Monday, October 31, 2011

California Offers Money To Buy Hybrid Machines

TOP PHOTO: Komatsu America Corp., BOTTOM PHOTO: Milwaukee Electric Tool Corp. How Green? Komatsus hybrid excavator, which the firm says is 25% more fuel efficient than the standard model, is one of two machines to be tested.

If you are working out West and have been thinking about trying a hybrid construction machine, now is the time to take advantage of nearly $1 million in incentives available from the University of California, Riverside. The catch? Your new machine could take part in a statewide study designed to find out how "green" hybrids really are.

Working under a $2-million grant from the California Air Resources Board (CARB), the school's researchers will watch the machines work on real-life projects, such as a rock quarry, landfill or water remediation. Then, scientists will wire them up with sensors, run them through tests and compare their emissions to their non-hybrid siblings. Two hybrids will be tested: the Caterpillar D7E dozer and the Komatsu HB215LC-1 excavator.

Hybrid vehicles—which use internal-combustion engines and electric motors to cut down fuel consumption and, in some cases, store energy in a battery or other device—are common in the automotive sector. However, they are still new to the heavy-equipment space, some consider such machines as diesel-electric locomotives and mining trucks to be "prehistoric" hybrids. Cat started selling its green bulldozer in 2009, and Komastu rolled out its fuel-sipping excavator earlier this year.

Because the tests will take place on the job, evaluating the machines won't be easy. The challenge lies in the diverse conditions under which the vehicles work.

"We all drive cars pretty much the same," explains Kent Johnson, an assistant research engineer at the university and the lead investigator. "Some construction equipment moves trash, rocks, trees, dirt. It's amazing." Johnson recently appeared on the Discovery Channel show "Mythbusters" for a similar test comparing the relative emissions of cars and motorcycles.

California has a law on the books requiring regulators to study clean-fuel vehicles and deploy them into commerce, so CARB intends to use the tests to offer future incentive programs. Hybrid technology generally saves 5% to 20% in fuel and 25% to 70% in emissions.

Anyone wanting to participate in the study can fill out a voucher available at and take it to an authorized dealer. CARB is offering incentives of $75,000 for the D7E and $28,500 for the HB215LC-1, or about half the premium cost.

Sunday, October 30, 2011

University of Oklahoma Stutdents Learn Craft in Hands-On Lab

Courtesy of University of Oklahoma Work Crew University of Oklahoma College of Architecture students learn materials and methods in building mock-ups in industry-funded work lab. Apprentice instructors are on the teaching staff. Related Links: Education Special Report Main Story: Engineers and Universities Advance Career-Long Learning

When contractors and labor heard that educators at the University of Oklahoma College of Architecture, Norman, Okla., wanted construction science students to have hands-on craft experience, the local construction community joined to make the school's new Construction Fundamentals Lab a reality. "This will greatly enhance students' awareness of what specialty trade contractors, in particular, have to offer in terms of career oppotunities," says W.J. Wolfe, president of Oklahoma City-based mechanical contractor Wattie Wolfe, who spearheaded the collaboration. "Construction is something you learn with your hands."

During nine lab sessions, eight- to 10-student teams each work with an industry tradesman to build components for mock-ups that include exterior walls and an interior space. The teams start with structural concrete footings, managing slump tests and ordering concrete. Next, they build block and metal-stud walls, perform electrical, HVAC and plumbing rough-ins and install a drop ceiling as well as the backers for bathroom fixtures. Before hitting the lab, the students discuss safety issues.

"We designed the lab series so that it complements the plan-reading class, an estimating class and a scheduling class," says Richard C. Ryan, a former contractor and now college professor and associate director at the University of Oklahoma's Haskell and Irene Lemon Construction Science Division. "It gives them the opportunity to sense materials and methods in a team environment, as a work crew." Even in its controlled environment, the lab presents participants with the same challenges faced by contractors and craftspeople.

"Industry experts give hands-on experience and things to think about, and in the end, [students] have their work judged, which is a common part of our practice," says Clay Cockrill, a director of business development at The Boldt Co., an Oklahoma City contractor that provided warehouse space last semester for the lab and whose superintendents taught some sessions. "It really fit well within the strategy to have them in our office," he says. "It created a great synergy. Students also got a good feel for how the different trades and materials interface."

While the Boldt warehouse served the program well, the college sought its own lab space. The Oklahoma City plumbers and pipefitters union Local 344 donated classroom space and land for a laboratory pavilion. (The vacated elementary school and nine surrounding acres were purchased by the union for its own apprenticeship training program.) Union apprenticeship instructors also were invited to teach the students.

"We felt it would be positive for the industry and positive for our program to partner with a school like the university," says Mike Liston, the local's training director. "Working with [the students] one-on-one helps them understand the trade better."

Other local firms, including contractors Anderson & House Inc., Manhattan Construction and Osbourne Electric and Texas-based industry assocation TEXO donated labor, materials and funding. "The industry partnership has been overwhelming," Ryan says. "They were willing to set up and offer craft instructors, materials and supervision. It made for a well-rounded experience for the students and the faculty as well."

Saturday, October 29, 2011

Herrenknecht TBM Gets Ready To Drill Under Lake Mead

Slide Show Photo courtesy of Southern Nevada Water Authority. The first section of the TBM was hoisted into the drop shaft on Sept. 7, 2011. Related Links: Big Drop in Lake Mead Curbs Water, Power

Southern Nevada's newest piece of mega-hardware—a custom $25-million Herrenknecht tunneling-boring machine—will make its long-awaited underground debut later this year.

The machine works like a giant mechanical earthworm, gnawing through dirt, rock and muck while forming a protective tunnel that will eventually channel raw Colorado River water onto nearby treatment plants before the water is pumped to homes and businesses throughout the Las Vegas valley.

The 1,800-ton, 600-ft-long TBM is the workhorse of a $526.6-million third raw-water intake tunnel project at Lake Mead, 30 miles southeast of Las Vegas. A joint venture of S.A. Healy Co., Lombard, Ill., and Impreglio S.p.A., Sesto San Giovanni, Italy, known as Vegas Tunnel Constructors (VTC) LLC, is the design-build contractor. The additional intake is needed because the lake has dipped 100 feet since 2000 amid a decade of drought and boom growth.

The TBM will carve out a three-mile-long, 20-ft-dia reinforced tunnel under Lake Mead that draws water at 860 feet. That depth is deeper than the other two intakes, which may soon become inoperable if water levels continue to fall. The drill head, which rotates in 16 different positions, is already underground. The five-piece TBM should be fully assembled by early December, with commissioning to follow.

It has been a long, hard road to reach this point.
Herrenknecht’s Schwanau factory in southern Germany took 17 months to design and manufacture the machine, which was shipped in five large pieces to California’s Long Beach Harbor and then transported to the jobsite outside of Boulder City, Nev., in 61 truckloads. The transportation feat took months of planning and coordination, mapping out the route and securing special heavy-haul permits.
In 2010, an intake starter tunnel flooded three times in six months, prompting the construction team to abandon its original alignment and drill in a drier direction, roughly 23° northeast from the problematic tunnel along a ½° uphill slope. The move increased project costs by 15% and pushed the completion date back two years, to 2014.

As it stands, the TBM is being lowered piecemeal down a 30-ft-dia, 600-ft-deep access tunnel using a head-frame-gantry system with dual 200-ton strand jacks. It took crews 32 hours to lower the 315-ton drill head.
"There was only three to four inches clearance on either side," explains Jim Nickerson, VTC deputy project manager.

Friday, October 28, 2011

India Moves Forward on $90-Billion Industrial Development Plan

Map by ENR The 1,483-kilometer industrial corridor from Delhi to Mumbai would contain nine megazones for industry, spread out along a future high-speed freight rail. Related Links: The Ten Most Noteworthy Rail Projects: Overview and Related Stories

Project: Delhi-Mumbai Industrial Corridor

Cost: $90 Billion

The Indian Cabinet last month approved the restructuring and financing for the future $90-billion Delhi-Mumbai Industrial Corridor, opening the way for forward for the ambitious megaproject planned along a future 1,483-kilometer high-speed-rail freight corridor. India’s rail ministry expects to invite bids this year for $2.2 billion worth of civil engineering contracts for the rail corridor’s first phase. The first seven cities of the 24-city industrial corridor are set for completion in 2018.

The purpose of the equity restructuring, under which 51% of the combined shares of two infrastructure and financing companies will be transferred to government-owned financial firms, is to maintain transparency and avoid conflicts of interest between project participants at a later stage, say sources. As a result of the Sept. 16 government action, the Delhi-Mumbai Industrial Corridor Development Corp. (DMICDC), with a 49% share in the industrial corridor project, will become a government company open to government audits.

Plans call for a 1,483-kilometer-long industrial corridor that will run through seven states. In total, there would be nine industrial megazones, each 200-250 sq km, and 24 new cities. Each zone would be located along the future 1,500-km high-speed freight line that will connect landlocked Delhi—in the north-central section of the subcontinent—southwest to Mumbai on the Arabian Sea. The government has not released any time frame for completion of the overall development.

"The basic objective of the [industrial corridor] is to drive manufacturing. Only then can India hope to keep growing at 9% to 10%, year-on-year," says Amitabh Kant, CEO and managing director of DMICDC.

Land acquisition will be one of many challenges, say sources. Connecting highways, railways and ports to the new cities will be another, says Kant.

The Challenge of Financing

However, the main challenge will be financing. Unlike China, India will look at public-private partnerships, with part of the funding coming from the private sector. "In this, the government has a major role [because] these new cities [will] cost money," he says. "The first seven cities that we plan to develop will cost between $8 billion to $15 billion, which is what Dholera, the largest development plan, is likely to cost," says Kant.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

COST REPORT: Workers' Comp Rates Start to Climb

Workers' compensation premiums posted a 2% increase this year compared with 2010's national average. The increase will likely set the tone for rate increases to come, say construction-industry insurers tracking states' annual filings this summer.

The year's overall "modest increase in premiums [is] a sign the workers' compensation markets are hardening," says Peter Burton, senior division executive at Washington, D.C.-based National Council on Compensation Insurance.

NCCI reports that 12 states so far have filed rate changes for workers' compensation premiums this cycle, which started in July, with eight states filing increases and four states filing decreases. This reverses last year's trend, when 23 states filed decreases and only 15 states filed increases, says Burton. He expects to see more increases in 2011.

States filing the biggest increases are Virginia, New Hampshire and Florida, with increases of 10.5%, 9.8% and 8.9%, respectively, says NCCI. Florida's rates are up after eight years of decreases following reforms that by now "have been wrung out of the system," says Burton.

The biggest rate decreases were filed by Missouri, Kentucky and West Virginia, where flatter claims frequency compared with other states yielded rate drops of 3%, 7.5% and 8.1%, respectively, according to NCCI.

While "each state has its own scenario affecting rates," overarching factors such as the weak economy and increasing claims frequencies are putting upward pressure on rates. "It's the first uptick in frequency in 20 years," Burton says.

The 9% increase in claims frequency this year has insurers "unclear whether this frequency increase is a new normal or a short-term phenomenon coming on the heels of the Great Recession," says Dennis Mealy, NCCI chief actuary. "The workers' compensation line continues to experience an ever-lengthening list of challenges, including poor underwriting results, health-care reform uncertainty and, now, an uptick in claim frequency."

"Certainly the prolonged recession has had an impact on rates," says Mary Ann Krautheim, client strategy officer at Chicago-based Aon Corp. She cites lower revenue from year to year, claims development that can take years and medical costs trending upward as factors for climbing premiums.

A foreboding factor for workers' compensation rates are the dwindling reserve positions of private carriers in the last two years, Krautheim says. NCCI estimates a reserve deficiency among private carriers of about $10 billion in 2010, up by $1 billion from the previous year.

The new wellness programs that many contractors are clamoring for may mitigate the trend of rising claims frequency. "With medical costs exploding, that portion of workers' comp is rising," says Sam Melamed, director of sales at Arlington, Va.-based American Building Contractors, citing anecdotal industry evidence that wellness programs reduce claims and reduce out-of-work time.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Imad Naffa, Social Media Pioneer, Dies Suddenly

Photo courtesy of TEDx Engineer Imad Naffa, at industry conference in May, was a strong advocate of social networking. Related Links: TEDx Dead Sea Imad Naffa Video

Imad Naffa, a civil engineer and building code software developer who propelled his "passion for people" to become a global social media networking phenomenon, died suddenly on Sept. 6 in Fresno, Calif. He was 49 and suffered a fatal heart attack, according to a Twitter post by Loretta Naffa, his wife and office manager.

The death of Naffa, a self-proclaimed "Twitterologist," generated a buzz among his followers, who numbered more than 56,000, making him the second-most influential construction industry tweeter, according to, a website that ranks registered Twitter users based on both number of followers and "influence."

There were close to 500 responses to news of his death on Twitter as of Sept. 8. According to Matt Handal, business development manager for Trauner Consulting Services Inc., a Philadelphia-based national construction schedule and claim analysis firm, Naffa had sent more than 119,000 tweets within the last three years. "His philosophy was to post as much as possible and follow and be followed as much as possible," says Handal.

The Jordanian-born Naffa was president and senior engineer of Naffa International, a Fresno building code and plan review consulting firm he founded in 2001. According to the firm's website, it provides services to 100 cities and counties across the U.S. and develops web-based technical resources and forums used by international architects, engineers, consultants and building regulation officials.

"We have lost a great contributor to this industry and he will be missed more than words can describe," the company said in a Sept. 8 statement.

The Naffa-created Building Code Discussion Group (BCDG), a free Web-based forum, has nearly 1,000 daily users, according to the firm. The site "is an invaluable source of information and has greatly improved the understanding of building codes and laws for countless professionals," says Paul N. Miller, founding principal of The Vernal Group, a Visalia, Calif., architect. "Imad also moderated the site and provided many answers to questions posted. I can only hope [it] will continue to be an excellent source of information without his incredible guidance. The loss of the BCDG would be huge."

Miller also cites Naffa's expertise in software development, beginning in his former role as a vice president and senior engineer at CMA, a Fresno consulting firm. "He created many tools used by architectural and engineering firms around the country, and possibly around the world," says Miller. "His Code Buddy software provided code-related information in an easy-to-access manner. It was very intuitive and easy to use." Naffa also had been deputy city engineer for Sanger, Calif.

Naffa said that his social media emphasis did generate bottom-line results for his firm. In a recent discussion with Trinity Consulting's Handal on Google+, Google's social networking site, Naffa noted increases in revenue "for my online technical offerings for engineers, architects and the code enforcement industry that were due to traffic and exposure from Twitter in the last 24 months."

Naffa became a strong global advocate of the value of social media as a business tool. In a May speech in Jordan sponsored by TEDx, a non-profit group that sponsors local conferences of those it touts as "the world's most fascinating thinkers and doers," he claimed links to people "in 12 different time zones." He had previously addressed the group in China.

Touting his ability to use social media to "build bridges all over the world," Naffa said he fostered "collaboration with business you couldn't do otherwise in a lifetime. For me, the relationships, friendships and connections established with professionals globally is priceless. You cultivate that and in time opportunities come around for collaboration and joint ventures."

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Rail Network Construction in Libya Stalled by Rebellion

Slide Show ENR Art Dept. Civil war has interrupted work on country's rail system project. Related Links: The Ten Most Noteworthy Rail Projects: Overview and Related Stories

Comprehensive National Rail Network

Cost: $5.6 billion

Construction period: 2008-12 (original estimate)

Libya's civil war has halted an ambitious plan to build an extensive $5.6-billion rail system designed to bolster both passenger and freight service.

The major east-west route would parallel the coast, ultimately stretching 2,300 kilometers from Ras Ejder on the border of Tunisia to Umm Sa’ad on the Egyptian border.

The regime awarded separate contracts to Russian and Chinese contractors to complete certain segments. In 2008, crews from RZD, the Russian state railway, began building the 554-km Surt-to-Benghazi segment, which had been set to include four major stations and 24 minor ones. The owner expected the project to take four years at a cost of $3 billion.

As part of the project, RZD built a rail-welding plant in Ras Lanuf, with a capacity to produce 500 km of long welded rail per year for use in Libya, as well as for export to Russia.

Also in 2008, China Railway Construction Corp. (CRCC) began laying track westward along a 625-km segment from Surt, via Al Khums and Tripoli, to Ras Ejder. The company also has been awarded an 800-km north-south segment, which will be used to transport iron ore from the southern city of Sebha to a steel mill and port at Misratah, when completed, likely this year. CRCC’s contracts are reported to total $2.6 billion.

Work on the system halted in February 2011, when the Libyan rebellion began. According to a Russian news report, RZD evacuated all of its 123 staff employees as well as 700 non-Russian workers. An RZD spokesman confirms that the company is awaiting approval from the new Libyan government to return to the project.

Monday, October 24, 2011

VHB/Eng-Wong, Taub and PB: Building Client Relationships with Social Media

Photo courtesy of VHB/Eng-Wong, Taub Twitter posts helped the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey and its consultant drive participation in a customer survey.

Photo Credit: Owen Murphy/Louisiana DOTD Interstate widening project in Baton Rouge, La., called Geaux Wider, drew 70,000 page views a month to its Facebook page. Related Links: Hashtag This: Social Media Risks and Rewards in Construction Social Media Reshape Job Hunting and Recruitment at Smith Group, CH2M Hill In Social Media, Some Conversations Are Best Kept Private Water Social Networking Site Matches Water Providers With End Users Corps Finds Facebook Excels for Flood Emergency Communications Writing the Social Media Policy Handbook at Burns & McDonnell, HOK

One of the positive outcomes that firms report in using social media is building rapport with clients. Often, it evolves from teaming with them to help make information about projects available to the public.

Jeffrey M. Taub, senior marketing specialist for VHB + Eng-Wong, Taub (, says his planning and transportation consulting firm has used Twitter to help promote many of its clients’ projects, as the clients themselves realize they can use Twitter to engage their communities. "We want to help them move away from static websites to more dynamic, interactive engagement with customers," he says.

Darrel W. Cole, manager of the communications and public involvement group at Parsons Brinckerhoff (, agrees. To create a strategic benefit for a public-agency client and the firm, staffers have to put the "social" into social media, he says. That means going beyond simply pushing out information. "Are you answering questions, posing questions, sharing the day's weather, saying good morning, sharing important information that will help [the public] during a weather event or some natural disaster, or sharing community information [about, for example] events?" he asks.

If you do, that's when the public will see the project and construction team in a different light. "It's the [moment when they realize] ‘Oh, they really do care about how they are impacting me.’ Now that's powerful." The analogy Cole uses is the local coffee shop. "Would you go in every day and say nothing? No. Most people will engage at least politely back. Why wouldn't you do the same to the people who are following you on social media?"

VHB has used Twitter to help promote clients’ projects with their customers—in the case of PATH and MTA—and citizens, in the case of counties and municipalities. The New York City Dept. of Transportation, for example, promoted public hearings and workshops for the Hylan Boulevard transportation study through Twitter, and VHB re-tweeted their posts and created its own. Morris County in northern New Jersey actively tweets project news, as well, and VHB retweets. For example:

• RT @NYC_DOT: Join us for a public meeting on Hylan Boulevard in Staten Island. Thurs Sep 15 at 7PM
• Join VHB and the @AECOM team at #StatenIsland Hylan Boulevard Bus Study meeting:

Taub believes the most important aspect of this effort "is that we’re doing this on our own. The client isn’t paying us to tweet and promote their work, but we feel it’s important that the public is presented with every opportunity to learn more about local projects and neighborhood improvement plans," he says. Even for projects where work wrapped up several years ago, the firm uses Twitter to congratulate clients. For example:

• Great to see Stapleton, Hunters Point South, and many other great @NYCEDC initiatives moving forward
• Congrats to @stevengoldin and our project team! Transit Village #TOD approved at #Princeton Junction:

In 2009, the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey hired VHB + Eng-Wong, Taub to complete customer surveys of PATH riders in the New York City metro area. More than 12,000 in-station, face-to-face in­terviews were conducted. VHB + Eng-Wong, Taub also wrote a series of tweets that were distributed by PATH’s Twitter account manager and displayed throughout the program on PATHVision monitors to encourage survey partici­pation.

Getting Out Information on the Survey

Susan O’Donnell, VHB + Eng-Wong, Taub project manager, was following "PathTweet" partially because it is a client and also for transit information, and she thought it would be a good way to get information out to PATH customers regarding the survey. Both consultant and client staff collaborated on the messaging. "Several people came right up, asking to participate in the survey, and others mentioned that they heard about it from Twitter," she said. The strategy boosted the response rate and participation.

PB also is using Facebook and Flickr to communicate with the public on projects such as the interstate widening project in Baton Rouge, La., called Geaux Wider ( The project’s Facebook page has drawn 70,000 page views a month, compared to the project’s website page-view tally of 4,000 or so.

The project is also using the social-media photo site Flickr ( as "a key component" of its program, Cole adds. "The images of real people doing real work help make the public see the project from the workers' eyes and humanizes it, even though it is impacting their travel every day," he says.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Indianapolis To Pick Tunneler For Key CSO Connector Project

Photo courtesy of Indianapolis Dept. of Public Works Treatment plant is set for completion next year; deep tunnel is set for a 2017 completion.

One month after awarding a $25-million sewerage-tunnel construction inspection contract amid a packed field of proposals, Indianapolis utility Citizens Energy Group will select a firm to build the $275-million project, with the low bidder 33% below the estimate.

On Sept. 29, AECOM Technology Corp. was awarded the inspection contract for the Deep Rock sewage overflow project. The Los Angeles-based firm bested competitors that included Parsons Brinckerhoff's Water Group, locally based American Structurepoint, Burgess & Niple and a Hunt/Parsons joint venture, among others, says utility spokeswoman Sarah Holsapple. AECOM designed the 18-ft-dia., 7.8-mile-long tunnel under a separate $17-million contract.

Indianapolis is undergoing a $1.7-billion upgrade as part of a 2006 federal consent decree (ENR 2/14 p. 24). Plans call for building four other storage tunnels. The collective system is meant to address the city's 7.8-billion gallons of yearly sewage overflow. AECOM is managing phase one of the 230-ft-deep, 54-million-gallon- capacity tunnel connecting two new wastewater treatment plants. The project also includes a 120-mgd capacity dewatering pump station.

The deep-tunnel contract, which bid on Aug. 11, attracted nine bidders with only 1.6% separating the top two submissions. A Shea-Kiewit joint venture is apparent the low bidder at $185.5 million, 33% below the engineer's estimate. Runner-up Flatiron Constructors submitted a $188.5-million bid, while less than 1% separated the next two bidders, the Judlau/Michels LLC JV and the team of Obayashi/WL Hailey.

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Buildings: GSA Aims To Keep Coast Guard HQ On Schedule

Despite threatened spending cuts, the General Services Administration plans to keep a Coast Guard headquarters project on track for a fiscal 2013 opening, says Public Buildings Service Commissioner Robert Peck. The $350-million, 1.2-million-sq-ft project is part of a $3.4-billion Dept. of Homeland Security complex planned for southeast Washington, D.C.

GSA sought $212 million in 2012 for the DHS plan, including $76 million for the Coast Guard HQ. But a House panel zeroed out 2012 GSA new construction; Senate appropriators approved $65 million. If GSA gets zero, Peck says, "We're still going to open that [headquarters] in 2013." If it gets $65 million, the White House would determine the Coast Guard HQ's share, he says. The fate of the other parts of the DHS plan is unclear.

Friday, October 21, 2011

Clean Air: House Bill Blocks Rule for Cement-Making Plants

The House has approved legislation that would require the Environmental Protection Agency to revisit its cement emissions regulation. The House cleared the bill on Oct. 6 by a 262-161 vote.

EPA's final rule, which would cut emissions from cement manufacturing plants by requiring use of "maximum achievable" technology, is slated to go into effect in September 2013.

But proponents of the legislation, such as the Portland Cement Association (PCA), say the rule's timetable is unrealistic and would force as much as 20% of the currently operating cement plants to shut down.

But the bill, which is opposed by environmental and public-health groups, faces an uphill battle in the Senate, PCA says.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

U.S. Charges Ex-Berger Group CEO With Overbilling Scheme

Michael Goodman for ENR Wolff directed other Berger officials to devise fraudulent billing scheme, indictment charges. Related Links: Aug. 10, 2010, ENR story: "Probe Leads to Wolff's Likely Exit From Berger" Text of the indictment (PDF)

The former CEO of Louis Berger Group, Derish Wolff, has been charged with leading a plan to intentionally inflate overhead charges on hundreds of millions of dollars in federal contracts over a period of nearly 20 years, federal officials said.

According to an indictment returned by a grand jury in federal district court in Newark, N.J. , on Oct. 19 and unsealed on Oct. 19, Wolff intentionally conspired to bill the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) "at knowingly inflated rates" for reconstruction contracts in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Among the contracts at issue are USAID "cost-plus" or cost-reimbursable contacts totaling more than $818 million awarded to Berger Group from 2002 through 2006.

Wolff was president and CEO of Louis Berger Group from 1982 until 2002 and Chairman of its parent company, Berger Group Holdings Inc., from 2002 until Aug. 13 of last year.

He was expected to appear in federal court in Newark on Oct. 19.

The indictment states that at the company's September 2001 annual meeting, Salvatore Pepe, its then-controller and later chief financial officer, presented an overhead rate that was well below the target Wolff had set. The indictment says Wolff called Pepe an "assassin" of the overhead rate, and ordered him to target a rate exceeding 140% of actual labor costs.

The government also says that in response to Wolff's directive, Pepe and Precy Pellettieri, another Berger Group official, developed a "fraudulent scheme" to reclassify some company employees’ work hours to indicate that they had worked on the federal projects when they in fact did not.

The government says this reclassifying went on from about 2003 through 2007 without the workers' knowledge and also over one employee’s objection.

The indictment also says that Wolff instructed the other company officials to charge all shared overhead expenses for the company’s Washington, D.C., office to an account for USAID-related items, although that office also worked on many non-USAID contracts.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Master-Planned N.M. Development Tests Cutting Edge Smart Grid Tech

With plans for 18 million sq ft of commercial space and 37,000 homes, Albuquerque's master-planned sustainable community, Mesa del Sol, was selected as an ideal test site for a collaborative U.S.-Japanese demonstration project to examine emerging technologies that digitally control and balance power generated by various energy sources, including renewables.

Upon completion of Mesa del Sol's $6-million retrofit in spring 2012, the community's centerpiece, the Antoine Predock-designed Aperture Center, will be home to the three-year commercial smart-grid technology test.

"The smart-grid project has created a unique research opportunity to develop a building energy management system that will use real-time data on available power generation, available storage and active building load," says Manny Barrera, director of engineering for Mesa del Sol. The system will optimize resources to achieve solar smoothing, peak shaving, peak shifting and islanding, he adds.

The project includes a 50-KW photovoltaic system with solar panels mounted on a shade structure above a parking lot, an 80-KW fuel cell, a 240-KW natural-gas-powered generator, a lead-acid storage battery power system and hot and cold thermal storage. All these components will interconnect with the Aperture Center through a control room and building management system, Barrera says.

"The challenge will be integrating the system into the building without interrupting ongoing operations," says Andrew Potts, project manager for Atlanta-based general contractor Shimizu North America. Most grid components will be surrounded by a block wall in a yard behind the building. The battery components are to be housed in an electrical room.

Spearheaded by Japan's New Energy and Industrial Technology Development Organization, the project stems from a 2009 Japan-U.S. summit to collaborate on developing smart-grid technology in the U.S. A number of Japanese firms and local public and private agencies also are participating to look for practical applications of the smart-grid technology.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Green Model Contract Forms Coming Out Early Next Year

Next year, the American Institute of Architects plans to release "green" model contract forms designed to help limit legal exposure on sustainable projects. The forms are based on the institute's model agreements between owner and architect and between owner and contractor. They will incorporate concepts from AIA's free Guide for Sustainable Projects, published in the spring.

AIA previewed the forms at the U.S. Green Building Council's (USGBC) Greenbuild International Conference and Expo, which drew 23,000 registrants to Toronto on Oct. 4-7. The objective of the agreements is to "make sure that roles and responsibilities are correctly defined" and to "allocate risk to the best person to handle it," says Joshua Balance, AIA's associate counsel. However, if a project does not achieve sustainable expectations due to negligence, the contracts "won't absolve parties of liability," he cautions.

The forms will be available for purchase in the first quarter of 2012 at, says the Washington, D.C.-based AIA.

Also in Toronto, the International Living Future Institute, Portland, Ore., unveiled its Net-Zero-Energy Building Certification program. The program, which ILFI says is the first of its kind, is based on building performance, not modeling. Buildings must be operational for at least 12 consecutive months prior to evaluation, says ILFI. Information is available at

LEED 2012—the next version of the USGBC's Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design green-building rating system—will have two new credit categories: integrated process and performance. LEED 2012 also will include updates to its materials-and-resources category, which addresses waste reduction. The revision puts a stronger emphasis on life-cycle assessment, says USGBC. Information about LEED 2012 is available at

In other news, the World Green Building Council announced its new chairman: Rick Fedrizzi, president, CEO and founding chairman of the USGBC.

Monday, October 17, 2011

Q & A With Federal Railroad Administration Deputy Administrator Karen Rae

Courtesy FRA Rae says that 72 of 77 rail projects under ARRA are now in some phase of development. Related Links: DOT Drives To Commit Rail Aid

The 2009 American Recovery and Reinvestment Act provided $8 billion for high-speed passenger rail and regular appropriations provided about $2 billion more. It’s been up to the Federal Railroad Administration to set up the program, evaluate a flood of applications for the money and award grants. But before design and construction work can get going, FRA must negotiate and sign agreements with states and freight railroads, on whose lines many of the proposed projects are located. Only then can the money be formally obligated.

Since July, there has been a burst of FRA high-speed rail obligations, totaling more than $2 billion. That clears the way for design and construction contracts to proceed.

To get FRA’s views on these developments, ENR spoke with Deputy Administrator Karen Rae, who has been deeply involved in the high-speed rail program nearly from its beginning and has been a key player in moving the process forward.

For about 30 years, Rae has held senior public-sector transportation posts. She joined FRA in 2009 from the New York State Dept. of Transportation, where she was deputy commissioner of policy and planning. Before that, she was Pennsylvania DOT’s deputy secretary for local and area transportation and earlier was director or general manager of public-transit systems in Austin, Texas; and Glens Falls and Buffalo, N.Y.

Edited excerpts of the Oct. 4 telephone interview follow:

ENR: Why this burst of obligation activity over the past couple of months?

Rae: You’re right to notice that we’re continuing to move funds out…. The number that’s in my head is $2.1 billion since early July….

Three years ago, this program didn’t even exist. So we spent the first year of our being, kind of creating the base on the program and getting the first awards out. Then we had a second round of awards and then we had a third round of awards…. We’ve always been focused on trying to get as many projects into good agreements that can get us into the next construction cycle.

In this case in particular we had a couple of very big [projects] that went through over the summer as well as a large number of smaller and medium-sized ones, because we finally began to create some templates for the PE, NEPA and the state rail plans so that we would not have to do each one individually, we kind of found a way of systematically advancing those.

[Major projects whose funds were obligated this summer include $449 million to Amtrak for Northeast Corridor improvements, $295 million to New York to ease the bottleneck at the Harold Interlocking in Queens, and $158 million for improvements in upstate New York, between Poughkeepsie and Schenectady.]

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Energy Conference Attendees Buzzed About Gigaprojects Despite Volatility

Photo courtesy chevron PRISTINE? Builders of the $45-billion Gorgon LNG plant in Australia face strict bio-security rules.

Uncertainty and volatility will dominate development of large-scale projects in new markets and untapped locales, say attendees of the Engineering and Construction Contracting in Phoenix on Sept. 7-10.

With uncertainty and volatility stifling large-scale capital investment in new global markets and pristine locales, project challenges attracted a record number of attendees to a key energy-industrial megaprojects conference in Phoenix on Sept. 7-10.

As development encroaches on increasingly remote areas, jurisdictions are becoming more protective of threatened species and environmental risks, Chevron Corp. executive Johann Van Der Merwe told more than 600 attendees at the Engineering & Construction Contracting Association (ECC) conference. ECC—a group of owners, contractors and suppliers in the process, refining, pharmaceutical and power sectors—is an affiliate of the American Institute of Chemical Engineers, which is committed to improving the outcome of capital projects.

Van Der Merwe is quarantine manager on the oil firm's Gorgon liquefied natural- gas development project, now being built on Barrow Island off Australia's northwest coast. The estimated $45-billion project is located on one of Australia's oldest natural preserves and has strict bio-security rules for construction equipment, materials and personnel, he said. Quarantine officials have treated more than 500,000 tons of material shipped to the island, including the disassembly and examination of equipment to catch stowaway seeds and insects.

Shale-gas development could be a global "game changer" in energy production, said Laura Knight Atkins, director of petroleum research at Hart Energy, Houston. She detailed how the industry must overcome hydraulic fracturing's significant environmental image problems by undertaking basic research into risks and treating or re-using the massive amounts of water required.

David Steele, group managing director of delivery at Australian engineer WorleyParsons, examined a key industry shift to execution logistics from technology in a session on project delivery. For many owners, global relationships will become more important, and contractors can better compete by demonstrating location-specific knowledge, he said.

project delivery

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Strategic Executive Changes for Week of Oct. 3



U.S. Army Col. Margaret W. Burcham was selected on Sept. 18 to command the Corps of Engineers' Great Lakes and Ohio River Division, based in Cincinnati. She is the first woman to serve as a division commander and engineer on a full-term basis, says the Corps. Burcham will lead seven Corps districts in a 17-state region that includes 4,800 staffers and an annual operations and construction budget exceeding $2 billion. She formerly served as an Army division chief at the Pentagon and as a Corps district commander in Iraq, among other posts. Col. Janice Dombi was named temporary commander of the San Francisco-based South Pacific Division in 2009, replacing Gen. John McMahon, who was deployed to Afghanistan. She has since retired.

Shaw Group Inc., Baton Rouge, has elevated James Glass to president of its energy and chemicals group. He replaces Lou Pucher, who is retiring in December. Glass, formerly group executive vice president and president of its process business, has been with Shaw or its acquired unit, Stone & Webster, since 1970. Pucher joined Shaw in 2007 from a previous executive role with KBR Inc.

Jamey A. Barbas has joined Hardesty & Hanover, the New York City engineer, as global director of strategic projects. Formerly associate principal in New York for London-based design firm Arup, she was cited in 2004 as an ENR Newsmaker for managing design and construction of an emergency cable-strengthening project on the 72-year-old Waldo-Hancock Bridge in Maine.

Ames & Gough, the McLean, Va.-based insurance broker and risk management consultant for professional-services firms, has promoted partners Joan DeLorey, Matthew Gough and Frances Railey to senior vice president. It also named Tom Marchetti, a client executive, as assistant vice president. Gough, Railey and Marchetti are based in McLean; DeLorey is based in Boston. Railey also was named corporate secretary.

J. Scott Kilbourn has joined design firm Perkins Eastman, New York City, as a principal and as chief operating officer of its international practice. Based in Washington, D.C., he was a vice president at RTKL, where he worked in its Hong Kong, Tokyo, Shanghai and Washington offices.



Los Angeles-based AECOM has named Luigi "Lou" Bruno as vice president of the minerals and metals practice in the engineering firm's North America mining business. He is based in Mississauga, Ontario, Canada. Bruno is the former North American VP of minerals and metals project development for WorleyParsons and also had been senior vice president of minerals and mining in its Canada division.

Friday, October 14, 2011

Hot-Rod Trencher Still Draws the Crowds

Slide Show Photo courtesy of Ditch Witch The Super Witch is a hot-rod trencher that started out as a rogue marketing project. Related Links: Watch the Super Witch in Action (YouTube)

Every time Don Pemberton fires up the Super Witch, people stop what they are doing and pay attention.

"I'm the operator, the only operator," says Pemberton, 55, who for years has sat behind the wheel of the super-powered trenching machine, which regularly makes the rounds at construction trade shows. "You have to have ear protection—this thing is pretty loud."

Often dubbed a "showstopper" or "male magnet," the chromed-up Super Witch has survived five generations and countless rebuilds, making it one of the longest-running attractions at ICUEE, a biennial utility-equipment show. The next ICUEE show is on Oct. 4-6 in Louisville, Ky.

The Super Witch was created more than 30 years ago as a rogue marketing project. It first blew into ICUEE in 1979, after a small group of employees at The Charles Machine Works Inc., Perry, Okla., secretly decided to soup up one of the company's Ditch Witch-brand tractors.

In late 1978, in preparation for the show, the group got to work on the garage project. A prototype Model 6510 frame served as the chassis, while a 1969 Chevelle Super Sport donated the engine, a 396-cu-in. "big block" Chevy V-8.

Factory legend has it that the donor car, wearing Texas plates and reading 110,000 on the odometer, was a stolen vehicle. The company bought it "as is," with no title, from a local farmer for $100, employees say. According to Pemberton, the car actually was purchased from a local salvage yard.

Management eventually blessed the project, and suppliers pitched in to help overhaul the Witch. A local shop fabricated the chrome exhaust headers, while a hydraulics company made pumps to run the hydrostatic drive. The pumps powered the rear wheels, while a Turbo Hydra-Matic 400 automatic transmission—the same equipment in the Chevelle—drove the rear trenching tool.

"We didn't put a lot of money or time into it," says Pemberton, who is the factory's fleet manager, among other duties. "We just dolled it up a little bit and took off."

The Super Witch has been through several updates since then, but the basic setup has stayed the same. However, it has gained power over the years.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Burton S. Sperber, Landscape Architecture 'Magician,' Dies at 82

Burton S. Sperber was a "passionate and accomplished" magician, says the California landscape architecture firm he founded and ran for decades. But it was Sperber's vision and tough business skills, not magic, that built Valley Crest Landscape Cos., Calabasas, into the billion-dollar business it became before recession nipped its bottom line. Sperber, 82, died on Sept. 30 in Santa Monica, Calif., of complications from surgery, says the firm.

With only a high school education and experience in his father's nursery, Sperber acquired a small landscape business in 1949 for $700 and was busy as post-WWII California boomed. Valley Crest helped its clients—ranging from commercial real estate developers and public agencies to Las Vegas casino owners and the Disney Co.—"create, build or maintain some of the world's extraordinary natural environments," says the firm. Valley Crest landscaping projects have included interstates, college campuses, Disney's Animal Kingdom in Florida, Boston's Central Artery/Tunnel, the Getty Center in Los Angeles and a fast-tracked overhaul of Atlanta's Olympic stadium in 1996. The firm launched a design-build unit in 2006.

Sperber's son, Richard A. Sperber, was named co-CEO in 2008, when the founder became chairman. Valley Crest has about 9,000 employees in 150 U.S. locations and ranks at No. 54 on ENR's list of the Top 400 Contractors, with $835 million in 2010 revenue.



While Burt Sperber was known as just "the head gardener," company executives note his deeper involvement in the business. Says a spokesman, "When he'd walk the branch offices, shops and yards, the managers [were] trailing behind all the time, soaking up Burt's advice and constructive criticism. On jobsites, he loved to challenge foremen and superintendents in correctly identifying trees and shrubs being installed. He always believed that getting into the field to see and be seen by laborers, foremen, crew leaders and superintendents is a primary responsibility of management."

Sperber was a Fellow in the American Society of Landscape Architects and former director of its foundation. Steve Wynn, chairman of Las Vegas-based Wynn Reports, says Sperber "was a wonderful businessman and built a great organization, which I am confident will continue just as he had intended."

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

9/11 Search Turns into a 10-Year Rebuilding Crusade

Bottom Photo by Nadine M. Post for ENR DETERMINED On 9/11, Lyons, wearing his firefighter-brothers spare gear, went looking for him at Ground Zero. Lyons has worked there since. Related Links: Witnesses to 9/11, Devoted to Rebuilding World Trade Center At New York's New World Trade Center, Uncommon Cooperation

Brian Lyons, 51, has worked on 10 projects at Ground Zero. The man is on a personal crusade to rebuild the World Trade Center "bigger and better than before." His mission was born on 9/11, when he made his way to Ground Zero to look for his 32-year-old brother—a firefighter with Squad 41 in the South Bronx. Lyons had last talked to Michael, an eight-year veteran with the New York City Fire Dept., at about 7 a.m. on 9/11.

"I knew my brother was down here—Squad 41 was a rescue unit," said Lyons, during a break from his job with Tishman Construction Corp., a unit of AECOM Technology, as project manager for the WTC Transportation Hub.

To double-check, as the phones and transit were not working, Lyons walked from Manhattan to the firehouse. It was empty. So he donned Michael's spare gear and borrowed his car to drive to Ground Zero. He got through security checks by saying he was joining "his" unit.



Lyons never found Michael. But he ended up helping the assessment teams check the stability of surrounding buildings, including the Deutsche Bank building, which had a gaping hole in its front face. While up in the building, everyone heard a noise and started running, thinking collapse was imminent, Lyons recalls. Suddenly, the group's flashlights all died. In the dark, Lyons opened a door and came upon a room full of batteries.

Lyons stayed at Ground Zero for three weeks straight during the rescue and recovery. He then spent nine months on the cleanup. Next came the restorations of the nearby subway line and the PATH train. The Freedom Tower, 7 WTC, the Freedom Tower again, and 3 and 4 WTC followed before the hub.

Lyons says Michael's widow, who was seven months' pregnant on 9/11, and their two daughters, currently 11 and nine years old, are OK, thanks in part to strong family support. As for Lyons, he finds his work satisfying. "Ten years later, we are in a very good place," he says.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Caterpillar's First Work Truck Takes Ergonomics to Task

Photo by Tudor Van Hampton for ENR GETTING IT DONE: Caterpillar still has some work to do on its first heavy-duty truck, but the CT660 is a solid start and a quick study on and off the road.

Photo By Tudor Van Hampton for ENR The CT660 interior features a simple instrument layout and a quiet cab. Cat says it has muffled noise by 3 decibels, or about 50%, compared to other work trucks.


Video by Tudor Van Hampton Caterpillar CT660: We review Cat's first work truck Related Links: Caterpillar Targets Top of Work-Truck Segment

Traditional truckers may lament that their rigs feel more and more like cars, but a new heavy-duty rig, the Caterpillar CT660, makes no apologies about the comfort.

Available as a set-forward-axle Class 8 truck, the CT660 is Cat's "most intensely researched product," says George Taylor, director of the Peoria, Ill.-based company's on-highway group. ENR recently had the chance to test drive one at an event Cat hosted in Edwards, Ill.

In 2007, when Cat decided to offer a truck, it conducted focus groups and interviewed thousands of clients. One response was overwhelming: Trucks should appeal to drivers in a time of shrinking work pools and increasing risk. The answer? Make it easy to drive.

Although the CT660 has room for improvement, we think Cat has succeeded and set its product apart from the competition. Today, Navistar builds it in Garland, Texas, based on its WorkStar chassis and MaxxForce engine lines. However, it incorporates Cat's unique styling and features.

On the outside, everything from the windshield forward resembles the backside of a Cat wheel loader. The sloping hood provides excellent visibility.

You won't find flimsy plastic around the vehicle. The steel bumper is a three-piece construction, as is the grille surround, allowing faster and cheaper replacement if damaged. The composite fenders are sturdy. The cab is aluminum alloy, and the hood is Metton, a fiberglass alternative. The side mirrors, which include power control and turn signals, pop away if obstructions hit them. Piano-style hinges run the length of the doors.

Inside, the truck's cockpit-style layout, round gauges, leather-wrapped steering wheel and supportive seating reminded us of a Ford Super Duty, which is no accident, says Gary Blood, product manager.

"Some people grouse about how, over the last 10 years, pickup trucks have gotten more car-like interiors, but I really don't hear them complaining about the nice environment that they get," he explains. "If we are headed on a path to take the same direction in the Class-8 vocational truck business, I'll be the first one to stand up and say, 'Yup, that's they way we'd like to take it because that's what our customers are really interested in.'"

Monday, October 10, 2011

Safety-Related Jury Verdict in Nevada Lacked Common Sense

istockphoto Precedents in most states establish that OSHA standards apply to third parties at construction sites. Related Links: Nevada Toughens Safety Laws In Response to Work Fatalities

Personal injury case juries are known for their generosity toward injured individuals, but a current case where I'm an expert witness for the plaintiff shows that juries can be unpredictable.

The case involves a hotel that was getting a heating and cooling system upgrade in Las Vegas. Because the case is under appeal, I can't reveal the name of the case or the parties. I can tell you enough about it to show you how far off course this Nevada state court jury strayed in ruling against the injured person suing a general contractor for damages.

During the work in 2004, the contractor placed temporary refrigeration pipes on the ground out in back of the hotel. The contractor also built a walking surface, a ramp and handrails over the pipes.

One day the owner of the restaurant in the hotel went out back to get a sack of salt from his car. Holding the sack on his shoulder, he made his way back to the restaurant but lost his balance on the ramp. The restaurant owner grabbed a handrail but it flexed, then broke and he fell. Regaining his feet but feeling wobbly, the owner then grabbed another handrail and it flexed, broke and he fell again. Since then he's struggled with numerous injuries, operations and severe migraine headaches.

The issue is whether employers must comply with Occupational Safety and Health Administration standards only for their employees, or do standards of care apply to those who find themselves in the same workspace? My experience shows that most states agree that OSHA standards do apply.

For example, a Nebraska state court ruled in Orduna v. Total Const. Services Inc. in 2006 that while OSHA regulations are written to protect employees, "an unsafe practice for an employee applies equally well to a person who legitimately finds himself in the same space as an employee." OSHA standards, the court added, are relevant to injured non-employees.

In New Mexico in 2008, OSHA cited three employers with staff present when the front section of a backhoe broke loose at a Dept. of Energy project at White Sands. The backhoe section crushed a safety inspector standing alongside. OSHA cited employers of the three staff members for failing to provide a competent person who could recognize and fix the hazard.

Lack of Association

Attorneys for the employers who witnessed the accident argued that the employers weren't liable because their staff members were not associated with the employer of the backhoe operator. But OSHA showed that a hazard had been created and that the area of the hazard was accessible not only to the employees of the cited employer but to workers of other employers engaged in the common undertaking. The U.S. secretary of labor wrote a brief supporting OSHA citations.

There are even instances where state courts have ruled in favor of injured parties who were not part of the construction project. For example, an Indiana homeowner who rode his bicycle through an open excavation on a golf course pathway was able to recover damages from an irrigation contractor. The excavation had been protected only with yellow tape, and the bike rider's injuries were severe.

Back in Nevada, I made a report for the restaurant owner and cited OSHA's 200-pound requirement for handrail structural integrity.

The contractor's attorney argued that OSHA standards apply only to employees of the contractor, and that they have no jurisdiction to the restaurant owner who just happened to be in the same area. Interestingly, he also argued that the contractor didn't need to construct a handrail because the plywood walking/working surface was less than two feet from the surface of the asphalt behind the restaurant.

Here is where I see the miscarriage of justice. During the trial, I testified that it didn't matter what the code was. If a handrail was built, it must be strong enough to support someone leaning on it. I'd built temporary handrails all over the country, but I'd never seen one as bad as this one. The jury had other ideas. It decided that since there was no code violation, the contractor was not accountable.

All of which reminds me of what a judge once said to a young attorney arguing vehemently for justice. "Young man," the judge said, "this has nothing to do with justice; this court is about the law."

Sunday, October 9, 2011

China Offers To Build $2-Billion Iranian Rail Link

Related Links: The Ten Most Noteworthy Rail Projects: Overview and Related Stories

Project: Tehran-Khosravi Rail Link

Cost: $2 billion

Construction period: Unknown

China, which wants to create more robust rail corridors across Asia, is offering to build a $2-billion freight rail line in Iran. If continuous railway corridors were in place and, standard-gauge track installed from end to end, containerized freight could travel from China to Europe much more rapidly by rail than it does by ship, the Chinese claim.

In September 2010, Liu Zhijun, China's railway minister, and Hamid Behbahani, Iran’s minister of roads and transportation, signed an agreement that calls for building a 569-kilometer rail line from Tehran west to Khosravi on the Iraqi border.

Starting in Iran's capital city at an elevation of 1,200 meters, the line will ascend through the Zagros Mountains, with stops at Arak (1,718 m) and Hamedan (1,759 m) before descending to Kermanshah (1,350 m) and the border town of Khosravi (390 m). This route will offer a more efficient option than trucking for products being exported to Iraq, such as agricultural products, cement, steel and batteries.

The line also will offer passenger service to many of the 5,000 Shi'ite Iranians who make pilgrimages daily to the Iraq holy cities of Najaf and Karbala.

According to a May article in the Middle East Economic Digest, Iran's Roads and Transportation Ministry has invited contractors to submit bids for the new line.

In the long term, the route holds the promise of connecting with Baghdad and even Syria as part of a Middle Eastern corridor.

Iran and Iraq have never had a rail link. However, Iraq and Syria revived their freight rail link in 2009, and Jordan is currently soliciting bids to build a rail line that will connect the port of Aqaba to Baghdad.

"China is committed to building a railway network in western Iran and Turkey and Central Asia," says Niklas Swanstrom, executive director of the Central Asia-Caucasus Institute and Silk Road Studies Program at Johns Hopkins University. "For China, this is a long term project to link the Middle East to China in a financially constructive way."

Saturday, October 8, 2011

COST REPORT: Concerns About U.S. Economy Deflate Industry Confidence

Slide Show This bleak view of the markets' immediate future is reflected in the most recent ENR Construction Industry Confidence Index survey. Related Links: COST REPORT: View Complete Report with Data and Analysis Slim Margins and Uncertainty Making Inflation Dangerous Flat, One-Year Pacts Highlight Collective Bargaining in 2011 Workers' Comp Rates Start to Climb Construction Equipment Prices Inch Back Up

Given that the construction industry is a trailing economic indicator, industry executives are keenly aware of the state of the American economy. With recent news full of gloom, from consistently high unemployment rates to gridlock in Washington over raising the debt ceiling, industry confidence in the economy has taken a nosedive, reducing optimism that the construction market will recover any time soon.

This bleak view of the markets' immediate future is reflected in the most recent ENR Construction Industry Confidence Index survey. For the third quarter of 2011, the CICI plummeted to 37 on a scale of 100, down nine points from 46 in the last quarter and down 14 points from the first quarter, when the rating stood at 51, an indicator of a stable market. This slide brings the CICI far below 50, indicating the belief that the market still is in recession. The 664 executives of large construction and design firms responding to the survey believe the market still has a way to go before recovery takes hold.

The CICI measures executive sentiment regarding the current market as well as their projections for where it will be in the next three to six months and over a 12- to 18-month period. The index is based on responses to surveys sent to more than 3,000 U.S. firms on ENR's lists of the leading contractors, subcontractors and design firms. The survey was conducted from Aug. 29 to Sept. 12.

The CICI also measures executive sentiment about the overall U.S. economy as a leading indicator of future construction markets. In the first-quarter survey, respondents were confident enough that the U.S. economy was on the right track to give it a 71 rating on a scale of 100, a strong vote of confidence. By the second quarter's survey, that rating had dropped to 53, indicating a belief that the economy was stable but not growing. In this quarter's survey, the rating now stands at 38, showing that respondents now believe the economy will get worse before it gets better.

This pessimism is reflected in the responses about prospects in the construction market as a whole. This quarter, 52% of all respondents say the market continues to decline, up from 38% in last quarter's survey and 32% in the fourth quarter of 2010. Only 9% believe the market currently is improving.

The pessimism extends to the period from three to six months from now, as only 13% of respondents believe the market will improve by the beginning of 2012. This compares to the 42% who believe it will still be in decline. Respondents were more confident of a market rebound in 2012, with 36% saying the market will improve in 12 to 18 months, while only 13% expect it to continue to decline.

CFMA Index Unchanged

The CICI outlook stands in contrast to the about-to-be released results of the latest CONFINDEX survey from the Construction Financial Management Association, Princeton, N.J. CFMA polls 200 chief financial officers from general contractors, subcontractors and heavy and civil contractors. A CONFINDEX rating of 100 on a scale of 200 indicates a stable market, with higher ratings showing an expectation of market growth.

"Our CONFINDEX was unchanged at 111 from the second quarter," says Stuart Binstock, CEO of CFMA. However, the CONFINDEX stood at 131 in the first quarter of 2011.

The CONFINDEX is broken down into four indices. The index measuring current business conditions dropped to 114 from 126. The index on financial conditions covering credit availability rose to 107 from 96, and the index measuring current market conditions rose to 105 from 96. CFMA's CFO participants rated the overall business outlook at 117, down from 126 in the second quarter and 141 in the first quarter.

Friday, October 7, 2011

Opening of Harbin-Dalian High-Speed-Rail Line Postponed

Slide Show ENR Art Dept. Harbin-Dalian Rail Line Will Boost Traffic in China's Northeast. Related Links: The Ten Most Noteworthy Rail Projects: Overview and Related Stories

Project: Harbin-Dalian High Speed Railway

Cost: $14.4 billion

Construction period: 2007-11

China’s high-speed-rail building program is a bold commitment to increase passenger-carrying capacity on major routes while simultaneously freeing up other lines for additional freight service.

One of the routes that is nearing completion is the 904-kilometer line linking the major port of Dalian with Harbin, the commercial hub of northeast China.

The project was split into three separate construction contracts. China Railway Group Ltd. built the southernmost section, spanning 377 km from Dalian to Shenyang. China State Construction Engineering Corp. built the central section, from Shenyang to Siping, and China Communications Construction Co. Ltd. built the northern section, from Siping to Harbin. Track work was completed in December 2010. The China Railway Electrification Bureau Group installed the power supply system and signal transmission systems, completing its work in June 2011.

Service was expected to begin in early 2012, but test operations on the line have been postponed due to quality problems, including excessive roadbed settlement near Dalian City. Further, the quality problems are in part allegedly due to corruption. Du Houzhi, the railway’s general manager, was fired in June and is currently under investigation, according to a report by China News Service.

According to the Ministry of Railways, the line is expected to carry 37 million passengers a year by 2020 and 51 million a year by 2030.

Once the high-speed line goes into service, most passenger service will shift to the new line, relieving pressure on the existing Harbin-Dalian railway, the busiest in the region, which transports coal, oil, agricultural products and lumber. According to a report in Xinhua, the existing line will be able to transport an additional 50 million to 60 million tonnes of cargo once the new high-speed line is operating.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

ENR's People on the Move: AECOM, Taub & Associates

Paul Eng-Wong has been named a principal of Watertown, Mass.-based engineer Vanasse Hangen Brustlin Inc. following the firm's Sept. 6 acquisition of Eng-Wong, Taub & Associates, a New York City transportation planner of which he is president and co-founder. Martin Taub, the acquired firm's other co-founder and executive vice president, also joins VHB as a principal. Eng-Wong, Taub & Associates has 40 employees.

Johnson, Miraman & Thompson Inc., a Sparks, Md., engineer-architect, has named Sharon J. Bland as vice president. She was president, CEO and founder of Clear Solution Management Group, a Washington, D.C., management consultant, and formerly vice president of construction-management firm McKissack & McKissack. Bland is based in the Washington office of JMT, which ranks at No. 96 on ENR's list of the Top 500 Design Firms, with $110.8 million in 2010 revenue.



Jim L. Whitaker has joined Dallas-based architect-engineer HKS Inc. as senior vice president and principal to lead its federal and design-build practices. He had been the Washington, D.C.-based vice president and national director of the federal group for Skanska USA Building. Whitaker, now based in Dallas, is a board member of the Design-Build Institute of America. HKS ranks at No. 64 on ENR's list of the Top 500 Design Firms, with $190.5 million in 2010 revenue.

Gary Wohl has joined Harris & Associates, a Concord, Calif., professional-services firm, as chief financial officer. Formerly CFO at DPR Construction, he now also will lead Harris' risk-management and information-technology departments. The firm ranks at No. 38 on ENR's list of the Top 100 Construction Management-for-Fee firms.

Waterways Council Inc., the Washington, D.C.-based advocacy group for ports and inland waterways, has elected Mike Toohey as president and CEO. He is formerly the vice president of government affairs for Ashland Inc. and also served as assistant U.S. Transportation Secretary from 1992 to 1993. Toohey replaces Cornel Martin, who left the council in June.

Skanska USA, New York City, has named John Coster and Lee Kirby as vice presidents to support its mission-critical work. Coster, formerly chief operating officer and co-founder of Renomics Corp., a technology startup, leads Skanska's enterprise solutions division. Kirby, who now leads its consulting services group, was president of Lee Technologies International Services .

The Boston Society of Civil Engineers, a section of the American Society of Civil Engineers, has hired Anthony M. Puntin as its executive director. He retains his role with The Louis Berger Group as civil and transportation engineering manager in northern New England. The Boston section—the oldest U.S. engineering society, founded in 1848—has 3,400 members.

Marshall Davert has joined AECOM Technology Corp., Los Angeles, as executive vice president for its water businesses in the Americas. Now based in Dallas, he was president of MWH Asia-Pacific, based in Sydney, Australia.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Volvo CE President Lays Out North American Expansion

Courtesy Volvo CE "We want to have the flexibility to scale according to customer demand," Olney says.

Pat Olney, chief executive and president of Volvo Construction Equipment, is currently overseeing a $100-million investment in the heavy-equipment maker's North American operations. This push includes a $30-million expansion of the Sweden-based conglomerate's Shippensburg, Pa., facility, which will serve as the North American business and manufacturing hub. Olney, a Canadian by birth, is based at Volvo CE's offices in Brussels. His Sept. 22 interview with ENR at Volvo CE's Shippensburg facility has been condensed and edited.

ENR: What is the time line for the expansion of the Shippensburg facility?

Olney: The initial investment in the demo center and training center is happening over the next 16 months. Consolidation of the [Asheville, N.C.] sales office is timed for late next year. Then, over a series of three to four years—step by step, phase by phase—we bring the products here, finishing around the end of 2014, early 2015.

With the expansion of the Shippensburg facility and the introduction of new equipment models, are you looking toward longer-term growth?

Well, I'd say it this way: We're always going to size our operations to what customer demand is at that point in time, but like in all the other markets, we want to have the flexibility to scale according to customer demand. I don't know what the three-, four- or five-year future of this market is. There are some scenarios where it could get quite busy again, and there are scenarios where it [could] bump along.

Like many global equipment makers, Volvo CE has seen its North American market diminish relative to other global markets in recent years. Do you expect this to change?

I think it has the potential to do that, and that is because infrastructure is so underfunded in this country that there is a lot of work to be done. We know that. We know there is a tremendous amount of work that can be done on roads and bridges, for example. Infrastructure, I think, is linked to economic competitiveness, so the key question there is based on the government's ability to find financing solutions, not only for infrastructure but for the whole budget.

In what construction sectors are you seeing the most growth?

Basically, it's heavy construction. But if we're talking globally—and I'm not necessarily an expert on submarkets—but it's heavy construction, mining-related and commodities-related activities. Some markets we've seen infrastructure investment driving quite a bit. Of course, housing is not driving. Looking at our segments of growth in this country, [investment] is not driving a lot of light construction work. So it's heavy construction, mining work, oil and gas.

Volvo CE recently has seen growth in its operations in China. How much of that can be attributed to your acquisition of China-based heavy-equipment maker SDLG?

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

How Sensors on I-10 Twin Span Bridge Reduce Unknowns

Photo courtesy of Geocomp A sampling of one of the sensors on the Twin Span Bridge. Related Links: New Orleans Bridge Raises Bar On Embedded Sensor Technology

Well before embedded instrumentation delivered data from a February 2009 lateral load test of a bent and pier of the I-10 Twin Span Bridge in New Orleans—and long before the sensors begin a life of service as long-term structural-health monitoring aids this October—devices cast into the bridge's structure were presenting a wealth of data to the industry.

"The instruments that are in the pile foundations had to be placed in the rebar cages for the piles in the casting yard," says W. Allen Marr, president and CEO of Geocomp Corp., Acton, Mass. The concrete was poured around corrosion monitors, other sensors and polyvinyl-chloride conduits, which provide channels for adding any new instrumentation and cabling.

Geocomp began monitoring stresses in the piles through readings of embedded strain gauges, heat sensors and in-place inclinometers, from the day of their casting to their installation. The firm monitored the concrete pour, the cure, the pre-stressing, transport to storage, and the strains endured as the piles were loaded onto barges for shipment down the Mississippi River, from Memphis to New Orleans. It also monitored off-loading, positioning for installation and every blow as the piles were driven into Lake Pontchartrain's bed to become part of the new bridge foundation. The data reveals whether the piles were properly created and handled, says Marr.

Instrumentation has been embedded in pilings before, Marr adds, but not on the scale done for the Twin Span Bridge's structural-health monitoring tests. Twelve of the foundation piles on pier M-19 of the bridge's main navigation span have embedded strain gauges at 16 ft and 21 ft below the pile tops. Six in-place inclinometers were installed on eight piles at the 5-, 15-, 25-, 35-, 45- and 65-foot marks from the bottom of the pile cap. When complete, the bridge will sport 340 sensors, including weigh-in-motion sensors, corrosion meters, strain gauges, tilt meters, inclinometers, accelerometers and water-pressure cells.

"Those readings of each of those sensors are valuable to quality-control people and design engineers," Marr says.

Monday, October 3, 2011

Products Snapshot

Slide Show Two new dust-collecting cutting guards are now available for Makita's 4 1/2-in. to 5-in. grinders. The grinder attachments are made of cast aluminum and weigh only 0.45 lb. The guard has a dust port that is compatible with most commercial vacuum hoses. The dust guards can be used in a wide range of concrete and masonry applications, including concrete cutting, tile cutting, tuck pointing and cutting expansion joints. Makita; 800-462-5482;

This week in construction products, we look at grinder dust guards, a new jobsite chop saw and one of the largest truck cranes in North America. Click the image to begin the slide show.

Sunday, October 2, 2011

Domestic Fleet Replacement Boosts Heavy Equipment Sales

Courtesy of Caterpillar Inc. Caterpillar is ramping up production in China with new projects like a 193,750-sq-ft hydraulic excavator undercarriage and track assembly plant in Xuzhou, Jiangsu Province, expected to open in mid-2012. Related Links: As Fleets Grow Old and Weary, Purchasing Rebounds

Construction machinery suppliers have posted a robust second quarter fueled by infrastructure and mining activity in Asia and Latin America. Meanwhile, rental companies and contractors in North America have been replacing aging and obsolete fleets for a small but significant uptick in domestic sales revenue.

"Global business demand helped many equipment manufacturers get through the recession," says Dennis Slater, president of the Association of Equipment Manufacturers, a Milwaukee-based industry trade group. "They still rely on export sales, especially to emerging markets, for improved business results."

Caterpillar Inc.’s second-quarter earnings soared to $1.02 billion, a 44% increase over last year, but the Peoria, Ill.-based equipment maker still fell short of analyst expectations. Caterpillar stock consequently dropped 13.5% in two weeks following its July 22 earnings announcement; company shares had been up 19% on the year. Caterpillar blamed U.S. debt, Middle East turmoil, high oil prices and Japan’s natural disasters for slower than expected growth in 2011.

The company, meanwhile, is spending over $1 billion to ramp-up production in China, where Asian competitors such as Sany, Hitachi and Komatsu have all gained market share. Caterpillar hopes to reverse that trend with projects like a new 193,750-sq-ft hydraulic excavator undercarriage and track assembly plant in Xuzhou, Jiangsu Province, expected to open in mid-2012.

"Cat is a player in China, but they have had capacity issues," says Adam Fleck, an associate research director with Morningstar Inc., a Chicago-based investment research firm. "China is also home to many cheaper-priced competitors, whereas Cat caters to the high-end of the market."

Volvo Construction Equipment, for example, strengthened its position in wheel loader and excavator sales in China in the second quarter, taking 11.8% of the market, the company said in a statement.

In addition, Gothenburg, Sweden-based Volvo CE net sales increased 32% in the second quarter over last year, despite softening Chinese demand amid government measures to curtail inflation. China still has ambitious infrastructure and affordable housing projects planned after October 1.

Saturday, October 1, 2011

Caterpillar Targets Top of Work-Truck Segment

Photo by Tudor Van Hampton for ENR The CT660 is Caterpillar's first work truck. It is built by Navistar in Garland, Texas, and sold through Caterpillar dealers.

Photo by Tudor Van Hampton for ENR A six-cylinder, 11-liter diesel engine comes standard on the CT660, which can be fitted with a larger, 13-liter engine. For the heaviest tasks, a 15-liter engine is due out early next year. Related Links: Cautious Economic Optimism Pervades Big Equipment Show

Now that Caterpillar has started shipping its first-ever work truck, the CT660, the Peoria, Ill.-based manufacturer says it plans to unseat traditional vocational truck manufacturers with loyal followings, such as Kenworth and Mack.

So far, Cat's order book for October is filled, but supplier constraints, sluggish construction activity and a weakening truck market are threatening to slow the momentum.

"I'm pleased but not satisfied," admits George Taylor, director of Caterpillar's on-highway truck group, which hosted a press conference on Sept. 27 at Cat's demonstration center in Edwards, Ill. "The key is getting that truck out, getting it visible."

Caterpillar has had big plans for the CT660, introduced last March at the Conexpo exhibition in Las Vegas and began shipping in late September. The truck, which includes such standard features as chrome brightwork and a leather-wrapped steering wheel, is expected to be priced competitively with other high-end construction trucks.

"I would call it 'industrial premium,' says Gary Blood, product manager. "This is really a no-excuses vocational truck." Though Cat isn't talking prices, industry sources tell us it will cost between $125,000 and $135,000. That's about 5% more than a comparably equipped Mack and competitive with Kenworth or Peterbilt.

After months of build-up, the excitement at Conexpo was intense. Some 40,000 people—about one-third of the show's total attendance—came to see the CT660 on display in Cat's booth. What's more, the company collected 1,600 sales leads at the show, employees say.

"We expect to be in the next five years a number-one or number-two player," Taylor says.

Heavy-duty work trucks, which make up about one-fifth of the Class 8 segment, are dominated by Mack, Kenworth and Peterbilt. While Mack has more than 34% of that share, Paccar Inc. is the largest player in the space with its Kenworth and Peterbilt brands, owning more than 46% of the market. Collectively, these three brands make up about 80% of the vocational trucks on the road, Cat estimates.

Under the hood, the CT660 comes with either an 11-liter engine with up to 390 hp and 1,450 lb-ft of torque or 13-liter diesel engine offering up to 475 hp and 1,700 lb-ft of torque. For the heaviest hauls, a 15-liter engine that cranks out up to 550 hp and 1,850 lb-ft of torque will be available early next year.

The truck comes standard with Caterpillar's own six-speed automatic transmission—the same in Cat's articulating dump trucks and some military vehicles—though users can specify a number of Eaton gearboxes. The set-forward-axle truck can be had with multiple bumper-to-cab lengths, axles and fuel tanks. Cat also has changed out some of the steering components to give the truck a segment-leading turning radius, it says. A set-back axle truck will be available in 2013.