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tv   Book Discussion on The Road Taken  CSPAN  April 17, 2016 3:15pm-4:17pm EDT

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>> here's a look at authors recently featured on book tv's, our week-- weekly author interview program. jc watts talked about the guiding principles he follows in his professional and personal life. professor and former chairwoman of the us civil rights commission mary frances berry explored the history of voter fraud and the suppression. nancy: discuss the challenges women hasten politics and the potential of a woman president. in the coming weeks on afterwards sue cleanable, mother of columbine high school shooter doing people will discuss mental health and recall how she dealt with the tragic. aol cofounder steve case will discuss how emerging technologies will reshape the internet. also coming up, peter marks will tell us about the career of the late aig ceo, who turn the company around during the height of the financial crisis. this weekend, ellen malcolm
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>> hello. welcome. we are very happy to have you all here today. thank you for c-span book tv for being here. we are delighted to have henry petroski, who is on the claimed historian and-- engineer and best-selling author and also the alexander -esque professor of civil engineering and professor of history at duke here tonight to discuss his new book: "the road taken". henry petroski has written many many books for both engineers and laypeople alike. some of which are-- [inaudible] >> pushing the limit, new adventures and engineering.
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all things considered. also, many many more. we are-- this is the first time that henry petroski is here with us. it's such a thrill and i introduced to you-- oh, my boss tom campbell wanted me to mention to you that we have a collapsed storm water grain in the employee parking lot and we are eager to hear more about this structure. [laughter] >> thank you. >> thank you very much. i'm pleased to be here. so, want to talk about if the structure in, the aspects of it better discussed in my book. the title of the book "the road taken" suggest the book is mainly about roads and bridges, which i see as extensions of the roads, but more generally it's about infrastructure and the funding of infrastructure and of the problems we have with
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infrastructure internation. bridges are a problem. if i could see my slides, i will get used to this. 600,000 us bridges, total about one out of nine problematic and so-called structurally deficient. that means they need work. it doesn't necessarily mean they will collapse. although, we know sometimes that does happen. roads that are about 4 million miles of roads in this country. only half of them are paved. the pothole problem is well known and the question is, how do we pay for this. had we accomplish the repairs, repaving where necessary and so forth. how did our infrastructure get to this condition?
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i would-- i always like to look at the historical background of the things. the automobile and motorized vehicles generally have taken a lot of the blame. but, even before that we had horses and wagons, of course. the roads were pretty bad back then, also. in fact, the transition time from horses and wagons to motorized vehicle, there was a symbiotic relationship between them. the horses had no problem, not a complete problem in negotiating muddy roads, but automobiles could not, so very often the horses had to come to the rescue of the automobiles and this is just one image of many, many, many that are similar. there is a situation that occurred in 1919, that was very important for the developing of
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this country's infrastructure. the u.s. army wanted to demonstrate its mobilization capabilities and bandit took the convoy taking a trip across the country from washington dc to san francisco. we know that's about 3000 miles, roughly. it took them 60 days, largely because of the condition of the roads. among the people, the army people in the convoy was a young lieutenant colonel, dwight david eisenhower. this made a strong impression on him and waited-- will come back to that when we talk about the interstates because the interstates are very much associated with him and he was a great proponent of it interstate
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largely because of his experience with that this transcontinental journey. there are many illustrations, photos of this transcontinental trip. the question was where they did find a bridge, was it adequate, would it stand up under the army trucks and one of the participants in the transcontinental journey basically said, well, it won't be so that if some of them breakdown we will have proof that we need to build them up better. anyway, they finally did make it to california, but, of course, as i mentioned it took 60 days. to tae, depending on how fast you drive it takes a little less than that. eisenhower was instrumental in promoting legislation and the 1950s.
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one particular piece of legislation, the federal-aid highway act of 1956 is credited with establishing the interstates. what it really does was establish a way for paying for the interstates. the idea of a national system of roads was going around as early as 1920, later in the 1930s so-called interregional roads were promoted and began to be built. but, there was always the question of how do you pay for them. one of the problems is that the federal government itself cannot build roads. or own roads. the constitution does not authorize that, so the federal government can pay for roads and the federal government set up a system whereby they would share with the states, mainly the cost of building the road and in some cases they shared as much as 90% of the cost, which was a great incentive.
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there is a plus to this, of course, by having the federal government involved there is a standardization from state to state, which means that when we cross a state line we don't have to readjust to a different set of rules, a different set of geography-- geometry of roads and so forth. but, the roads today are highly congested and as we all know and when we talk about the state of our structure, we want to give it grades as the american society of civil engineer does. it takes into account not only their condition, but also their congestion factor. if a road is in a perfect condition, but highly congested it does not get a good mark. now, where does all of this come from? is congestion anything new?
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the answer is of course, no, there's nothing new under the sun. when there were no cars or horses there was congestion. you could almost argue that it was more difficult trying to turn a horse around and keep a horse under control. the streets of cities had a greater problems, the streetcar was introduced, but that just greeted more congestion. with the motor vehicle being introduced, the situation didn't get any better. there will were multi modes of transportation, movement, but one mode of congestion. so, controlling traffic was a big part of infrastructure and we don't hear much about this often. we don't think in terms of traffic lights or road signs come the lines on the road, but these are really part of the infrastructure, also.
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it takes sometimes literally decades for these things to you all to a state so they are doing the job as they are supposed to do, so i want to talk a bit about traffic control and fifth avenue in new york city is as good of an example as any. in fact, in some ways it's the best because it was so heavily trafficked. 1909, pictures of new york going into 1910, 11 and even later there were very very few if any science or traffic signals or lines of direction anywhere along a street like fifth avenue or anywhere else in the country. it wasn't that it was understood that you knew how to manage through the city. it was just it had not been
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developed. no one had written up a set of rules. well, there was a fellow, his name was william eno and his name actually lives on today through what is called the eno foundation for transportation headquartered in washington, i believe. he developed some of the first signs are some of the first rules for traffic. he called them rules for driving. he was a great opponent of the traffic circle and he developed rules and principles for that. he was very lucky. he was born in to a well-to-do family that used this happen a lot because they lived near it and had plenty of time to observe the situation, observe what was going on in the streets , fifth avenue and the other dissecting streets.
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he came up with cysts-- symptoms such as exhibited in his rules for driving, but not everyone immediately understood these rules or immediately adopted them. fifth avenue continued to be pretty much congested as the streets in chicago, detroit and elsewhere. the first traffic lights on fifth avenue looked like this. they were put in powers in large part because they were so much congestion not only of motor vehicles, but also people trying to cross the street and get where they wanted to go. putting the traffic lights up in the air was making them more visible and also the early traffic lights had to be manually operated. there was a policeman that literally had to throw a switch to turn the light from red to green and vice versa and that traffic policeman would be in
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this tower to get it better view of what was coming down the avenue. when they had multiple towers like this several blocks apart the various policeman manning them could communicate with each other mostly visible-- visually and it worked to a degree, but the fifth avenue merchants in particular were not very happy with the looks of these things. they didn't consider them very attractive, so they commissioned a design competition to replace those traffic towers with something more in keeping with the style of fifth avenue and this was the winning entry from architect named joseph free lender and it was rather successful aesthetically and functionally. but, as traffic continued to grow busy it presented problems
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on its own because it's in the middle of the street, so effectively taking out a lane of traffic, so when the cars and trucks would approach this they would have to squeeze down into one less lane. so, the fifth avenue merchts association commission free lender again to develop another traffic light that would be off on the sidewalk and this is a familiar one today in large urban areas. it only had to lights. green and red. in part because there was a lot of confusion and it took quite a while for people to get used to it the different lights meant and if you through yellow and there it just added to the confusion. early to light signals or early three light signals, i should say, the yellow appeared while the red was still on and it was the signal that the green was going to come on, sort of the
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opposite of today. well, this just gave drivers license to rush the green. they took off before the green even appeared. new york lived with this into the 70s, actually. it took a while before this three light system that we have now was more or less universally adopted in this country and again, probably because the federal government laid a role in sharing the cost of installing we could call them modern signals. standardizing them in getting people to understand how they should behave when there's a traffic signal. saved on highway, we don't have traffic lights on most high was especially the interstate, so
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how do you regulate traffic there? well, it's mostly done with lane markers, lines between the lanes and lines separating oncoming from ongoing traffic and early in the 20th century the rule roads had no markings at all. you can imagine as things start from basically nothing and that was very dangerous, especially when a blind curb was coming up. there was a tendency for drivers to hug the inside curb and if someone is coming the other way, bad news. the story and some people consider it-- someone up in michigan noticed a milk wagon driving along on old country road one date it was leaking milk out of one of the containers and dripped a white line behind and i gave someone a idea to put a white line down the center of the road, but anyway white lies the end to in
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upper michigan in 1917. as you know today, when you drive on interstate the whites lines are on the rights. does a solid white line marking the right edge of the road, which is good especially at night because you can tell how-- to keep from going off the shoulder. the yellow line on your left keeps you from going off onto the median or into oncoming traffic. it took quite a well, literally decades to standardize something so simple as this. something that is the most invisible to us today. we just get used to it and take it for granted, but if you just think of driving in dark conditions or rainy conditions, it's a real real lifesaver. accidents and just look at the
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red graph here, the other line is just per population. but, the number of accidents started growing exponentially the way automobiles and drivers did. this is a initial growth curve. almost everything grows this way initially. then hit the depression in this case it starts to level out or jiggle around and drops during world war ii and goes up and starts to recover after the war, but then it starts to peak again what happened around the late 60s and early 70s there is a reason that peaked around then. there were two reasons and one of the main was was ralph nader published a book and since we are talking in a bookstore, this is relevant. his book, unsafe at any speed,
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really made the automobile the safety vehicle it is today in the sense of having the steering wheel that doesn't impale people in an accident. dashboards that are somewhat soft. having-- not airbags, but eventually airbags came out of this same philosophy. seatbelts. before ralph nader seatbelt and other safety devices in the car where an extra package. you had to pay extra for it. lets me talk about bridges a little bit. bridges are really symbolic of infrastructure as i guess roads are. here's a bridge, looks like a fairly ordinary bridge. is it safe or unsafe? well, this is the minneapolis interstate highway i-35w bridge that became famous in 2007, when
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it collapsed suddenly during rush hour traffic. it took everyone by surprise. there was a bridge that stood for 40 years. had been inspected regularly as was the federal requirement and yet this happened to it. this is what is not supposed to happen to infrastructure. the accident, the cause of the accident was traced to some inadequate designing, something that should have been caught, but wasn't, very sad occurrence. we don't want this to happen, obviously. what happened after that accident was very interesting because a replacement bridge was built within about a year, something we are not used to. you can get a bridge built with such relatively short period of
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time. this was the drawing and the plan of the replacement bridge. there was a timeline set up. the bridge was built on time in fact, before the expected delivery date. it was done on budget. wasn't overrun and it's the saint anthony falls bridge is what is called today. interestingly when a bridge accident does occur and a bridges rebuilt at the same location, usually we see the replacement bridge looking quite different from the original one. obviously for psychological reasons we don't wanted to remind people of the accident. lit up at night. aesthetic and also has a lot of what is called smart features work it's called a smart bridge because when it starts to snow and ice in minneapolis it automatically starts spraying
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the icing components and detects problems with the bridge, a smart bridge. how do we pay for things like a replacement bridge or a paving road or building a new bridge, expanding a highway, so forth and so on? that's probably the biggest topic in washington these days. it should be part of a national debate for the presidential campaign. so far it has not risen to the level of that. it's not a federal problem entirely. the federal government only contributes about 25% of the cost of infrastructure. here we are really talking about all levels of government contributing, the states. we pay state taxes, state gasoline taxes and so forth and locally we pay taxes in some
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locality also charge tax on gasoline purchases. anyway, the federal government only pays one out of four, one fourth of the total cost, typically the states are-- will apply for grants from the federal government. where does the federal government gets its money? well, there's something called a highway trust fund, which was established with the interstate highway act. federal aid of 1956 act. the highway trust fund is totally dedicated to highways and roads. there should be a few footnotes, but they are really minor. the main revenues into the highway trust fund are gasoline taxes and what could save fuel taxes because diesel taxes also feed in.
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there are some minor taxes on sales taxes for trucks and trailers and so forth, but the bulk of it is gasoline and diesel taxes and the gasoline taxes are the order of 63% that we see on this slide. now, this has been a growing problem for over two decades, that the gasoline tax, the federal gasoline tax has been 18.4 cents a gallon since 1993. that means the revenue into this fund has been pre-much frozen at that because of that. that means that all of the new infrastructure problems that we hear about, expansion of roads and so forth, there is no room really in the budget to do that stuff based solely on gasoline taxes and if we are going to continue to improve and maintain infrastructure in the condition
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that we would like it, then we will have to look elsewhere. a natural place to look is to raise the gasoline tax. it hasn't been raised and hasn't kept up with inflation. it hasn't kept up with needs, but people in washington, those who set these rules, they have a bad case for raising taxes period. at least gasoline taxes. so, there is a lot of talk and this is history of the gasoline tax and you can see where it's flat now at the 18.4 cents-- since 1993. what other alternatives to gasoline tax to raise more money for the highway trust fund? while, there are a whole bunch of them that are coming to discuss because it looks pretty
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clear that the federal government is not going to appreciably change the source of revenue, not going to increase the tax. the reason that the federal gasoline tax is not bringing in as much revenue is not only the coast it's been flat in the rate, but also because the government has really been working in opposition to itself. it's been encouraging hybrid vehicles. it's been encouraging electric vehicles. it's been encouraging more fuel-efficient vehicles and all of these bring down gas consumption. bringing down gas consumption means that gas tax revenue is brought down also. this is one of the main reasons why we don't see any growth in that. the government is furthermore promoting these alternative motor vehicle modes by giving
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tax credits and so forth. this looks a little complicated, but it's really pretty simple. you can see on the right where the revenue into the fund is a flat. those green peaks is where the government to from the general fund or from some other source and confused it into the highway trust fund. if you follow washington politics at all over the last year or two, every now and then there is a deadline, a precipice , a clip that-- cliff that we will go over and this is one of them and they have all these ad hoc fixes over the course of i think it was some number of years there were short-term legislation, three dozen short-term bills that did things like infuse more money and extended deadlines.
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the states also tax gasoline, as i have mentioned. this is just to show how varied it is. the yellow states are generally bobo taxation states as far as gasoline taxes concern. the red is the high one and the blues are in between. the states have lately been doing an awful lot in this area. they have been racing gasoline taxes, north carolina had an increase just recently. that the legislation mandated i think last year. sometimes it's actually gone down because of the way the legislation is written when it's tied to a certain index, but generally speaking is actually the estate tax that is greater than the federal tax, sometimes by a factor of two or three.
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so, the federal government is seen as the villain in all of this very often, but in fact the states are in many cases asking for more money from the gas purchase or fuel purchase. the american society of civil engineers as i mentioned in the beginning sort of close with this, about every four years it issues what he calls a report card for america's infrastructure. it grades condition and remember condition not only means potholes, but also congestion and so forth, roads, bridges, transit, dams, canals, all of the categories of infrastructure. roads and bridges, just as representative categories have not done too well in the course of the afc east report card. d and c+ are typical grades.
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these grades mean poor, mediocre, not something to be proud of as a nation or as a driver. it's something you don't want. the individual section of the american society of civil engineers also has their own grading programs and north carolina since we are in north carolina i thought this would be of interest. north carolina section grades our roads better than the national average. it grades our bridges, however, worse than the national average and it has a lot of do with the bonner bridge, which has been an ongoing issue down on the coast. overall, the infrastructure in north carolina is given a c, which is mediocre, but still better than the average, the national average.
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bust, none of us should be proud of this or of the national state of art in the structure. the amount of money needed to bring things up to even acceptable standards is generally ashen omicron. i did not mention it, but on the previous slide-- i will just go back to that. wow. well, i don't know what happened there. i'm glad i'm near the end, so we won't worry about that. you notice on the bottom, the $3.6 trillion is the estimated investment in infrastructure that is needed by 2020 and that is only a few years out, now. well, the whole federal budget, the whole federal budget for one year is $4 trillion, approximately so, we are talking about a lot of money. it's not clear where this would come from or how it would really
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be raised, whether by taxes or anything else. so, there are beginning to be talks about what could be done as alternatives to these traditional means of finding money for that of the structure. i mentioned higher fuel taxes and that sort of a no-brainer, but no one, citizens or the electoral officials once that. there is increasingly talk about mileage -based user fees. you are going to be taxed on how many miles you drive in your vehicle per year and this is under development for california and oregon actually have test programs going on as we speak. the department of transportation and us department of transportation is offering grants to states and other
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groups to develop ways of implementing this. so, it seems that there is a lot of emphasis to switch over to this method. obviously there are questions of privacy. questions of people who-- whereabouts being tracked and so forth. so, it has quite a bit of opposition and will be a debate that will probably drag out over years if not a decade or so. public-private partnerships is another way of funding the infrastructure that has been talked about increasingly. that i did here's to get someone other than the government, other than the citizens through their taxes to pay for them to structure. the way this would work is you want a new highway, you find
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some investors who are willing to invest in this, make a toll road, they collect the tolls and that's how they get a return on investment and everyone should be happy. the state gets new roads. the investors get a return on their investment. that's a oversimplification, of course this has been done in quite a few places, but there has also been bankruptcies in this model, so it's not clear what's going to happen. proactive maintenance, too often we wait until there are developed potholes, lots of potholes until we repave a road. well, that is not a way to go because by the time you get to that stage it's going to be much more expensive than it if you had done a good job along.
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there are ways of figuring out how close to being 100% exhausted say acyl is on a given road and if you can in anticipation of that repave the road and actually save money and get what is for all practical purposes a new road at the same time. we have to increasingly look for solid initial workmanship of a good kind, not shoddy workmanship, but really well done job. in my neighborhood, there is a road, a short stretch of road that had a lot of potholes and was repave a couple of months ago. everyone was happy. it has potholes again after literally only two months. i attribute that to the fact that it was not good workmanship
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either the materials were inferior or the workmanship were inferior or it was done in a condition where you don't a down asphalt, mainly when it's too cold. whatever the reason, whose went to pay for it now? so, i think there should be fair and honest contracts if a city like durum is great wish a contract for a paving job, they should make sure they get what they pay for. if the paving job is not done correctly, then, of course, what should happen is the contractor should redo the job at the contractor's expense. this goes for large jobs like interstate highways and so forth. there are numerous examples where there have been a few like this and in some cases outright fraud and corruption. so, the parties should be accountable for what they
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contract to do. this will help us save money and accomplish at the same end as raising taxes if done properly. well, i think with that i will close down the road here and hope that i have inspired some questions and as i say, this is a quick tour through my book took the book covers these kind of things and more and if you have any questions now i would be happy to entertain them. thanks for your attention. [applause]. >> i was wondering what you thought about the solar panels on highways that i have seen on the internet.
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have you heard of this? >> you mean the ones where you drive over? >> it to just soaks up the sunlight and there are like solar cells built right into the roads. >> well, if they prove to work effectively, then obviously it's a good idea. highways are obviously open spaces. the, they will only generate energy if the traffic above them is not congested. when that road gets congested it would be effectively like a big cloud coming over and blocking the semi. so, i don't know an awful lot about that technology. but, all technology usually has its pluses and minuses and you have to weigh those to really make decisions about whether to adopt it or do more study, so
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forth. potential, obviously something like that has potential. yes. >> i wonder if your research turned up any convincing argument as to why we drive on the right side. >> i understand and a lot of this stuff depends on what you read. henry ford in making the model t put the steering on the left side, which made people drive on the right side. as i pointed out before there were no rules of the road so to speak when the automobile was first introduced, so i have seen introduced, the model t automobile. stomach that the problem with increasing the vehicle tax would be detroit or as or both. >> i really did not mention detroit, did i? the automobile dealers lobby
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like everyone else does, the trucking companies body. everyone should really want the same and in this situation. you want good roads. but, it's human nature to want to have good roads, but not have to pay any more than the next guy or ideally in most peoples minds including corporations and detroit to pay less than the other guy, so it's a battle of lobbyists in washington to a large extent. trucking companies, for example, are constantly arguing lobbying for longer trucks, heavier trucks and lately they have been lobbying for truck drivers who are younger, 18 to drive the biggest trucks on the road. many people see these as a
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safety problems, but the lobby pushes for these because there are issues that they have. yes, sir. >> how about rail traffic? >> i deliberately limited my book to what i know best, mainly roads and bridges, but we actually are rail traffic is sort of-- as far as freight the real system mystery good. rather efficient. of course, moving freight by rail is good because it keeps big trucks on the road. our passenger rail is an embarrassment on a world stage. japan has it the bullet trains. france has its train. china has almost over night
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brought out massive systems of fast trains and we just haven't done it. there are little efforts here and there. train on the so-called northeast quarter between rushing to dc in boston doesn't live up to its promise of going fast. the road betters in poor condition and a lot of what i said for roads for vehicles could be said about the passenger rail system in this country. obviously it needs a very large capital investment to bring up to world's standards. airports are the same situation. some of our airports have been described as third world country airports. la guardia airport in new york city where people fly into to go
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to what new yorkers like to call the financial capital or the entertainment capital and so forth is a very big embarrassment, not only the airport itself, but the surrounding infrastructure, so we have a long way to go. ..
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in in germany they drive very fast. i don't know -- [laughter] how much that affects their accident rate. but it's interesting, at the peak highway deaths were at about 55,000 in this country in absolute numbers. now they're down around 33, 34,000. just to put it in some perspective, that's about the same number of deaths from firearms per year. so, you know, now that's apples and oranges, but comparing things, you're going across cultures, you're going across all sorts of different boundaries. and it's not always easy to make comparisons. and if you can make them, you do make them, what does it really mean? you had a question, yeah. how hard is it to tell the british is in trouble? >> well, if you -- the bridge is
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in trouble? >> well, if you inspect it correctly, and all bridges in this country are over 20 feet long, technically, are supposed to be inspected at least every two years, and those maybe that are showing signs of trouble, every year. it should be sort of a cookbook thing. you take a list and you check off. but in this case of minneapolis bridge which is one that is used a lot as an example these days, it got relatively good marks. it can't get troublesome marks -- it didn't get troublesome marks, and yet there were signs that it was in trouble. in particular there was bending going on in some of the steel that was not recorded or reported. properly. so what it -- i guess that would fall into the category of human factor. it's only as -- your information
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is only as good as the people producing it. yes, sir. >> well, i was going to ask you to comment on sort of the difference between a roundabout and a traffic circle. it seems like new jersey's taking out traffic circleses and putting in round-abouts. >> you know, all of this stuff is sort of fashionable. yeah, jersey has historically had traffic circles i think they call them. a round-about is more of a british term, i think. we're adding them here in durham, in north carolina. functionally, i don't think there's a great deal of difference. but i use the terms synonymously. but i think, you know, you could draw distinctions if you drilled down into it. you had a question. >> do you in your book discuss the politics of infrastructure development? what i'm thinking of is that
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road construction in north carolina is a very political animal. probably next to universities the most political animal. and there's all this competition between the west and the east and the piedmont. and the competition among states is also equally strong. and the resolution of that is beyond the engineers' ability, beyond the economists' ability probably. >> i do discuss it here and there. i give examples of corruption, really bad practices that document -- >> it's not just corruption. [inaudible] >> right. well, the answer is, yes, but it's not highlighted in the book. let's put it that way. it's there. yes, sir. >> what about light rail as
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proposed here? does that have any real impact on -- >> well, that's a political issue. [laughter] >> the goal is reducing traffic and all this stuff. >> yeah. i think it depends on who you talk to. i haven't followed it that closely. people call me a bridge person. [laughter] so, and, you know, the previous question, i know how people fight for bridges and so forth. but i know about the light rail system, and it's been going on almost as long as i've been -- the debate about it has been going on almost as long as i've lived in north carolina. at times it's made sense, at other times it hasn't made any sense. and i'm not sure where it stands. i know that at one time it was to incorporate raleigh and the airport, and that's no longer part of it. and it'll be interesting to, you know, look into why that change
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was made. that would probably give insight into motives and so forth. but i only read -- i only know what i read in the paper really. you had a question. >> well, i was going to ask you about trucks, but you say you're a bridge person, so -- >> oh. >> -- i'll shift to bridge withs. >> well, i can talk about trucks going over bridges. [laughter] >> and so i wondered, i only know in this case what i saw on pbs or someplace be or other a couple years ago about the situation involving, i think, an elevator -- [inaudible] in philadelphia. and i wonder -- which is badly deteriorated. they are literally putting in sister beams, evidently, to keep this from falling in. i wonder if you've tracked that at all? >> i don't recognize that case. there was a case near wilmington, delaware, where the bridge started leaning because
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some soil problems nearby. but, no, i don't recognize that example. >> so to follow up more generally then, if your book addresses this, what proportion of our bridge structures then are really in serious condition as in the high -- i-90 collapse in new york or the minneapolis collapse? >> well, these examples occur, like this minneapolis was 2007. and for many people that's the one that's highest in consciousness because nothing like it has happened since, has gotten the same publicity. so that gives us a sense that we're, you know, talking about rare events, relatively speaking. over the long -- the big picture
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over the long span is that accidents of that kind occurs maybe once every 30 years. and usually for a totally different reason than all the historical reasons. so it's, that makes it very difficult to predict, you know, what's going to happen. but there are signs that you can look for. if, for example, a certain type of bridge is being made longer and longer and longer and there are efforts to also make it look slenderer and slenderer, look prettier, that's a sure sign that that's manager to watch. -- that's something to watch. and how do you watch it? well, you ask experts if there's a design proposed how good is this design, how safe is this design. but there are historical examples where that situation has arisen, and when the powers that be have gotten the answer they didn't like, they went to
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another consultant who did give them the answer they were looking for, and the bridge got built and collapsed. so these are, again, political on a certain level, and people -- psychology is probably not the proper word, but human nature problems. yes, sir. >> i want you to expand on your work on evolution and design, and i'm wondering your perspective on how infrastructure is going to start to evolve as we start to adopt driverless cars and driverless public transport. how do you think the roads and things are going to change once we get all these awful drivers off the road? [laughter] >> well, or get the awful roads out from under the drivers. [laughter] i actually do have a chapter on that, and that technology's moving pretty quickly, autonomous vehicles,
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self-driving vehicles. i mean, the technology is almost basically here. it becomes a public policy question at this point. are local laws written such that there has to be a driver in the car, and then what does a driver mean? do the laws define driver as a human being? so you get into those issues. similar to remember the segway issue, the little scooter that you stand -- well, you still see them going around malls and so forth. it's going to be a question of whether there's going to be a will to have these cars, these vehicles. >> [inaudible] [laughter] >> you're ready. well, be you could work for google -- if you could work for google or somebody, but what are you going to do? you just sit as a passenger -- >> i'll take a nap on the way to work. >> well, that's true, that's true. [laughter] well, that's the way, that is, i think, the future of
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infrastructure. and i mention the smart bridges. they're also increasingly -- there also increasingly is talk about materials like asphalt and concrete that can heal itself from cracks and really things that seem almost science fiction-y now, but these are come to pass. yeah. >> is there right now any thinking, when something new is designed, do they ever think about upkeep? the example i have in my brain right now is the big dig in boston. they built all these roads underground. well, what's going to happen in 30 years to those roads? and tunnels? >> well, engineers, good engineers do because they recognize that, you know, look, they build -- [inaudible] without fault and without
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vulnerabilities to wear and so forth. but when you're pushing for a new bridge, let's say, and mostly it would be the politicians and people acting like politicians, they usually want to present something that's going to be as unexpensive as possible. so -- inexpensive as possible. so they don't want to include the cost of maintenance. that's not a glamorous topic. it's the same problem with building a new building on a university campus around here. so the short answer is people are aware of it. i've heard -- and, again, you can get numbers all over the map, but i've heard that the maintenance costs on, say, a bridge can be of the order of 4% a year, 4% of the stated cost of the bridge. usually the stated cost of a bridge also doesn't include finance costs, finance charges, interest charges and so forth. so these numbers can be very misleading, very, you know,
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unrepresentative of what the real cost is. so the answer, the short answer is, yes, people think about it. do people do anything sensible about it, no. [laughter] everybody, you know, who wants to give money to a university, often they want a building built with their name. they don't want a janitors' closet with their name, you know? but that's what keeps the building, that's where the lightbulbs get changed -- >> right. >> -- that's where it gets cleaned. yeah. yeah. okay. >> just a -- you mentioned bridges. and i may or may not have a comment about this, but we've got a very nice bicycle bridge over i-40 now down near southfork shopping center. and as i understand, it's a
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great bridge, and it's a lot of fun to go, but it was a very, very expensive bridge. the figure seven million sticks in my head. i don't know if that's accurate, but it's hard to see where $7 million went. >> i agree. and beauty is in the eye of the beholder. i -- that's a disappointing bridge, to me, because the lines are not graceful. the transitions, i should say. the individual lines are nice, but you put them all together, and it just doesn't live up to what you would expect for that kind of money. >> [inaudible] why it was so expensive, i don't know if any of them are true. >> i guess i haven't heard the rumors about that one. >> there was only one bidder, i believe. >> well -- >> that would do it. >> well, that should be easy to verify, if that's, in fact, true. well, thank you very much. the it's been a pleasure. [applause]
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>> okay. if you all would like to have your book signed, dr. petroski will be right over there signing books, and you can get them here and pay for them upstairs, or if you have them with you, that's great. >> you're watching booktv on c-span2. this weekend we're in tuscaloosa, alabama, with the help of our local cable partner, comcast. next, we learn about the life of local author and artist lila quintero weaver growing up in the be deep south during the civil rights era. >> the name of my book is "darkroom: a memoir in black and white." here it is. it's a graphic memoir. and i decided to write it because the opportunity came my way to

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