You are not logged in. Login

This Week in Washington - July 27


New Report Shows Mississippi’s Infrastructure Needs a Different Approach
House Hearing on Disaster Hazards Mitigation
DOT Announces Transit Grants
House Panel Questions EPA Planning Efforts to Control Water Pollution
FHWA Announces Highway Innovations
Amtrak Unveils Grand Plan for Washington’s Union Station
Two Senators from Montana Seek More Funds for Rural Water Projects
State Legislative Updates

New Report Shows Mississippi’s Infrastructure Needs a Different Approach

This week, the Mississippi Section Report Card for the state’s infrastructure was featured in a front-page article in the Jackson Courier-Journal and Acey Roberts, P.E., M.ASCE, chair of the Report Card Committee, was interviewed on the Marshall Ramsey show, heard in Jackson on WFMN-FM. Roberts talked about Report Card which gave grades of D for Dams, D, C- for Drinking Water, C for Roads and Bridges, and C for Wastewater, C. Although the grades for Mississippi are either equal to or slightly higher than the nation’s grades, he said current issues must be addressed.

“The current path regarding maintenance and funding for our transportation and water systems in Mississippi must be reversed, said Roberts. “We hope that this report will be the first step toward understanding the issues and finding real solutions to bridge the funding gap.

Industry experts from public agencies, private firms and non-profit groups led this Report Card effort. To arrive at grades for each area of infrastructure, civil engineering expert volunteers examined the physical condition, capacity and future need, and studied funding sources and trends that impact maintenance and upgrades. The first report of its kind in Mississippi, ASCE’s Mississippi Section released the Report Card at the Mississippi State Capitol Building.

To view the 2012 Mississippi Infrastructure Report Card, visit the ASCE Mississippi Section website.

View Clarion-Ledger story.

Listen to an archive of the Marshall Ramsey radio show from July 26 

To view the 2009 Report Card on America’s Infrastructure, click here

Back to top.

House Hearing on Disaster Hazards Mitigation

The House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee’s Subcommittee on Economic Development, Public Buildings and Emergency Management held a hearing on July 24th which focused on the benefits of disaster mitigation efforts, including building codes, in saving lives, minimizing destruction caused by disasters, and reducing long-term rebuilding costs. The hearing focused on the Safe Building Code Incentive Act (H.R. 2069), introduced by Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart (R-FL). The legislation provides incentives, through mitigation assistance, to states to adopt and implement statewide building codes to minimize damages from disasters. The bill does not impose mandates on states or penalize states for not adopting a building code.

ASCE, long a champion of federal disaster mitigation programs, will be providing comments to the committee in support of this effort. Full details on the hearing are available here.

Back to top.

DOT Announces Transit Grants

The Department of Transportation announced $787 million in grants for bus fleets and rapid transit hubs across the nation this week. The announcement from Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood marks the third round of funds for the State of Good Repair and Bus Livability program awarding another 255 transit projects selected in almost every state. A quarter of the funding for the projects will be coming from the newly signed surface transportation bill, MAP-21.

More than 800 applications requesting $4 billion competed to receive the $787 million in grants. New Jersey Transit received the largest package of grants: $76 million to upgrade its bus fleet and install a rapid bus service to downtown Philadelphia. Baltimore got the biggest individual grant: $40 million to replace a 65-year-old bus facility. Only Delaware and Mississippi did not receive grants, although Puerto Rico and the District of Columbia did.

Previous rounds of grants have paid for more than $1.8 billion in transit repair projects.

The DOT also announced this morning that a new round of the popular TIFIA grants is available. DOT will be taking applications to award another $1.75 billion in projects. The program has spent $9.2 billion since it was first established.

Back to top.

House Panel Questions EPA Planning Efforts to Control Water Pollution

A subcommittee of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee held a hearing this week to review the integrated planning and permitting regulatory prioritization effort adopted under the Clean Water Act by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

The Water Resources and Environment subcommittee has been critical of the agency’s recent efforts. “Numerous EPA regulations are placing significant new burdens on municipalities as they are working towards replacing our nation’s aging wastewater infrastructure,” the subcommittee announcement for the hearing said.

State and local governments are facing increasing regulatory, enforcement, and financial pressures, not only to address sewer overflows and other aging wastewater infrastructure issues, but also to deal with numerous other burdensome regulatory issues that recently have become national priorities, the subcommittee said.

“These include more stringent and widespread regulation of stormwater discharges, nutrients and other pollutants, and public drinking water systems, which could lead to many communities having to install and operate, at great expense, treatment, removal, and prevention technologies,” said Rep. Bob Gibbs (R-OH), chair of the subcommittee.

In announcing the hearing last week, the subcommittee said “dwindling EPA funds” are causing local utilities to spend heavily on improving their water quality. The statement did not mention that EPA Clean Water Funds have been cut significantly in the past decade.

Gibbs said he is concerned that EPA is enforcing costly federal water-quality standards. “I still have some concerns that some at EPA still may not be willing to limit the agency’s enforcement efforts against municipalities,” he said. “A continued emphasis on an enforcement approach, including consent decrees, will undermine the flexibility that EPA is ostensibly seeking to provide under this policy.”

Nancy Stoner, acting Assistant Administrator for Water at EPA, testified that there are no easy answers. “Population growth, increases in impervious surfaces, aging infrastructure, climate change, and the current economic challenges are stressing implementation of infrastructure and programs need to fully attain [Clean Water Act] goals,” she said.

ASCE’s Failure to Act: The Economic Impact of Current Investment Trends in Water and Wastewater Treatment Infrastructure shows that our nation’s drinking water and wastewater infrastructure is aging and overburdened, and that investment is not keeping up with the need. Investing an additional $84 billion by 2020 in drinking water, wastewater, and wet weather water quality measures can prevent future economic losses and protect jobs, water quality and public health. View the full study here.

More information from today’s hearing, including video and witness testimony, can be found here

Back to top.

FHWA Announces Highway Innovations

The Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) has rolled out a second wave of innovations for its Every Day Counts (EDC) initiative, an effort focused on shortening the time needed to complete highway projects through the use of new technologies and innovative processes. FHWA first launched the Every Day Counts initiative in 2010 and the latest batch of initiatives will be promoted by the agency for the next two years.

FHWA will promote 13 innovations to state, local and regional transportation agencies, as well as to the design and construction industries. These initiatives range from innovative construction management techniques to paving machinery designed to use global positioning systems (GPS) to achieve higher quality, longer-lasting roadways.

The Every Day Counts initiative supports the deployment of innovations with proven benefits in getting highway and bridge projects built faster, which includes planning, permitting, and design phases as well as construction. Many of these innovations offer other benefits such as enhanced safety during construction and throughout the life of the project; better quality, so that highways and bridges last longer and require less maintenance; and less impact on the driving public during construction.

Streamlining project delivery has been a critical aspect of President Obama’s transportation policy recently.

For more details, visit the Federal Highway Administration’s webpage

Back to top.

Amtrak Unveils Grand Plan for Washington’s Union Station

Amtrak announced an ambitious $7.5 billion plan to revamp Washington DC’s Union Station this week. Amtrak’s plan spans the next 15 to 20 years and calls for tripling the capacity of Union Station, doubling the number of trains the station can accommodate and improving overall passenger experience. According to Amtrak’s plans, the construction will be completed in four phases, with the most immediate work expected to start in 2013.

What the plan leaves unanswered is how such an expensive project will be paid for. The effort will likely involve money from federal and local governments, however at this time Amtrak has been fighting to maintain baseline funding from in the federal appropriations process.

Amtrak also released a larger $151 billion plan to bring true high speed rail to the Northeast Corridor two weeks ago. The plan would be phased in gradually between Washington DC and Boston to accommodate trains travelling at 220 miles per hour. The segment between New York and Washington DC would be completed by 2030, while the segment between New York and Boston would be operating by 2040 according to the plan. However, funding prospects for the large project are not bright in the current economic environment.

To view photos of the plans see here

Back to top.

Two Senators from Montana Seek More Funds for Rural Water Projects

Sen. Max Baucus (D-MT) and Sen. Jon Tester (D-MT) have introduced legislation to provide funding for rural water resources projects carried out by the Bureau of Reclamation. Baucus and Tester are pushing legislation to provide a guaranteed $80 million a year for rural water projects long delayed by lack of funding.

Two projects that could benefit from the bill would serve growing populations in western Montana where an oil and gas boom is under way, the senators say in a news release. S. 3385, the Authorized Rural Water Projects Completion Act, would set aside $80 million every year for eligible Bureau of Reclamation projects.

Reclamation recently issued a draft report saying construction of eight rural water projects could drag on an additional 50 years and double in cost to more than $4 billion because of piecemeal congressional funding. 

Back to top.

State Legislative Updates

Transportation bill eliminates designated source of funding for Northern Beltline, but keeps it on track
The federal transportation bill enacted earlier this month eliminates the separate, designated source of funding that was to be used to build a 52-mile interstate beltline north of Birmingham. But at the same time, it includes incentives and directives aimed at keeping the project on track. Opponents of the $4.7 billion Northern Beltline say the change takes away one of the proponents' main arguments -- that money designated for the project can't be spent on other more pressing transportation needs. Now beltline spending will compete with transportation priorities statewide.
Read More: Birmingham News 7/23

Bay Area faces new high-speed rail costs
Now that Governor Jerry Brown has signed legislation to allow the state to spend billions on high-speed rail, Bay Area residents had better brace for the real ride - a push for $650 million in toll hikes and new San Francisco taxes. That's how much will be needed to help pay for a tunnel to connect the Transbay Terminal to the Caltrain station at Fourth and King streets. As it turns out, none of the $2.5 billion in tunnel costs were included as part of the narrowly approved high-speed-rail deal. It's up to the locals to make the tunnel happen. If they don't, the $68 billion high-speed-rail line from Los Angeles will dead-end several blocks from downtown proper.
Read More: San Francisco Chronicle 7/23

Brown to Unveil California Water Project For 25 Million
Governor Jerry Brown said he will unveil plans today to divert abundant Northern California water to thirsty Southern California for 25 million people and the farms that grow half of the U.S.’s fresh produce. The project would siphon water from the Sacramento River, 10 miles south of the state capital, through two 40-mile-long tunnels to existing pumps and aqueducts that supply cities such as Los Angeles and San Diego, and irrigate 3 million acres. The plan reopens a long-simmering dispute between northern Californians and those in the more populous south, much of which is semidesert. Voters in 1982 rejected a ballot measure that would have authorized a similar plan after a campaign that pitted northerners against Southland residents.
Read More: Bloomberg 7/25

Colorado receives $17 million in transit improvement grants
The U.S. Department of Transportation announced more than$17 millionin grants on Monday that will go toward improvements to transit infrastructure in Colorado. Cities will revamp fleets of buses and upgrade mass transit facilities — many with aims to become more environmentally friendly — using State of Good Repair and Bus Livability funds. The Federal Transit Administration awarded $787 million nationwide to support 255 projects across 48 states — eight programs in Colorado. FTA received more than 830 project applications, exceeding $4 billion in requests.
Read More: Denver Post 7/24

District of Columbia
Amtrak to propose $7 billion overhaul at Union Station
Amtrak is proposing a $7 billion transformation of Union Station, intended to triple passenger capacity and transform the overcrowded station into a high-speed rail hub for the Northeast. The plan, to be unveiled Wednesday afternoon, calls for doubling the number of trains the station can accommodate and improving the passenger experience at what is the second-busiest Amtrak station in the country, with 100,000 passenger trips per day. The building’s corridors, concourses and platforms — many dating to the station’s 1907 opening — are regularly jammed during rush hour and major tourist events. The station’s overcrowded tracks hinder Amtrak and regional train operators from adding new trains despite growing demand.
Read More: Washington Post 7/24

Analysis: TSPLOST support growing, poll finds
A survey suggests the transportation-tax referendum has a reasonable chance to pass in four of the state’s 12 regions if campaign messages reach enough voters, according to a memo to supporters. The memo, obtained by Morris News Service, shows voters in the Central Savannah River Area that centers on Augusta were the most supportive, followed by those in the Middle Georgia region around Macon and the Southwest region around Albany. The Southern Georgia region that includes Tifton and Valdosta was also bullish. Least open to the tax were the Mountains region around Gainesville, Northwest around Rome and Three Rivers that includes Newnan, LaGrange and Carrollton.
Read More: Augusta Chronicle 7/24

ITD board votes to expedite major road projects
The Idaho Transportation Department's governing board has voted to move up the start date for nine major road projects around the state. The board voted Thursday to push up the start date of $180 million in road work, a move that the agency says was made possible through lower-than anticipated construction costs and department efficiencies, along with inflation and interest savings. Three of the projects, all in southwestern Idaho, will rely on sales of Grant Anticipation Revenue Vehicle, or GARVEE bonds. Those projects are scheduled to start in 2014 and include reconstruction work on Interstate 84 interchanges at Meridian, Broadway and Gowen roads.
Read More: Idaho Statesman 7/21

A New Plan for Idaho’s Water
A proposed revision to Idaho’s state water plan would highlight climate, supply and the balance between surface and underground sources of Idaho’s most precious resource. The Idaho Water Resource Board is currently taking public comment on its newly drafted state water management plan. The plan is a guide to how state and regional officials can best use Idaho’s water. However, since the plan hasn’t been updated since 1996, it’s becoming outdated. Members of the water board and local water users attended a public hearing in Twin Falls on Wednesday to learn more about the new plan. Among the issues addressed are climate variability, water supply, recharge and storage projects, and conjunctive management of surface and groundwater.
Read More: Times-News 7/20

O’Malley directs agencies to study state’s power grid
Gov. Martin O’Malley ordered a study of Maryland’s electricity distribution system Wednesday, suggesting that major infrastructure improvements should be considered in the wake of an unprecedented storm.“As a result of climate change, Maryland may continue to suffer violent weather patterns in the months and years ahead,” O’Malley (D) said in a statement. “Together, we can create the 21st century infrastructure that a 21st century economy requires — these costs and benefits must be evaluated.”The executive order directs energy adviser Abigail Hopper to oversee the gathering of input and recommendations from several agencies to make the state’s electric grid more resilient
Read More: Gazette 7/26

State Senate uses earmarks to try to force Patrick’s hand
Massachusetts lawmakers are trying to give themselves and their constituents an end-of-session gift. The state Senate plans to pass Tuesday a $1.39 billion transportation bond bill that has been loaded with earmarks aimed at forcing the Patrick administration to spend limited funds on specific local projects, rather than the initiatives state transportation officials deem most pressing. The House tacked project earmarks onto its bill during a marathon session June 20, but the Senate bill scheduled to hit the floor Tuesday will arrive with earmarks added to the legislation during a ¬rewrite by the Senate Ways and Means Committee. Earmarks, legislative directives aimed at compelling government to spend on particular projects, fell out of favor on Beacon Hill in recent years because of a backlash against perceived special interest agendas during the recession.
Read More: Boston Globe 7/24 

Light-rail contract shakeup could raise cost by $20M, official says
Abandoning plans to give an engineering contract for the Southwest Corridor light rail to a firm linked to the Sabo bridge breakdown could cost an additional $20 million, an official involved in planning the line said Monday. Steve Elkins, chairman of a transportation panel for the Metropolitan Council, the agency building the line, opposed an effort to carve up a $94 million contract rather than award it to URS Corp., the firm that designed the Martin Olav Sabo pedestrian and bicycle bridge. Elkins and other Met Council members are poised to act this week on a new recommendation from its staff to award four smaller contracts, including one that would go to a firm that would oversee the engineering work.
Read More: Star-Tribune 7/23

New Jersey
NJ water infrastructure work could cost billions
For every cracked pipe buried below the surface, for each main choked by mineral deposits and for every failure that spins into an emergency, there is a message: the state's water infrastructure is in dire need of billions of dollars — possibly a trillion nationally — in the next two decades. And guess who's going to foot the bill? What now costs the average household about $40 a month will balloon to $120 or more by some estimates, to rectify years of neglect. Water companies — municipal, regional and investor-owned — have not invested enough in infrastructure, partially due to pressure to keep rates low, he said. Water companies have spent hundreds of millions of dollars to fix its infrastructure in the last decade, and water rates have climbed as a result. Still, in what the American Water Works Association predicted is the "replacement era," it is a game of catch-up.
Read More: Asbury Park Press 7/22

DOT chief: Deteriorating roads could lead to more freak accidents
A piece of deteriorating I-5 pavement shot through the air and hit a car this weekend, and the state's transportation chief says it might not be the last time we see such a freak accident. Henry Jessop and his family were headed down I-5 near Northgate on Saturday when a brick-sized concrete panel came off the road, crashed through car's windshield and hit Jessop. "The rock hit me so hard in the chest, it literally took my breath away," Jessop said. Secretary of Transportation Paula Hammond said road crews built much of the interstate in the 1960s, and more than 50 years of heavy use has taken its toll. Hammond said the agency doesn't have the staff or cash to fix everything that's falling apart, and the statewide to-do list just keeps getting bigger.
Read More: KOMO News 7/23 

Back to top.