Offshore Wind Farms
USA Today (02/14/12) Rice, Doyle

Offshore hurricanes could demolish half the turbines in proposed wind farms just off U.S. coastlines, according to a new study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. "We find that hurricanes pose a significant risk to wind turbines off the U.S. Gulf and East coasts, even if they are designed to the most stringent current standard," the study's authors from Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh state. Engineers estimated that over a 20-year span many turbine towers would buckle in wind farms enduring hurricane-force winds off the coasts of four states — Massachusetts, New Jersey, North Carolina, and Texas — where offshore wind-farm projects are now under consideration. The study notes that wind turbines are vulnerable to hurricanes because the maximum wind speeds in those storms can exceed the current design limits of wind turbines, and that failures can include loss of blades and buckling of the supporting tower. The research incorporated the current construction standards for the turbines and assumed a maximum sustained wind speed of 111 mph near the top of the turbine, the equivalent of a Category 3 hurricane. Gavleston County, Texas, is the riskiest of the four locations examined in the study to build a wind farm, followed by the Outer Banks of North Carolina, Atlantic City, and Martha's Vineyard, Mass.
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Land/Buildings

Study Finds LEED Projects Have Higher Risk of Worker Injuries
Builders Counsel (02/08/12) Reiser, Douglas

The risk of worker injuries on LEED projects may as much as 41 percent higher than traditional construction projects, according to a new University of Colorado Boulder study. Through empirical examination of data collected from a wide sample of LEED projects, the study compared traditional construction to each credit in the LEED system, such as comparing a traditional, fabric-sealed roof with a sustainable, living roof. The researchers identified 14 LEED credentials that may create additional risk to workers. Installing sustainable roofing increased perceived risk by 41 percent; installing PB panels for on-site renewable energy increased perceived risk by 37 percent; the risk of sustaining cuts, abrasions, and lacerations during construction waste management carried a increased perceived risk of 36 percent; and falls from installing atriums and skylights to meet daylight and views credits increased the perceived risk by 32 percent. Because the study was well conducted and credible, the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC) is taking the findings under advisement. In addition to identifying possible problems, the study included many suggested solutions such as reducing the risk of chemical burns or of falls through prefabricated materials, as well as increasing accountability through monitoring. The study’s findings place new responsibility on builders to be more accountable for injuries sustained on LEED projects. Safety manuals may need updating, and project managers may require additional training to enforce safety procedures. Building owners may also need more insurance coverage for increased risk, as underwriters may use the study in determining their guidelines. Owners may also want to include compliance with safety guidelines in contracts with builders.
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Multifamily Buildings to Lead U.S. Construction Gains: Economy
BusinessWeek (02/13/12) Willis, Bob

Multifamily home construction will lead the U.S. building industry once again in 2012, letting housing contribute to growth for the first year since 2005, according to economists. Construction will begin on roughly 260,000 apartment buildings and townhouse developments this year, up 45 percent from 2011 and the most since 2008. By one projection, as many as 310,000 developments could be started this year, a 74 percent increase. Home-ownership rates, which are at their lowest level in 14 years, may continue dropping as the housing meltdown brings more Americans into the rental market. Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke recently highlighted housing's role in economic recovery and how growth in this sector will contribute to economic expansion. "In contrast to the situation for owner-occupied homes, rental markets around the country have strengthened somewhat. Rents have been increasing and the construction of apartment buildings has picked up," Bernanke said. One reason why the multifamily sector may grow faster than single-family sector is the decrease in demand for new homes. According to the Commerce Department, the home-ownership rate fell to a 13-year low of 65.9 percent in 2011, and a nationwide increase in foreclosures could drive this rate down even lower.
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OSHA Extends Residential Construction Enforcement Policies
Occupational Health & Safety (02/16/12)

The temporary enforcement measures that the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) implemented last June to protect certain construction workers from falling have been extended until Sept. 15. The rules, which had been set to expire next month, were the result of a new interpretation of a requirement for the residential construction industry to take steps to prevent workers from falling. For instance, the residential construction industry must use guardrail systems, safety nets, personal fall arrest systems, or other approved safety measures to guard against falls, unless doing so creates a greater safety hazard or is not feasible. "Residential construction" is defined in the requirements as building a home or other type of dwelling using traditional wood frame materials and methods. OSHA has hosted more than 1,000 outreach sessions across the country to help residential construction companies meet the requirements.
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Proposed AF Budget Calls for Construction Cuts
Air Force Times (02/13/12) Schogol, Jeff

The Air Force proposed reducing spending on military construction in fiscal 2013 from $1.3 billion to only $400 million, allowing time to carefully plan future investments of limited resources given ongoing budget reductions and changes in force structures. The Air Force will close bases if Congress authorizes a new round of base realignment and closures (BRACs), with an estimated 20 percent in excess infrastructure, according to Air Force Chief of Staff General Norton Schwartz. The total Air Force budget for fiscal 2013 is $154.3 billion, nearly five percent lower than this fiscal year. Fewer manned and unmanned aircraft are to be purchased in FY 2013, with half of the spending dedicated to purchasing 24 MQ-9A Reaper drones. In addition, 22 “small unmanned aircraft systems” will be purchased this fiscal year, but none are budgeted for fiscal 2013. The Air Force also plans to buy 19 F-35 Joint Strike Fighters next fiscal year, five fewer than initially planned, though eventually, the Air Force plans to purchase all 1,763 of the advanced fighters, according to the Air Force deputy assistant secretary for budget, Major General Edward L. Bolton Jr.
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Healthcare Projects to Focus on Renovation
Health Facilities Management (02/12) Carpenter, Dave

The annual construction survey from Health Facilities Management and the American Society for Healthcare Engineering shows that healthcare construction has slowed while organizations wait to see what decisions will be made regarding the healthcare reforms. The main focus has shifted to improving medical outcomes and maximizing value, with the main spending in 2012 earmarked for renovations or infrastructure upgrades rather than new construction. Organizations are doing more to watch costs, evaluating projects more closely for return on investment and many are making changes to plans for new construction or renovation, with very few continuing with projects as planned. The new construction spending budget is half that of 2010, and will likely be used to develop lower-cost, community-based facilities, a trend that has picked up speed, and will likely continue to do so in preparation for an influx of new patients from the healthcare reform. These smaller, local facilities include neighborhood outpatient facilities, primary care clinics, and urgent care centers, as well as emergency departments and expansions to medical office buildings, in the hope that these improvements and the shift to local facilities will improve access to care. Though there are still a number of acute care hospital projects under way or in planning stages, most are renovation projects. Specialty hospitals, including those for cancer treatments and rehabilitation, are seeing increased growth, as are projects for data centers and infrastructure upgrades. More investment is being devoted to information technology, including imaging and tech-heavy emergency departments, laboratories, and improvements to building automation, security, patient monitoring/nurse call systems, and various patient safety features. Increasing competition for capital is pushing organizations to budget and implement on an as-needed basis; though many have had recent projects completed ahead of schedule or under budget, which many attribute to the weak economy and contractors and suppliers that are desperate for the work. While hospital and health facility construction is exhibiting restraint and a focus on smaller projects, there are encouraging signs that should become construction projects after some of the uncertainty regarding Medicare changes and the constitutionality of the Affordable Care Act can be reduced.
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Water

Panama Canal Widening Leads to Boom in Port Upgrades
Urban Land (02/12) Vol. 71, No. 2, P. 58; Kozloff, Howard

The construction of a new set of locks on the Panama Canal will enable the canal to handle more traffic and wider container ships, called the Super Post-Panamex Class, which have a 13,000 plus twenty-foot equivalent unit (TEU) capacity. This will reduce the cost of shipping to the East Coast, and make it more cost effective than transporting goods via train, which is prompting East Coast and Gulf ports to make upgrades. Most of these ports have plans to make the most of the Panama Canal expansion, but some smaller markets with significant advantages seem to be overlooked by the industry. The Georgia Ports Authority has asked the Army Corp of Engineers for permission to dredge its waterway in Savannah, and is considering adding a new port area to handle additional cargo. The Port of Charleston in South Carolina is undergoing a 10-year, $1.3 billion improvements plan designed to allow the port to handle more cargo. The Port of Virginia near Norfolk, which connects to the Southern Cross and is the coastal base of the Heartland Corridor, is ahead of other ports in terms of growth, as it is the deepest on the East Coast had have been making upgrades, including the current development of the Craney Island Terminal. The Port of Virginia, in particular, is ideally located to take advantage of low valuations for industrial properties such as warehouse and flex space that could help the port capitalize on the push to books export, which would add jobs and drive up the cost for real estate.

Salazar Announces $50 Million in Funding for Water Infrastructure Projects in Western United States
Department of the Interior News Release (02/08/12)

Water infrastructure projects in the West will be receiving a total of $50 million of funding which will be used to support a number of effects including providing construction support and financial assistance for water projects in rural areas, restoring aquatic habitat, meeting increasing demand, and addressing aging infrastructure. The Bureau of Reclamation selected six rural water projects in North Dakota, Montana, Iowa, Minnesota, and New Mexico to receive a total of $30 million of the funding. These six projects and the funding for them as in addition to the $16.1 million dedicated to construction activity on the Mni Wiconi project in South Dakota which is slated to help develop a distribution system that will serve several rural communities including two Sioux tribal reservations. The other $20 million of the funding will support environmental restoration and compliance efforts; facility operations, maintenance, rehabilitation; fish passage and fish screens; and water conservation and delivery studies.
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Transportation

Accelerated Bridge Construction: Bent on Safety
Roads & Bridges (01/12) Vol. 50, No. 1, P. 36; Stanton, John; Eberhard, Marc; Marsh, Lee

Accelerated bridge construction has become a necessity, primarily in urban environments, and owners, engineers, and planners have found that it is vital to shorten the time needed on-site, prompting them to seek new approaches to ABC. Some approaches involve administrative methods or financial incentives, while other rely on construction methods like prefabrication to shorten the amount of time spent onsite. A multidisciplinary team made of personnel from the University of Washington, the Washington State DOT, and BergerABAM Engineers, developed a concept called bridge bent to make use precast concrete components on common bridge types, such as overpasses with some connections made onsite. The process requires straight elements and site connections are the beam-column and column-foundation intersections, which raised concerns about the structural strength of the design in a seismic zone. To investigate any potential structural issues and the overall structural properties of the design, numerous tests were conducted at the University of Washington on scale models. These laboratory tests showed that the design had good structural properties and would exhibit great resistance to cyclic lateral loads like earthquakes. The design was used in the replacement of the I-5 Grand Mound to Maytown Interchange, U.S. Rte. 12 over I-5, Br. No. 12/118 Replacement during summer 2011. The construction process was straightforward and exhibited the design's ease of construction onsite, as well as its structural integrity.
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Obama Signs $63B FAA Funding Bill Into Law
The Hill (02/14/12) Laing, Keith

President Obama has signed a $63.6 billion funding bill for the Federal Aviation Administration. After a year of debate — and a two-week partial shutdown of the FAA — the House and Senate approved a multi-year funding bill for the beleaguered agency. The legislation, which would last through 2015, runs five months shorter than the string of 23 short-term extensions of the 2007 FAA funding levels. Transportation advocates argued that, because of the piecemeal funding, it was hard for the agency to develop long-term plans. The FAA has long planned to switch the air traffic control system from radar technology that has been used since World War II, but the agency said it needs consistent funding to develop the system, which would cost about $22 billion through 2025. The main holdup on the FAA bill had been union election rules for transportation workers that applied to those who were covered under the Railway Labor Act. FAA supporters applauded Obama for signing the bill Tuesday, saying it was a big deal for the aviation industry.
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U.S. Department of Transportation’s Proposed Budget Invests $74 Billion in Safe, Efficient, and Innovative Transportation Programs
Department of Transportation News Release (02/13/12)

U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood praised President Obama’s $74 billion budget for the U.S. Department of Transportation. The money will lay a new foundation for economic growth and competitiveness through investment in national infrastructure network, additions to recent safety achievements, and the modernization of transportation systems through research and innovation. The centerpiece of the President’s FY 2013 budget for the Department is a six-year $476 billion surface transportation reauthorization proposal that will improve America’s highways and transit networks, continue to ensure that these systems are safe, and give travelers new options new options by enhancing and expanding passenger rail service. The six-year budget includes $305 billion to rebuild America’s roads and bridges, a 34 percent increase over the previous authorization, as well as $108 billion in funding for affordable, sustainable, and efficient transit options. Another critical part of the Administration’s vision is a national high-speed rail proposal. The budget provides $2.5 billion for the first year of a six-year, $47 billion rail investment plan, which will help the Federal Railroad Administration continue to work with states as they plan and develop high-speed and intercity passenger rail corridors across the country. While road, transit, and air travel are currently the safest they have ever been in America, the Department will build on previous successes to make them even safer. The budget provides nearly $30 billion over the next six years for surface transportation safety programs, including $330 million over six years for the Department’s ongoing campaign against distracted driving. The Administration’s budget also prioritizes research, innovative programs, and technological solutions to address our transportation challenges and ensure that America remains competitive in the global marketplace.
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U.S. Transportation Secretary LaHood Announces More Than $826 Million to Modernize and Repair the Nation's Transit Buses and Facilities
Department of Transportation News Release (02/06/12)

U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood has made $826.5 million of discretionary funds available in Fiscal Year 2012 to modernize and repair transit vehicles and facilities around the country and promote the widespread use of sustainable clean fuel. The notice of funding availability (NOFA) published competitive proposals for three of the Federal Transit Administration’s (FTA) top policy priorities through the discretionary Bus and Bus Facilities and Clean Fuels grant programs, all subject to funding availability: State of Good Repair, aimed at replacing or rehabilitating transit infrastructure and for transit asset management; livability, aimed at improving quality of life through expanded transportation choices, new and better intermodal connections, reduced congestion, and/or services aimed at economically disadvantaged populations; and clean fuels, aimed at helping communities meet national air quality standards.
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U.S. Transportation Secretary LaHood Recommends $2.2 Billion to Strengthen Backbone of America’s Transportation Network
Department of Transportation News Release (02/14/12)

U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood has recommended $2.2 billion in funding to begin or advance construction of 29 significant rail and bus rapid transit projects in 15 states. “President Obama called on us to rebuild America by putting people back to work on transportation projects that are built to last,” said Secretary LaHood. “The budget proposal released yesterday demonstrates our commitment to put people back to work to build the infrastructure we need that will improve our transit systems, highways, railways and airports well into the future.” President Obama’s proposed budget recommends investing $243.7 million for seven new transit construction projects, including rail and bus rapid transit projects in California, Florida, North Carolina, Oregon, Texas, and Washington State. An additional 10 projects that were recommended for funding in previous years, but have not yet received federal commitments, will receive $769.5 million in this year’s budget. In addition to the transit construction projects that have not yet been funded, the proposed budget provides nearly $1.2 billion for the continued funding of 12 rail and bus rapid transit projects already under construction in Dallas, Denver, Hartford, Houston, Minneapolis-St. Paul, New York City, Northern Virginia, Orlando, Salt Lake City, and Seattle.
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Other

Construction Materials Prices Rise Moderately In January but Show Signs of Accelerating
Associated General Contractors of America (02/16/12)

An analysis of producer price index figures and recent market information by the Associated General Contractors of America (AGC of America) shows that after a moderate rise in January, indications from manufacturers and commodities markets are pointing to a continued rise in the cost of construction materials. The price index for construction inputs rose 0.4 percent between December and January, and in the past 12 months rose 4.5 percent, both of which showed a slightly higher increase than that seen in the overall producer price for finished goods. Officials from the AGC of America suggest that the continuing increase in material costs is making it even more urgent for Congress and federal officials to enact a long-term federal highway and transit funding bill.
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New Size Standards from SBA Reflect Concerns Expressed by Architects
American Institute of Architects -- Press Releases (02/10/12)

The Small Business Administration recently announced that it will scrap its plans to increase the size standard for architects eligible for SBA set-asides to $19 million. The current gross annual receipt for architects to qualify as a small business is $4.5 million, and the regulatory increase would have been crucial to firms handling federal work, as well as small firms with 10 or fewer employees, and sole practitioners. Over 1,200 comments were made of the SBA's original proposal, with more than 90 percent expressing a negative outlook on the $19 million cap for architects. The new size standards will take effect on March 12.
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