Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Transportation Case Study 2: Government's Response

This is the Congressional Testimony from US Dept. of Transportaiton Seceretary Peters. :

Highlights have also been provided:

“Something went terribly wrong. Bridges should not fail, and no one who is using them responsibly should be hurt because of an infrastructure failure.”
“In the aftermath of this tragedy, a necessary national conversation has begun concerning the state of the Nation’s bridges and highways and the financial model used to build, maintain and operate them.
“Federal, State, and local transportation agencies consider the inspection of our nearly 600,000 bridges to be of vital importance and invest significant funds in bridge inspection activities each year”
“In the interim, we are taking every step to ensure that America’s infrastructure is safe.”
“It is important to understand that, while we must do a better job of improving the Nation’s transportation systems, we do not have a broad transportation infrastructure “safety” crisis. We agree that the condition of our infrastructure requires on-going attention, but I want to emphasize that we will not allow the public safety to be put at risk. We would limit the use of a bridge or close a bridge rather than let the public safety be put at risk.”
“These infrastructure quality numbers should and can be improved with more targeted investment strategies, but it is inaccurate to conclude that the Nation’s transportation infrastructure is unsafe. We have quality control systems that provide surveillance over the design and construction of bridges. We have quality control systems that oversee the operations and use of our bridges. And we have quality control over inspections of bridges to keep track of the attention that a bridge will require to stay in safe operation.”
“Many are calling for a renewed national focus on our Nation’s highway infrastructure. And while I agree that our infrastructure models need to be reexamined, it is imperative that we actually focus on the right problem. When faced with an underperforming division, the response of any credible business organization is to assess the cause of underperformance and to implement policies and practices intended to reverse performance declines. In my assessment, the underperformance in the highway sector is fundamental, not incremental. In other words, increases in Federal taxes and spending would likely do little, if anything, without a more basic change in how we analyze competing spending options and manage existing systems more efficiently.”

A summary of the Government's call to action:
-Our Department is working closely with the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) as it continues its investigation to determine the cause or causes of this failure.
-I have issued two advisories to States in response to what we have learned so far, asking that States re-inspect their steel deck truss bridges and that they be mindful of the added weight construction projects may bring to bear on bridges.
-A quick release of $5 million in Emergency Relief Federal-aid Highway funding to the State of Minnesota to initiate recovery operations. Those funds were made available the day after the disaster to help restore the traffic flow, to clear the debris, to set up detours, and to begin the repair work.
-President Bush signed legislation on August 6 authorizing $250 million for the replacement of the bridge.
-The legislation also made available $5 million to reimburse Minneapolis for increased transit operations to serve commuters until highway traffic service is restored on the bridge.
-Fifty million dollars in Emergency Relief funds were released on August 9 to ensure the State's recovery efforts can proceed without delay.
-As the State completes the assessment of the total damage and the ultimate cost to replace this bridge, we stand ready to ensure that appropriate funding is made available to replace it.
-While not part of the emergency response funding, we have also provided an additional $13.2 million in immediately available transit funds in connection with our announcement of Minneapolis as an “Urban Partner” under our Congestion Initiative, a broad initiative for managing surface transportation in the Minneapolis area.

Some stats mentioned:
-The I-35W bridge over the Mississippi River in Minneapolis originally opened in November 1967 and became one of the critical facilities in a vital commercial and commuting corridor.
-The bridge was an 8-lane, steel deck truss structure that rose 64 feet above the river before its collapse.
-As of the 2004 count, an estimated 141,000 vehicles traveled per day on the bridge.
-Within days of the collapse, development of a computer model based upon the original design drawings for the bridge began at FHWA's Turner Fairbank Highway Research Center in McLean, Virginia......This model can run simulations to determine the effect on the bridge of removing or weakening certain elements to recreate, virtually, the actual condition of the bridge just prior to and during its collapse….. While examination of the physical members of the bridge being recovered from the site provide the best evidence of why the bridge collapsed, the analytical model allows the evaluation of multiple scenarios which can then be validated against the physical evidence.….. This work is expected to take several months and my forensic experts have been on site continuously since the day after the collapse providing their expertise and assistance. We need to fully understand what happened so we can take every possible step to ensure that such a tragedy does not happen again. Data collected at the scene, with the help of the Federal Bureau of Investigation's 3-D laser scanning device, are being used to assist in the investigation.

Stats on the infrastructure:
Since 1994, the percentage of the Nation’s bridges that are classified as “structurally deficient” has declined from 18.7% to 12.0%. The term "structurally deficient" is a technical engineering term used to classify bridges according to serviceability, safety, and essentiality for public use. The fact that a bridge is classified as "structurally deficient" does not mean that it is unsafe for use by the public. Since 1995 the percentage of travel taking place on roads that are considered “good” has increased from 39.8% to 44.2%.

A cost beneficial strategy:
-FHWA estimates that if we pursued a cost beneficial investment strategy, it would cost approximately $40 billion a year to maintain the physical condition of our Nation’s highways and bridges
-Approximately $60 billion a year to substantially improve the physical condition of current roads and bridges.
-In 2005, Federal, State, and local governments together made over $75 billion in capital investment to rehabilitate highways and bridges in the U.S. and improve their operational performance.
-If we include operational, administrative, and debt service costs in addition to capital investments, the U.S. spent nearly $153 billion on highways and bridges in 2005. ….
These infrastructure quality numbers should and can be improved with more targeted investment strategies, but it is inaccurate to conclude that the Nation’s transportation infrastructure is unsafe.
-A more accurate description of our current and broader problem is that we have an increasingly flawed investment model and a system performance crisis. -While many of these investments may have worthy purposes, virtually no comparative economic analysis is conducted to support these spending decisions. No business could survive for any meaningful period of time utilizing a similar investment strategy. Not surprisingly, new economic literature reveals that the returns on our highway investments have plummeted into the low single digits in recent years.
-The Department is working with States to encourage them to regularly use benefit cost analysis (BCA) when making project selection decisions. Currently, approximately 20 States make some use of BCA, while 6 States use the technique regularly.