Thursday, November 20, 2008

Policy and Infrastructure: A New Course for Civil Engineerring Majors at UH-Manoa

CEE 491 – Policy and Infrastructure
Dr. Panos D. Prevedouros
Spring 2009

Infrastructure is a rather complex and not-so-clearly defined word. Only about twenty years ago there was an attempt to define it with some precision by the National Research Council (NRC); its definition provided some clarity by adopting the term public works infrastructure to include

"both specific functional modes - highways, streets, roads, and bridges; mass transit; airports and airways; water supply and water resources; wastewater management; solid-waste treatment and disposal; electric power generation and transmission; telecommunications; and hazardous waste management - and the combined system these modal elements comprise.
A comprehension of infrastructure spans not only these public works facilities, but also the operating procedures, management practices, and development policies that interact together with societal demand and the physical world to facilitate the transport of people and goods, provision of water for drinking and a variety of other uses, safe disposal of society's waste products, provision of energy where it is needed, and transmission of information within and between communities.”

Of note is the part of the definition that clarifies that infrastructure is not only the physical system but the operation and management of it. Operation and management is an area of weakness for CEEs. In addition, in many systems O+M costs may dwarf high construction costs because public works infrastructure has a typical life span of 50 to 100 years. Various types of engineers are involved in the operation of water, sewer, trash, road, airport, harbor, electric and telecom systems.

Now that we have a definitional grasp of one of the keywords of the course’s title, let’s cover our bases by defining policy. A policy is a deliberate plan of action to guide decisions and achieve rational outcome(s). The term may apply to government, private sector organizations and groups, and individuals.

The scope of this course may be narrowed down a bit by focusing on public (or government) policy on public works infrastructure with emphasis on civil engineering systems. What are major infrastructure systems? What are their technologies and functional variations? What are their characteristics and costs? Are there size limitations?

Engineers should be and in many cases are the primary advisors of elected or appointed decision makers responsible for the development or expansion of a type of infrastructure. What information and evaluation techniques would an engineer provide to decision makers in order for them to make the right choices for the community? Here is where good technical knowledge, honesty and ethics, and ability to keep up with new technologies and methods make the engineer a key partner in the choices and the future of a community.

The main areas covered in the course are outlined below:

  • The NEPA Process
  • Impacts Analysis
  • Evaluation of alternatives
  • Case Study 1 – Transportation alternatives
  • Case Study 2 – Pavements, cost, life, recycling
  • Case Study 3 – Bridges and tunnels
  • Case Study 4 – Sewer lines and water lines
  • Case Study 5 – Utility tunnels, utility corridors
  • Case Study 6 – Solid waste management
  • Case Study 7 – Residential and industrial waste: Recycling, reuse, remanufacture
  • Case Study 8 to 10 – Sustainability via renewable energy: Wave, ocean upwelling, geothermal, wind, solar, nuclear, biofuels, other
  • Case Study 11 – Flood management
  • Case Study 12 – Emergency management

This course relies on textbooks from previous CEE courses and on extensive use of the Internet to analyze infrastructure types and issues, and develop case studies to improve the situation on Oahu. It relies extensively on self learning and group collaboration to develop an understanding for the sample case studies.

Students form groups of three to five and tackle several case studies, identify alternatives and apply a high level evaluation. Each student will work on five case studies. Each case study culminates in a comprehensive presentation and brief report.