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New Rating System Aims For Greener Infrastructure

Thursday, April 12, 2012

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Reduce, reuse and recycle is not just do-good advice for consumers. Now, the principles carry billion-dollar performance and financial implications for pipelines and sewage plants and bridges as well.


 Photos: ICI

By carefully assessing each segment of pipe, managers of a water main replacement project in Boston were able to clean and reline some of the system rather than replace it with a lengthy, costly trenching operation.

A comprehensive new rating system for infrastructure sustainability aims to help planners, engineers, facility owners, contractors, regulators, public officials and project managers make those calculations.

The system, called Envision, was developed and unveiled this week by Harvard University’s Zofnass Program for Sustainable Infrastructure and the Institute for Sustainable Infrastructure (ISI).

Envision is designed to provide a complete framework of assessing infrastructure projects at every stage, from planning and design through decommissioning, developers say.

‘Necessary and Dramatic Improvement’

The goal is “to foster a necessary and dramatic improvement in the performance and resiliency of physical infrastructure,” said Bill Bertera, ISI’s executive director.

A collaboration of the American Society of Civil Engineers, the American Council of Engineering Companies, and the American Public Works Association, ISI aims to improve infrastructure performance and viability through the use of more sustainable technologies and methodologies.

Similar in principle to LEED and other rating systems for sustainable buildings, Envision will allow stakeholders in civil engineering public works to assess those projects in terms of environmental, economic and community benefits.

Following sustainability criteria, rehabilitation of the old Dominion Creek Tunnel and Trestle in Montana kept the 100-year-old steel girders, replaced the deck with treated timber, and added handrails. Deteriorated concrete ballast was removed and reused at the site as fill.

Organizers also hope that the system will help policy makers evaluate the sustainability of infrastructure, set “realistic” national priorities, and open an ongoing “national discourse on infrastructure investment.”

Advocates say sustainability is an overlooked critical factor in determining how to salvage, repair and maintain an aging U.S. infrastructure system that is in a well-documented crisis. In this case, green has everything to do with greenbacks.

‘A National Discussion’

Harvard’s Zofnass Infrastructure Sustainability Program is a research organization based at the Graduate School of Design that also works with the university’s schools of Public Health, Government, Business and the Center for the Environment.

Paul Zofnass, a Harvard alumnus, is a longtime strategic and financial advisor to CEOs in the engineering/consulting industry.

As president of The Environmental Financial Consulting Group Inc., Zofnass and his sister Joan created the Harvard program to develop a rating system for infrastructure sustainability.  Envision is based on a similar certification scheme developed by Paul Zofnass several years ago.

 Paul Zofnass
Paul Zofnass, a longtime financial consultant to engineering companies, created a program at Harvard University to develop the rating system.

“We are at the height of a national discussion concerning the condition of our nation’s civil infrastructure and how to finance its future development,” Zofnass said in a statement.

Holistic Approach

Envision’s holistic approach provides a complete framework of assessment, covering all major civil infrastructure project types, scales, contexts and project phases, developers say.

The system is designed to address all major project stages: planning and design, construction, operations and maintenance, and decommissioning.

“The professionals who design and build these projects face a tall order to satisfy ever-growing demand for infrastructure, while at the same time responsibly addressing potential environmental and economic effects,” said Tim Psomas, chair of the ISI Board of Directors.

“Envision will allow project sponsors to better articulate the costs and benefits of infrastructure development by revealing the full value of projects including contributions to job creation, triple bottom line outcomes (social, environmental, economic), enhancements to community resilience and regional competitiveness.”

Like other rating systems, Envision will evaluate, grade and give recognition to projects.

“Designers, infrastructure decision-makers, and the public currently face a proliferation of sustainability rating tools, most of which focus on the performance of a particular infrastructure element,” said Zofnass. “Envision is unique in that it focuses on infrastructure’s total contribution to the environment, economy and society.”

How it Works

Envision directly ties rating system points to measurable benefits, as estimated by state-of-the-practice economic analysis, developers say. The system has four levels of assessment tools:

Stage 1 is a self-assessment checklist and educational tool that helps familiarize people involved in infrastructure projects with the sustainability aspects of the project.

Stage 2 is a third-party, objective rating verification that allows the owner or project team to submit the project for independent verification and recognition. Both the Stage 1 and Stage 2 tools will be released later this year. The second tool will include a comprehensive guidance document and score calculator.

Stage 3 is a tool for complex or multi-stage projects, and Stage 4 is an optimization support tool. Both of those tools will be released after this year.

The system will also offer educational programs to train individuals in general sustainability approaches and considerations, as well as in use of the Envision system.

Coatings and Case Studies

Coatings are not evaluated directly by Envision, but projects that use coatings would be. Because Envision, in part, measures environmental impact, the system may affect options for products specified or selected for a particular project, Bertera said in an email Thursday (April 12).

Case studies on ISI’s site offer some examples of sustainable project management.

Dominion Creek Tunnel and Trestle Repair – Lolo National Forest, MT

The goal was to rehabilitate a 650-foot-long bridge and adjacent 450-foot tunnel to provide pedestrian access to about eight miles of the old railroad grade. The priorities included maintaining historical authenticity and reusing as many original materials as possible.

Among the decisions made:

• The 100-year-old steel bridge girders were retained, but the concrete ballast boxes were removed due to deterioration. All of the ballast materials—including some removed from the tunnel to improve drainage—were salvaged and reused as fill and surfacing.

• Concrete tunneling was removed only where it was severely deteriorated

• Two sections of the tunnel lining were patched, rather than removed and replaced.

• The severely damaged bridge deck was replaced with a renewable treated timber deck.

Using sustainable materials and methods simplified the project, allowing it to be completed faster and less expensively, ISI reported. Completing the Envision rating system for the project took five hours.

The project supervisors, who worked for the U.S. Forest Service, found the system aligned well with government standards, ISI said.

Water Main Rehabilitation Project – Boston, MA

The project involved more than two miles of corroded, leaking water transmission pipelines that dated to 1927.

Managers decided to focus much of their resources on extensive field work and engineering analyses to determine the condition of each segment of pipeline. They then replaced only pipes that had corroded beyond repair and rehabilitated the rest through simple cleaning and cement mortar lining techniques.

In this way, some of the line was salvaged and repaired. Replacements were made with trenchless technologies, such as sliplining and constructing a reinforced cement-mortar lining. The detailed early planning also minimized change orders during the project.

The conventional alternative—excavating and replacing the entire length of the system—would have doubled the cost of the project and disturbed a large wetlands area, homes, a major intersection, a busy highway and the root systems of mature trees, organizers said.


Tagged categories: Bridges; Construction; Corrosion; Green building; Infrastructure; Pipeline; Pipelines; Sustainability; Tunnel

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