Archive for April, 2011

Jim’s Little Yellow Book

Tuesday, April 12th, 2011

by Mary Ellen Eagan

I spent the weekend in a conference room in Florida, developing and rehearsing a 15-minute qualifications presentation for the Palm Beach County Department of Airports.  Sounds like your idea of fun?  I have to say, though, that it was a most rewarding couple of days, because it reminded me that I’m privileged to work with some wonderful people who live those lofty corporate values we claim to aspire to, but seldom achieve.

In this particular case, I was working with a bunch of guys from CH2M HILL, who were preparing a rising young star for his FIRST BIG INTERVIEW.  The patience, grace, and humor they demonstrated in mentoring their protégé was remarkable, and reflected not only on their own personalities, but the corporate culture that is captured in CH2M HILL founder Jim Howland’s Little Yellow Book

Source: CH2M HILL

In our rush to “get stuff done”, we don’t often think about how we’re doing it.  Many thanks to Pete, Phil, Chip, and Tom for reminding me of what’s really most important, and why I enjoy working with such great people.

And we won!  Congratulations, guys.

A Better Way to Compare Aircraft Noise and Emissions?

Wednesday, April 6th, 2011

by Nick Miller

The World Health Organization (WHO) has recently published “Burden of disease from environmental noise, Quantification of healthy life years lost in Europe.” The title sparked my interest because there is an on-going effort in the U.S. to quantify and compare the relative adverse effects on society caused by aviation noise and aviation produced air pollutants. For the primary air pollutants, current U.S. work translates benefits of reductions to such things as reductions in premature mortality and in chronic bronchitis, to which dollar benefits are assigned. For noise, the Noise Depreciation Index (NDI) reveals how many dollars in housing prices are gained by reducing noise. 

I’ve always been troubled by this comparison of dollars of house price saved versus dollars of lives saved –not because I doubt either the calculations or assigning dollars to a life, which is standard in many cost benefit analyses. But my opinion, shared I think by many who deal with community reactions to aircraft noise, is that house prices really don’t reflect the adverse noise effects of living near a busy airport. For one thing, realtors and sellers go out of their way to down-play the aircraft noise issue.

Well, whether or not we want to pursue that debate, here come the Europeans and WHO, with “disability-adjusted life-years” (DALYs) as a method for quantifying any environmental health effect, and a report specifically addressing noise. Though my hopes for enlightenment about aircraft noise were immediately dashed when I learned that this report deals almost exclusively with the effects of road traffic noise, the DALY method may eventually have some use for comparison of aviation noise and emissions effects.

So how do we compute DALYs? Basically it’s the sum of years of life lost (e.g., premature mortality) and years lived with disability, or years of healthy life lost (e.g., suffering chronic bronchitis). The noise produced disabilities the WHO report examines are cardiovascular disease, cognitive impairment in children, sleep disturbance, tinnitus and annoyance. These are all adverse health effects consistent with the WHO definition of health as being “a state of complete physical, mental and social well-being.”

Computation of DALYs requires knowledge of the number of people exposed to each level of noise, a dose-response relationship that gives percent of people affected at each level, the “disability weight,” DW, assigned to the effect (DW equals zero means no health effect, DW equals one, you die), and the number of years of living with the disability or years of life lost. Obviously, many assumptions are required, but I like the way the large number of assembled subject area experts synthesized their knowledge and the research literature results to quantify each variable and calculate the DALYs for each health effect. 

What most struck me, was the number of experts (41 are listed) who participated in developing the report. In contrast, current U.S. efforts have required that many people come up to speed on the effects of aircraft noise on people, working with an additional very few who had actually worked in the field of aircraft noise effects. (Three cheers to the FAA for bringing in experts from outside the U.S. to assist with development of the Aviation Noise Impacts Roadmap.) To be clear, those who had to learn, were already experts, many in acoustics, just not in aviation noise and its effects.

In some ways, how sad. In the 1970’s the U.S. lead the world in developing the knowledge needed to formulate a national policy on noise and noise control. But those efforts all stopped short in the early 1980’s. Hence, most of those with expertise have retired and no new blood added for these three decades.

Now that we are concerned about how we can expand the U.S. air transport system, change airspace use, add runways, and increase the use of under-utilized airports, recognition has come that we better understand what the noise and air quality effects will be on society. Let’s hope that we can develop enough understanding to provide the aviation decision-makers with the information they need for science based noise and emissions policy. Perhaps a bit more of looking to research results gathered outside the U.S. would benefit our efforts.

Desert Success!

Tuesday, April 5th, 2011

by Lance Meister

The DesertXpress Project, a proposed high-speed rail (HSR) line between Victorville, CA and Las Veags, NV, released its Final Environmental Impact Statement (FEIS)  last month.  This is actually the first high-speed rail project in the country to complete its environmental review and documentation (not including the Florida HSR between Tampa and Orlando, which was cancelled) and is now ready to begin final design and construction.   If this post about the project on the US DOT’s “Fastlane” website doesn’t get you excited, you clearly are happy with losing the future!

HMMH was the noise and vibration consultant on the DesertXpress HSR project.  We have been working with the other team members on this project since 2006, from the DEIS, through SDEIS and finally the FEIS.  We modeled both electric and diesel vehicles on the project, and had to address concerns with noise and vibration impacts on national parks and preserves, along with impacts on wildlife and archeological sites.  The top speed is projected to be 150 mph, which is true high speed rail!

Some of the challenges included conducting noise and vibration measurements in the Mojave Desert during July in extremely hot conditions.  One of the benefits was seeing this awesome landmark, which read 117° F one day!

It’s been a long road, but it’s good to see a HSR project moving forward.  The DesertXpress is a private operation and is not using any federal stimulus money.  The project is applying for a federal loan guarantee through the Railroad Rehabilitation & Improvement Financing (RRIF) program.

For anyone who has had to sit in traffic on I-15 heading to Las Vegas on a Friday or coming back to Los Angeles on a Sunday, this has to be good news.   This will provide a relaxing and speedy option to get back and forth to Las Vegas.  Hopefully this project will succeed and be a catalyst for other HSR projects to move forward.  Enjoy this video!

TRB releases Critical Issues in Aviation and the Environment e-circular

Tuesday, April 5th, 2011

by Mary Ellen Eagan

TRB Transportation Research E-Circular E-C148: Critical Issues in Aviation and the Environment explores the environmental media affected by aviation activities and processes that link aviation and the environment. The circular consists of nine individually authored sections representing the authors’ expert opinions on these issues.

Critical Issues in Aviation and the Environment 2011

Many thanks to the authors of those sections:

E-C148 updates and expands upon previous circulars while maintaining their cross-disciplinary approach to reviewing subjects of interest to the civil aviation community in the United States. The circular focus is on the state of science, rather than on policy, and on identifying priority research with the potential to yield benefits during the next several years to several decades.

I hope you will find it a useful reference.