October 23, 2016
My wife and I love to go to the movies. When I say go, I mean GO. We don’t download movies at home; we don’t subscribe to Netflix, Starz, HBO, HULU, etc. We like to make our movie watching an event. (OK, we are weird.) I can barely remember one bad movie in my lifetime—something like David Letterman meets Godzilla. We love movies. You get the picture.
I generally do not write about movies because everyone has his or her own taste. I am the furthest thing from an experienced movie critic. My thought is—if you like it, it’s good. There is one movie we have seen lately I definitely can recommend—THE ACCOUNTANT. Let’s look at several specifics to start with.
- Ben Affleck
- Anna Kendrick
- K. Simmons
- Jon Bernathal
- Daeg Faerch
- Jeffrey Tambor
- John Lithgow
- Jene Smart
- Cynthia Addai-Robinson
- Alison Wright
WRITER: Bill Dubuque
DIRECTOR: Gavin O’Conner
STUDIO: Warner Brothers
RUNNING TIME: 128 Minutes
Christian Wolff is a mathematical genius who works as a forensic accountant at ZZZ Accounting in Plainfield, Illinois. His primary responsibility is tracking insider financial deceptions for numerous criminal enterprises brokered to him by a mysterious figure known as “The Voice”. The “Voice” contacts him by phone which is really spooky when initially encountered in the movie. As a child, Christian was diagnosed with autism and offered an opportunity to live at Harbor Neuroscience Institute in New Hampshire. Although Christian had bonded with Justine, the mute daughter of the institute’s director, his father, a decorated military officer, declined, believing that Christian should overcome the hardships inherent in his condition rather than expect the world to accommodate to them. The pressure of raising a special needs child drove Christian’s mother to abandon him and his younger brother, Braxton, who were left in their father’s care. The movie indicates the family moved thirty-four (34) times in seventeen (17) years. Each move was to introduce new experiences to Christian and his older brother Braxton with hopes of preparing both for adult life.
I don’t know if you are familiar with autism but several symptoms are as follows:
- Not speak as well as his or her peers?
- Have poor eye contact?
- Not respond selectively to his or her name?
- Act as if he or she is in his or her own world?
- Seem to “tune others out?”
- Not have a social smile?
- Seem unable to tell you what he or she wants, preferring to lead you by the hand or get desired objects on his or her own, even at risk of danger?
- Have difficulty following simple commands?
- Show you things without bringing them to you?
- Not point to interesting objects to direct your attention to objects or events of interest?
- Have unusually long and severe temper tantrums?
- Have repetitive, odd, or stereotypic behaviors?
- Show an unusual attachment to inanimate objects, especially hard ones (e.g., flashlight or a chain vs. teddy bear or blanket)?
- Prefer to play alone?
- Demonstrate an inability to play with toys in the typical way?
- Not engage in pretend play (if older than age 2)?
Ben Affleck absolutely nails many of the traits and characteristics of an autistic adult although due to his father’s persistence with training Christian on how to overcome his difficulties, he is highly functional as a mathematician. Affleck, in my opinion, will be nominated for an Oscar for this one. His work is just that good.
The plot is anything but cookbook. There are many twists and turns and the ending is really surprising. You cannot guess as to how this one turns out. Many movies today are more of the same but The Accountant is quite the exception. I’m not going to spoil it for you by divulging more of the plot but the entire movie is action-filled with a cast that certainly works very well together. It’s one of those movies complicated enough to see twice or even three times, each time discovering something you have missed previously.
I can definitely recommend this one to you. Take a look.
October 22, 2016
One of the best events we sponsor in Chattanooga during the summer and fall months is the Chattanooga Market. It is the gathering place for over six thousands people every Sunday. The Market is, by far, the region’s largest meeting place for local artists displaying their arts and crafts and local farmers selling their produce and fruits. It is held every Sunday from April to December at the open-air First Tennessee Pavilion. Times are typically from 11 A.M. until 4 P.M. but the hours can vary depending upon special events planned for that day. The market has over 300 vendors including food trucks offering just about any food idem you can imagine. One of the very BEST facts about traveling to the market—ample parking. You do NOT have to park, walk or take a bus to the event.
This past Sunday the theme was Octoberfest. Let’s take a digital tour of the market.
You can hopefully see that the entrance way to the Market is wide and accommodating even though there are vendors occupying both sides.
You get some idea as to how various vendors approach setting up to sell their products. Tents, booths, you name it, they were there.
What Octoberfest would be complete without a German band? The Market had two bands playing their hearts out. Both bands were really good and played familiar songs the entire three hours we made the visit. I did not capture the dancers helping their efforts but they were definitely there in force. I might mention Octoberfest is extremely popular due to the presence of VW and Wacker industries in the Chattanooga area.
The Market has four somewhat narrow isles and run about two hundred yards from front to back. All vendor locations are definitely accessible to visitors although somewhat tight. People understand this and are very courteous to each other when moving through the complex.
As I mentioned, there is a great verity of products available, food, arts and crafts, honey, produce, fruits, what I would call trinkets, etc. It’s all there are available.
There are several vendors from Tennessee, Alabama and Georgia selling honey. This product remains extremely popular and most booths sell out during the one-day event.
Jewelry is always on display and you can find just about anything you wish to purchase. I was surprised in talking with one vendor as to how many people were shopping for Christmas.
The fruits and vegetables are the freshest. —the very freshest. Generally, gathered for sale one or two days prior to display at the Market.
The pumpkins you see above are ceramic, crafted, painted and fired just for the Market. There were three tables available with the ones shown giving only a quick view of what was available.
This is Mr. John Muncie. He is the owner of the Well Turned Pens company. I have several of the products John produces. He turns selected woods to form the bodies for fountain pens and ballpoint pens. I am always amazed at how many pens John sells during the summer and fall months. They are truly works of art in my opinion.
There are three vendors selling baked goods, primarily bread. The vendor above is Niedlove’s Bakery. They provide bread for the majority of restaurants in the Chattanooga area.
You would not think butter would be an item Chattanoogans would purchase. Let me tell you, butter is high on the must-buy list. There were no fewer than six vendors selling their product.
The second band was located in an area devoted to people having lunch. There is a dance floor just forward of the band itself. If you look carefully on the left, you can see several children dancing.
I certainly hope you will visit Chattanooga and when you come, take time to see our Community Market.
October 16, 2016
Ever been on an Interstate? Ever travel those highways WITHOUT seeing one of the “big rigs”? I don’t think so. I have a commute every day on Interstate 75 and even at 0530 hours the heavy-duty truck traffic is significant. As I travel that route, I pass two rest stops dedicated solely for drivers needing to take a break. They are always full; lights on, engines running. (More about that later.)
Let’s take a very quick look at transportation in the United States to get calibrated as to the scope and breadth of the transportation industry. (NOTE: The following information comes from TruckInfo.net.)
- How big is the trucking industry?
The trucking companies, warehouses and private sector in the U.S. employs an estimated 8.9 million people employed in trucking-related jobs; nearly 3.5 million were truck drivers. Of this figure UPS employs 60,000 workers and 9% are owner operators. LTL shippers account for around 13.6 percent of America’s trucking sector.
- How many trucks operate in the U.S.?
Estimates of 15.5 million trucks operate in the U.S. Of this figure 2 million are tractor trailers.
- How many truckers are there?
It is an estimated over 3.5 million truck drivers in the U.S. Of that one in nine are independent, a majority of which are owner operators. Canada has in excess of 250,000 truck drivers.
- How many trucking companies are there in the U.S.?
Estimates of 1.2 million companies in the U.S. Of that figure 97% operate 20 or fewer while 90% operate 6 or fewer trucks.
- How many miles does the transportation industry transports good in a year?
In 2006 the transportation industry logged 432.9 billion miles. Class 8 trucks accounted for 139.3 billion of those miles, up from 130.5 billion in 2005
- What is the volume of goods transported by the trucking industry?
The United States economy depends on trucks to deliver nearly 70 percent of all freight transported annually in the U.S., accounting for $671 billion worth of manufactured and retail goods transported by truck in the U.S. alone. Add $295 billion in truck trade with Canada and $195.6 billion in truck trade with Mexico.
As you can see, the transportation industry, moving products from point “A” to point “B” by truck, is HUGE—absolutely HUGE. With this being the case, our country has established goals to improving gas mileage for passenger cars, light trucks and heavy-duty trucks. These goals are dedicated to improving gas mileage but also goals to reduce emissions. Let’s take a look.
Passenger Car and Light Truck Standards for 2017 and beyond
In 2012, NHTSA established final passenger car and light truck CAFE standards for model years 2017-2021, which the agency projects will require in model year 2021, on average, a combined fleet-wide fuel economy of 40.3-41.0 mpg. As part of the same rulemaking action, EPA issued GHG standards, which are harmonized with NHTSA’s fuel economy standards that are projected to require 163 grams/mile of carbon dioxide (CO2) in model year 2025. EPA will reexamine the GHG standards for model years 2022-2025 and NHTSA will set new CAFE standards for those model years in the next couple of years, based on the best available information at that time.
The Big Rigs
On June 19, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the Department of Transportation’s National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) announced major increases for fuel efficiency of heavy-duty trucks. Part of President Obama’s comprehensive Climate Action Plan, Phase 2 of the Heavy-Duty National Program tightens emission standards for heavy-duty trucks and includes big rigs, delivery vehicles, dump trucks and buses. The updated efficiency rule for trucks joins a growing list of fuel efficiency measures, including the President’s 2012 doubling of fuel efficiency standards for cars and light-duty trucks (CAFE standards), as well as expected aircraft rules, following the agency’s finding that aircraft emissions endanger human health.
While the miles per gallon (mpg) rating of cars and light duty trucks has increased over the last decade or so, the fuel efficiency of heavy-duty trucks has held at 5 mpg for over four decades. Conversely, the average passenger vehicle reached 24 mpg in 2010. Under CAFE, cars and light duty trucks are set to reach 54.5 MPG by 2025.
According to EPA, heavy-duty trucks are the fastest growing emissions segment of the U.S. transportation sector; they are currently responsible for twenty percent (20%) of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, while comprising just four percent (4%) of on-road vehicles. Heavy duty trucks power the consumer economy, carrying seventy percent (70%) of all U.S. freight – weighing in at 10 billion tons of everything from food to electronics, building materials, clothes and other consumer goods.
As you can see, the goals are not only reduction in fuel usage but improvements in emissions. There are companies and programs dedicated to meeting these goals. The reason for this post is to indicate that people and companies are working to provide answers; solving problems; providing value-added to our environment and even our way of life. One such company is Intelligent Fleet Solutions.
The big questions is, how do we meet these goals? The burden is up to companies manufacturing the engines and design of the cabs and trailers. Alternate fuels are one answer; i.e. using CNG (compressed natural gas), biofuels, hydrogen, etc. but maybe not the entire answer.
One manner in which these goals may be met is reducing engine idle while trucks are at rest. The following chart will explain the dilemma and one target for reduction in petroleum consumption.
This chart shows petroleum consumption of various vehicles at idle. Notice: diesel engine consumption can use up to 1.00 gallon per hour when idling. Question, can we lessen this consumption?
Companies designing and manufacturing devices to contribute to this effort are being introduced helping to drive us towards meeting really tough café goals. One such company is Intelligent Fleet Solutions. Let’s take a look.
INTELLIGENT FLEET SOLUTIONS
What if the vehicle you drive could automatically alter its performance by doing the following?
- Governing maximum speed in Class 8 vehicles
- Optimizing acceleration
- Providing for a more efficient cruise
If you look carefully at the following brochure you will see a device that provides all three. The DERIVE program is downloaded into your vehicle’s ECM (Electronic Control Module) allowing control from generic to specific. You are in control. The program is contained in a hand-held pendent that “jacks” into the same receptacle used to reset your check engine light. Heavy-duty trucks may have another port for this pendent but the same process is used. The great part—the software is quick loading and low cost. A driver or owner has a payback considerably less one year. My friend Amy Dobrikova is an approved reseller for DERIVE technologies. Please contact her for further information at 765-617-8614.
CONCLUSIONS: Intelligent Fleet Solutions performs a great service in helping to preserve non-renewable fossil fuels AND lessening or eliminating harmful effluent from our environment. “Solutions” recognizes the fact that “all hands must be on deck” to solve emission problems and conserve remaining petroleum supplies. This company embodies the fact that America is still THE country in which technology is applied to solve problems and insure specific goals are met. Intelligent Fleet Solutions is a great contributor to that effort. Check them out at intelligent-fleet.com
October 13, 2016
I think everyone is very proud of their home state and city. Most in this “neck of the woods” would not live any other place than Chattanooga, Tennessee. It hasn’t always been that way. We were at one time one of the most polluted cities in the United States. The copy from the Chattanooga Times will indicate the conditions we all lived with during the 1960s.
CHATTANOOGA city councilman Dave Crockett remembers when the dust and smoke in the air of this Tennessee city were so thick people turned on their car headlights at noon and businessmen brought an extra white shirt to work. That was in the 1960s when federal authorities said Chattanooga had the worst air pollution of any city in the United States.
In 1969, a U.S. survey of the countries air quality confirmed that Chattanooga was the worst city in the U.S. for particulate matter in the air. Before the Clean Air Act in 1970, in 1969, Chattanooga created its own legislation called the Air Pollution Control Ordinance. It controlled emissions of sulfur oxides, allowed open burning by permit only, placed regulations on odors and dust, outlawed visible auto emissions, capped sulfur content of fuel at four percent (4%,) and limited visible emissions from industry. Additionally, new pollution monitoring techniques were set in place to make sure these regulations were being followed.
That condition has long since been altered. As a result, the city has attracted a great number of business with many being foreign companies. Clean air, welcoming environmental conditions, access to great transportation, willing workforce and affordable housing have made Chattanooga a very desirable place to live and work.
Much can be said for the entire state of Tennessee. As you can see from the digital photograph below, twelve (12) countries have placed manufacturing locations within Tennessee borders and we are talking about multiple sites for those investments. These companies employ approximately 81,800 men and women.
In looking at the largest foreign-based companies in Tennessee, we see the following.
One facility just coming on line is the Wacker facility in Savanna, Tennessee. Wacker is by far, the most expensive facility at $2.5 billion. The company has been extremely methodical in researching a proper site for their facility and training employees to work in that facility. Many have made the trip to Germany for training. It has been a great experience for the Chattanooga area. A photograph of Wacker was given by the Sunday paper. Very brief stats are given as follows:
- US $2.5 billion plant investment–the largest single private manufacturing investment ever in Tennessee
- 650 new jobs
- 20,000 metric ton capacity
- 550-acre greenfield site
- The plant will produce 20,000 tons of polysilicon annually at full capacity.
- The plant was built with expansion in mind, noting the current facility is only using about 40 percent of its land. Wacker as a worldwide company produces a broad range of products.
When fully operational, the facility will employ right at 2,000 people. An amazing addition to our East Tennessee area.
You can get a much better feel for the size of the facility by looking at an aerial view.
One additional inducement for locating your facilities in Chattanooga, is Chattanooga downtown. We are having a movement from the “burbs” to the downtown area simply due to the fact that there is a great deal to do in the downtown area. Great places to eat, sights to see and one of the most vibrant outdoor communities in the United States. Come on down for a visit.
October 10, 2016
The following post is taken from information supplied by the publication “Machine Design”. Each year Machine Design asks information from its readers’ questions relative to the engineering profession. Given below are results from this survey.
PROFILE OF A TYPICAL ENGINEER
I really don’t think anyone is “typical”. We each are unique individuals with a story to tell, but Machine Design uses this word to give us a snapshot of engineering as it exists today.
According to the Machine Design 2016 Survey, the majority of our readers are white males with seventy-four percent (74%) of our readers are age fifty (50) and older. This to me is really troublesome because it indicates that seventy-four percent have approximately ten to twelve years before retirement. Not much time to backfill with younger engineers. A little more than half, fifty-eight percent (58%) work as design and development engineers. This percentage is down from last year (61.7% in 2015). Engineering and operational management comprise 19.3% of current principal job functions. These engineers have the job title of chief, senior, executive, or lead engineer. At least fifty-five percent (55%) of our readers work forty (40) to fifty (50) hours a week.
THE FUTURE OF ENGINEERING
The future of engineering is still bright in the eyes of many current engineers. Over the last five years this view point has not changed and ninety-one percent (91%) would recommend engineering as a profession. When asked how they feel the engineering field is changing, one engineer spoke to our correspondent stating that the fields of engineering are merging. “The lines are currently blurring between mechanical and electrical engineer. Increasingly we are specifying electrical components required to accomplish motion. It is becoming important to have a basic understanding of the limitations of control systems and their impact on the mechanical systems being designed.” The field of Mecatronics exemplifies this fact. As the world of Internet of Things or IoT continues to expand, we will see more of how the engineering worlds combine.
Let us now take a quick look at where the engineering profession stands in general. The graphics give a very interesting picture.
I find it very interesting that seventy-seven percent (77%) have twenty plus yeas of experience with those over sixty years in age steadily increasing. As metntioned earlier, time to begin replacing those considering retirement within the next ten to fifteen years with younger engineers. Regardless of how bright the younger engineering community is, experience and training play a great role in success. The “old guys” can aid these efforts in a great manner.
You see from the graphic above the larger percentages of engineering involvement across our country. There is a predominance, ten percent (10%) involvement in California alone. I suspect Silicone Valley contributes greatly to this larger enclave of engineering talent.
We are all interested in how we “stack up” relative to salary levels and bonuses levels. The numbers above give a fairly good picture of averages across the profession. I was very surprised to see over eleven percent (11%) increase in salary from 2014. This, as mentioned, indicates the market is improving OR engineering talent is harder to come by. Engineers can now pick and choose where they wish to spend time. $99,933 as an average salary is huge in my opinion but justified.
As you might expect, as you gain experience your salary level should and does increase. Those with forty plus years’ experience can expect $100K plus in salary.
By and large, the engineering community is satisfied with their job with less than two percent (2%) being not satisfied at all. I suspect this is company related and with opportunities available job changes are in order.
I was looking for a job when I found this one. Fifty-nine plus percent (55.9%) indicate they would be open to changing jobs is that opportunity became available. In looking at results from the last two years, this is not out of line at all. As with the last five years, challenges, research and benefits to society rank very highly as desirable features of any one given job. Engineers have a higher calling than money itself. That has always been apparent.
In our lives today, the fear of engineering positions being outsourced is a very real concern. Manufacturing jobs in particular seem to be targeted. Some of this is definitely due to the onerous tax code our country is forcing manufacturers to live under. Also, regulations remain a significant burden to manufacturers.
The concerns within the engineering community are shared by other professions. We are definitely not alone in that regard. Time, people and money to accomplish any one given mission is uppermost in the minds of working engineers. This is very much in line with the last five years of reporting.
This chart speaks for itself. The oldest question in the world: “Which is more desirable in the engineering profession, “book learning” or practice? ANSWER: There is nothing more practical that education. You’ve heard this year after year. Engineering education is changing though and for the better. We are seeing more and more schools adopt a hands-on approach to engineering training. This does not replace classroom work but does supplement the in-class experience.
Trust me on this one, engineers are worriers. That makes us no different than individuals in most professions. The graphic above fully illustrates those areas of concern.
IoT is looming. IoT will, if not already, become a huge factor for every design engineer. I might add, IoT AND “big data” are infusing themselves into the daily lives of the engineering community. It’s happening and engineers need to realize that reality.
The chart above might be considered to be a continuation of concerns the engineering community has, particularly increasing regulation.
CONCLUSION: I think this annual survey is extremely valuable and provides a gage for practicing engineers. Comparisons are always interesting.
October 8, 2016
It is a very good thing technology is incremental. If that were NOT, the case we would go out of our ever-loving-minds. Have you ever stopped to consider how complex our society is? Really—have you ever considered the complexity of every-day life and how complicated the products we use on a daily basis are? I personally think nothing about the cellular phone I use or the automobile I drive or the blender (Internet provided) I crank up some days. After a fairly straightforward learning curve and a few missteps while getting familiar with the new products, I’m off and running. Most are completely user-friendly with instructions written with the end-user in mind. (Some are not and that’s a subject for another day.)
I’ve decided I will start a new stream of posts in which I mention from time to time how complicated we have become and possibly where we just might be going. Of course, I still will lean heavily towards the STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) areas I have covered through WordPress over the years. Here we go.
The Boeing Company is a magnificent example of a company providing products of immense complexity. Can you imagine overseeing the design, selection of vendors, assembly and test of a product that has 2.3 million individual parts? Only in the computer age could this happen. Imagine the paper that would be necessary, not to mention the manpower, required if there were no computers to manage this task. Even with this being the case, 500,000 employees of the Boeing Company are required to “pull this off”. Of course, this number of employees is not only for the Dreamliner but all the Boeing aircraft.
3-D printing has lessened the number of components for the GE LEAP fuel nozzle but only because the General Electric company has chosen to complicate in order to simplify. Great strategy and it works.
Even during this recessionary period of time, people are buying automobiles. Eighteen (18) percent increase in the number of automobile models from 2015. We are almost to the point where you can customize your individual automobile, have it assembles and eventually shipped to you.
OK, this one blows my mind. One hundred fifty million (150) lines of code for a Ford F-150. The chart above speaks for itself. Who repairs all of this equipment? Actually, the most complex assemblies are replaced rather than being repaired.
The chart above will certainly indicate that we are no longer a group of men and women who have brand loyalty. Not only for automobiles but for all other consumer products. If one brand does not give us what we desire—we switch.
The chart above speaks for itself. We have integrated into every product electronics that provide value-added to user experience.
The next two slides reference the Apple i-phone. Two hundred (200) components in the i-phone camera. Not the entire product, just the camera. What a marvelous packaging job Apple has done to make the i-phone usable and mobile. Imagine. 24,000,000 (yes that’s twenty-four billion with a “B”) operations to capture one (1) image.
CONCLUSION: I cannot wait to see what lies ahead for our global technology. We are now down to “hide and watch”. As always, I welcome your comments.
October 2, 2016
Information for this post came from the American Society of Civil Engineers.
Every family, every community and every business needs infrastructure to thrive. Infrastructure encompasses your local water main and the Hoover Dam; the power lines connected to your house and the electrical grid spanning the U.S.; and the street in front of your home and the national highway system.
Once every four years, America’s civil engineers provide a comprehensive assessment of the nation’s major infrastructure categories in ASCE’s Report Card for America’s Infrastructure Report Card. Using a simple A to F school report card format, the Report Card provides a comprehensive assessment of current infrastructure conditions and needs, both assigning grades and making recommendations for how to raise the grades. An Advisory Council of ASCE members assigns the grades according to the following eight criteria: capacity, condition, funding, future need, operation and maintenance, public safety, resilience, and innovation. Since 1998, the grades have been near failing, averaging only Ds, due to delayed maintenance and underinvestment across most categories. Now the 2013 Report Card grades are in, and America’s cumulative GPA for infrastructure rose slightly to a D+. The grades in 2013 ranged from a high of B- for solid waste to a low of D- for inland waterways and levees. Solid waste, drinking water, wastewater, roads, and bridges all saw incremental improvements, and rail jumped from a C- to a C+. No categories saw a decline in grade this year.
Let’s take a quick look at the grades for each of the categories ASCE has provided. You will not be impressed. Our U.S. Congress has done what they always do—put their reelection first and the country dead last.
The table below provides the estimated cumulative investment needs by infrastructure category based on current trends extended to the year 2020 (dollars in $2010 billions). Categories that are not shaded rely on data from ASCE’s Failure to Act series.
The grades in the 2013 Report Card for America’s Infrastructure are a comprehensive assessment of current infrastructure conditions across America. It is important to note that these infrastructure conditions have impacts on our economy as well.
In 2011, ASCE commissioned a series of economic reports called Failure to Act to provide an objective analysis of the economic implications for the United States of current investment trends in key infrastructure sectors. These first-of-a-kind reports were prepared for ASCE by the Economic Development Research Group of Boston to answer this central question:
What is the value to America’s economy in the long term if we invest in our infrastructure today?
The results of the Failure to Act series focus on:
- Surface Transportation (including roads, bridges, and transit)
- Water and Wastewater
- Energy Transmission
- Airports, Inland Waterways and Marine Ports
Together, these reports cover 9 of the 16 categories addressed by the Report Card for America’s Infrastructure.
Analyzing current investment trends for each infrastructure sector, the report conveys the economic impacts in terms of change in GDP, household income, employment, and exports in the years 2020 and 2040. In short, investing in infrastructure is an engine for long-term economic growth, increasing GDP, employment, household income, and exports. The reverse is also true – without investing, infrastructure can become a drag on the economy.
I would like to concentrate on just two of the categories ASCE has given us, Water and Environment and Transportation. Obviously, every citizen of this country uses these government-provided services every day. Our lives are directly affected by the viability of these two categories.
WATER AND ENVIRONMENT:
Dams: Dams again earned a grade of D. The average age of the 84,000 dams in the country is 52 years old. The nation’s dams are aging and the number of high-hazard dams is on the rise. Many of these dams were built as low-hazard dams protecting undeveloped agricultural land. However, with an increasing population and greater development below dams, the overall number of high-hazard dams continues to increase, to nearly 14,000 in 2012. The number of deficient dams is currently more than 4,000. The Association of State Dam Safety Officials estimates that it will require an investment of $21 billion to repair these aging, yet critical, high-hazard dams.
Drinking Water: The grade for drinking water improved slightly to a D. At the dawn of the 21st century, much of our drinking water infrastructure is nearing the end of its useful life. There are an estimated 240,000 water main breaks per year in the United States. Assuming every pipe would need to be replaced, the cost over the coming decades could reach more than $1 trillion, according to the American Water Works Association (AWWA). The quality of drinking water in the United States remains universally high, however. Even though pipes and mains are frequently more than 100 years old and in need of replacement, outbreaks of disease attributable to drinking water are rare.
Hazardous Waste: There has been undeniable success in the cleanup of the nation’s hazardous waste and brownfields sites. However, annual funding for Superfund site cleanup is estimated to be as much as $500 million short of what is needed, and 1,280 sites remain on the National Priorities List with an unknown number of potential sites yet to be identified. More than 400,000 brownfields sites await cleanup and redevelopment. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) estimates that one in four Americans lives within three miles of a hazardous waste site. The grade for hazardous waste remained unchanged at a D.
Levees: Levees again earned a near failing grade of D- in 2013. The nation’s estimated 100,000 miles of levees can be found in all 50 states and the District of Columbia. Many of these levees were originally used to protect farmland, and now are increasingly protecting developed communities. The reliability of these levees is unknown in many cases, and the country has yet to establish a National Levee Safety Program. Public safety remains at risk from these aging structures, and the cost to repair or rehabilitate these levees is roughly estimated to be $100 billion by the National Committee on Levee Safety. However, the return on investment is clear – as levees helped in the prevention of more than $141 billion in flood damages in 2011.
Solid Waste: In 2010, Americans generated 250 million tons of trash. Of that, 85 million tons were recycled or composted. This represents a 34% recycling rate, more than double the 14.5% in 1980. Per capita generation rates of waste have been steady over the past 20 years and have even begun to show signs of decline in the past several years. The grade for solid waste improved in 2013, and it earned the highest grade of B-.
Wastewater: The grade for wastewater improved slightly to a D. Capital investment needs for the nation’s wastewater and stormwater systems are estimated to total $298 billion over the next 20 years. Pipes represent the largest capital need, comprising three quarters of total needs. Fixing and expanding the pipes will address sanitary sewer overflows, combined sewer overflows, and other pipe-related issues. In recent years, capital needs for the treatment plants comprise about 15%-20% of total needs, but will likely increase due to new regulatory requirements. Stormwater needs, while growing, are still small compared with sanitary pipes and treatment plants. Since 2007, the federal government has required cities to invest more than $15 billion in new pipes, plants, and equipment to eliminate combined sewer overflows.
Aviation: Despite the effects of the recent recession, commercial flights were about 33 million higher in number in 2011 than in 2000, stretching the system’s ability to meet the needs of the nation’s economy. The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) estimates that the national cost of airport congestion and delays was almost $22 billion in 2012. If current federal funding levels are maintained, the FAA anticipates that the cost of congestion and delays to the economy will rise from $34 billion in 2020 to $63 billion by 2040. Aviation again earned a D.
Bridges: Over two hundred million trips are taken daily across deficient bridges in the nation’s 102 largest metropolitan regions. In total, one in nine of the nation’s bridges are rated as structurally deficient, while the average age of the nation’s 607,380 bridges is currently 42 years. The Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) estimates that to eliminate the nation’s bridge backlog by 2028, we would need to invest $20.5 billion annually, while only $12.8 billion is being spent currently. The challenge for federal, state, and local governments is to increase bridge investments by $8 billion annually to address the identified $76 billion in needs for deficient bridges across the United States. However, with the overall number of structurally deficient bridges continuing to trend downward, the grade improved to C+.
Inland Waterways: Our nation’s inland waterways and rivers are the hidden backbone of our freight network – they carry the equivalent of about 51 million truck trips each year. In many cases, the inland waterways system has not been updated since the 1950s, and more than half of the locks are over 50 years old. Barges are stopped for hours each day with unscheduled delays, preventing goods from getting to market and driving up costs. There is an average of 52 service interruptions a day throughout the system. Projects to repair and replace aging locks and dredge channels take decades to approve and complete, exacerbating the problem further. Inland waterways received a D- grade once again as conditions remain poor and investment levels remain stagnant.
Ports: This new category for 2013 debuted with a grade of C. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers estimates that more than 95% (by volume) of overseas trade produced or consumed by the United States moves through our ports. To sustain and serve a growing economy and compete internationally, our nation’s ports need to be maintained, modernized, and expanded. While port authorities and their private sector partners have planned over $46 billion in capital improvements from now until 2016, federal funding has declined for navigable waterways and landside freight connections needed to move goods to and from the ports.
Rail: Railroads are experiencing a competitive resurgence as both an energy-efficient freight transportation option and a viable city-to-city passenger service. In 2012, Amtrak recorded its highest year of ridership with 31.2 million passengers, almost doubling ridership since 2000, with growth anticipated to continue. Both freight and passenger rail have been investing heavily in their tracks, bridges, and tunnels as well as adding new capacity for freight and passengers. In 2010 alone, freight railroads renewed the rails on more than 3,100 miles of railroad track, equivalent to going coast to coast. Since 2009, capital investment from both freight and passenger railroads has exceeded $75 billion, actually increasing investment during the recession when materials prices were lower and trains ran less frequently. With high ridership and greater investment in the system, the grade for rail saw the largest improvement, moving up to a C+ in 2013.
Roads: Targeted efforts to improve conditions and significant reductions in highway fatalities resulted in a slight improvement in the roads grade to a D this year. However, forty-two percent of America’s major urban highways remain congested, costing the economy an estimated $101 billion in wasted time and fuel annually. While the conditions have improved in the near term, and federal, state, and local capital investments increased to $91 billion annually, that level of investment is insufficient and still projected to result in a decline in conditions and performance in the long term. Currently, the Federal Highway Administration estimates that $170 billion in capital investment would be needed on an annual basis to significantly improve conditions and performance.
Transit: The grade for transit remained at a D as transit agencies struggled to balance increasing ridership with declining funding. America’s public transit infrastructure plays a vital role in our economy, connecting millions of people with jobs, medical facilities, schools, shopping, and recreation, and it is critical to the one-third of Americans who do not drive cars. Unlike many U.S. infrastructure systems, the transit system is not comprehensive, as 45% of American households lack any access to transit, and millions more have inadequate service levels. Americans who do have access have increased their ridership 9.1% in the past decade, and that trend is expected to continue. Although investment in transit has also increased, deficient and deteriorating transit systems cost the U.S. economy $90 billion in 2010, as many transit agencies are struggling to maintain aging and obsolete fleets and facilities amid an economic downturn that has reduced their funding, forcing service cuts and fare increases.
I know my readers think I’m beating up on state and federal governments, but give me a break. Do you ever wonder what these elected officials really do? I want to show you the top ten (10) boondoggles the Fed has deemed necessary. Here we go.
- THE BRIDGE TO NOWHERE: A notorious 2005 earmark authorized $452 million to build two bridges in Alaska—including one that became known as the so-called Bridge to Nowhere, which would have connected the city of Ketchikan to Gravina Island, home to only a few dozen people.
- The Woodstock Museum: In 2007, Congress authorized a $1 million earmark to build a museum dedicated to the 1969 Woodstock concert.
- Duplication Nation– Every year the federal government wastes at least $200 billion in duplicative federal programs, agencies, offices and initiatives.
- The Adult Baby– We were curious to learn, in 2011, of a subculture of adults who dress, eat and otherwise behave as babies. We were further shocked to discover that some, including a man named Stanley Thornton—who was featured in a television program—had funded his infantile lifestyle by relying on disability payments from the Social Security Administration.
- Unemployment Payouts to Millionaires–It’s not just adult babies gaming the system. In 2011, we discovered that federal unemployment benefits are being sent to the wealthy—who bilk the system out of at least $30 million each year.
- Shrimp on a Treadmill– In 2007, the National Science Foundation committed more than $500,000 to study the mobility of shrimp by conducting experiments that involved placing the crustaceans on treadmills. (You have to love this one!!!!!!!!)
- The RoboSquirrel— Speaking of wasteful research, in 2012, we highlighted a $325,000 study on the interaction between rattlesnakes and squirrels that made use of a robotic squirrel. (Don’t even ask.)
- The Pentagon’s “Did Jesus die for Klingons too?” symposium–In 2012, we issued a report titled
“Department of Everything” that showed how the Department of Defense could make cuts in “non-defense” spending – spending in DOD that has nothing to do with our national defense, which we’ve estimated totals almost $68 billion. In the report, we highlighted surprising spending on beef jerky and a smartphone add to gauge caffeine intake. Our eyebrows were also raised by a strategy planning workshop for which nearly $100,000 was allocated. One of the sessions at the symposium explored the relationship between Jesus and Klingons, the famous alien species in the Star Trek series.
- The Turtle Tunnel— In 2009, a “stimulus” project for a $3.4 million wildlife “eco-passage” was greenlighted in Florida to help turtles and other wildlife cross beneath a busy road. (Don’t get me wrong—I like turtles but $3.4 million.)
- Handouts for Pro Athletes and Team Owners—In 2013 we sponsored a bill to end the nonprofit tax exemption for for-profit sports leagues.
Meanwhile, our roads, bridges, dams, water, etc etc seems to continue to suffer. You get the picture.