Sustainability Conference Highlights Need for New Design Standards to Develop Infrastructure in the Future

November 20, 2014
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One of the highlights of the conference was the Technical Tour of the Port of Long Beach and Los Angeles. Photo Credit: William A. Wallace

There is a growing sense in the engineering community that the conditions to which engineers design are changing.

“Many significant changes are taking place in the built environment, the environment in which civil engineers work. These changes include warming temperatures, sea level rise, extreme weather events, pollution, and more” explained Engineering Consultant William A. Wallace, ENV SP, M.ASCE, chair of ASCE’s first International Conference on Sustainable Infrastructure, held November 6-8 in Long Beach, California. “The conference was geared toward alerting people to these facts, understanding the consequences, and figuring out how to deal with them. What we learned is that civil engineers and others are becoming aware of these changes and are taking steps to address them.  The bottom line is that the past is no longer prologue, particularly for engineers working on buildings and civil infrastructure.”

“One of the things that came home to me in this conference,” added Local Organizing Committee Chair Douglas J. Sereno, P.E., ENV SP, F.ASCE, “is that as we think about how we are going to replace infrastructure which has basically reached the end of its useful life, we don’t have a realistic and workable plan in place for its replacement. The question then becomes: Do we replace it with what we have had in the past or are there new conditions that we need to adapt to for the future? The fact is, there are new conditions out there and there are new design standards that we need to define and address.”

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Over 300 people were in attendance at ASCE’s first International Conference on Sustainable Infrastructure 2014: Photo Credit: William A. Wallace

That idea was underscored in a session Sereno moderated called “Achieving Zero Emissions in a Transportation Corridor – Innovation through Collaboration.” The session featured a panel of 6 experts representing entities and/or agencies participating in the design of an I-710 Zero Emissions Corridor in Southern California.

“They are looking to develop a way to transport cargo from the ports [of Los Angeles and Long Beach] to the rail yards up in central Los Angeles on I-710 using vehicles that emit zero tailpipe emissions.  The project is designed to reduce impacts on bordering communities from congestion and emissions.” recalled Sereno, director of Program Management with the Port of Long Beach’s Program Management Division and incoming chair of ASCE’s Sustainability Committee. “But I realized that what they were talking about is developing different systems, technologies, and other possibilities whereby we just can’t simply build our way out of highway congestion and pollution with more lane-miles of freeway.  We have to be more ingenious and more adaptive than that.  That was a big thing for me, realizing that the old design standards that we had been working with, are no longer valid in the future and we need to come up with a better way.”

Real Financial Advantages

As one of the Plenary Session speakers at the conference, Joanne Mahoney, the first woman to serve as Onondaga county executive, talked about how she was able to drive sustainable innovation and work toward a greener and more sustainable community by implementing a “Save the Rain,” stormwater management plan. Photo Credit: William Wallace.

As one of the Plenary Session speakers at the conference, Joanne Mahoney, the first woman to serve as Onondaga county executive, talked about how she was able to drive sustainable innovation and work toward a greener and more sustainable community by implementing a “Save the Rain,” stormwater management plan. Photo Credit: William A. Wallace.

Wallace says that one of the goals of the conference was not to simply explain the importance of sustainability to civil engineers, but to make them aware of the tools and methodologies now being developed that can offer a competitive advantage.

“I think attendees got the message, ‘Okay, delivering infrastructure projects that contribute to sustainability is important, but how are we going to do it?  What you’re telling me is that our current design methodologies are not sufficient,’” says Wallace, president of Wallace Futures Group, LLC. “Engineers want to know how these methodologies need to change.  They also need to show project owners the value of incorporating sustainability into projects.  One interesting development comes from a company called Impact Infrastructure, LLC run by John Williams. 

“At the conference, John and his colleagues demonstrated their model which can provide credible estimates of the full lifetime dollar value—environmental, economic and social—of an Envision-rated infrastructure project.  As it turns out, the lifetime value of the project is substantially greater than the economic value alone. If you’re a public works engineer, this is a really valuable tool for justifying civil works project investments to a city or county government.  To me, this is a real game-changer.”

 Technical Tour of the Port of Long Beach and Los Angeles

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Technical Tour of the Port of Long Beach and Los Angeles. Photo Credit: Robert D. Stevens

One of the highlights of the conference was a technical boat tour of the Port of Long Beach and Los Angeles, which gave attendees an up close and personal look at the infrastructure and operation of 2 of the largest container ports in the U.S. The tour also showcased 2 unique projects under construction— the Gerald Desmond Bridge Replacement, California’s first cable-stayed vehicular bridge, and the Middle Harbor Terminal Redevelopment, the West Coast’s first automated container terminal.

“To remain competitive [and accommodate the larger Post-Panamax cargo ships], the Port of Long Beach has to expand and so we have made a very big effort to build in a very sustainable manner,” says Sereno, who narrated the Long Beach part of the tour. “When the $1.314 billion Middle Harbor Terminal is fully completed in 2019, it will be able to handle the largest ships in the world. Being fully automated, it creates a highly efficient, low-polluting terminal while at the same time remaining competitive with other ports in the U.S. by getting more containers quickly through the Port of Long Beach.”

“We had a great nighttime tour of the Port of Long Beach and Los Angeles where you could see all of the construction activity [from the Middle Harbor Terminal],” concluded ASCE President Robert D. Stevens, Ph.D., P.E., AICP, F.ASCE, who joined the tour. “As this conference fully shows, there is now a growing emphasis on sustainability. It was the first [ASCE] conference of its kind that covered sustainable infrastructure, which I think was a great success.”

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