Posts tagged with "Infrastructure":

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When Artists Design Infrastructure: Basket-like Bridge Energizes San Gabriel Valley

The expansion of LA's Metro Rail Gold Line is well underway with a stunning new piece of infrastructure: The Gold Line Bridge. Completed last week, the 584-foot dual-track bridge, stretching over the eastbound lanes of the I-210 Freeway, will provide a light rail connection between the existing Sierra Madre Villa Station in Pasadena and Azusa’s future Arcadia Station. The rail line itself is scheduled for completion in 2014. Made from steel reinforced concrete with added quartz, mica crystals, and mirrored glass, the monochromatic, abstract design, conceived by artist Andrew Leicester, pays homage to the region’s historic American Indian basket-weaving tradition and includes a carriageway and a post-and-lintel support beam system. The 25-foot baskets adorning each of the posts, “metaphorically represent the Native Americans of the region...and pay tribute to the iconic sculptural traditions of Route 66,” wrote Leicester. The  bridge is is also designed to withstand significant earthquakes. Equipped with "Time Domain Reflectometry" technology and an electrical feedback smart column technology system, engineers can initially assess damage following a tremor. The structure replaces one removed after the 1994 Northridge Earthquake and is truly an exception to the norm of form follows function. The 11.5-mile Foothill Extension project, overseen by the Metro Gold Line Foothill Extension Construction Authority, is being built by Skanska USA and their subcontractor AECOM.
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High Speed Rail picks up speed between Chicago and St. Louis

Midwest train travelers will enjoy a quicker passage, as Amtrak approves a new top speed of 110 mph for a section of its Chicago-St. Louis route. Though trains will only accelerate to the new top speed over a 15-mile segment, officials said another $1.5 billion investment over three years of upgrades will bring the rest of the track up to speed. The current top speed is 79 mph over most of the route. Instead of 5 and a half hours, future trips could be under 4 hours. Union Pacific Railroad and Amtrak tested a new system of triggers for highway crossing gates earlier this year. Amtrak's Midwest presence has seen a significant ridership boost, following trends around the country. Transit in general may be enjoying a small renaissance, with the CTA counting 16 months of rail and bus line increases. Despite setting ridership records, Amtrak is losing money and faces an uncertain future.
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Cermak is Next: New CTA Stop Primes Chicago’s South Loop

The CTA is abuzz with new projects these days, having successfully avoided fare hikes during dire budget negotiations this summer. Now another $65 million investment will deliver the new Cermak / McCormick Place El Station Mayor Rahm Emanuel promised early this year, as well as new library, school and three-story building rehab for the South Loop. New renderings presented by the Mayor on Friday show the new Green Line stop, which will be designed by Carol Ross Barney, principal at Ross Barney Architects. It’s a sleek tunnel shape, reminiscent of Rem Koolhaas’ IIT Green Line stop. Coming from the same architect who designed CTA’s last major addition, the celebrated (if pricey) Morgan station, news on this improvement to El service was highly anticipated by residents in Motor Row and South Loop. The neighborhoods rode higher and fell further than most in the city over the past decades; now a resurgence of downtown residents may have primed the pump for a broader renaissance just south of the Loop. If it does, new CTA service should soon make it easier to check out.
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A Streetcar Named KC?

Kansas City, recently outfitted with superfast internet courtesy of Google, is on the move. And KC taxpayers voted to keep up the momentum this week, authorizing a special taxing district to help fund a downtown streetcar. A transportation development district would cultivate the 2-mile, $101 million route from Union Station to the River Market. The line was shortened by 300 feet after a scramble to make up for $25 million in TIGER grants that the city applied for and was not awarded. Funding for the modified plan came from the Mid-America Regional Council. Now efforts turn to finding an operator. Kansas City will work with the Port Authority to create a Streetcar Authority—a step which has become a hang-up for similar efforts in Detroit. But Wednesday’s vote is a clear signal of public and political support for expanded public transit in the city. KC is also lining up funding for a second phase of streetcar lines, totaling 22 miles of track crisscrossing the city.

Obama Banking on an Infrastructure Rebound

President Barack Obama hopes that a $50 billion infusion of government money will help counteract two things that plague the nation—job loss and potholes. The White House has a list they see as “tangible” goals for the next six years, with a focus on roads, railways, and runways. So, what might you, the taxpayer, get for $50 billion? If the president has his way, a commitment to a national high speed rail system, more of an investment in sustainability and livability—including affordable housing—better bridges, and a more modern air traffic control system called NextGen. A key part of Obama’s ambitious transportation and infrastructure plan is the creation of a so called ‘infrastructure bank’ to be run by the government but with some infusion of private funds. The idea behind the bank is that project will be approved based on merit, versus the usual pork barrel politics that get project funding directed towards an official’s home district. While this all sounds promising, our friends over at the Infrastructurist feel there are still a lot of questions to be answered about the plan, chiefly how it won't become bogged down in the usual partisan gridlock.
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LEEding the RPA

The Regional Plan Association played a crucial role during the Great Depression, helping guide the Roosevelt administration's recovery efforts. While the tri-state advocacy group has been less visible during the current crisis, the RPA still plays an important roll in shaping transportation and infrastructure policy, both locally and nationally. The group may be jockey to kick up its profile as it replaces its outgoing chair, little known real estate attorney Peter Herman, with former MTA boss Eliot "Lee" Sander. Sander is no stranger to getting his hands dirty, as he wrangled mightily to get the MTA in order amidst Albany's opposition. He was eventually forced out of what he once wistfully called his dream job after the Paterson administration reorganized the agency, where Jay Walder now runs the show. Since then, Sander has moved to AECOM, where he is the "group chief" for global transportation. Last week, the RPA board unanimously voted Sander to be its head. "I can think of no better person who understands the challenges we face and possesses the skills to set a bold agenda for both RPA and the region," Bob Yaro, the RPA president, said in a release. This is not Sander's first brush with the group, as he and Yaro founded the Empire State Transportation Alliance in the late '90s to rally business and civic interests behind mass transit.
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Messrs. Fixit

With the loss in yesterday's Massachusetts special election no doubt hanging heavily over the White House today, the Obama administration can at least take solace in the fact it's done at least one thing right. Planetizen points us to a Brookings Institution report from Friday that gives the 44th president an A- grade for infrastructure from his first year, meaning there's still room for improvement (launch an infrastructure bank) but things are generally pretty good (high speed rail, grid upgrades, job creation). Meanwhile, MTA chief Jay Walder released a rather presidential sounding First 100 Days report [PDF] on Friday, outlining everything he'd learned since joining his hometown transit agency from London. The purpose is clear from the title, "Making Every Dollar Count," and makes sense given the MTA's dire financial predicament, which has gotten worse lately (revenues are down another $104 million), though thankfully for the MTA there are no cuts in the new state budget unveiled yesterday. Among Walder's recommendations include streamlining operations, cutting overtime, and improving reliability and responsiveness. You can read the report for more details, or just watch the handy video above.
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Stimulus Potholes

In a blistering report published today, the AP contends that the roughly $20 billion in the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, né the Stimulus, dedicated to road and infrastructure spending did nothing to help create jobs over the past 10 months. The news is particularly damning because the House has proposed another $28 billion in road work in its latest jobs package, and in light of this news, those critical infrastructure projects—which are easily pegged as pork to begin will—could become the next health care debate. To wit:
An Associated Press analysis of stimulus spending found that it didn't matter if a lot of money was spent on highways or none at all: Local unemployment rates rose and fell regardless. And the stimulus spending only barely helped the beleaguered construction industry, the analysis showed. [...] Even within the construction industry, which stood to benefit most from transportation money, the AP's analysis found there was nearly no connection between stimulus money and the number of construction workers hired or fired since Congress passed the recovery program. The effect was so small, one economist compared it to trying to move the Empire State Building by pushing against it.
And yet the White House and even a few economists in the article have begun to push back. Ken Simonson, chief economist for the Association of General Contractors, points out that road work only accounts for 5 percent of the construction economy, a sector in desperate need as it is, and calls the AP's assumptions "flawed." "It is virtually impossible to measure the impact of $4 billion by looking at overall employment figures for an industry experiencing a $137 billion drop in activity—especially when only one in twenty construction workers stand to benefit from those stimulus funds," Simonson says. Meanwhile, conservatives declared "Toldya so!" Locally, things may be a little better, where the Bloomberg administration has fought for New York's (more than?) fair share of the stimulus pie. Marc LaVorgna, a spokesman, told us in an email today that the city will receive roughly $1 billion over the next two years, which will account for roughly 1/20th of the annual $10 billion spent on infrastructure, no small amount. And, according to the city's numbers, it's doing a good deal to keep people employed as well. "We submitted reports to the federal government based on their requirements and its done quarterly," LaVorgna wrote. "The last report showed 28,526 jobs were created or retained through stimulus funding." Lucky us.
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MTA: To Dig or Not to Dig?

Not since the collapse of Lehman Brothers last year has a major bastion in the city seemed to fall apart so quickly and readily as the MTA over the past few weeks. As the Times succinctly puts it, "state legislators cut $143 million out of the authority’s budget; state accountants then determined that a payroll tax dedicated to mass transit financing would produce $100 million less revenue than initially thought. Finally, late last week, a court ruled that the authority must pay significant raises to transit workers, adding tens of millions of dollars in expenses." The MTA is required to fill the $400 million budget hole this created because it must end the year with a balanced budget. And so a range of service cuts were ratified today by the agency's board, including the elimination of subway and bus lines, reduced off-peak service and para-transit, and no more free rides for half-a-million students. While all these cuts—which do not take affect until July 1—are a disgrace to riders, the latter two may seem particularly onerous for good reason: they are so politically charged (think Helen Lovejoy) they will almost certainly be reversed, and indeed Governor Patterson has already called for the reinstatement of student MetroCards. But that only restores about $170 million, so what about the rest? We've been here before with these proposed service cuts, and the consensus among transit advocates is it will never come to that or super fare hikes. But with the MTA bailed out once already this year, a return to bridge tolls or other new revenue streams seems equally unlikely. Another proposal that has been gaining steam is dipping into the authority's capital funds, temporarily syphoning funds off, say, the Second Avenue Subway, to temporarily cover the gap. The Straphanger's Campaign has been pushing this approach, as its long-held belief is general service over flashy megaprojects, and it has been taken up by the City Council as well, a number of whose members rallied at today's board meeting. But the mayor has long opposed such a move because these projects are considered a boon to economic development, an argument echoed by the venerable RPA and upheld by the MTA. "Diverting money from the capital program as a one-shot stop-gap fix for the operating budget is what led the system into the decline that characterized the system in the 1970s and early 1980s," MTA spokesman Aaron Donovan said in an email. "It took decades to recover from that." Fortunately, this is only the beginning of the end, as we live to see another doomsday.
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Cortlandt Coronation

Many New Yorkers were headed for planes, trains, and automobiles last Wednesday as they decamped for the Thanksgiving holiday, but not new MTA chief Jay Walder and a clutch of Lower Manhattan pols. They took the subway to Cortlandt Street, where a re-dedication of the of the the northbound R/W station took place, its restoration—which we first noticed in April—recently completed. “The MTA has played a key role in the revival of Downtown, and we’re excited to provide customers with an improved station just in time for the holidays," Walder said in a release. The station first reopened in September 2002 following the 9/11 attacks only to close in 2005 to accommodate work at Ground Zero. It has undergone a few minor changes since then, including wider stairwells—the better to facilitate the hoards of tourists descending on Century 21—and an expanded platform. The walls look much the same as they always have, though, having retained the trademark tile work of the Broadway line, according to MTA spokesman Kevin Ortiz. And while work on the southbound station is only beginning, its reopening was also announced: September 11, 2011, just in time for the tenth anniversary and the opening of the memorial.
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Imagined Infrastructure

cityLAB, an urban think-tank at UCLA's Department of Architecture and Urban Design, has announced the six finalists of its WPA 2.0 competition. The competition, which stands for working public architecture, invited designers of all stripes to submit proposals for rebuilding our cities' infrastructure as a sort of throwback to the Great Depression-era WPA. Juried by Stan Allen, Cecil Balmond, Elizabeth Diller, Walter Hood, Thom Mayne, and Marilyn Jordan Taylor, the top-six picks run the gamut from heading off an impending water crisis to creating a softer, gentler version of our infrastructure. One finalist, Urban Algae: Speculation and Optimization, Mining Existing Infrastructure for Lost Efficiencies, proposes to harvest CO2 emissions through photosynthesis. Submitted by PORT Architecture + Urbanism, the solution could be rolled out nationwide on coal-fired power plants and toll booths, but the designers also outlined a scheme for creating a public park on floating pontoons between Lower Manhattan and Red Hook, which would harvest emissions from the Brooklyn-Battery Tunnel. Read about the other finalists after the jump. Coupling Infrastructure: Water Ecologies/Economics, submitted by Lateral Office/Infranet Lab, focuses on America's impending water crisis, particularly in southwest cities. Using Salton Sea in California as a case study, the proposal imagines combining recreational activities with economic opportunities such as the production of salt and drinking water on floating "island pods" that serve as platforms. Border Wall as Infrastructure, submitted by Rael San Fratello Architects, investigates unplumbed potentials for the Mexico-U.S. border fence. Costing an estimated $1,325 per linear foot, the barrier structure could incorporate many more useful amenities to offset the negative consequences it has wrought, such as disruption of animal habitat and the diversion of water runoff that has flooded towns. The proposal sets forth 30 alternatives to the plain-Jane obstacle that seek to combat things like the energy crisis and death from dehydration. Some of the suggestions, however, are more artistic in nature, such as the Teeter-Totter wall, which makes a comment on U.S.-Mexico labor relations. 1,000,000,000 Global Water Refugees, submitted by UrbanLab, looks into the possibilities created by the Rust Belt's loss of population combined with its abundance of fresh water. The proposal suggests relocating water-starved populations into underused industrial sites in Milwaukee, Buffalo, Detroit, Chicago, and Cleveland. Hydro-Genic City 2020, submitted by Darina Zlateva and Takuma Ono, turns LA's waterworks into energy-generating social nodes. With a lot of solar panels and a little design sense, the proposal creates urban beaches, aquatic parking lots, energy-generating water towers, and mist-infused light rail stations. Local Code: Healing the Interstitial Landscape, submitted by UC Berkeley architecture and urban design professor Nicholas de Monchaux and a team of collaborators, sets its sights on San Francisco's abandoned streets: those no longer maintained by the city. The proposal imagines a network of public parks on these neglected sites, of which there are more than 1,600.
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By UNanimous Decree, Urban is Green

A sublime piece of modern architecture, the United Nations Headquarters is a time capsule that preserves almost intact the spirit of the 1950s. From the head sets to the tapestries, which hide the most breathtaking views of Brooklyn and the East River, everything has the air of an early James Bond movie. On May 13th, however, the UN was looking forward to pressing environmental challenges and their urban solutions, as the host of the second part of the "Conference on Sustainable Urbanization in the Information Age," entitled “The Role of Infrastructure in Metropolitan Development.” Speakers from places and realities as diverse as Mexico, Estonia, Spain, Australia, Kenya, and the UK agreed that urban living is the greenest way to live. “Living well is the only sustainability,” concluded New York’s own Rick Bell, Executive Director of the AIA NY chapter, and that seemed to be the motto throughout the sessions. With the world urban population growing at an incredible pace (I was shocked to discover that my home country of Uruguay leads the world ranking with 91 percent of its population living in urban areas) speakers called for responsible planning, emphasizing the usual topics of density, public transport, affordable housing, and sanitation. What was a surprise, though, was the acknowledgment by many officials that governmental and sub governmental systems were inefficient and over regulated, impeding the implementation of better policies. Conflicts of governance and large bureaucracies, along with poor civic engagement and lack of private and public partnerships make it difficult for all these “good intentions” to be put to practice. When our planet is in peril, it is no surprise that major attention should be taken to cities, after all “urban centers are the ticking hearts of civilization,” to use words of Sarbuland Khan, of the Global Alliance for Information and Communication Technologies. Also cities are the epicenter of the catastrophic global economic crisis in which we are living, but nevertheless, it is important not to compromise sustainable practices for the sake of reactivating the economy. The US government’s promises to end the economic slump come in the form of a stimulus package for infrastructure, but the kind of infrastructure we plan will determine the way we live and use the cities of the future, so we must chose responsibly. Keynote speaker Under Secretary-General Dr. Anna Kajumulo Tibaijuka plead to consider this as an opportunity to instill principles of sustainability into infrastructure development: “The challenge is to integrate economic environmental and social policies to make our cities economically more competitive, ecologically more sustainable and socially more inclusive and gender responsive. It is important to recognize success factors and remove barriers to their replication… we need local action if we are going to achieve global goals.” It is high time we put aside political interests and start acknowledging that these challenges are not part of some dystopian future, but are right around the corner. Let’s just hope those with the power to make these decisions do so wisely.