Infrastructure in the News: November 21, 2012
BAF IN THE NEWS:
Transportation Nation: Poll Captures Storm Surge Of Positive Feelings For NY MTA, Gas Rationing
(New York, NY – WNYC) Poll results show that Superstorm Sandy has remade two kinds of landscapes in New York: physical and psychological. Beachfront is gone, trees are uprooted and whole communities have been forcibly rearranged by a monster tide. No less dramatically, a majority of New Yorkers are expressing love not only for their elected officials but everyone’s favorite bureaucratic whipping boy, the NY Metropolitan Transportation Authority.
New York Observer: Staten Island Gets Ferried Away: City Preparing New Shuttle Service for Hard-Hit South Shore
One of the more unusual sides of the city’s response to Superstorm Sandy has been the ingenuity of the transportation and planning wonks that help us get around this giant metropolis. It is not only the speed with which the MTA recovered, but also what it and the city’s Department of Transportation did in between. Creating bus bridges to replace flooded subways, launching new ferry lines, creating special subway shuttles.
New York Times: A Chance to Tackle Inequality
To judge by the newfound bipartisan chumminess exhibited last week, it seems suddenly possible that the president and Republican leaders will reach a deal before the end of the year to cut spending, raise taxes and prevent the country from toppling over the fiscal cliff and back into recession.
Politico: Rough start for fiscal cliff talks
The opening round of negotiations this week between White House and senior GOP congressional staffers left both sides pessimistic about their ability to reach a quick deal on averting the fiscal cliff, according to sources familiar with the talks.
Atlantic Cities: Amtrak's New App: Does It Actually Make Travel Easier?
Amtrak's move to electronic ticketing in July ended one of the bigger annoyances of passenger rail in America: the frantic search for an open Quik-Trak machine in the last few minutes before your train leaves.
Atlantic Cities: Why Mayors Should Run the Department of Transportation
The federal Department of Transportation has its roots in the post-World War II era of the American highway. It was formed, in 1966, just a decade after federal legislation created the Interstate Highway System that would change how Americans travel and where they live.
Fair Warnings Reports: Traffic Deaths: A Surprising Dimension of the Red State-Blue State Divide
The nation’s red and blue states often are miles apart in social attitudes and, of course, political outlook.
Wall Street Journal: Microsoft Backs Away Slowly from the Grid
November 20, 2012
Microsoft’s concern with the reliability of the electric grid is driving the company to seek alternate options to power its data centers. The company recently said it will begin a pilot project in Wyoming to test the use of fuel cells, powered by biogas derived from waste water, to provide electricity to a small data center. If all goes well, the company hopes to add fuel cells to its portfolio of alternative energy sources for data centers worldwide.
“The electric grid by its very nature is an unstable beast,” Brian Janous, data center utility architect at Microsoft told CIO Journal. While the U.S. generally does a better job than the rest of the world in maintaining electric grid power availability, the system is aging and prone to outages. “A tree falls on a line in Ohio and the eastern seaboard is out,” said Janous. Microsoft also wants to make its data centers more sustainable and, in the long term, is trying to find ways to make them more efficient.
Microsoft is following in the footsteps of companies such as Pepperidge Farm, Sierra Nevada Brewing Company AT&T and Adobe that already use fuel cells to power portions of their operations. Apple and eBay have announced plans to use fuel cells as a power source in new data centers.
Microsoft, which has loads of cash, can afford to be an early adopter and experiment with new technology. The company is spending about $5.5 million on this project. But, before too long, biogas may well enter the mainstream as a source of power for companies. It makes sense for companies and their CIOs to start monitoring the technology now, especially considering that data center power management is a growing concern for corporations around the world.
In the Cheyenne, Wyoming, project, Microsoft will use a stationary fuel cell power plant from FuelCell Energy. That unit will take biogas from a nearby waste water facility directly into the fuel cell and convert it into electricity for the data center. Biogas – also called biomethane, waste gas or renewable gas – results from the anaerobic digestion of organic materials and is a versatile energy carrier. Worldwide power generation capacity from commercial biogas facilities is expected to more than double over the next decade growing to 29.5 gigawatts in 2022 from 14.5 gigawatts in 2012, according to a recent report from Pike Research.
For Sierra Nevada, reliable power is a crucial issue because if electricity were to be lost during certain phases of its brewing process, the company could lose an entire batch of beer. The company generates more than half of the energy needed on-site using both fuel cells and solar power, according to a company sustainability report. Those fuel cells use a combination of natural gas and biogas. Sierra Nevada has an on-site wastewater treatment plant where an anaerobic digester breaks down solids and organic materials in the brewery’s wastewater to recover biogas, about 75% of which is methane. That methane is then blended with natural gas and piped into the brewery’s fuel cells and boilers, according to a PG&E report.
In Microsoft’s pilot Wyoming project, the company is starting with a small plant that will generate 300 kilowatts of power. The technology can scale much larger, though. The plant at Sierra Nevada generates about 1.2 megawatts of power and FuelCell Energy customers have generated 3 megawatts of power, according to Chip Bottone, president and CEO of FuelCell Energy. AT&T is generating 17.1 megawatts of electricity at 28 AT&T sites using technology from Bloom Energy. AT&T is now Bloom Energy’s largest customer.
The idea behind fuel cell power plants is that companies are able to generate their own power on site and use the electric grid as a backup, instead of the other way around. During last summer’s power outage in India, companies such as Tata Motors and Reliance Industries were largely unaffected because they generated their own power. Five of India’s biggest electricity users generated 96% of their own power requirement, according to a Bloomberg report.
Microsoft operates globally, and in countries where the electric grid may be more prone to outages, fuel cells are a promising technology. “This is the first step in testing out this concept, we’re looking for opportunities to do this globally,” said Janous. The effort furthers Microsoft’s goal of being carbon neutral by June 2013. It’s also part of a shift in the way Microsoft is thinking about data centers. The company is moving from giant data centers concentrated in rural areas to a higher number of distributed data centers which may be smaller and located in urban areas. Data centers that are located closer to users can make, say, their Bing searches much faster. Biogas would be readily available from wastewater facilities in urban areas.
A side benefit of such a plan is that few people are likely to object to a corporate data center sitting next to a waste water facility, said Sean James, senior research program manager at Microsoft. “Water treatment plants are not in the kinds of areas where people are going to want to build apartment buildings.”
Politico: Morning Transportation
By Adam Snider and Burgess Everett
Featuring Jessica Meyers and Erica Martinson
11/21/12 5:59 AM EST
FIRST THINGS FIRST — Debunking the rumors: Sen. Barbara Boxer plans to stay on as chair of the Environment and Public Works Committee no matter what, she confirmed to POLITICO. Some have speculated that she could move to become chair of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, where she is second in command, if Sen. John Kerry leaves for either the secretary of state or defense job.
PRIMED FOR COMPROMISE: The mandate from the election, if anything, was for the two parties to work together in a divided government. And one T&I member thinks transportation is exactly the way to do that — especially with the grand plans for a transformative bill that ended up this summer with a two-year bill nobody seems to love. “I think it was a disaster this last year where everything was last minute. And I think we learned a lesson from that,” the GOP-er told MT. “And given the election, I think people are frustrated with that. I still feel like that’s one of those areas where it can bring us together. I think it can be a bipartisan thing, a bicameral thing, a commitment to our infrastructure.” The Republican member, who will be back for the 113th Congress, also had some music for MT’s ears: “I expect it will be a busy couple years for the Transportation Committee even though both FAA and surface don’t expire next year.”
The calendar: Transpo pols and stakeholders will stay busy for the coming years. An Amtrak and passenger rail bill is due by September 2013, the highway/transit bill expires a year later and a new FAA measure comes in 2015.
Looking for compromise: L.A. Mayor and cabinet candidate Antonio Villaraigosa is ready for the committee and Congress to get their act together. “We need a stronger partnership from Washington for those kinds of investments,” he told MT, calling for a balanced approach from Congress both in the lame-duck and on the next bill to make sure Capitol Hill keeps the scalpel away from roads, bridges and transit systems. “We need to make sure that we don't cut so deep and so across the board that we set ourselves back. But infrastructure has to be part of the investments we make.”
WAITING: That bill to exempt U.S. airlines from the EU’s Emissions Trading Scheme? It still hasn’t been signed by President Barack Obama, but it didn’t arrive at the White House until last Friday and Obama has been overseas. He’s expected back this morning.
Waiting part 2: AFL-CIO’s Ed Wytkind writes Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid to get Michael Huerta’s nomination through. “The challenges and opportunities facing the FAA in the coming years will require steady and seasoned leadership. Mr. Huerta has proven that he is more than qualified for the job, and I ask that you work to quickly confirm his nomination as FAA Administrator.” Huerta is seen on the Hill as another name on a list of unconfirmed nominees, so his approval will likely come as part of a larger deal. The letter: http://bit.ly/QWtJIH
IG DOUBLE DOSE: The DOT’s inspector general put out two reports yesterday looking at the FAA’s contract control tower program and DOT’s cybersecurity efforts. The IG found that air traffic control towers that have been contracted out save an average of $1.5 million each. The towers, of which there’s 250, also had fewer safety incidents. That said, the IG still made several recommendations on how to improve the FAA program (http://1.usa.gov/T9zD5g). And on cybersecurity, DOT still fails to meet some federal information technology security requirements though it has enhanced its safety controls and cybersecurity measures. DOT did not implement recommendations from previous audits, the report states, and therefore may remain vulnerable to security threats. The IG will draft a new set of recommendations, and DOT said it will set milestone dates and explain specific ways to address them (http://1.usa.gov/T9Akf1).
TRUCKING DIPS DURING SANDY: For-hire truck tonnage in October reached lows not hit since May 2011 and turned in the first year-over-year decrease since November 2009, according to ATA figures released Tuesday. “Clearly Hurricane Sandy negatively impacted October’s tonnage reading,” said ATA chief economist Bob Costello. “However, it is impossible for us to determine the exact impact.” Costello predicated “some positive impact” as Sandy recovery continues in November and December.
Tunnel vision: In West Virginia, engineers are working on an inflatable that could prevent subway flooding during the next storm. NYT: http://nyti.ms/QsHtLq
Q and A on MTA: A Quinnipiac survey found that in the face of that flooding, 75 percent of respondents found New York’s MTA did a “good” or “excellent” job. The worst marks came from Staten Island residents and Republicans. http://bit.ly/TVuYVl
MAILBAG — Missouri River: More than 60 House members have penned a letter asking that the Army Corps not reduce the Missouri River's water flows and speed up removal of dangerous rock formations. The letter warns that "commerce along the Mississippi River may soon be in jeopardy" if the Missouri River does not continue to feed the Mississippi until the rock removal is complete. The corps has said altering the water flow and its drought conservation measures could have negative repercussions elsewhere. But the lawmakers said Congress intended the Missouri River reservoir system to benefit the Mississippi as well and that the problem "can be solved without significant impact on other water claimants." Read the letter: http://bit.ly/UfcO1c
- AASHTO board elects top Rhode Island and Kentucky transpo officials as prez and veep for 2013. http://sacb.ee/T9MxjU
New York Times: Vetoing Business as Usual After the Storm
Not a month after Hurricane Sandy there’s a rough consensus about how to respond. America is already looking to places like London, Rotterdam, Hamburg and Tokyo, where sea walls, levees and wetlands, flood plains and floating city blocks have been conceived.
New York Times: U.S. and Mexico Sign a Deal on Sharing the Colorado River
CORONADO, Calif. — The governments of the United States and Mexico signed an agreement on Tuesday to overhaul how the two countries share and manage water from the Colorado River, which provides water to more than 33 million people in seven states and Mexico.
New York Times: Rent a Car? Good Luck Finding One
A severe storm and a challenging stretch of the travel calendar have doomed residents and visitors in the New York area to an exasperating fate this week: As people pour in and out of the region for Thanksgiving, rental cars will most likely be difficult to find.
New York Times: Mapping Gas Leaks from Aging Urban Pipes
Most concerns about environmental impacts and other risks from leaking natural gas have focused on the fast-expanding production end of America’s vast system of wells, compressors and pipelines. But the urban maze of (often ancient) pipes that carries gas to furnaces and stoves has long been known to be leaking, as well.
The Hill: Poll: 75 percent of NYC residents approve of subway's Sandy response
A large majority of New York City residents think the agency that runs its subway trains and buses did a good job responding to Hurricane Sandy, according to a poll released on Tuesday.
Fast Lane: Illinois workers powering revitalized rail industry
Today--with a $352 million railcar manufacturing contract between the California Department of Transportation and the Nippon Sharyo plant in Rochelle, Illinois--we have further evidence that America's embrace of faster rail travel means American jobs. And I was happy to join Illinois Governor Pat Quinn in Rochelle to celebrate this milestone with Nippon Sharyo employees.
My San Antonio: High-speed toll road has first fatality
A Lockhart woman was killed on the Texas 130 toll road in what is the first fatality since the corridor's new segment opened last month.
Indy Star: A lead-footed Gov. Mitch Daniels opens new I-69
Indiana Governor Mitch Daniels was joined by federal and state officials to officially open the Interstate 69 corridor, starting with a kick off lunch at Antioch Christian Church, followed by a ride up the new section of I-69, and a ribbon cutting ceremony on Monday. / (Michele Pemberton/The Star)
WASHINGTON, Ind. — One of the perks of being governor is being first to officially drive on a new section of freeway. And when Indiana’s governor does it, he does it fast — really, really fast.
San Francisco Chronicle: Chevron pipe dispute could deter restart
Chevron's reconstruction of its Richmond oil refinery has become embroiled in a dispute over what kind of pipe will prevent a repeat of last summer's disastrous fire - with federal experts warning that the metal the company has chosen failed at another refinery this year.
Mobilizing the Region: Sandy an Opportunity to Refocus New Jersey’s Transportation Priorities
New Jersey’s transportation infrastructure got hit so hard by Superstorm Sandy that three weeks after the storm, the state is still reeling from the impacts. The devastation delivers a key message–sustainable transportation investment and policies are needed to weather the next storm. The damage in New Jersey received national attention: roads and bridges were swept away, major rail electrical substations were flooded, transit capacity was reduced to one cross Hudson rail tunnel, PATH service remains largely underwater, and the North Jersey Coastline service was suspended for three weeks because of damaged tracks and weakened bridges.
Pittsburgh Post-Gazette: Thanksgiving worst time for vehicle accidents
Turkey, trimmings, football, camaraderie -- and crashes? Unfortunately, they are a big part of the Thanksgiving holiday, according to the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation.
Wall Street Journal (Associated Press Reprint): NYC tourism gearing up for holidays post-Sandy
November 20, 2012
NEW YORK — The Big Apple's tourism sector is gearing up for the holidays and trying to get out the message that all but a handful of attractions and hotels are open following Superstorm Sandy.
The Statue of Liberty, Ellis Island and the New York Aquarium at Coney Island remain closed, along with a couple of Lower Manhattan hotels: the Best Western Seaport Inn Downtown, the Holiday Inn Express New York City on Wall Street, and the World Center Hotel. But the 9/11 Memorial park downtown is back to normal, as is nearly all subway service. Gas rationing ends in the city Friday.
The busy holiday season kicks off Thursday as planned with Macy's Thanksgiving Day parade. The tree at Rockefeller Center is scheduled to be lit Nov. 28 and performances of the Radio City Christmas Spectacular run as scheduled through Dec. 30.
"We had a tragic incident but we are back except for the recovery in parts of the city that are more residential," said George Fertitta, CEO of NYC & Company, the city's marketing and tourism organization.
Neighborhoods that still have a long way to go in terms of cleanup and recovery are mostly in outlying sections of the city, in Queens, Staten Island and Brooklyn. The cruise ship Queen Mary 2, which homeports at the Brooklyn Cruise Terminal, will be making its Nov. 27 port call in Manhattan while cleanup continues in Brooklyn.
Still, effects of the storm are still being felt in some sectors. Theater attendance was nearly 6 percent lower last week than the same week a year ago, according to the Broadway League, which said 236,771 people attended shows the week ending Nov. 18, compared to 250,983 a year earlier. Gross sales for the week were $20.8 million, also a slight drop from a year ago of $22.9 million.
The Museum of Modern Art reported 26 percent fewer visitors — a drop of about 20,000 people — between Oct. 29 and Nov. 11, compared to the same period last year. The American Museum of Natural History said a dropoff in attendance immediately following the hurricane has stabilized, and the museum is expecting big crowds the Friday after Thanksgiving, traditionally one of its busiest days each year.
Hotel occupancy for the week ending Nov. 10 was also down slightly in New York City by about 1 percent compared to the same week the previous year, with rates flat, according to the latest figures from STR, which collects hotel industry data.
Scott Berman, a leisure industry analyst for PricewaterhouseCoopers, says those figures reflect a "relatively robust" market even though demand for New York hotel rooms "changed dramatically" for two weeks.
"You had displaced residents, stranded tourists, and demand from the infrastructure industry — power crews, insurance agents — filling hotels in the New York market," he said.
Berman said the shutdown of New York's airports for several days also had ripple effects. "The rest of the country was paralyzed for a week," he said. "Every top 25 market tracked by STR had a significant revpar (revenue per available room) decline for the same day, same week."
But he added that history has shown that disasters can sometimes be a prelude to redevelopment and resurgent tourism, as was seen in New Orleans following Katrina.
"Longer term outlooks in a post-disaster environment, and this goes for the New Jersey coast, Atlantic City and the New York metro area, is that it gives some owners a chance to find what's broken and fix it," he said. "Generally the hotel industry comes through stronger,"
Fertitta says the city expects to break tourism records this year despite the drop related to the storm. "We expect to hit about 52 million visitors, up from 50.9 million in 2011," he said. "We expect half of that lost business to rebook before the end of the year."
Our nation is expected to grow by 100 million over the next 30 years.