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Monday, October 7 • 11:15am - 12:45pm
Lifecycles of Infrastructures

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Panel Description: The papers on this panel draw on historical and other approaches to examine the different maintenance needs of transportation systems over their lifecycles.

Paper Abstracts

Jung Eun Park: "Addressing Planning Fallacy in Infrastructure Investment Decision Making"

Infrastructure projects have been notorious for their inability to keep to budget. In an attempt to address cost overruns, the United Kingdom first adopted Kahneman’s Nobel Prize-winning theory to challenge biases in human judgement and reference class forecasting soon became mandatory in the United Kingdom. In the United States, the American Planning Association encouraged planners to use reference class forecasting in addition to traditional methods, but the practice has yet to catch on. Reference class forecasting was originally developed to cure honest mistakes in the private sector. Does it effectively work in the public sector where intentional misrepresentation is prevalent? By comparing major infrastructure projects in the United Kingdom and the United States, this research finds out whether notable estimating improvements have been made with reference class forecasting and what lessons we can learn from the British experience.

John Laurence Busch: "Steaming Quid Pro Quo: Early Waterway Maintenance during the First High Technology"

In 1807, an American named Robert Fulton built and ran the first commercially successful steamboat in history. In so doing, Fulton achieved something epically important: he proved that humans could create an artificial power that altered a person’s location to practical effect faster than by natural means. No other invention had achieved such a thing before, and accordingly, steamboats may be considered the first “high technology” in history. Fulton and his financial partner, Robert R. Livingston, also achieved something else quite important for themselves: they fulfilled the terms of the exclusive steamboating franchise granted to them by the State of New York. In fairly short order, other States decided that they too should grant exclusive franchises to entrepreneurs for the running of steamboats within their boundaries. But these States wanted something in return: they wanted maintenance. This paper and presentation will explore how different States in the Early American Republic addressed the opportunity of introducing a new technology while at the same time leveraging the abilities of the applicants to maintain waterways within a given State’s boundaries. It will then describe how this “steaming quid pro quo” came to an end. Finally, it will suggest that these 19th-century transportation maintenance solutions could be used as a means to re-examine the idea of giving States greater leeway in finding creative solutions to their 21st-century transportation maintenance challenges. The presentation will close by noting that similar compare-and-contrast exercises could be conducted on the other time-and-space-altering high technologies that followed steam-powered vessels.

Gerard Fitzgerald: "The Thirsty Iron Horse: Water Softening Technology and Steam Locomotive Infrastructure Technology in the United States 1900-1950"

The hills, mountains, valleys, rivers, and deserts of the nation created a seemingly never ending series of civil engineering challenges for railroads as the country embraced industrialization during the late 19th and early 20th centuries. It is less well known that as steam technology evolved, the water powering locomotives presented railroads with mechanical engineering and infrastructure problems that were just as complex. The history of American railroad approaches to water softening will be briefly reviewed to show how the nation’s railroads adopted a more scientific and economic approach to water use during the early 20th century. The national railroad system involved the movement of trains through a spectrum of ecosystems across the country that forced railroads to customize various water softening techniques to meet the geologic and meteorological nature of each locale. Technological and scientific response to the problem accelerated during the first two decades of the 20th century and most American railroads eventually began to employ chemists to oversee the composition of the water used to power steam locomotives, while simultaneously approving large-scale modifications to the numerous online water tanks and pumping stations and also financing the construction of new water softening and treatment facilities.

Amanda McMillan Lequieu: "Transportation infrastructure decline as lived metaphor in the American Rust Belt"

This paper discusses the rise and fall of transportation as a lived metaphor for people who live in deindustrialized regions of the United States. It asks two questions: 1) what does transportation maintenance look like in a region of consistent economic decline? And 2) how do people who live in those regions understand transportation? This line of inquiry emerges as an unexpected theme emerging from a broader interview project. I conducted 90 interviews in two communities at opposite ends of a former, Midwestern steel commodity chain. In both a rural, iron mining community and an urban steel manufacturing neighborhood, transportation infrastructure emerged unbidden and central in interviewees’ descriptions of boom and bust. The late 19th and early 20th century construction of industrial transportation—rail, shipping, and roadways—was recalled with fondness by interviewees as facilitating the economic growth and cultural connection central to social thriving in these iron and steel communities. The closure of the anchor companies in these communities was the climax in interviewees’ narratives; the gradual decline (both intentional and natural) of industrial transportation infrastructure emerged again and again in interviewees’ stories as a visible, experienced, and emotional metaphor of the gradual disconnection and loss they experienced. References to declines in industrial transportation often segued to frustrations about the uneven distribution of public transportation (bus and passenger train) or highways. Declines in industrial transportation propelled massive depopulation in my case study regions; depopulation, in turn, caused declines in public transportation.

Matthew Hersch: "When the Upgrade Never Comes: Planned Obsolescence and the Challenger Disaster"

Published ten years after the loss of the space shuttle Challenger and its crew shortly after lift-off on January 28th, 1986, Diane Vaughn’s Challenger Launch Decision fixed upon NASA’s “normalization of deviance” to explain why the shuttle flew that day despite multiple warnings of problems capable of destroying it. Three years later, the second edition of Charles Perrow’s book Normal Accidents pushed this already bleak assessment of the space shuttle in an even more nihilistic direction by arguing that complex socio-technological systems like the shuttle are more-or-less doomed to failure despite the best efforts of those maintaining them. Yet while other technological systems likely behave as Vaughn and Perrow claim, Challenger was felled neither by maintenance failure nor its own complexity. In that case and the later loss of shuttle Columbia in 2003, it was a single component in each vehicle that failed—a gasket and a particularly brittle piece of the shuttle’s outer cladding—and these single-points-of-failure were known problems whose risks were well-understood from the program’s inception. The shuttle was not an otherwise reliable craft maintained too badly to work well. The problem was, as physicist Richard Feynman later concluded, that the shuttle worked exactly as it was designed: to give the appearance of a functional space vehicle until funds became available to build a less risky replacement. The space shuttle failed because it was designed to fail, the victim of a thirty-year wait for an upgrade that never came.


Monday October 7, 2019 11:15am - 12:45pm
6ABC (2nd Floor)
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Attendees (6)