Transportation and Sustainable Infrastructure

April 09, 2012

Xavier Harmony, a recent addition to KAI’s Reston office, had the opportunity to attend the Global Perspectives on Sustainable Infrastructure conference put on by the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE), ICE (Institute of Civil Engineers, UK) and the CSCS (Canadian Society of Civil Engineers) in Washington, DC. Throughout his studies and into his career, Xavier has been interested in how sustainable practices can be implemented in the field of transportation. Xavier attended the first day of the conference on March 25, 2012 and returned ready to share some key insights.

The Current State of US Transportation

ASCE president Andrew Herrmann and President-Elect Greg DiLoreto discussed the organization’s Report Card for America’s Infrastructure. Initially published in 2009, the report card gives Transit a D and Roads a D-. These grades are based largely on a lack of investment in recent years. Mr. DiLoreto identified the following facts about the roads D- grade:

  • Increased congestion costs $78.2 billion to the economy (about $710 per motorist)
  • Current spending is $70.36 billion, but needs to be $186 billion to markedly improve present conditions
  • $1 in road maintenance can equal $16 in savings in the long term

The consequences of failing to act on this report card are being published by ASCE section by section. Surface Transportation Infrastructure was the first to be published and offers valuable insight into the cost of maintaining and improving transportation infrastructure moving forward.

Sustainable Transportation

Victor Mendez, the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) Administrator, discussed sustainable initiatives currently being undertaken in American transportation. He introduced the concept of the “Triple Bottom Line,” which asks questions about how new highway development will impact the environment, society, and economy. Many agencies are giving more weight to these factors when planning new policies and development. One example is the Partnership for Sustainable Communities, which is a collaboration between the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), U.S. Department of Transportation (USDOT), and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to support communities in offering more affordable housing and increase the availability of cost-effective transportation options while reducing impacts on the environment. Strategies used to obtain these goals include:

  • Enhancements to encourage safe walking and bicycling
  • Use of alternative pavement material (including recycled)
  • Treatment plans for road weather options

Mr. Mendez also introduced and update to the FHWA Sustainable Highways Self-Evaluation Tool called the Infrastructure Voluntary Evaluation Sustainability Tool (INVEST). The purpose of this tool is to allow states to evaluate how successfully they are implementing sustainable road practices and to help develop best practices.

Community Outreach

A reoccurring theme at this and other conferences is the role of community outreach and public involvement when implementing sustainable practices. Xavier found that one of the takeaway messages supported by both panel members and the audience is that, as industry professionals, transportation engineers and planners are responsible for educating the public on the benefits of investing in livable communities and alternative transportation options. A great example of this type of outreach is the Future City Competition, which helps educate middle school students about transportation and city planning.

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