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Over 54,000 American Bridges Structurally Deficient

  • 54,259 of the nation’s 612,677 bridges are rated “structurally deficient.”
  • Americans cross these deficient bridges 174 million times daily.
  • Average age of a structurally deficient bridge is 67 years, compared to 40 years for non-deficient bridges.
  • One in three (226,837) U.S. bridges have identified repair needs.
  • One in three (17,726) Interstate highway bridges have identified repair needs.

(WASHINGTON)—The nearly 48,000-mile Interstate Highway System literally moves the U.S. economy. It carries 75 percent of the nation’s heavy truck traffic. A new report finds there is the equivalent of one “structurally deficient”-rated bridge, on average, for every 27 miles of our major highway network. The 1,800 structurally deficient Interstate bridges are crossed 60 million times daily.

When it comes to bridges needing attention, however, that’s just the tip of the iceberg.

According to an analysis of the U.S. Department of Transportation’s just released 2017 National Bridge Inventory database, 54,259 of the nation’s bridges are rated structurally deficient. If placed end-to-end, they would stretch 1,216 miles, or nearly the distance between Miami and New York City.

Cars, trucks and school buses cross these 54,259 compromised structures 175 million times every day, the data show.

The pace of improving the nation’s inventory of structurally deficient bridges slowed this past year. It’s down only two-tenths of a percent from the number reported in the government’s 2016 data. At current pace of repair or replacement, it would take 37 years to remedy all of them, says Dr. Alison Premo Black, chief economist for the American Road & Transportation Builders Association (ARTBA), who conducted the analysis.

Noting President Trump is expected to address the nation’s infrastructure challenges in his Jan. 30 “State of the Union” address, Black says, “An infrastructure package aimed at modernizing the Interstate System would have both short- and long-term positive effects on the U.S. economy.” Traffic bottlenecks, she says, costs the trucking industry alone over $60 billion per year in lost productivity and fuel, which “increases the cost of everything we make, buy or export.”

To help ensure public safety, bridge decks and support structures are regularly inspected for deterioration and remedial action. They are rated on a scale of zero to nine—with nine meaning the bridge is in “excellent” condition. A bridge is classified as structurally deficient and in need of repair if the rating on a key structural element is four or below.

While these bridges may not be imminently unsafe, they are in need of attention.

Other key findings in the ARTBA analysis:

Iowa (5,067), Pennsylvania (4,173), Oklahoma (3,234), Missouri (3,086), Illinois (2,303), Nebraska (2,258), Kansas (2,115), Mississippi (2,008), North Carolina (1,854) and New York (1,834) have the most structurally deficient bridges. The District of Columbia (8), Nevada (31), Delaware (39), Hawaii (66) and Utah (87) have the least.
At least 15 percent of the bridges in six states—Rhode Island (23 percent), Iowa (21 percent), West Virginia (19 percent), South Dakota (19 percent), Pennsylvania (18 percent) and Nebraska (15 percent)—fall in the structurally deficient category.

Want to know the specific report for the roads and bridges in your state? Visit www.artbabridgereport.org.

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The Job Site

This blog posts goes out to all those in the building industry who have to occasionally visit a job site but maybe it’s not a part of their everyday function. Some examples would be, architects, engineers, suppliers of building materials, purchasing agents/managers, interior designers and the list can continue well beyond that. Our industry has an incredible number of people and companies involved with bringing a project from concept to reality. I’ve always had a great deal of admiration (and maybe even a little bit of envy) for those who spend the bulk of their career on a job site either doing the hands on work, or supervising those who do, after spending years learning and refining their own skills.

The environment of a job site however, can be intimidating for some. I have known many individuals throughout my career who will avoid job sites as much as possible. I have seen many careers be negatively affected by this lack of interest or at times, outright refusal to visit a job site. Personally, I’ve never really felt that way. I always embraced the opportunity and took advantage of the experience to develop strong relationships with people who could teach me something new and maybe who I could find a way to help in some way in return. Over the course of the last 12 or so years, I have made a few observations that I thought could be helpful to share.

  1. Know where you are going: The last thing a superintendent wants to see is some unknown character walking around aimlessly on site. The first thing you need to do, is find the Super’s trailer, introduce yourself and get permission to proceed with the work you showed up to do. Even if you had made an appointment with him/her to be there, you still need to check in before doing any work. Things can change daily on a job site and you want to show respect for the ones responsible for managing it by making sure they are still ok with you performing your work at that moment.
  2. Come Prepared: This is kind of a follow up to item 1 but needs to be mentioned because of how often this rule is ignored. Time on a job site spent with you is time taken away from something or someone else. Don’t waste it by being unprepared. For instance…need construction plan sets to reference? Bring them! Have specific questions to ask? Have them written down ahead of time. Most importantly, communicate with your contact on site well in advance of your arrival asking them to inform you of all items that they will want to discuss/address with you while you are there and vice versa. This will give you and them the ability to prepare properly.
  3. Dress Appropriately: Proper footwear for the conditions on site is a must. I find it a good practice to just leave a spare pair of work boots in my car so I can have them handy in a moment’s notice. Be sure to adhere to all additional safety gear requirements. Some of the more common items to have handy are, hard hat, safety vest, ear plugs and protective eye wear. Some sites will have additional requirements so, another good reason to communicate with your contact on site prior to your arrival. I would also note that if you can be of better service to the site teams by getting your hands dirty, do it! If that means you wear a pair of jeans instead of dress pants during your visit so that you have more flexibility and can get down on the ground or up in to the attic space without ruining your freshly pressed suit pants, do it!
  4. Display Confidence (not arrogance): These 4 items really tie in together as they are all focused around the importance of time. A Superintendent is not going to be very eager to devote his/her time to someone who isn’t confident they can do their job effectively. Displaying confidence will help put people at ease, giving them the reassurance that you will be able to do your job right and do it quickly so they can continue on forward with the rest of the tasks ahead of them. A word of caution however, do not allow yourself to cross the line from confidence to arrogance. Nor, similarly display a false sense of confidence by pretending to know things you really have little background in. The truth is that a Superintendent has to know everything that is going on at their site. From permits, to interior design, building codes, schedules, budgets, all the various construction trades and so on. It’s likely that they are more knowledgeable than you when it comes to the field application and overall impact of what your portion of the project entails. If you pretend to know something when you don’t, two things can happen and they are both pretty bad. One, they look you in the eye and call you out and now you’ve lost their trust and respect. Or two, they move forward based on a recommendation or comment you made that was false resulting in lost time from the schedule and perhaps even lost profits from the project budget.

Landon Boucher | Innovative Structural Engineering | www.ISEengineers.com

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CARE About Housing

As members of the BIA www.BIASC.org, we do our best to stay up to speed on the various challenges our builder clients face when it comes to developing attainable, desirable, and sustainable communities in the regions we operate. One of the greatest and most consistent challenges they seem to face is the habit that some state and local officials have with regard to adding new costs to their operating budgets and finding creative ways to pass those costs on to home builders. What many of these officials fail to realize, is that when they impose new fees on a builder, at some point the builder can no longer absorb those costs which leads to it ultimately being passed on to who? The buyer. That’s me. That’s you. That’s your friend, your son, your daughter, mom, dad, aging grandparents etc. The cumulative effect of these fees can become so high, that many potential buyers are simply priced out of the market altogether. Take California for instance where our office is located. Here, only 31% of our states population can afford to buy a home. For those of us who can still afford to buy a home, we see more of our hard earned income going toward the cost of housing, leaving less available for all the other things we want to enjoy. Less available for retirement accounts, personal savings, kids college funds, weekend activities, and the more basic needs of food, clothing and transportation.

From our experience, home builders recognize the need to pay their fair share in fees to help provide funds for new infrastructure and parks that help support the population growth from their new communities. Unfortunately, in many cases, our industry is seeing additional costs outside of this reasonable scope. These costs are often generated by well meaning, government officials who simply lack the expertise and knowledge of the building industry to fully analyze the extent of the implications their propositions have on both the collective economic condition of our region and the individual citizens they are elected to serve.

To find the best solutions, it is always wise to engage those who are most closely integrated with the problem. As engineers, if we see a problem with a proposed window opening for instance, we don’t just arbitrarily make a decision to move that window. We have to consult with the architect, the framer, the builder and so on. What we see, may be limited due to our perspective. When we engage all stakeholders in the process, we can fully understand the situation and collectively come up with the most effective solution. Collaboration is key in the design and construction processes and it is key in government as well. The more our government officials are willing to engage with the building industry to find common ground and deliver sustainable resolutions, the better off we all will be.

It is with this in mind that CARE About Housing was established. In order to get more government officials to engage with us when they are looking to propose any new bill that will effect housing, we need their constituents to demand that collaboration. In order for those constituents to do so, they need to see how these policies affect them and their loved ones personally. There are few things more personal than your home and your finances. Please join us in spreading the word by sharing the link to CARE About Housing www.careabouthousing.org with your loved ones on social media and simply ask that they do the same. You can also like and follow them on Facebook by searching for @careabouthousing.

Remember, an informed public, is a protected public.

Landon Boucher | Innovative Structural Engineering | www.ISEengineers.com

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Cheers to MD

The building industry is known for innovation. The number of products that have been created to help make buildings, stronger, safer, and more efficient is innumerable. What hasn’t changed much though is our processes. Particularly when it comes to design. We seem to be well committed to working by the same set of rules and expectations regardless of the skill set and experience of the project team involved.

I once worked for someone who was struggling to understand why his employees with great skill sets, attitudes and experience were struggling to meet key performance objectives. One day, he finally said to me, “you know, I think our problem is we don’t have people working in their stroke.” Now, I’m not a golf guy so I didn’t immediately understand what he meant. So, he explained, “we have a lot of great people. But, they each have a different set of skills and strengths that make them unique. What I need to do is figure out what they are best at, and just have them focus on that. Put them to task with the things they will be most successful at, and leave the other things for somebody else to do!”

It worked. Having the team members focus their time, energy and efforts solely on tasks that suited their key strengths and personality type, made for not only a more productive team but a happier and more fulfilled team as well. No longer were team members bogged down with tasks that they dreaded or found mundane. Just as “One man’s trash is another man’s treasure” so is, One man’s mundane another man’s fulfillment.

Granted, this example doesn’t exactly transfer over to the project team scenario as this was more of a full time employee team member situation but the take away from it is the same. Find out what people are good at, regardless of job title, and make use of it! At some point, I’d like to see the building design process work in a similar fashion. Instead of the standard set of rules and expectations for each consultant, let’s analyze our project team as a whole and find out their areas of strength. Make use of the full power of a project team! Of course we are all going to have our core competencies whether that be structural as is in our case, or mechanical, interior design or something else. But, your structural engineer might just be your greatest resource for windows and doors. Or, your architect may have a unique background in plumbing. Don’t let someone’s title define their value. Get to know your project team and get them “working in their stroke!”

I think we could see a much more consistently successful finished product if more project teams approached design in this manner.

Landon Boucher | Innovative Structural Engineering | www.ISEengineers.com

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Make Housing Affordable Again

A lot has been said lately about the proposed Assembly Bill 199, and for good reason. This bill would have a devastating impact on our states already troubled housing inventory. California ranks 49th out of all 50 states with regard to home ownership and is at its lowest level since 1940. The average California home costs 250% more than the national average. Adding the additional costs of a prevailing wage labor rate to the construction of privately funded housing developments would add an additional 46% to the cost of a new home.

These figures are staggering. With close to 70% of the state’s residents already priced out of the market for a median priced home ($511,000), the math just doesn’t add up. Our state has a massive housing shortage and to make matters worse, it is already one of the most expensive states to build in. All costs, fees, taxes, regulation expenses etc. that are mandated by state and local agencies, ultimately cause the price of homes to increase and private builder profits to decrease. This is simply bad economics, Many people believe that housing is more expensive in California because of the old “location, location, location” mantra. That may be true but it’s only a half truth. The location alone isn’t what has been driving up the costs. It’s the elected officials making decision on matters involving a complex industry that they have little knowledge or experience in.

While a higher income for those who build our homes is a respectable desire, just who receives a higher wage, should be left to the free market to determine. We have many friends in the building industry who have made a successful career in the skilled labor segment. From carpenters to masons, to electricians and plumbers, each trade is known for providing great opportunity where those who do the best work, earn the best reward. Requiring an increased flat rate of pay across the board, removes the incentive that a laborer has to improve his craft and expand his area of expertise. All decisions, including those related to wage rates, are usually best made by those closest to the situation. Politicians, bureaucrats, and lobbyists are far removed from our job sites, making it difficult for them to fully understand the impacts of the decisions they make when it comes to housing.

Having government officials that enlist the guidance and support of industry experts before making decisions that directly affect us all, would be a welcomed addition to the effort to make housing affordable again.

Landon Boucher | Innovative Structural Engineering | www.ISEengineers.com