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Publication Number:      Date:  Nov/Dec 1999
Issue No: Vol. 63 No. 3
Date: Nov/Dec 1999


The PAIR Initiative: Repairing and Revitalizing Our Nation's Physical Infrastructure

by Richard A. Belle


Peak Reading Passive Sensor.

The Peak Reading Passive Sensor provides real-time data on bridge conditions.
(credit Strain Monitor Systems Inc.)

This article describes a national, broad-based initiative to change fundamentally the way we repair and renew our built environment.

The nation's infrastructure is critical to sustained economic development and an improved quality of life. One need not be a professional engineer to recognize the high costs associated with a national physical infrastructure that is functionally obsolete, structurally deficient, or physically unsafe. The needs of a 21st century citizenry cannot be met by using generations-old products and strategies to repair and construct our nation's critical physical facilities. A piecemeal and reactive approach to infrastructure policy will only allow us to navigate from crisis to crisis.

The Partnership for the Advancement of Infrastructure and its Renewal (PAIR) aims to put an end to the management-by-crisis approach to infrastructure repair and renewal. PAIR will work with leaders from both the private and public sectors to form collaborative partnerships that bring the very best construction technologies and processes to the marketplace. The partnership will try to shorten the unconscionably long time frame currently needed to take state-of-the-art construction technologies and deploy them on a broad scale.

In many cases, this effort will focus on process issues that often limit the speed with which innovative materials and methods are used in the built environment. For example, PAIR will champion specific reforms to the procurement process and explore ways to develop meaningful tort reform.

PAIR is designed to supplement - not supplant - the many initiatives in both the private and public sectors that are addressing the need for proactive infrastructure repair and renewal. PAIR will identify and build on those programs that share the same strategic mission of creatively revitalizing the infrastructure through innovative products and processes.

Column wrapping with new space age materials provides strength during seismic action.
New space-age materials, such as this bridge column-wrapping material to strengthen the column against seismic action , can greatly extend the performance, reliability, and durability of infrastructure projects.

For example, PAIR is working with FHWA's Innovative Bridge Research and Construction Program (IBRC) to demonstrate the powerful capabilities of high-performance materials (composites, steels, concretes, etc.) to reduce bridge maintenance and life-cycle costs.

Implementation of this plan will require a united coalition of industry, government, associations, and individuals working together to achieve a common goal. The ability to carry out the plan will depend on the resources committed to the enterprise and a passion for the vision it represents.

The Civil Engineering Research Foundation (CERF), a not-for-profit organization dedicated to speeding the delivery of innovation to the engineering and construction marketplace, has developed the initial implementation plan for PAIR. In this effort, CERF has received guidance and support from a host of infrastructure stakeholders from the private and public sectors. In particular, CERF is pleased to recognize the technical advice and financial support of the agencies represented on the National Science and Technology Council's Construction and Building Subcommittee and the Committee on Technology and the many leading private firms represented by the Construction Industry Roundtable.

The Nation's Infrastructure
The physical infrastructure plays a vital role in the quality of life in every American community.

Even so, unlike the regular readers of Public Roads, most people don't think much about the condition of roads, parking lots, buildings, and railroads unless they hit a pothole or a roof leaks or they hear of a train derailment. They put gas in their cars once a week and simply plan for their commute to and from work. Very few consider the costs of lost time and productivity and pollution that result from the traffic jams we "plan" for every day - not to mention the daily stress. Yet these are very real costs.

One study estimates that by the year 2005, traffic delays caused by inadequate roads will cost U.S. citizens $50 billion annually in lost wages and wasted fuel. Another study demonstrates how our spending priorities are counterproductive, noting that U.S. motorists spend four times as much money fixing damage to their cars caused by crumbling roads than states spend on repairing the highways. Similarly, it has been estimated that $112 billion will be required to bring the nation's schools to an overall good condition.

Recent well-documented reports on the condition of our infrastructure are alarming. The American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) recently produced a Report Card for America's Infrastructure that evaluated the current status of our nation's roads, bridges, water systems, school buildings, and other elements of the infrastructure. Each category was evaluated on the basis of condition and performance, capacity versus need, and funding versus need by a consensus panel of ASCE experts. The conclusions are sobering. The report assigned letter grades to 10 categories of public works, culminating in an overall grade-point average of "D."

ASCE estimates that an investment of nearly $1.3 trillion over the next five years is required to bring the infrastructure up to acceptable conditions and functional performance levels. ASCE also noted the great economic costs of failing to adequately address our infrastructure deterioration that exacerbates problems resulting from contaminated drinking water, crumbling schools, obsolete and deficient roads, and airport gridlock.

A History of Under-Investment
The resources invested in public works and infrastructure over the past decade fell far short of actual needs despite the dire warnings from experts that continued neglect and deterioration of our aging infrastructure would seriously undermine the national economy and our quality of life. Investments in the advancement and renewal of American civil infrastructure are alarmingly low relative to other developed economies and downright paltry for the most powerful and prosperous nation in the world. The condition of just the surface transport portion of the infrastructure demonstrates the enormity of the problem.

The Superpave system
The SuperpaveTM system is a comprehensive set of performance-oriented materials standards, test methods, and mixture-design procedures.

The well-being and vitality of the transportation physical infrastructure are essential to the economic prosperity of the nation. Transport, for example, is a powerful economic engine, employing 12 million people and attracting one of every five dollars in total household spending. In direct expenditures alone, transportation-related activities account for almost 20 percent of the U.S. gross domestic product (GDP), with about 15 percent of that applied to construction, operation, and maintenance of transportation systems. Of these latter expenditures, more than 80 percent are for maintenance of our aging and deteriorating infrastructure. Dramatic improvements in transportation efficiency, productivity, and intermodal balance are essential to the nation's mobility, its national security, and its competitiveness in the global marketplace.

The threat of being sued, the high cost of insurance, the multitude of regulations, current procurement practices, and industry fragmentation are the primary factors that combine to discourage innovation. There is a very real perception that innovation is risky. Such disincentives are impeding technological advances in infrastructure renewal in the United States. As a result, global competitors are quickly gaining a market advantage.

Estimates are that the cost of legal fees and penalties as a percentage of U.S. GDP is more than triple that in other industrial countries. The propensity in America to sue has had a particularly powerful effect in the design and construction industry. Even a frivolous case against a firm frequently results in staggering, legal defense costs. A recent American Consulting Engineers Council (ACEC) survey found the private engineering firms turned down an average of $104,883 in potential work due to the threat of civil liability. Moreover, this threat not only determines whether a firm will accept a project, but how the project will be completed. In 1998, three out of every four ACEC firms felt that the threat of litigation had stifled innovation in both methods and materials.

Environmental Consciousness and Sustainability
Environmental protection and sustainability are now common buzzwords. Expressions such as NIMBY (not in my back yard) and BANANA (build absolutely nothing anywhere near anything) developed because interest groups and urban communities needed to communicate the pressures of overcrowding, territoriality, and environmental degradation to public officials and frustrated developers.

The protection of natural resources is a major issue facing all economic sectors. The quality of urban water supplies is a highly visible example of heightened environmental awareness that unfortunately pits the public against government with regard to priorities for capital improvements. The encroachment of urban development on critical groundwater-recharge zones and surface watersheds has put the quality and quantity of our water resources in jeopardy. The principal culprits are uncontrolled storm-water runoff and the rapid growth in the proportion of impervious surfaces to natural surfaces.

Energy consumption and America's energy future also appear prominently on the national environmental radar screen. Current design practices discourage the explicit accounting of future energy costs associated with complex, engineered systems. Industry must comprehensively address the energy aspects of life-cycle costs and tradeoffs.

The Potential of Telecommuting
The advent of the modern office building permitted previously disparate business operations to be centralized. In addition to the office building itself, our current urban transportation infrastructure is a product of the need of employees to commute to the business district.

However, with the innovations in data transmission, processing, and access, many business functions are now becoming more decentralized. Employees may work a significant amount of time at their home, on board an airplane or train, or even avoid the traditional office altogether. The virtual office is no longer a futuristic concept.

Fiber-reinforced polymer (FRP) composites have led to a new generation of vehicular bridges.
Fiber-reinforced polymer (FRP) composites have led to a new generation of vehicular bridges using modular construction techniques. These bridges are prefabricated off site; this strengthens quality control.

Telecommuting will change the way we think about and plan our physical infrastructure. Commuting patterns will begin to change, and as a result, priorities for road and public transportation projects will shift dramatically. Groups with limited resources will engage in real-time, remote dialogue, thereby reducing the time and expense of bringing innovative products to market. Data and telecommunications infrastructure will evolve to accommodate increasing traffic. The nature of buildings and office space will change as telecommuting centers develop, and the traditional office transforms into the office of the future.

Incremental Approaches
In spite of the fact that more than a dozen federal agencies have instituted programs that address some aspects of materials and methods research, no single program has fundamentally changed the way we plan, design, finance, and build the nation's basic physical infrastructure. These efforts have produced valuable, albeit partial, solutions to an overwhelming problem. PAIR seeks nothing less than a focused, national policy on the way we build and repair our physical infrastructure. Too often repair and renewal efforts have been ad-hoc. PAIR's contribution will be to assimilate and build upon these partial solutions, developing means to establish benchmarks to gauge changes in the way we systematically repair and upgrade the built environment.

These demonstrations are often performed in an isolated, fragmented manner and do not receive the visibility necessary to effect change. While the results of demonstrations are often positive, they are usually not communicated to the groups that strongly influence demand. If we continue down this same path, there will be few, if any, incentives for material suppliers to invest in new plants and processes to improve infrastructure technologies and products.

The Rebuild America Coalition has effectively drawn the nation's attention to the need for significant repair and revitalization of the nation's physical infrastructure. PAIR will demonstrate the significant opportunities and advantages of using innovative materials and processes for these efforts. We, as a nation, cannot use 20th century materials and processes as 21st century solutions.

Emerging Technologies

Repaired and strengthened bridge superstructure.

This deteriorated bridge superstructure has been repaired and strengthened.
(credit Market Development Alliance of the FRP Composites Industry)

The PAIR program will help to introduce and broadly commercialize a wide range of technological advances that will fundamentally change the way we maintain and revitalize the physical infrastructure. Some of these technologies are currently used in components of the infrastructure. By bringing together organizations with a stake in the infrastructure and building awareness of innovative technologies, PAIR will help to facilitate development, wider use, and integration of innovative technologies throughout the infrastructure. These technologies will permit us to manage our infrastructure assets more effectively and dramatically reduce adverse environmental consequences of human development. Examples of important emerging technologies include:

The issue of obsolescence cannot be addressed through high-performance, space-age materials and structural durability alone. Stewards of the national infrastructure, including the private sector, must push the current and emergent technological envelopes. They must ask themselves not just what new technologies and applications are necessary or probable in the future, but also what new forms will be possible in the next century. What types of infrastructure support will these exciting new systems require?

Threats to Service Life

Enabling technologies will support the development of methods to predict the infrastructure service life. Service-life analysis is important to understand the interaction between structures, the natural environment, and people. An understanding of the interaction of infrastructure and environmental stresses is essential to developing protocols for predicting service life. Formal tools and methods must be developed and applied to slow the rate of deterioration by predicting and minimizing threats from catastrophic events such as fire, earthquakes, hurricanes, tornadoes, and even terrorism.

Service-life prediction will require baseline-condition assessment and performance-monitoring data. Again, the application of emerging enabling technologies, such as embedded fiber-optic and microelectronic sensors, will be an important step toward developing predictive models. For example, an array of microelectronic sensors built into a bridge structure and connected to a transceiver unit can now supply real-time information on bridge structural condition and reaction to weather and traffic loads. Imagine the high quality and quantity of data available on bridge health if such an advanced system were installed on bridges throughout the nation.

Preventative Maintenance

It is generally easier to obtain approval for capital improvements, such as a new school or highway, than it is to get funding for maintenance. As a result, owners/operators naturally tend to let all but the most critical maintenance items slide. There are few standard protocols for regular maintenance and condition assessments, and therefore, maintenance is usually put off until obvious signs of deterioration are detected.

One way to improve the quality of maintenance and extend service life is to implement asset-management programs. Service-life prediction is an important component of asset management.

Asset management is a process for extending infrastructure life at the lowest possible costs. An asset is anything with monetary value. In the context of infrastructure, schools, streets, highways, bridges, rights of way, airports, and utilities are all assets. Even though asset management employs information management and computer technology, it is not a computer program. Rather, it is a decision-making process for identifying optimal (cost-effective) methods for the design, construction, maintenance, rehabilitation, retrofit, replacement, or even abandonment of an asset.

Renew and Advance the Public Infrastructure

In the long run, technology will lead to renewal and rebuilding on a national scale. Demonstration projects will show the benefits of innovative technology and may make the case for application broadly throughout the United States. High-performance construction materials and systems will become mainstream. Design and construction standards will be performance-based rather than prescriptive and will reflect a new era of technological innovation and asset management. The cycle of deterioration and decay will begin to reverse as entirely new systems are put in place, thereby advancing the state of the art of public infrastructure.

The ability of PAIR to identify and demonstrate innovative technology may lead to new opportunities for existing industries or creation of new industries. Beyond renewal of the infrastructure, PAIR may provide a framework for broad economic benefits - both internal and external to construction and related industries.

The promotion of high-visibility demonstration projects is essential to increasing public awareness of the benefits of innovative technologies to the nation's infrastructure revitalization. Initial demonstrations will focus on highways and bridges and on schools. PAIR will aggressively pursue private-sector in-kind and cash contributions to directly support demonstration projects. Public-sector support will be essential to identify and secure appropriate demonstration sites.

Roads and bridges are being targeted for several reasons. They are the most visible and heavily used element of the physical infrastructure, and the public is immediately affected when roads and bridges fail. Moreover, congestion, road conditions, construction delays, and other factors directly affect the cost of transportation for manufactured goods. In addition, an effective road system also reduces the costs of lost loads, penalties, and idle time associated with late deliveries. Finally, the President's Commission on Critical Infrastructure Protection said our transportation system was essential to our national security.

Many existing technologies have been demonstrated to be effective in improving the performance of the nation's roads and bridges. However, the initial cost to implement these technologies is typically higher than the cost of traditional methods and materials, and the cost differential is often a deterrent to widespread use. It is necessary to clearly demonstrate the effectiveness and life-cycle cost savings of using appropriate technology to meet the needs of the driving public and the transportation industry.

According to the 1998 ASCE study cited above, schools are in worse shape than the rest of the infrastructure. In established cities and neighborhoods, many school buildings are showing their age. In many inner-city schools, due to scarce resources for maintenance and repair, students, teachers, and staff suffer frequent failure of building systems, leaking roofs, poor climate control, and other problems. Some studies have directly linked the poor physical and cosmetic state of school buildings to adverse effects on student performance and on teacher morale and effectiveness.

Furthermore, overcrowding and other physical limitations of some classrooms make it difficult to accommodate changes in teaching methods or equipment, including the use of computers in the classroom. Many of the existing school buildings are still quite serviceable if appropriately renovated. Benefits in the area of building automation and control will include the development and demonstration of measurements and standards that will enable improved environmental, safety, and security control systems for the nation's schools. Such systems could include "smart" building elements that automatically adjust lighting, air conditioning, and heating, as well as alarm systems, security communications, and disaster evacuation capabilities.

Building a Partnership

PAIR will be an essential catalyst for building collaborative partnerships that share a strong and common commitment to infrastructure advancement and renewal. PAIR will address the full spectrum of needed innovations. Such innovations will include high-performance construction materials that cut costs and enhance safety. PAIR will champion "intelligent" infrastructure operating systems that improve service without new construction and provide remote sensing and rapid response to reduce the congestion, economic losses, and environmental damages caused by fluctuations in demand, storms, collisions, and other random or unforeseen events.

Epoxy-coated steel dowel bars are being used to strengthen segmental concrete.

Epoxy-coated steel dowel bars are being used to strengthen segmental concrete on Interstate 77 in Ohio.
(credit Market Development Alliance of the FRP Composites Industry)

PAIR is not just another government-sponsored program. PAIR is envisioned to be a partnership that focuses on innovative products and practices. Its aim is to accelerate the application of these innovations. In this manner, PAIR complements the work of organizations that focus on developing public and private support for the investments needed to revitalize the infrastructure.

A successful PAIR program will facilitate the introduction of promising innovations into the marketplace; its goal is to reduce the gap between state-of-the-art technology and practices and state-of-the-market construction operations. PAIR will draw attention to every stage in the construction cycle, from initial design and planning through procurement and on to construction, maintenance, and final disposal. Well-publicized demonstration projects can document innovative processes and materials used at each stage of design and construction.

PAIR is deliberately structured to attract private-sector investment and participation. PAIR offers the private sector an unprecedented opportunity to demonstrate to potential owners the creative potential of their innovative products and practices. With CERF serving as its secretariat, PAIR will work to bring leaders in the private sector and non-governmental arenas together, gaining a commitment for research, development, testing, evaluation, and deployment of innovative technologies and practices for the physical infrastructure.

While it is important that PAIR identify and undertake demonstration projects to highlight the impact that technology can make in revitalizing the nation's infrastructure, PAIR must also undertake those activities that will ensure its acceptance and growth as a coordinating force to bring innovative technology into widespread use. Even the construction of a few dozen prototype-demonstration projects with high-performance materials and innovative design will have a negligible impact on infrastructure revitalization if not accompanied with systematic approaches to replicate these demonstration on a widespread basis.

To accomplish this, PAIR will undertake the following critical tasks concurrently with demonstration projects if funding permits:


When our grandparents and great-grandparents developed marvels such as the vast subway system in New York City, the great water supply and sewer systems in Chicago, and the complex irrigation projects in the Southwest, these remarkable achievements were unprecedented in their scope. Years later, the development of our nation's interstate highway system was equally epochal. The impact on the way we travel, where we live, and how we earn our living is still profound and pervasive.

The achievements of these far-sighted engineers and planners who perceived a need for a fundamental change in our transportation infrastructure are now 50, 75, and even 100 years old. Deterioration is inevitable, even without the pressures of a larger, more mobile population. Many of these facilities are in desperate need of repair or replacement. They are clearly inadequate for the demands of the 21st century. Ever-increasing demands on the infrastructure are causing systems built only 15 or 20 years ago to become obsolete.

As a nation, we are ever more dependent on an effective and robust infrastructure for an enhanced quality of life. What legacy shall we leave for future generations? PAIR represents a renewed commitment to the built environment. Its farsighted strategy will create a legacy.

The key to PAIR's success will be the breadth, vitality, and commitment of its private and public partnerships. The program cannot become a tightly centralized effort with prescribed "one size fits all" solutions imposed from above. Rather, PAIR's approach will be to draw on the imagination, expertise, and experience of the many different stakeholders and users of the physical infrastructure. Only by using these diverse resources will we be able to effectively accelerate the technology development process, improve our quality of life, and move towards developing a truly sustainable public infrastructure.

For more information on the PAIR initiative, please contact Richard A. Belle, CERF senior program manager, at (202) 842-0555, or e-mail him at rbelle@cerf.org.

Richard A. Belle is currently senior program manager for the Civil Engineering Research Foundation (CERF), the research affiliate of the American Society of Civil Engineers. He has lead responsibility for design and analysis of all market research efforts, baseline data assessments, benchmarking analyses, and attitude surveys. He currently directs CERF's involvement in the development of the PAIR initiative. Belle also manages CERF's materials programs, notably the high-performance construction materials and systems program (CONMAT). He is the principal author of three major national reports, Opportunities in Asia: An Assessment of Construction Trends, Needs and Potential Collaboration (1997), which is an analysis of construction research and trade opportunities in six East Asian countries and territories; Materials for Tomorrow's Infrastructure: A Ten-Year Plan for Deploying High-Performance Construction Materials and Systems (1994), a detailed research action plan designed to transform the nation's infrastructure; and A Nationwide Survey of Civil Engineering-Related R&D (1993), a baseline study of research investment in the design and construction industry. He has written extensively on innovative construction materials and systems research for such journals as Construction Business Review, TR News, Public Roads, and American Metal Market. Belle has a master's degree from the University of Wisconsin, and he completed advanced graduate work at Columbia University and continuing education courses in such areas as total quality management, survey methodology, and statistics.



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