For the first time, funding for passenger rail ($10.4 billion) was included in the recently passed surface transportation bill, including $2.6 billion for Amtrak’s Northeast Corridor.
With the recent passage of the FAST Act, public transportation agencies finally have an assurance of how they might fund projects for the next five years. With that surety, though, comes a need to complete those projects in a suitable timeframe to be able to meet the growing demand for transportation options in many areas of the nation faced with congestion.
METRO spoke with several consultants who not only discussed the nation’s growing infrastructure needs, but also its need for transportation options. Additionally, they discussed how funding and streamlined processes can help a project become a reality in a quicker timeframe than in the past and the need for workforce development.
Diana MendesSr. VP/Director, DCS Americas Transit/RailAECOMBesides funding, what key challenges are facing transit properties today?
The first major challenge is safety. Safety is paramount and requires a rigorous shift in our industry culture and priorities. As our systems continue to age and new services come on line, we need to place increased priority on system maintenance to ensure transit customers have access to safe, reliable, effective and efficient service. The Federal Transit Administration (FTA) has identified a backlog of over $86 billion needed to bring systems into a state of good repair, so we will need to be more strategic in how we manage our capital assets and improve our decision-making.
A second challenge is workforce development. We need to reinvigorate our workforce and attract the best and the brightest to our industry. Many young people entering the workforce do not have exposure to the opportunities afforded by a career in public transportation — we need to do a better job of articulating the broad range of possibilities while recruiting and retaining top talent.
The third challenge is envisioning the transit system of the future, while not only embracing but leading in areas of technology that will fundamentally change transit as we know it. From mastering ‘big data’ to enhance everything from customer service to state of good repair, to understanding the implications of autonomous vehicles to replace and augment our services, the possibilities are endless. We need to come together as an industry to shape the future instead of having it defined for us by changes in technology outside of our comfortable reach. As one example, taken in combination the impact of technology and the potential of the sharing economy is profound and represents an enormous opportunity for us to reinvent our industry.
How are efforts to streamline the project process working?
Some great things have happened — increased transparency and expedited decision-making, as well as enhanced tools to accelerate environmental review including the use of a broader range of categorical exclusions. The challenge remains in dealing with externalities beyond the reach of the U.S. DOT — from the requirements of other federal agencies to local differences of opinion. This takes more time than any one of us would like, and requires the commitment of dedicated resources to promote cultural and procedural changes about what is expected during the transit project development process. This is an area where intensive workforce development, combined with new technology, such as the federal permitting dashboard and more robust Geographic Information System databases for resource management, could accelerate a positive change.
What new trends are helping projects reach completion quicker?
There is increasing public frustration with the time it takes to deliver transit improvements and service enhancements. As a result, we are seeing an emphasis on implementing projects more quickly and efficiently through the optimization of all phases of delivery, from initial planning decisions to design, construction and
operation. A fully-integrated approach is essential to accelerating project delivery.
Some examples include performance-based planning and programming during the metropolitan planning process, providing greater insight and clarity on the priorities and resources necessary to measure outcomes and achieve meaningful results. There are also a number of initiatives underway to expedite the project development process and environmental review, including assumption of NEPA review and clearance programs by state DOTs, funding of personnel at resource agencies to reduce response times, and use of multiagency memoranda of understanding to accelerate routine or repetitive environmental approvals. Use of BIM technology for early clash detection is improving design quality. And, the shift continues from traditional design-bid-build to innovative alternative design-build and public private partnership delivery methods, shortening delivery schedules.
What are some ways to attract and keep the younger generation on public transportation?
In the end — and the beginning and middle — it is all about the customer experience — safe, clean, accessible and reliable travel choices. Our increasing thirst for ‘on demand’ services, and purchasing only that part of a service that we need, necessitates that we need to rethink our traditional service offerings. The relationship between land use and transportation and how we site our facilities continues to play a key part in attracting and retaining the next generation of customers. We need to enhance our focus more on total mobility management and on ‘complete trips’ — and managing everything from complete streets to how development patterns impact the customer experience and our ability to deliver.
Gregory A. KellyPresident/CEO, U.S., Central and South AmericaWSP | Parsons BrinckerhoffWhat is the current climate for public transportation projects looking to move forward?
Gregory A. Kelly
The passage in late 2015 of the FAST Act, a five-year, $305 billion transportation spending bill, provides stability and predictability through 2020 in the U.S. transportation market, as well as modestly enhanced levels of funding to improve highways, bridges, transit systems and passenger rail. When combined with recent state and local increases, overall funding for transportation capital investments in the U.S. will experience real growth for the first time since 2010. The legislation will have a positive and balanced impact on funding levels for all states and across modes of surface transportation in the near term and will make the consideration of large, complex projects more feasible.
Moreover, for the first time, funding of $10.4 billion for passenger rail is included in the traditionally highway/transit-only bill, including $2.6 billion designed for Amtrak’s Northeast Corridor. The FAST Act also includes several new discretionary grant programs, including a freight grant program, a bus grant program and three discretionary programs for intercity passenger rail. Beyond 2020, however, we will need either an increase in the federal gas tax or a new system of user fees, such as one based on miles driven, to provide adequate, long-term funding for transportation infrastructure.
How has the WSP | PB combination benefited customers?
The combination of WSP and Parsons Brinckerhoff allows us to offer our clients an integrated approach to the urban communities of the future. In creating these new urban environments, our clients are challenged with a broad range of factors, including changing population patterns; increased residential and employment densities; and the need for economic growth coupled with more adaptable, ecologically sensitive and resilient buildings and infrastructure. The buildings engineering and environmental capabilities of WSP, together with the transportation, strategic advisory and power engineering expertise of Parsons Brinckerhoff, enable us to provide a comprehensive approach to infrastructure planning, design, delivery and operation. This approach falls under our ‘Urban Futures Initiative,’ a new way of thinking about delivering projects based on a multidisciplinary approach to developing future-ready solutions across the urban environment. We’ve already identified a number of promising opportunities to apply our Urban Futures approach to deliver greater connectivity and better demand management and operating flexibility for transportation systems and to create commercial and residential developments that can share heat, power and other resources for greater efficiency. We see an ongoing expansion of these opportunities on the horizon.
With sustainable practices growing, how are agencies approaching projects differently?
Many of our clients have a much higher threshold for what they expect, in terms of sustainability. They are looking for integrated solutions to the challenges they face, such as operating with renewable energy, creating transit-oriented development, managing waste, and reducing the environmental and social impacts of their supply chains. Clients increasingly seek to mitigate, eliminate, or offset greenhouse gas emissions through more ecologically sensitive construction and operations practices. Agencies sometimes need to document triple bottom line benefits to qualify for certain federal grant programs, and they also seek to leverage sustainability best practices to secure financing, qualify for ‘green’ bonds, attract institutional investors or obtain carbon credits.
How is your firm developing its workforce to prepare them for future opportunities?
We believe the development of technical skills is key to preparing our workforce for the projects of the future. We approach this goal in a number of ways. We have parallel career tracks for managers and technical specialists, in order to place emphasis on the cultivation of technical as well as management skills. We encourage employees with similar technical interests to join networks of like-minded professionals, and we have established Technical Excellence Centers in a variety of disciplines to consolidate the technical expertise we can offer our clients. For 30 years, we have had a fellowship program intended to advance the state of a practice and promote the firm’s prominence in a given field. The research produced by the fellows has helped to establish our preeminence in several markets and technical disciplines, and several fellows have become recognized as technical leaders in their fields. Our most recent fellowship recipient produced a guide for local and state governments in adapting to a future with driverless vehicles.
Legacy Resource Group
How has the FAST Act and other recent developments impacted Disadvantaged Business Enterprises (DBE)?
At transit authorities all over the country, many projects were coming to an end in 2014 and 2015. Typically, when projects come to an end, firms are looking at opportunities to work on new projects. But, the agencies weren’t making any procurement decisions until they had the funding in place, so projects were being delayed because of a lack of long-term funding. Now, agencies that have had projects on the books for the last 12 to 18 months are ramping up the procurement process because they have a longer stream of money versus being in a year-to-year cycle. Last year was a year to stabilize and prepare for the long term, but now that the authorization is approved, you are seeing a lot more activity in the industry.
What are your areas of expertise?
When there’s a need for participation on a particular project, or a need to identify qualified subcontractors, my firm, Legacy Resource Group, (LRG), assists in identifying those companies for the prime or lead firm to interview. LRG representatives will work with the local Chambers of Commerce and trade associations to find qualified firms — the DBEs, WBE’s, MBE’s, SBE’s, etc., that have an interest in being considered for a teaming opportunity. After the firms are evaluated and vetted, those firms that fit the needs of the prime firm are forwarded for further consideration and a possible interview.
Explain your evaluation process.
Approved unanimously by the Ottawa City Council in 2013, the goal of Phase 2 of the O-Train light rail system is to bring 70% of all city residents within about three miles of rail.
When a prime sees an opportunity on the horizon, one of the first things LRG does is to identify all of the possible scopes that subcontracted. We will work with a prime and identify what scopes they may self-perform and what should or could be subcontracted. Once those areas of scope are identified, we try to find firms to fill those roles.
Next, we talk to the identified firms and discuss their past work experience, capacity, what the firm provided and how they were involved. During this process, we trying to make sure that what they’ve done before and done well matches some of the scopes that have been identified in this new opportunity. Sometimes, a candidate may have worked with the team before. If so, we’ll ask them if they have an interest in expanding the relationship and/or consider taking on additional scope if the opportunity is presented. If the answer is yes, we then arrange a meeting with the prime firm to express any interest in the new opportunity, and then, move forward from there.
Some agencies have expanded the amount of small business and minority participation they are looking for, is that a developing trend?
Yes. Often, there are situations where a person that was with an agency or a toptier firm has left for some reason or was simply just ready to start their own business. So, they have a wealth of experience already from being with a large firm, but now they are a small business. When that person comes to the table, they may have only been in business for a short while, but they have already worked for in the industry for many years and advanced through their career. This person may bring a lot of experience and abilities along with them. Thus, there may be a good opportunity for the business to perform on smaller contracts. Also, when a prime is looking to find firms to participate, they may look over that small businesses’ portfolio and see a potential teaming partner with a wealth of experience that could really become an asset for them.
What is the impact of that small firm growth?
It certainly promotes growth and builds capacity. Small firms grow and begin to expand their footprint in the market place. So you may see a firm grow after being able to secure a larger contract. After a while that firm has now grown significantly, which makes them much more attractive to prime firms.
Are you seeing growth in the industry, overall?
I see a lot of growth. Many projects have started to come up, and you also have the large transit authorities in the process of retooling, rebuilding and expanding. They are all seeking firms that have been around for a while, have a proven track record and have more capacity.
I am also seeing more small and medium-sized firms coming into APTA. I noticed at the recent Bus & Paratransit Conference that there were a lot of new faces. Being part of APTA also helps that new person get a chance to be shoulder-to-shoulder with established, seasoned professionals so they can learn, and the more established members get to meet potential employees or teaming partners for the future.
Mark AliseskyMarket Lead, Railroad & TransitMichael Baker InternationalWhat new trends are you seeing that are helping projects reach completion sooner?
Accelerated Bridge Construction (ABC) is a particular construction method that we’ve seen can significantly reduce track outage time as we can use concurrent construction phasing to accelerate construction. Engineers and our partnering state DOTs have stringent deadlines to meet and reducing outage time is very important when trying to take advantage of short outage windows. For companies like Michael Baker International, when we engage in a public-private partnership, we continue to improve mobility by accelerating project delivery that utilizes cost-effective procurement, contracting and construction methods, while reducing costs associated with closures of bridges and roadways.
How does having global offices benefit U.S. customers?
In other global markets, customers have embraced certain technologies at a faster rate than here in the U.S. Through our experience applying these technologies to real-world projects, we rely upon the experience of our global offices and staff to demonstrate that these technologies are successful and beneficial, enabling our company to be innovative and a thought leader when working with our U.S. customers.
How is your company developing its workforce?
The world of rail and transit planning, design and construction continues to be highly specialized with a workforce in high demand. Often the knowledge resides with our customers. Retirees from many public agencies desire to stay in the workforce by providing high level technical skills on a regional or national level. Staying very active in organizations, such as AREMA and APTA, is great way to maintain relationships with top level talent throughout the U.S. [Our company] has also partnered with some leading universities that provide specific degrees in various rail and transit areas. Through this pipeline, we hired a number of the top graduates each year, helping us to develop a balanced workforce to provide cost-competitive project delivery teams.
How beneficial is it for your firm to be active in various transportation associations?
Being active in the variety of transportation associations is essential for us to stay current on existing innovations, trends, specifications and products. Our company encourages our employees to be active participants through board memberships, as presenters at conferences and booth participants at exhibitions. Our employees also benefit by meeting colleagues — both within our firm and their peers elsewhere — who are involved with the same issues that they address every day.
What is the industry’s biggest challenge right now?
The industry’s biggest challenge right now is having succession plans and knowledge transfer due to the loss of experience due to retirements in an aging industry. We strive to accomplish this by mixing our young and veteran staff on projects to assist with essential knowledge sharing.
Richard AmodeiSr. VP/Northeast Regional Manager, Transportation & Infrastructure DivisionSTV Inc.What are the benefits of alternative project delivery and how is Stv helping clients understand them?
The primary benefits of alternative project delivery, generally, are accelerated schedule; transfer of risk from the owner to the builder; more innovative thinking for the design and public-private partnerships; and access to financing.
Relative to STV’s resume for assisting owners in these areas, we have a long history of successful design-build delivery on a couple fronts. One, as a design-build proposer, we have devised numerous innovative designs, which were successfully implemented with significant cost savings and project enhancements. Recently, our I-85/485 ‘turbine’ interchange in North Carolina was reconfigured by way of an Alternative Technical Concept, or ‘ATC,’ which greatly improved the operational capacity of a multilevel interchange with cost savings of $30 million to the North Carolina Department of Transportation.
Secondly, as an owner’s representative, we are currently assisting transit clients, such as Hampton Roads Transit in Virginia Beach, Va., with major design-build projects, where our keen understanding of the procurement model facilitates seamless development of proposals from competing design-builders.
Discuss one or two projects STV is working on.
In a joint venture, STV was recently awarded preliminary engineering for the Hudson Tunnel as part of Amtrak’s Gateway Program, which includes a series of strategic infrastructure investments to modernize and increase service under the Hudson River between Newark, N.J., and Penn Station in New York City. The existing Hudson River tunnel was built in 1910 and experienced significant flooding damage during Superstorm Sandy in 2012. This project is a multi-billion dollar investment that will provide a new tunnel with two new tubes for redundancy in operations, and also provide the ability to rehabilitate the existing tunnel to provide resiliency and expanded service for one of the fastest-growing mature metropolitan areas in the country.
The City of Ottawa recently awarded an STV-led joint venture with an owner’s engineer services contract for preliminary engineering and program management of the second stage of the city’s transformative O-Train light rail transit extension program. The joint venture team was previously awarded the preliminary engineering and program management services for the initial light rail transit project, known as the Confederation Line, or Stage 1.
This $3 billion Stage 2 initiative is a package of three extensions of existing light rail routes — east and west along the Confederation Line, and south along the Trillium Line — totaling approximately 18 miles of new rail and 19 new stations.
The goal of Stage 2, which was approved unanimously by the Ottawa City Council in 2013, is to bring 70 percent of all city residents within about three miles of rail, meaning shorter commutes, cleaner air and a stronger economy.
As Canada’s capital, Ottawa, is home to the Parliament, the Senate and the Supreme Court and is also one of the world’s top five regions for research and development. As a result, employment is expected to increase in the city, placing considerable demands on the existing transportation system.
What is your industry outlook, particularly in the Northeast Corridor?
My outlook is bullish for the entire industry, and especially in the Northeast where we have the largest concentration of transit, highway, bridge and related facility infrastructure in the country. There is a renewed focus on infrastructure and a realization that the rehabilitation or replacement of key infrastructure assets can no longer be postponed. We continue to feel the effects of Superstorm Sandy almost four years later, and the region is forging ahead on the design of major resiliency projects, with many of them in construction or moving into the construction phase of implementation.
New York City Transit (NYC Transit) has undertaken numerous resiliency projects over the past three years, including the hardening of Coney Island Yard — the largest subway yard in the country, as well as in the world. STV is currently preparing final designs for a three-mile-long flood wall, nine flood gates, more than 900,000 gallons of underground water storage, two pump stations, and the retrofit of two bridges across Coney Island Creek to withstand extreme flooding events. Coney Island Yard is vital to New York City, as it is where NYC Transit performs maintenance for a fleet of nearly 800 cars, as well as heavy maintenance and overhaul for the approximately 6,000 cars in the subway system.
There are also numerous megaprojects underway in the region resulting in a robust transportation market. We are involved with several. Most notably, the Gateway Hudson Tunnel design project that was recently awarded to STV, in a joint venture, which will provide two new tunnels under the Hudson River for more dependable and resilient service into New York City and beyond for both Amtrak and New Jersey TRANSIT. We are also leading the multi-billion East Side Access program, which continues to move forward to provide access for Long Island Rail Road service into Grand Central Station.