CNN: The busiest rails shut down by failing power cables | America’s bridges supported by crumbling 90-year-old beams

Repost from CNN Poilitics
[Editor:  An excellent report, with 2 more in the series yet to come.
NOTE: I was unable to embed the videos on this page.  Clicking on a video will take you to the CNN page where you can click on the videos.  - RS]

Four-part series: America’s Crumbling Infrastructure

By Rene Marsh, David Gracey and Ted Severson, May 26, 2016 8:23 PM ET
Click to go to CNN - Full video report: The busiest railroad track in the country is badly in need of repair 02:40

CNN full video report: The busiest railroad track in the country is badly in need of repair 02:40

Washington (CNN) – Nearly 40 million Americans will kick off one of the busiest travel seasons in history this Memorial Day weekend, jarred by potholes on America’s roads, crossing her aging bridges, riding her antiquated railways and taking off from airports that draw international scorn.

Long a source of national pride, America’s infrastructure is in critical need of repair, but federal government spending on the issue has gone down 9% in the past decade. As former Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood says, “We’re like a third-world country when it comes to infrastructure.”

CNN aviation and regulation correspondent Rene Marsh investigates the state of the country’s bridges, railways, airports and pipelines in a four-part series: America’s Crumbling Infrastructure. Check back here from now through Monday.

Part 2: The busiest rails shut down by failing power cables

Click for CNN video: Cracks in the busiest bridge in the western hemisphere 00:51

Click for CNN video: Cracks in the busiest bridge in the western hemisphere 00:51

The Portal Bridge in New Jersey is the most heavily trafficked rail span in the Western Hemisphere. Connecting New Jersey to New York City’s Penn Station, an estimated 450 trains cross it every 24 hours.

Below — sometimes not much more than 25 feet down — is the Hackensack River, itself a busy thoroughfare for boats and barges. To accommodate both, the Portal Bridge operates on a swing-span, allowing it to open for watercraft, then close up again to complete the rail path.

“The problem we have is that, as it swings back, those miters don’t always come down right, because this thing is so old,” explains Amtrak CEO Joe Boardman.

And when those “miters” don’t line up correctly, train traffic grinds to a halt.

“So then you have to get crews out here,” Boardman says. “That holds up a lot of trains, no matter what time of the day it is.”

The Portal Bridge, like so much of America’s archaic and often wonky infrastructure, was designed in the 19th century and built more than a hundred years ago.

But funding for an overhaul, or the construction of a new passage, remains elusive. An Amtrak estimate from 2013 puts the cost at just under a billion dollars.

Less than nine miles east, the tunnel that connects Jersey City to Manhattan is cracked and crumbling.

The 106-year-old Hudson River Tunnel connects more than 230,000 commuters daily, but in the aftermath of Superstorm Sandy in 2012 it has been plagued by power failures, causing shutdowns and days-long delays.

“This salt is eating away at the concrete, it’s eating away at the rails, it’s eating away at the cables that go through here for power,” says Boardman, who describes it as one of the most disturbing examples of an infrastructure system long ignored or deprived of needed maintenance.

The price of renewing and safeguarding the web of railways that runs up Amtrak’s “Northeast Corridor” — more than 450 miles — stands at an estimated $20 billion.

The cost for passengers has been steeper.

In May 2015, an Amtrak passenger train traveling more than twice the 50 mile per hour speed limit jumped the tracks in Philadelphia. Eight people were killed and more than 200 riders were injured.
The deadly derailment might have been prevented if the tracks had been fitted with a technology called “Positive Train Control,” an innovation that automatically slows speeding rail traffic.

So what’s taking so long?

“It takes time to make sure it works right,” Boardman says. Across the country, 30 freight and passenger train accidents, 69 deaths, and more than 1,200 injuries could have been prevented had the technology been in place.

With Congress tied up in partisan knots over new spending, the bullet trains of Japan — which cruise at over 200 miles per hour and could cut in half the travel time between Boston and Washington, D.C. — seem a long way off. Implementing a similar system would come with a price tag exceeding $151 billion.

“You want to be able to show the benefit of the dollar you invested,” Transportation Department head Anthony Foxx tells CNN. “I think members of Congress struggle, because (these projects) actually require longer than a political term to take root.”

Short term thinking leads to long term trouble, and for the busiest strip of track in the Americas, the crumbling is becoming more difficult — and dangerous — to ignore.

Part 1: Bridges supported by crumbling 90-year-old beams

CNN video: This bridge in Washington, D.C. is disintegrating 02:52

CNN video: This bridge in Washington, D.C. is disintegrating 02:52

Nearly 60,000 bridges across the country are in desperate need of repair. One example is just down the street from the White House and Capitol Hill. In the nation’s capital, 68,000 vehicles cross the Arlington Memorial Bridge between Washington and Virginia every day. CNN was granted rare access to go inside the crumbling bridge.

“It’s just eroding and concrete is falling off,” said National Park Service spokeswoman Jenny Anzelmo-Sarles as she showed how the original support beams from 1932 are corroding. The beams have never been replaced, and the bridge could be closed to vehicle traffic within five years if it isn’t fixed. It’ll cost $250 million.
Go inside the corroding Arlingon Memorial Bridge

CNN video: Go inside corroding AM bridge

In 1932, as the Arlington Memorial Bridge was being erected, Congress was dealing with the Great Depression. That same year, President Herbert Hoover enacted the first federal gas tax at 1 cent per gallon. The gas tax is a major source of funding for bridges and roads that has been raised periodically until 1993, when it was set at 18.4 cents per gallon.

Although the gas tax has remained steady, cars have become more efficient and overall federal government spending on infrastructure has declined 9% from 2003-14, according to the Congressional Budget Office. According to the American Road and Transportation Builders Association, every state has some degree of bad bridges that need to be repaired. In Los Angeles, CNN found trees growing out of cracks in a bridge. In Chicago, netting is in place to protect drivers from falling concrete.

crumbling bridge infrastructureLaHood was a rare Republican who served in President Barack Obama’s administration. He says there’s an easy way to fund upgrades to an infrastructure system that has become “third-world”: Raise the gas tax. LaHood and others blame Congress for failing to raise the gas tax in 23 years.

Republican Rep. Bill Shuster, who chairs the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, said raising the gas tax “doesn’t solve the long-term funding problem.” But Congress has not yet come up with a solution.

Beyond funding, there is another issue: how to make the bridges better. Researchers at the University of Michigan believe they may have a fix: bendable concrete that can heal itself from cracks.

Demonstration in the university’s engineer lab shows regular concrete can fail quickly and suddenly. Professor Victor Li, who developed the technology over the past 10 years, said the bendable concrete can withstand a force hundreds of times more powerful than standard concrete. The researchers’ hope is that it could help already crumbling bridges, like the Memorial Bridge near the nation’s capital.

New bridge technology: bendable concrete

New bridge technology: bendable concrete

But new concrete is expensive. According to the American Society of Civil Engineers, bridge infrastructure investment needs to be increased by $8 billion annually. The society said that increase would address the estimated $76 billion in needs for deficient bridges across the United States.

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ENDORSEMENT: Elizabeth Patterson for Mayor of Benicia

By Roger Straw, May 26, 2016

Elizabeth Patterson – “Experience You Can Trust”

Elizabeth Patterson, Benicia Mayor 2007 - present

Elizabeth Patterson, Benicia Mayor 2007 – present

I helped elect Elizabeth Patterson for Mayor of Benicia in 2007 and 2011.  I co-chaired her campaign in 2011 and I’d be hard at work on her campaign again this year, but I am juggling too many other responsibilities.

My endorsement of Elizabeth Patterson could not be stronger or more heart-felt. She has led our community and taught us all about environmental sustainability, stewardship of water, the importance of diversification in our local economy, how to get things done in local government and much more.

Elizabeth has served the entire state of California as a water expert, and has contacts throughout the state that work to Benicia’s advantage.

As her campaign slogan puts it, she has “Experience You Can Trust.”

Please vote for Elizabeth Patterson for Mayor in November!

Here are a few excerpts from Elizabeth’s website, ElizabethForMayor.com:

I am running for reelection because I want Benicia to thrive. I have been on the council since 2003 and as Mayor since 2007. I saw us through the Great Recession by working with the city manager and council to avoid cutting city services and ensuring sound fiscal policies.

The greatest job growth in California is clean tech. We need to double our efforts to diversify our economic activity to transition from too much dependence on the refinery and gas stations and more clean tech companies. We need to protect the businesses we have and upgrade the Business and Industrial Park with fiber optics, and repurposing “warehouse” buildings for more revenue generating businesses. We need to invest and modernize this economic engine that provides the revenue for city services – parks, police and fire, human services, arts and culture and a livable, walkable historic town.

The General Plan is our “constitution” and its overarching goal is to be a sustainable city. We are the little city that can – we have a public energy provider with 50 or 100% renewable energy sources; we exceeded the Governor’s emergency 25% water savings by averaging about 33%; we defied two governors from closing our State Parks; we are at the top as one of the best places to raise children with great schools, safe community and small town place.

This was made possible by forward thinking leadership knowing the community’s values, staying focused on our goals and being bold and forthright.

I have even stood up to City Hall when they tried to stop my sending information about Crude by Rail safety issues and seeking state action on providing greater safety to our town. I will continue to be vocal and not gamble with Benicia’s safety.

I work for you from the annual delivering Meals on Wheels, supporting our historic preservation community and arts community, collaborating with Vallejo and the County to keep our State Parks, promoting biking to work and school, energy and water conservation, and not gambling on clean air and water and a healthy Benicia.

Experience you can trust . . . another four years!

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AP: Exxon, Chevron Shareholders Reject Climate Resolutions

Repost from ABC News

Exxon, Chevron Shareholders Reject Climate Resolutions

By DAVID KOENIG, AP BUSINESS WRITER, DALLAS — May 25, 2016, 4:17 PM ET

Shareholders at Exxon Mobil and Chevron rejected resolutions backed by environmentalists that would have pushed the companies to take stronger stands in favor of limiting climate change.

Environmentalists took solace, however, that some of their ideas gained considerable support.

At Chevron Corp., a resolution asking for an annual report each year on how climate-change policies will affect the company received 41 percent of the vote. A similar resolution at Exxon got 38 percent.

Also, Exxon Mobil Corp. shareholders voted to ask directors to adopt a proxy-access rule, which would make it easier for shareholders to propose their own board candidates. Backers including the New York City comptroller said it could result in the election of independent directors who could help the company address risks like climate change.

The meetings Wednesday — Exxon’s in Dallas, Chevron’s in San Ramon, California — came as the companies are trying to dig out from the collapse in crude prices that began in mid-2014. Exxon earned $16.15 billion last year, its smallest profit since 2002. Chevron’s annual profit plunged 76 percent to $4.59 billion and included the company’s first money-losing quarter since 2002.

Crude prices have rebounded since February, boosting the shares of the top two U.S. oil companies, but they remain about half of what they were at their last peak.

Exxon is also dealing with investigations by officials in several states into what the company knew and allegedly didn’t disclose about oil’s role in climate change.

The company’s shareholders rejected resolutions to put a climate expert on the board and support the goal of a UN meeting in Paris last year to limit global warming to 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels.

Patricia Daley, a Dominican sister from New Jersey and sponsor of one of the resolutions, said Exxon lacked “moral leadership.”

“Our company has chosen to disregard the consensus of the scientific community, the will of the 195 nations that signed the Paris agreement,” religious leaders and even other oil companies, Daley said.

Exxon CEO Rex Tillerson said his company has long recognized that climate change is a serious risk and might require action. But, he said, any policies should be implemented evenly across the world, allow market prices to pick solutions, and be flexible enough to respond to economic ups and downs and “breakthroughs in climate science.”

Exxon forecasts that oil and gas will make up 60 percent of the world’s energy supply in 2040 — about the same share it holds today. Its CEO said the company was balancing the need to produce more energy for growing world demand with environmental considerations.

Tillerson said there is no alternative source that can replace the ubiquity of fossil fuels. He expressed confidence that technology will provide the key to limiting carbon emissions.

“We’ve got to have some technological breakthroughs,” he said, “but until we achieve those, to just say turn the taps off is not acceptable to humanity,” he said.

The shareholders responded with robust applause.

Across the street from the meeting hall, about 60 protesters gathered and urged large shareholders such as pension funds to divest their shares. Many held signs with slogans such as “Exxon Liar Liar Earth on Fire.” The mood was sedate, however, perhaps owing to the warm, muggy weather.

Exxon shares rose 59 cents to $90.26, and Chevron shares gained $1.60 to $101.79.

———

This story has been corrected to note that the climate-change resolution won 38 percent support, instead of a maximum of 25 percent support.

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