Monthly Archives: October 2013

A Local Solution to a National Problem

This month’s theme – big projects – is by and large about a big word – infrastructure. This word is rallying communities throughout the nation to fight a big fight – to repair, replace, rebuild or start anew with projects that keep our cities, state and country running.

Credit: REGIONAL international office for development and design

Credit: REGIONAL international office for development and design

The American Society of Civil Engineers gave the nation’s infrastructure a D+ in its recent report card on America’s infrastructure. What does this near failing grade mean? Well, think of it in terms of a city being your body. Without the heart, lungs, brains, skeleton, circulation system, we’re can’t walk, breathe, live and enjoy life. The same is true for infrastructure. Without working roads, sidewalks, transit systems, airports, and water, energy and safety facilitates our cities can’t work and our ability to have a functioning economy and an enjoyable life is stunted. Crumbling infrastructure is a national epidemic, but one city is finding a way to stop the spread and tackle a more than $1 billion backlog of infrastructure needs.

In San Diego, California a newly created committee is dedicated solely to the city’s infrastructure system. Headed up by Councilmember Mark Kersey as its chair, the City of San Diego’s Committee on Infrastructure oversees the City’s Capital Improvements Program (CIP) to meet its infrastructure needs. The Committee works to prioritize CIP projects, review and recommend, if necessary, revisions to City Council policies related to the CIP, and is developing a five-year CIP for the city, that was previously non-existent.

As we continue our focus on BIG projects this month we wanted to learn more about the big word every city is talking about and the Committee in our home town that is committed to keeping it healthy. We talked to Councilmember Mark Kersey to learn more about the Committee on Infrastructure’s plans, their progress  and how it can serve as a model for other communities across the country.

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This is a new committee, formed less than a year ago. How did it come into being and why?
In my inauguration speech, I spoke about how San Diego’s crumbling infrastructure was this city’s next big crisis. Our civic leaders helped get us through the financial crisis but unfortunately our streets, sidewalks and buildings were ignored during the process. Part of the problem was the fact that no single Council Committee had jurisdiction of infrastructure issues. Bits and pieces were addressed in various committees but no one had the laser focus that was needed. Then Council President Todd Gloria, who had begun addressing infrastructure issues as Budget Committee Chair, had a vision for a committee solely focused on infrastructure and in December of 2012, the committee was created and I was appointed as the chair.

What were your top three goals for the committee for its first year?
At the beginning of the year we created an 18 month work plan to start addressing our infrastructure needs. Over the last 10 months we stayed on track getting the following goals done. First, the plan specifies the need to assess the current condition of the City’s assets. In this year’s budget we successfully secured $11 million in funding to figure out what needs to be fixed, including the first assessment of the City’s 5,000 miles of sidewalks.  Second, I authored and the Council approved a policy to make permanent, the public’s input on how we plan for and prioritize infrastructure projects. We’ve been working with the community planning groups and holding public meetings out in the neighborhoods to figure out what residents really care about.  Third, we’re creating the city’s first five-year infrastructure plan. We will have the draft of that in outline form at our committee meeting in November and hope to have the plan completed by summer 2014.

Credit: The City of San Diego

Councilmember Mark Kersey helps re-pave a street in the San Diego Community of Ranco Bernardo.
(Credit: The City of San Diego)

Infrastructure is about much more than streets and sidewalks. It also involves water and sewer systems, parks, libraries, fire stations and more. How do you begin the process of prioritizing what should be addressed first, second, etc.?
My committee has just recently updated the City’s prioritization policy, which takes data from condition assessments and input from neighborhoods to rank projects based on factors such as public safety, regulatory requirements, and economic development impact. We’ve already begun soliciting input from the community directly about the types of projects they want to see addressed first. Combined with input from our Community Planners Group, we expect our five-year plan will outline the prioritization of projects. We’re also overhauling the way we prioritize projects with a series of criteria that ensure that needed projects rise to the top. We hope this will mean that prioritization will no longer be subject to political whims.

San Diego, California (Credit:  NBCUniversal Media, LLC)

San Diego, California
(Credit: NBCUniversal Media, LLC)

We’ve all heard the saying “Rome wasn’t built in a day.” That seems especially true for infrastructure. People often get frustrated at the length of time required to take an idea from conception to construction. Why does it take so long and what do you say to community members who get impatient with the process?
Our infrastructure backlog is well more than $1 billion, meaning it took a long time for us to get into the situation we are in currently. We have already passed a number of streamlining measures that will help cut time off the length of future projects. We’ve also adopted the City’s first asset management policy that guides how we maintain and extend the life of the assets we do build. The measures that the Council passed are estimated to cut 3 to 12 months off the time it takes for a project to get done. Our five-year plan will also outline a consistent funding plan of both one-time funds and ongoing funds which will help our projects stand on more secure footing as they go through the process from concept to construction as well as throughout their useful life.

San Diego has one of the nation’s largest and most complex infrastructure systems. What do you see as the public’s role in addressing ways to repair and enhance the city’s infrastructure?
Aside from attending the neighborhood infrastructure input meetings, I would say the next best way the public can do is report issues they see to our city hotlines, email addresses or to their councilmember. Because assessments still need to be done, we don’t have a scope of the condition of all of our assets. But, if the public lets us know about a pothole, an issue in a City building that they see or broken sidewalk, it helps assess the problem and hopefully fix it faster.

Credit: flickr user nobody33

Credit: flickr user nobody33

What are the biggest challenges to improving the city’s infrastructure?
The biggest challenge to date has been the lack of consistent funding.  Right now, only six cents of every dollar in the general fund goes toward infrastructure. That’s not enough. We just announced a bond for more than $100 million that will be a funding surge to help reverse some of the accelerated deterioration of our streets, sidewalks, fire stations, storm drains, parks and libraries. I believe we also need to dedicate more general fund dollars, seek more federal funding like Community Development Block Grants, and dedicate at least 50 percent of any budget surplus to infrastructure projects until we can really reverse the tide.

What are you most proud of in terms of the committee’s achievements so far?
Securing the funds for assessments was a key achievement that will help us to evaluate the true scope of our problems. I had to fight to get these assessments included in the budget because the previous administration wasn’t on board. Without a accurate picture of the problem, we will have trouble figuring out where to dedicate the limited funding available.

The National Highway System (Credit: Chronos)

The National Highway System
(Credit: Chronos)

Our blog is read by people throughout the U.S. Is a committee such as this one replicable in other cities? What would be the lessons learned about organizing, prioritizing and engaging citizens that you would share with leaders from other cities who would like to use your committee as a model for their own?
Absolutely. San Diego has been behind the curve, but the lack of infrastructure investment is a national problem. I think San Diego can leap frog the others and become a leader in this space. Until the committee was created, there was no single group looking at all of the issues related to infrastructure. As a result, there was no cohesive plan to address all of the issues in a strategic and comprehensive manner. While our committee is relatively young, we’ve already learned that this matters to every constituent. They can really relate and want to see government doing something about the problems they face every day. It can bring people together with a common purpose – to Rebuild San Diego.

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Thank you Councilmember Kersey. We look forward to following the Committee on Infrastructure’s progress and hope to see other communities implementing a similar committee to improve their infrastructure.

Liz Faris, Account Manager
Collaborative Services, Inc.

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Which BIG project also broke a BIG record?

163.4 miles per hour is the speed of a world record set by Samuel Groth of Australia. This is not the speed of a stock car in a NASCAR race or a high speed train, but that of the fastest serve of a tennis ball by a male. The 25-year old Groth shattered the world record not once, but over and over again eventually staying at 163.4 miles per hour at the 2012 ATP Challenger Tour tournament in Busan, South Korea.

Samuel Groth  (Credit: Stuart Mcevoy / News Limited)

Samuel Groth
(Credit: Stuart Mcevoy / News Limited)

Which NFL team has the loudest fans? That record is currently is held by the Kansas City Chiefs at 137.5 decibels. The Chiefs narrowly beat out Seattle Seahawk fans by less than a decibel under one month after they had broken the record for loudest crowd roar at a sports stadium.

Kansas City Chiefs fans "decibel up" to break the record for loudest fans. (Credit: Yahoo Sports)

Kansas City Chiefs fans “decibel up” to break the record for loudest fans.
(Credit: Yahoo Sports)

Miracle Milly is the name of the smallest living dog (in terms of height) measuring in at 3.8 inches tall. She lives in Puerto Rico, is known for sticking her tongue out when someone takes a picture of her and will only eat food cooked by humans.

Miracle Milly (Credit: Guinness World Records)

Miracle Milly
(Credit: Guinness World Records)

What do these world records have to do with our theme of BIG projects? While many of the projects we have featured are pretty impressive in their own right, one was just awarded a Guinness World Record. The East Span of the San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge now holds the record for the widest bridge with a total deck width of 258.33 feet. The bridge’s deck includes 10 roadway lanes, a 15.5-ft-wide bike path and a gap where the central tower supports the two bridge deck sections. The bridge was already a record breaker being the world’s longest self-anchored suspension span bridge with a length of 2,047 feet.

Photo Courtesy of Caltrans

Photo Courtesy of Caltrans

Congratulations to the California Department of Transportation, the Bay Area Toll Authority and the California Transportation Commission on the record breaking bridge!

Stay turned next week as we take a look at more BIG projects.

Liz Faris, Account Manager
Collaborative Services, Inc.

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BIG Projects Start with BIG Ideas

All it takes is one BIG idea. That’s how the world’s most iconic projects got their start. While we continue our focus on the BIG projects of the world, we wanted to share some projects that caught our attention. One is already a modern engineering marvel, one may be the future of how we travel, and one may be the future of where we work and live. Some of the BIG ideas are still on the drawing board while others are actually being constructed. All of them are exciting to watch.

Credit: Northwest Broadcast News Association)

Credit: Northwest Broadcast News Association)

Moving world trade into the future
It’s a place where two sides of the world connect. Without it, world trade would be unable to function as it does today. The 48 mile-long Panama Canal was created to allow the world’s ships to pass between the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans and avoid the lengthier and much more dangerous journey around South America’s tip, Cape Horn.  Approaching its 100 birthday, the Panama Canal is nearing completion of a massive facelift. Improvements to one of the most integral parts of the world economy will include the construction of two new locks with three chambers each helping to double its current capacity. The Panama Canal Expansion Program will also include the widening and deepening of existing navigational channels in the artificial Gatun Lake and the Culebra Cut to facilitate more efficient travel for the world’s largest shipping vessels.

The Panama Canal (Credit:

The Panama Canal

In 2006, Panama’s then President Martín Torrijos, pitched the expansion as a way to make Panama a first-world country. More than 75 percent of Panamanians approved of the plan in a national referendum. As with most mega projects, the Panama Canal Expansion Program had its fair share of critics. Opponents include former Panamanian Presidents Jorge Illueca and Guillermo Endara, much of the Panamanian labor movement, and some of the country’s environmental leaders and groups including Biodiversidad Panama. Some opponents believe the expansion is not necessary and a new mega-port on the Pacific side would suffice. For now, the expansion program is on track for completion in 2014 or 2015, but coming up close on its heels are early plans for a new canal with even greater capacity in Nicaragua.

Faster than a speeding bullet
What if you could travel from Los Angeles to San Francisco in the time it takes to watch a sitcom? That is what entrepreneur and Tesla Motors CEO Elon Musk’s vision for the future of travel includes. Earlier this summer, Musk unveiled plans for the Hyperloop a project that would provide giant vacuum-like tubes and an air-bearing suspension system that would allow riders to make the roughly 350-mile trip in just 30 minutes.

Initial designs for Elon Musk's Hyperloop project. (Credit: Tesla Motors)

Initial designs for Elon Musk’s Hyperloop project.
(Credit: Tesla Motors)

Musk’s idea for the Hyperloop was spawned by the billion dollar plans for a high-speed rail system between Sacramento and San Diego. While the California high-speed trains would be capable of traveling more than 200 miles per hour, Musk believes his Hyperloop transport system could allow for travel six times faster at one-tenth of the cost, with an estimated price tag of $70 billion. This may sound like a dream come true for the residents of our country’s most populous state, who all too often find themselves sitting bumper to bumper on the Interstate. For now, the Hyperloop is the dream of  Musk, and 1,000 of his employees from his electric car company Tesla Motors and space exploration company, Space X. But we’ll never say never to a big idea coming from the man who revolutionized e-commerce when he co-founded PayPal and has booked more than 50 cargo and commercial satellite flights to space through 2017 with Space X.

Onward and Upward
Looking for a new place to live? Maybe you are looking for a place with a view?  That is one thing  you will definitely get with SKY CITY 1000.

A conceptual design of SKY CITY 1000 (Credit: Takenaka Corporation)

A conceptual design of SKY CITY 1000
(Credit: Takenaka Corporation)

Planned for Tokyo, the design for this mixed-use super-high rise was first proposed in 1989 by Japanese architecture and engineering firm Takenaka Corporation. SKY CITY 1000 was conceptualized to help reduce overcrowding in urban areas. At 3,280.84 feet high (the equivalent of 328 stories) SKY CITY 1000’s fourteen “Space Plateaus” stacked one on top of the other could house 35,000 people and provide office, commercial, education, entertainment, and other space to employ 100,000 people. Each Space Plateau will act as its own town and even be equipped with its own train. If built it would become the tallest man made structure in the world. While this project may sound like something out of a sci-fi novel, a Tokyo Fire Department helicopter has been used in test simulations to see what the danger would be if a fire were to start in a building of this height and triple-decker high-speed elevators are being designed in labs outside of Tokyo. So you could say the future is looking up.

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We encourage you to think BIG and stay with us as we continue to explore BIG projects through the end of the month.

Liz Faris, Account Manager
Collaborative Services, Inc.

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The FasTracks Program keeps the Denver Region Moving on the Right Track

Colorado’s Denver region is on track to gain up to a million people by 2025. Keeping the region moving and accommodating this future growth is the mission of the Regional Transportation District (RTD). The solution – a multi-billion dollar comprehensive transit expansion plan called FasTracks. This sales tax initiative, passed by voters in 2004, will add 122 miles of new commuter rail and light rail, 18 miles of bus rapid transit, 21,000 new parking spaces at light rail and bus stations, and enhance bus service creating easier connections across the region. Commuter rail and bus rapid transit will be new to the area. The historic Denver Union Station will serve as the multi-modal heart for the new rail lines that will help move commuter rail and light rail riders to destinations throughout the eight-county districts that RTD serves. Bus rapid transit will help to provide swifter and more flexible service.

Denver, Colorado (Credit: Association for Corporate Growth Denver)

Denver, Colorado
(Credit: Association for Corporate Growth Denver)

And where will these new Denverites live, work and play? The RTD is actively participating in plans for transit oriented development (TOD) at and around its transit stations as part of the program. The addition of a mixed use environment will produce a synergy allowing people to live in walkable and sustainable communities that support the new and improved transit system.

Credit: Regional Transportation District

Credit: Regional Transportation District

The program has been hard at work with one rail line open, four rail lines, a bus rapid transit project and the redevelopment of Union Station in construction and another rail line to begin construction in 2014. With the opening of the West Light Rail Line in April, the public is now starting to see the final results of their tax dollar contributions.

The planned transit improvements have also created a huge economic boost and kept the “Mile-High City” and its surrounding communities busy. The FasTracks Program is credited with creating 11,000 full-time jobs since 2005.

The Collaborative Services blog received such a great response for our September theme of BIG projects that we have decided to keep the momentum going as we move into October. This week we talked with FasTracks Public Information Manager Pauletta Tonilas to learn more about the multi-modal program, what has been accomplished so far, and how public participation has been a guiding force behind its success.

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How will FasTracks provide more efficient travel in the Denver region?
FasTracks will provide the public with more transportation options with easy, convenient bus-rail connections. RTD’s parking facilities at transit stations will double through FasTracks, making it easy for people to use the system. RTD’s existing transit system takes many people off the road already. RTD’s current ridership is about 325,000 passenger trips per day, resulting in more than 100 million passenger trips per year. With the buildout of FasTracks, RTD is projected to provide 600,000 passenger trips per day by 2035 – a significant increase in the number of commuters who choose to use RTD services in lieu of driving their cars to and from work, school, appointments and leisure activities.

A map of the FasTracks System. (Credit: Regional Transportation District)

A map of the FasTracks System.
(Credit: Regional Transportation District)

What were some of the challenges in securing public support for FasTracks?
In 1997, RTD tried to pass a transit expansion sales tax initiative called Guide the Ride. The measure failed largely because people didn’t feel the plan was detailed enough. RTD went back to the drawing board and conducted initial studies on the various transit corridors that had been identified by the region’s Metropolitan Planning Organization as priorities for transit improvements. These studies provided enough detail to help RTD define the plan that was eventually named FasTracks.

Members of the public gather to learn more about the FasTracks program at a pre-proposal meeting. (Credit: Regional Transportation District)

Members of the public gather to learn more about the FasTracks program at a pre-proposal meeting.
(Credit: Regional Transportation District)

The FasTracks plan showed the public exactly what they would be getting if they passed the 0.4 percent sales tax increase to fund the transit plan. Part of RTD’s education about the FasTracks plan was a map that showed where the transit lines, stations and Park-n-Rides would be built. Elected officials across the region collaborated to build support for the plan. All 31 mayors from the region unanimously supported FasTracks as well as the business community and environmental groups. Together they publicly endorsed FasTracks and campaigned on behalf of the plan. Former Denver Mayor and current Colorado Governor John Hickenlooper became the “face of FasTracks,” appearing in campaign commercials and ads. Many cities and transit agencies across the country have appealed to RTD and its regional partners to learn from our unique brand of regional collaboration that ultimately resulted in FasTracks being passed by voters in 2004 by a margin of 58% to 42%.

This diagram shows that the opportunity for public involvement is greatest at the beginning of a project and narrows as the project progresses.  (Credit: Regional Transportation District)

This diagram shows that the opportunity for public involvement is greatest at the beginning of a project and narrows as the project progresses.
(Credit: Regional Transportation District)

What type of public involvement efforts have been initiated and how has the public input received been incorporated into the Program?
The environmental study processes on each of the FasTracks transit lines included an extensive public involvement component, providing the public with opportunities to provide input into how the transit project would be integrated into their community. This happened through public meetings, small stakeholder meetings, task forces and working groups, and comments through the FasTracks website. As projects transition from the environmental planning phase to the design and construction phase, public involvement transitions more to public information and outreach to keep the public informed and engaged in the progress of the projects. Some of the public input that has helped shape FasTracks are changes in some station locations, station and parking access, station design elements, and changes to the interior design of RTD’s new commuter rail cars.

What construction work has been accomplished so far?
The first FasTracks rail line, the West Light Rail Line, was completed and opened to the public in April 2013. In addition, construction is progressing on four other rail lines, a bus rapid transit line and the Denver Union Station transit-oriented development. Another rail line is expected to begin construction in 2014.

Opening day of the West Line, April 26, 2013. (Credit: Regional Transportation District)

Opening day of the West Line, April 26, 2013.
(Credit: Regional Transportation District)

What have been some lessons learned along the way?
Implementing a massive transit infrastructure program like FasTracks comes with many lessons learned. One lesson is that agencies need to build ample time into their project schedules for environmental study processes that define all of the elements of a transit corridor before construction can begin. Also, when agencies need to work with the railroads on right-of-way issues, those negotiations are very complex and often take years to complete. Another lesson learned is to set expectations that things will change as projects evolve, including project costs. Given the economic challenges that emerged as a result of the recession, public agencies are having to think differently about how to build out their infrastructure projects. So, one of the biggest lessons learned that RTD can offer is the importance of innovation in financing, building and operating projects.

Transit Oriented Development is an important component to transit improvement projects like FasTracks. How is the Regional Transportation District helping to facilitate Transit Oriented Development opportunities as part of the FasTrack program?
RTD has a Strategic Transit-Oriented Development (TOD) Plan that outlines RTD’s role in the development of livable, sustainable communities around our transit stations which are no longer just places to board buses and trains. RTD is playing a more proactive role in contributing to the development of sustainable, walkable communities where people live, work and play.

Part of RTD’s TOD plan is a TOD Pilot Program where RTD is partnering with local governments, businesses, city and state agencies and forward-thinking developers on mixed-use developments along our expanding rail system. RTD has identified four station areas with high potential for creating communities where RTD could play a role in implementation. Part of the effort is to explore how the various partners can leverage resources through public-private partnerships.

It is allowing planners and commuters to imagine transit systems that don’t just shuttle people from place to place, but offer compelling new reasons for them to stop at points in between. And, at its core, TOD makes it possible for bus and rail stations to become integral, unique destinations that showcase the character of a community.

One feature on the FasTracks website is called Stories Along the Line. This unique feature shares little known facts about locations that will be part of new projects. How did this idea originate and what stories do you hope to feature in the future?
Because of the transient nature of our society, it can help create a feeling of community if residents have some idea of how their neighborhoods have evolved. Stories Along the Line capitalize on people’s natural interest in their community history and progress, and the tie to FasTracks. The stories personalize interesting, historical and unique community information. Here is a summary of stories that will be featured through the end of the year:

An artist's rendering of the new Gold Line Station. (Credit: Regional Transportation District)

An artist’s rendering of the new Gold Line Station.
(Credit: Regional Transportation District)

September: Gold Line

Why is it called the “Gold” Line? This article will feature historical facts about the Arvada and Wheat Ridge communities and the tie to this rail line’s name.

October: Commuter Rail Maintenance Facility

A look at how this new state-of-the art facility will keep FasTracks commuter rail trains running smoothly.

November: I-225 Rail Line – VA Hospital

To commemorate Veteran’s Day, this article will focus on the Veteran’s Administration Hospital located along the I-225 line. Who does it serve and how FasTracks will make it easier for veterans to reach the hospital.

December: East Rail Line – Northfield Development

The Northfield area was once the site of one of the top five busiest airports in the country, now it’s home to one of the most progressive housing communities in the nation, and FasTracks is building a new station at Northfield on the East Line to the current airport, to accommodate this growing population center.

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We look forward to following the FasTracks Program’s progress and watching the Denver region grow with its transit system.

Liz Faris, Account Manager
Collaborative Services, Inc.

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