Infrastructure in the News

November 30, 2012

Dallas Morning News: Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst proposes dipping into rainy day fund to address water and transportation needs

In a Dallas Morning News article yesterday, Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst said that Texas should consider dipping into the state’s multi-billion dollar rainy day fund to address pressing water and transportation needs. Dewhurst, speaking before the Dallas Regional Chamber, proposed using $1 billion from the fund to create a new water infrastructure development bank to help cities and other municipalities build reservoirs. Read the article here.

LID Competition Invigorates Development Community to Design for Houston’s Future

The Houston Land/Water Sustainability Forum, in strategic partnership with the City of Houston, Harris County and Mischer Developments, hosted the Inaugural Low Impact Development (LID) Design Competition to generate interest in LID. A charter member of the Sustainability Forum, the ASCE Houston Branch significantly contributed to the success of this event through participation on the steering committee and event jury panel as well as a major event sponsor. Registration for the competition opened in September of 2009 and the Finals Event and Awards Program honored the winners on January 27, 2010.

“We saw the writing on the wall. We could continue with business as usual and eventually be forced to change our development methods,” said the Forum’s Steering Committee Chair, Robert Adair. “Or we could take the initiative to explore new methods, learn about them and take the leadership role in driving change. We have a vested interest in achieving success, and those of us in the design and development community are in the best position to determine what works and what doesn’t.”

The LID Design Competition challenged Houston’s design community to create LID designs for three local projects: a green roadway, an urban redevelopment site and a suburban residential development site. Teams were required to have a minimum of three licensed participants, including at least one civil engineer, one architect and one landscape architect. Teams had three different projects to choose from and site-specific information was provided for each. Each winning team received a $15,000 cash prize.

Twenty-two teams entered the competition representing 48 firms and a total of 225 design professionals. Most of the participants did not have any previous experience designing or implementing LID, so they had to learn as they went along. Consequently, the educational value of the competition was enormous.

Competition Generated Winning Designs

Judging took place in two stages. In the first stage, five expert judges reviewed all 22 projects submitted and selected 9 finalists. The finalists then presented their designs to an esteemed local Jury Panel made up of interested and influential leaders in the Houston area from the development, civic and government community.

“By reviewing the competition submissions, which included cost savings and stormwater runoff reduction information,” said Carol Haddock, ASCE Houston Branch President and final jury panel member, “the jury members were exposed to the practical and aesthetic benefits of using LID, making this an educational and motivating experience for them as well.”

The three types of projects and the ultimate winning designs included:

(1) Green Roadway The project goal was to expand a two-lane, mile-long section of Independence Parkway to four lanes. The winning design incorporated the use of bioswales, rain gardens and inward-sloping roadways to control stormwater runoff. It also included an underground cistern and solar-powered drip irrigation. The design projected 13% reduction in construction cost per mile; 9% reduction in maintenance costs; approximately 70 percent reduction in peak discharge; 84% TSS removal; 68% metal removal and 30% pathogen removal.

(2) Urban Redevelopment: The project goal was to create a pedestrian promenade in a redeveloping section of downtown Houston. The Bastrop Promenade would be a six-block, pedestrian promenade that is centered around a new professional soccer stadium, complete with residences, shopping and restaurants. The winning design incorporated the use of rain gardens, pervious paving and bioswales into a mixed-use development. The LID design cost was approximately $40,000 less than a conventional design and reduced the peak stormwater flow by about half.

(3) Suburban Residential: The project goal was to create Ventana Lakes, a new square-mile development in Harris County. The winning design required few or no variances and incorporated native plant rain gardens throughout the development, without placing any of those features on the individual lots. The LID design increased the number of amenity lots (those with water access or other special features) within the development from the standard 30% to a whopping 71%. The winning design is projected to reduce the 100- year stormwater discharge by 52% and cost $5 million less overall.

“All of the participating teams walked away with new information and an appreciation for the cost and aesthetic benefits of LID,” observed Dov Weitman, Chief of EPA’s Nonpoint Source Control Branch and a member of the judging panel. The Forum has posted each submission presentation here. Many of the submissions include cost comparisons between LID and conventional stormwater solutions applied in the three different real-life projects.

The Houston LID competition has had far reaching benefits for both the city and the development community. Like many communities across the United States, Houston’s ordinances needed to be updated to incorporate LID practices. The enthusiasm and interest generated by the competition prompted the Forum, the City of Houston, and Harris County to plan to develop LID guidelines during the summer of 2010. In April, 2011, Harris County adopted the Low Impact Development Design Guide, that was initially drafted based on input gathered from this series of collaborative workshops that grew out of the LID competition. The hope is that developers that follow these new guidelines will be able to implement the specified LID practices without the need for variances. 

News of the competition’s success is spreading and several more are being planned in Texas including one launched in the summer of 2011 by the Central Texas Regional Mobility Authority

Funding Proposal for Transportation Infrastructure

Friday, Dec. 3, 2010
Eric J. Shelton/Texarkana GazetteA proposal from President Obama’s Deficit Commission to increase the federal gas tax as a means to reduce the federal deficit and improve the nation’s transportation infrastructure received the support of both the Texas Section of the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE), and the ASCE national office. The commission voted on the deficit plan Friday morning, Dec. 3, and it failed to garner sufficient yes votes to move it on for congressional consideration the Washington Post reported. Funding the nation’s transportation infrastructure remains a critical need, however.

“A lack of investment in our transportation infrastructure not only poses a risk to the safety of the traveling public, but also imposes an economic and environmental cost resulting from time spent idling in traffic,” said Amy Smith, PE, president of the Texas Section-ASCE. “Increasing the federal gas tax is one means of assuring that adequate funds are available to provide proper operation and maintenance of our state’s highways and bridges.”

The federal motor fuels tax generates revenues that are reserved for investment in highway and public UPI Photo/Michael Kleinfeldtransportation improvements through the Highway Trust Fund. This tax, however, has not been adjusted since 1993 and has lost one-third of its purchasing power over the last 17 years. The Highway Trust Fund has become insolvent in recent years and required multiple emergency transfers from the General Fund. The proposal incorporated in the deficit plan included a 15 cent increase in the gas tax beginning in 2013 and would eliminate transfers from the General Fund.

In Texas 32% of roads are in poor or mediocre condition and 18% of bridges are structurally deficient or functionally obsolete. Driving on roads in need of repair costs Texas motorists $343 each year in wasted time and fuel, not to mention the negative impact on our health and safety. And, in 2008, the Texas Section of ASCE assigned local roadways a grade of D, bridges a grade of B- and transit systems a grade of C. Congestion has continued to plague Texas, while funding for repairs and improvements dries up. Nationally, ASCE’s 2009 Report Card for America’s Infrastructure assigned the nation’s infrastructure an overall grade of D, with bridges, roads and transit receiving grades of C, D- and D, respectively. It also noted that an investment of $2.2 trillion over the next five years is necessary to bring those grades up to an acceptable level.

CBS Reports

Friday, Sept. 3, 2010

Editorial Roundtable: Solutions for America’s Infrastructure

Houston, July 29, 2010
ASCE Texas Section was pleased to join Houston-area leaders, ASCE staff, and staff of GOVERNING magazine on Thursday, July 29, in a roundtable discussion of solutions to the infrastructure challenges facing Brian Manning and Tim Newton at the Houston Editorial Roundtableour communities. Joining ASCE past president D. Wayne Klotz PE were Texas Section President Brian R. Manning PE, Past Section VP-Professionals Tim C. Newton PE and Carol A. Haddock PE, Houston Branch President Donald J. Anderson PE, and Section Executive Director Ottis C. Foster PE. State Representative Bill Callegari PE (District 132) and Houston Mayor Annise Parker were present, along with other leaders who build the quality of life in the Houston area. Also present was David Harris, Texas Municipal Utilities Association President and Director of Utilities for the City of Brownwood in central Texas. The discussions were led by the Managing Director of Government Relations and Infrastructure Initiatives for ASCE, Brian Pallasch. On Wednesday there was a tour of Houston's Transtar (the Greater Houston Transportation and Emergency Management Center), and the Port Authority of Houston.

The roundtable goal was to "increase awareness of the challenges facing the nation’s infrastructure and begin to develop workable solutions to overcoming those challenges," basing the discussions on the 5 Key Solutions for Infrastructure proposed in ASCE’s 2009 Report Card for Infrastructure ( Houston was the first of 5 roundtable discussions scheduled around the country, with others being held in Sacramento Calif., Boston, Mass., Raleigh, N.C., and Omaha, Neb. GOVERNING magazine ( plans to report on the meetings in a future issue.

The 5 Key Solutions that anchored the discussions are:

• Increase federal leadership
• Promote sustainability and resilience
• Develop national, state, and regional infrastructure plans
• Address life cycle costs and ongoing maintenance, and
• Increase investment from all stakeholders

Read more about the event here. With an overall infrastructure grade of C- for Texas, D for the nation, and $2.2 trillion dollars projected as needed to adequately upgrade the infrastructure, the need for action is evident.

Dallas Infrastructure in the News

Dallas, June, 2010
Dallas area residents have experienced firsthand the infrastructure problems ASCE has been highlighting with the Infrastructure Report Cards (view national report card; view Texas report card). In response to several high profile water main breaks both the local NBC affiliate and the Dallas Morning News have run features in the first week June, 2010.

On June 1st, NBC 5i ran a spot on the 10 o’clock news that included an interview with Dallas Branch-ASCE President Rachel Hayden. Hear the story with her comments.

Workers position hoses to vacuum water and mud from the basement of the Dallas County Records Building after June 1st water main break. Columnist James Ragland wrote about the recent water main breaks and the need to maintain our nation’s infrastructure in the June 4th edition of the Dallas Morning News. Read it here. (photo credit: Jim Mahoney/DMN)

As the infrastructure in our nation continues to deteriorate with age, it is of utmost importance to our economy and our way of life that people recognize the urgency of these issues and encourage policy makers to fund the maintenance and upgrading of our water, transportation, and large civic structures infrastructure. Do your part and keep the conversation going. View and comment on these stories; write to the editors of your local newspapers; contact your elected officials. Share your concerns and your professional expertise. Get involved with the next round of the Texas Infrastructure Report Card update by contacting Texas Section VP-Professional James A. Lutz PE. Help guide the unfolding future! 


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