ACEC NewsLine
June 10, 2015

Headlines

Energy

"A Charged View"
"Burst Oil Pipeline In California Severely Corroded, Investigators Say"
"Energy Department Invests $60 Million to Advance Nuclear Technology"

Land/Buildings

"Doubling Down on the Rebirth of the American Shopping Mall"
"U.S. Put-In-Place Construction Spending To Reach $1.2 Trillion By 2017"
"Unlocking The Future: The Keys To Making Cities Great"

Water

"Fracking Has Had No ‘Widespread’ Impact on Drinking Water, EPA Finds"
"Steel Pipe Protects the Big Easy"

Transportation

"'Shoofly' Design No Bother at All"
"Airlines Launch Petition Against Airport 'Tax'"
"Columns of Strength"

Legislation & Regulation

"GOP, Obama See Common Ground On Energy Infrastructure"
"Panel to Review 2014 Water Funding Bill"

Other

"Construction Firms Add 17,000 Jobs in May"
"Fed Vice Chair, IMF Highlight Infrastructure Spending Amid Low Interest Costs to Boost Economy"

 

 

 


Energy

A Charged View
Economist (05/30/15)

Glass makes up a large portion of our environment, including windows in buildings and cars and the screens of mobile devices, making it an attractive substance for researchers looking to develop transparent solar cells capable of generating electricity and charge batteries. Solar cells absorb photons in sunlight and convert them into electrons, which are gathered by electrodes and channeled into a circuit. Most solar cells are opaque to absorb all the light they can, and the more transparent the cells the less energy they produce, at least for traditional solar cells. An alternative is to make solar cells from substances that absorb light only at wavelengths invisible to the human eye, like infrared and ultraviolet light. Doing so would allow visible light to pass through. Last year, researchers at Michigan State University displayed a variation on this approach using extremely small organic molecules transparent to the human eye that absorb non-visible wavelengths of light. Another development that is attracting attention is the use of crystalline materials called perovskites, which could allow semi-transparent solar cells to be manufactured in large roles.

 

 

 

 

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Burst Oil Pipeline In California Severely Corroded, Investigators Say
NPR Morning Edition (06/04/15) Naylor, Brian

Federal investigators from the Pipeline And Hazardous Materials Safety Administration say the pipeline that ruptured in May and spilled more than 100,000 gallons of crude oil on the coast near Goleta, California was corroded.  The point where the pipe broke had 45 percent metal loss, and other sections had nearly 75 percent corrosion.  It is not yet clear whether the corrosion caused the rupture, and veteran pipeline incident investigator Richard Kuprewicz says external corrosion is not unusual and can be managed with regular inspections.  "A 45% loss is not in itself a problem, but a prudent operator has to stay ahead of this kind of thing,” he said.  “It's called pipeline integrity management."  Plains All American Pipeline has been ordered to fix another section of pipeline in the area with insulation and welds similar to the section that burst.

 

 

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Energy Department Invests $60 Million to Advance Nuclear Technology
U.S. Department of Energy (06/05/15)

The U.S. Energy Department announced more than $60 million in nuclear energy research and infrastructure enhancement awards, with 68 projects chosen for their potential to produce scientific breakthroughs that bolster national energy security and cut greenhouse gas emissions. More than $31 million will be awarded to 43 university-led nuclear energy research and development projects across 23 states to develop advanced technologies and solutions via the department's Nuclear Energy University Program. About $3.5 million also will be allocated to nine universities to research reactor and infrastructure improvements, delivering safety, performance, and student education-related upgrades to many of the country's 25 university research reactors to augment university research and training infrastructure. Another $13 million will go to four Integrated Research Projects to provide solutions to high-priority nuclear energy research challenges, development of accident-tolerant fuel options for near-term uses, benchmarking for transient fuel testing, and strategies for dry cask inspection and nondestructive assessment. Moreover, 10 research and development projects supporting the Nuclear Energy Enabling Technologies Crosscutting Technology Development Program will receive $8.5 million to address crosscutting nuclear energy challenges. Two more infrastructure enhancements of more than $1 million will be apportioned to Energy Department national laboratories to further reactor materials and instrumentation research.

 

 

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Land/Buildings

Doubling Down on the Rebirth of the American Shopping Mall
CNBC News (06/07/15) O'Dell, Joseph

Shopping malls in America have come under increased pressure due to a variety of challenges, including online shopping and more Americans choosing city living. To stay afloat, malls have identified some possible solutions, such as incorporating elements of what makes their town/location unique and incorporating new forms of entertainment. Since 2010, more than two dozen enclosed malls have closed, and 75 more are close to failure, according to Green Street Advisors. However, some of the nation's largest developers are betting that the shopping mall still has a bright future, though new malls may be significantly different from those of today. To succeed, developers and analysts agree that properties need to offer something consumers cannot find anywhere else, be it bringing in a major retailer that is not in the area yet, a new technology to make the mall easier to navigate or find parking, concierge services to deliver shoppers' packages, or dining and entertainment options that provide an attraction of their own. Even seemingly great retail ideas carry significant risk, as a wide range of economic factors can have an impact on a communities spending habits. For example, recent drops in oil prices have already resulted in a decline in retail spending in Williston, North Dakota, which had been experiencing a boom due to high oil prices and drilling operations, and will soon have a new $500 million retail center open.

 

 

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U.S. Put-In-Place Construction Spending To Reach $1.2 Trillion By 2017
Daily Commercial News (06/03/2015) Carrick, Alex

The U.S. Census Bureau's put-in-place (PIP) investment numbers are followed by many analysts and construction industry personnel. PIP dollars are similar to progress payments as work proceeds. In a hypothetical $60 million tower tracked by PIP data, a figure of about $15 million would be entered in 2015, a further $25 million in 2016, and the final $20 million would appear in 2017. PIP data is used in calculating the nation's gross domestic product (GDP), and is intended to capture the "universe" of all domestic construction activity. After a +5.5 percent performace for "current year," not adjusted for inflation, PIP spending in 2014, CMD is forecasting a 7.3 percent for 2015, 7.9 percent in 2016, and 7.0 percent in 2017.

 

 

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Unlocking The Future: The Keys To Making Cities Great
McKinsey & Company (06/01/2015) Bouton, Shannon; Dearborn, Jay; Sergienko, Yakov; et al.

Over half the world live in cities, and that percentage is expected to increase to 60 percent by 2030, with city populations rising by more than 1.4 bEstthe centralization of economies. With such significant growth expected, urban environments will need to evolve to meet demands. To consider possible needs, McKinsey Global Institute (MGI) interviewed a variety of urban leaders and experts, and researched dozen of cities in Asia, Europe, the Middle East, North America, and South America. In the study, MGI identified three keys urban leaders do well. The first is achieving smart growth. Tax breaks may be necessary, but it is more important to identify a city's competitive advantages, and create an offer for businesses that makes economic sense for the city. Second, city planners must do more with less. Cities need to make every effort to collect, manage, and spend resources effectively. Successful cities assess and manage expenses well. Third, create support for change. Established businesses, communities, and political interests may prefer the status quo. City leaders will have to deliver fast, positive, and visible results to build support for change.

 

 

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Water

Fracking Has Had No ‘Widespread’ Impact on Drinking Water, EPA Finds
Wall Street Journal (06/04/15) Harder, Amy

A new report from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) says that fracking is not causing “widespread systemic impacts on drinking water.” The four-year study found a few contaminated drinking wells and some potential vulnerabilities, however, such as the disposal of wastewater and construction of durable wells. The report supports the energy industry’s contention that fracking is safe, and the EPA’s Thomas Burke notes that “the number of documented impacts to drinking water is relatively low when compared to the number of fractured wells.” Stanford University Professor Rob Jackson says the report’s findings are “reasonable,” but added that he wished the report were more comprehensive. Indeed, environmentalists note that the report itself says its findings may be subject to limiting factors, therefore the study was not conducted on a “widespread” basis and therefore conclusions of no “widespread impact,” cannot be backed up. No specific action was recommended in the report, but it has renewed the debate on the safety of fracking, which environmentalists are seeking to ban. Critics say the evidence of contaminated wells is proof of a negative environmental impact. They also worry that the energy industry will use the study's findings as the end of the debate, when it is really only the beginning.

 

 

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Steel Pipe Protects the Big Easy
Water & Wastes Digest (05/15) Vol. 54, No. 5, P. 20 Ingram, Charlie

The Southeast Louisiana Urban Flood Risk Reduction Project (SELA) was implemented in order to reduce flooding in the Orleans, Jefferson and St. Tammany Parishes. The goal would be to pump water from flood-prone regions into the Mississippi River. Part of the plan includes channel enlargements, bridge replacements, detention ponds, levees and elevation of flood-prone structures. Work in Jefferson Parish and Orleans Parish is finished, but work in St. Tammany Parish has yet to begin. Work in St. Tammany Parish requires the need for large pumping capacity, which is being met by American SpiralWeld Pipe and B&K Construction Co. LLC. The project will see three spiral-welded pipes installed for the Harahan Pump to River project. Over 6,000 feet of 84-inch pipe was installed with a pumping capacity of 1,200 cubic feet per second. Workers on the project report that there were no issues with pipe coating, handling, length, roundness, or interior lining. The pipe production was also on time.

 

 

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Transportation

'Shoofly' Design No Bother at All
Roads & Bridges (05/15) Vol. 53, No. 5, P. 38 Rowley, Cade

The Sellwood Bridge in Portland, Ore., is also the busiest two-lane bridge in the state. However, the integrity of the bridge has declined over the years and is no longer capable of handling the area's high traffic volume. The bridge also does not have space for pedestrians or bicycles. As a result, Multnomah County hired Sundt Construction Inc. and Slayden Construction to replace the bridge. The new $218 million bridge will have two vehicle lanes on the west end in each direction, that narrow to one lane on the east end in each direction. Additionally, the new bridge will have two 6-foot-wide bike lanes and two 12-foot-wide pedestrian paths. In order to build the new bridge without disrupting traffic and keeping costs low the companies built a "shoofly" bridge. A shoofly bridge involved lifting the old bridge deck and truss and placing it on a set of temporary piers. The complex process took 12 hours and was the safer option for construction workers and the public as the new bridge was developed. Without the need for traffic phasing, the project timeline was shortened by a year and costs were cut by millions.

 

 

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Airlines Launch Petition Against Airport 'Tax'
The Hill (06/03/15) Laing, Keith

The airline lobbyist group Airlines for America is launching a petition asking Congress to oppose a proposal from airports to increase the amount of money charged to passengers for facility improvements. Under the proposal, the Passenger Facility Charge, a fee that is added to every plane ticket, would be nearly doubled from $4.50 to $8.50. Airlines for America is calling for passengers to sign its “Stop Air Tax Now” petition. Airports argue that raising the limit for the charge would help pay for a backlog of improvement projects, but airlines say that passengers are charged enough already. The Airports Council reports that it has collected 20,000 signatures for its own petition that supports the increased fees. This conflict between airlines and airports is expected to continue until lawmakers approve a new funding bill for the Federal Aviation Administration later this year.

 

 

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Columns of Strength
Roads & Bridges (05/15) Vol. 53, No. 5, P. 44 Hales, Thomas; Pantelides, Chris; et al.

Corroding steel is often the cause of bridges not meeting their intended lifespans. Corrosion is in epoxy-coated steel bars has spurred interest in alternatives such as fiber-reinforced polymer (FRP) bars or glass FRP (GFRP). Comparatively, FRP bars boast competitive costs, high tensile strength, and low vulnerability to corrosion. Transportation costs and corrosion related problems could be easily eliminated with the use of FRP equipment in original construction plans. The University of Utah recently conducted tests on circular concrete columns reinforced with GFRP, steel longitudinal bars, and GFRP confining spirals. The columns were tested for their viability as a potential construction alternative. The results of the study found that FRP spirals and FRP longitudinal bars are effective methods for reinforcing concrete columns, especially in environments where the risk of corrosion is high. Meanwhile, FRP spirals work better when placed at a close pitch spacing to provide confinement levels similar to steel spirals.

 

 

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Legislation & Regulation

GOP, Obama See Common Ground On Energy Infrastructure
The Hill (06/02/15) Cama, Timothy

House Republicans have found common ground with parts of President Obama's energy infrastructure proposal. GOP leaders in the House Energy and Commerce Committee told Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz that they largely agree on the need to improve pipelines, electric transmission lines, energy storage, and other pieces of infrastructure. In April, the administration released the Quadrenniel Energy Review, which calls for comprehensive infrastructure improvements worth billions of dollars. "Both the energy legislation and the QER include a number of ideas for upgrading and expanding the nation’s energy infrastructure," says Rep. Fred Upton (R-Mich.), the full committee’s chairman. "And in light of the recent pipeline spill in California, I would add that both aim to ensure that this new infrastructure is built with state-of-the-art technologies that reduce the environmental and safety risks." Moniz says he is glad Republicans are willing to work with Democrats and the administration in upgrading infrastructure.

 

 

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Panel to Review 2014 Water Funding Bill
The Hill (06/05/15) Laing, Keith

The House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee will review the implementation of the Water Resources Reform and Development Act. This $12.3 billion bill, passed last year, identifies new water infrastructure projects and authorizes funding for them. The money itself is distributed by appropriations committees. The House committee plans to hold a hearing on June 10 titled “One Year Anniversary After Enactment: Implementation of the Water Resources Reform and Development Act of 2014.” This will allow lawmakers to discuss the “legislation that made reforms to accelerate the project delivery process, promote fiscal responsibility, and increase transparency, accountability, and congressional oversight in reviewing and prioritizing future water resources development investment,” the panel said.

 

 

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Other

Construction Firms Add 17,000 Jobs in May
Associated General Contractors of America (06/05/15)

U.S. construction firms added 17,000 jobs in May and 273,000 over a year as the sector's unemployment rate declined to 6.7 percent for the lowest May rate since 2006, according to the Associated General Contractors of America (AGC). AGC officials observe the job increases come as the private and public sectors are making more investments in construction services. Construction employment is at its highest level since February 2009, says AGC Chief Economist Ken Simonson. Residential building and specialty trade contractors added 8,500 jobs since April and 149,300 jobs over 12 months. Within the residential sector, residential building contractors saw 1,800 jobs added for the month while residential specialty trade contractors added 6,700 jobs versus April. Nonresidential contractors hired 8,600 additional employees in May and 124,300 since May 2014. Nonresidential employment sector gains varied by segment, with nonresidential specialty trade contractors adding 5,600 jobs for the month while heavy and civil engineering contractors adding only 400 jobs since April. Nonresidential building construction employment rose by 2,600 for the month and is up 19,500 for the year.

 

 

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Fed Vice Chair, IMF Highlight Infrastructure Spending Amid Low Interest Costs to Boost Economy
AASHTO Journal (06/05/15)

As the Highway Trust Fund approaches its expiration on July 31, senior officials from the Federal Reserve Board and International Monetary Fund (IMF) say that investing in U.S. infrastructure now could bring about significant economic benefits. Fed Vice Chairman Stanley Fischer said at an International Monetary Conference in Toronto that an active fiscal or budgetary stimulus policy works better with very low interest rates. IMF has advised the Federal Reserve to wait until next year to begin any rise in interest rates, unless there is a sudden rise in inflation. IMF also says that U.S. fiscal policy requires attention, with priority on finding a stable funding solution for the Highway Trust Fund and removing the need for continued stop-gap patches. The Fitch Ratings service has said that congressional inaction on the Highway Trust Fund is hampering states' infrastructure spending decisions, slowing projects.

 

 

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