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Reaching for the sky - cranes and modern infrastructure

Cranes are prominent on the skyline of every city, serving as a measure of the pace of development. They are essential tools for infrastructure construction, a source of fascination for the sidewalk superintendent, and in some cases, a source of risk. To explore the role, functioning, and safety of large cranes in construction we talk with Greg Teslia, President, Crane Safety and Inspections, of Coral Springs, Florida.


Critical Airport Fights Rising Sea Level

Some airports face serious flood risks because they are flat by design and are located in coastal or riverine settings. Airports in New York are particularly vulnerable because they face both rising sea level and severe storms. Richard Barone, Vice President for Transportation of the Regional Plan Association has studied these airport flood risks and discusses them in this interview.


Turning the Power Back on: Restoring the Grid after Massive Storms

Hurricanes and tornados can be devastating to infrastructure. The electric power grid is particularly vulnerable because it is both exposed and extensive. In 2017, Hurricanes Harvey along the Gulf Coast, Irma in Florida, and Maria in Puerto Rico demonstrated the risks of that vulnerability. To help us understand what it takes to restore power, and in the long run, to increase the resilience of the grid, we talk with Mike Vaughn, Vice President of Assets for the Entergy Corporation,...


Securing San Francisco’s Water: Rebuilding the Calaveras Dam

The infrastructure that prepares and distributes potable water to our cities requires continuing monitoring and maintenance. Many facilities are old and aging, built in an era when engineering knowledge was less and materials and methods more primitive. The San Francisco Public Utilities Commission uses a widespread collection of dams, reservoirs, aqueducts and pipe to supply 2.7 million residential and business customers, and the agency is now in the midst of a $4.6 billion renewal...


High Rise Fires and the Choice of Building Materials

Fire is a rare but persistent danger in tall buildings. There have been several major high rise fires around the world in recent years, notable among them the 2017 Grenfell Tower fire in London that killed at least 80 people. That event highlights the risks that may be presented by the materials used in construction and rehabilitation. To explore the connection between building materials and fire risk, we talk with Robert E. Solomon, Division Manager for Building Fire Protection of the...


Betting on Green: DC Water’s Experiment with Green Stormwater Management

Managing and treating stormwater is a challenge to many cities. Building treatment plants with sufficient capacity to process large volumes of runoff that occur occasionally is not cost effective. The District of Columbia, facing a Federal consent decree to treat its stormwater, has been building subterranean storage tunnels but is now testing green treatment options that, if they work, could save much money in the long run. This experiment is funded with an unusual bonding arrangement in...


Digging into the past: archeology helps move infrastructure forward

Almost every infrastructure system has its foundation in the earth, and the earth can hide interesting and important secrets from the past. This creates what is perhaps a surprising role for archeology in infrastructure construction. To anticipate, identify and preserve valued subsurface finds, many infrastructure agencies engage archeologists as full-time professionals or contractors. In this interview we learn about the archeology-infrastructure connection from James Robertson, who is...


High Risers – Elevators and Building Design

Tall buildings mean vertical transportation, and elevators, the machines that do the heavy lifting for us, have made those buildings possible. Building height and elevator capabilities have evolved together, and new needs and concerns for sustainability are bringing about changes in elevators themselves. In this interview we talk with Thomas Leslie, who is Morrill Pickard Chilton Professor of Architecture at Iowa State University. He works on the integration of building sciences and arts,...


Quenching the thirst of a megacity: New York City’s Water Supply System

Clean and plentiful water is essential for life. New York City has the largest municipal water system in the United States. More than 10 million people rely on this complex of reservoirs and aqueducts, some of which are more than a century and a half old. In this podcast we learn about the structure, history, and current state of the New York City water supply system from Kevin Bone, Professor and Director of the Institute for Sustainable Design at the Irwin S. Chanin School of...


CREATE – Breaking the Railroad Bottleneck in Chicago

Chicago is the rail hub for the nation, served by six of seven Class I railroads that form the major interchange point for east-west rail traffic. Because of the large number of rail and road conflicts, Chicago is also the focal point for congestion and delays on the national rail network. To address this problem, in 2003 the railroads joined forces with federal, state and local governments to establish a partnership called CREATE, for the Chicago Region Environmental and Transportation...


Funding for Surface Transportation Infrastructure – Success in Pennsylvania

Securing the money to maintain public infrastructure continues to be a top priority in the United States. The surface transportation system, roads, bridges, and public transportation facilities, need ongoing investment to assure that they meet economic and social needs. In January, 2017, the State of Pennsylvania increased its gas tax to become the highest in the nation, working under 2013 legislation that restructured the state’s approach to transportation funding. Since then Pennsylvania...


ASCE's 2017 Infrastructure Report Card

The American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) is a strong advocate for infrastructure in the United States. Its quadrennial Infrastructure Report Card has brought us a comprehensive assessment of that infrastructure since 1992, and the picture has not been a pretty one. Reviewing 16 major types of infrastructure, the ASCE report card tells us how we’re doing and offers directions for essential improvements. In this interview we talk with Casey Dinges, Senior Managing Director of the ASCE,...


Self-Propelled Modular Transporters

Big infrastructure projects often present the need to move very large objects, such as parts of chemical processing plants or even entire bridges. The capacity for moving massive components has grown to an impressive scale. In this podcast we talk with Jack Tol, Senior Sales Engineer with Mammoet, a company that provides solutions for lifting and moving large and heavy structures.


Bringing Down Obsolete Infrastructure by Explosive Demolition

When infrastructure becomes obsolete, unsafe, or the need for it goes away, and when the space is better used for something new, that facility must be demolished. Structures are usually disassembled piece by piece, but sometimes controlled explosion may be more efficient or necessary. This process may be no less complex than building a structure anew. In this interview we talk with Mark Loizeaux, President of Controlled Demolition, who tells us about how explosives are used to remove...


The importance of getting it right – errors in forecasting for large infrastructure projects

Forecasts of the costs and benefits of infrastructure projects are important for making informed investment decisions. However, there have been many instances of major cost overruns and unexpected low utilization of new facilities. To explore the nature and pattern of such prediction errors and what we can do to make more accurate predictions, we talk with, Dr. Martin Wachs, Distinguished Professor Emeritus of Urban Planning at UCLA, formerly with the RAND Corporation and before that...


Cable Stayed Bridges

Cable stayed bridges have become increasingly common in the past few decade, and they seem to be the design of choice for modern bridges spanning 500 to as much as 2,000 feet. In this podcast we learn of the mechanics and the advantages of this architecturally appealing design from an expert in the field, Denny Pate, Senior Vice President and Principal Bridge Engineer with Figg Engineering in Tallahassee, Florida


Vulnerability and Resilience of the U.S. power grid

A variety of natural and intentional events can disrupt components of the U.S. power grid, including large and small storms, vandalism, and cyber attacks. In this podcast, Thomas Overbye, Professor of Electrical and Computer Engineering at the University of Illinois – Urbana-Champaign describes the functioning of the grid, some of the risks it faces, its resilience, and mitigation actions for both grid operators and households.


Lead Contamination of the Water Supply – the Flint, Michigan Story

Lead in the water supply is a serious threat to public health and a particular danger to children. Water supplies in many U.S. cities carry unacceptable lead concentrations because of the use of lead pipes, especially where protective water additives are not used. In this podcast we talk with Marc A. Edwards, professor in the Environmental and Water Resources Engineering group at Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University, who has been actively engaged in both testing municipal...


Defending Against Storm Surges in the Houston-Galveston Area

The threat of damaging storm surges grows as sea levels rise and the frequency of severe storms increases. Some U.S. cities on the east and Gulf coasts are particularly vulnerable to storm surges. Houston is the fourth-largest city in the country, home to the nation’s largest refining and petrochemical complex, and it may be right behind Galveston in the path of the next big Gulf hurricane. This area has been hit hard by past hurricanes, which underscores the importance of protecting it....


Drones for flood control infrastructure inspection in Denver

Unmanned aerial cameras – drones – are becoming a standard part of the infrastructure management toolkit. They are particularly useful for inspecting widely dispersed facilities in areas than can be difficult to navigate on the ground. Although there are important flight restrictions that preclude operations over populated areas, there is a growing set of applications in surveillance and inspection for large-scale infrastructure systems. In this discussion, Kevin Lewis of the Denver...


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