dcsimg Boosting North American infrastructure - Ramboll Group

Boosting North American infrastructure

Heavier traffic and long-overdue maintenance. Time has caught up with many North American transport networks. Large-scale public spending plans have now been announced to close the gaps and accelerate infrastructure development. Americans are looking to Europe in their quest for long-term solutions.


By Jesper Toft Madsen

A strong sense of urgency is moving across the North American continent. Already ageing roads, bridges and railways have continued to deteriorate since the new millennium, thus curbing capacity, sustainable transportation and competitiveness.

Every four years, the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) releases a report card on the condition of American infrastructure. In its latest report, published in 2013, the nation barely scraped by with a “D+”, and achieving a “B” would require an investment of USD 3.6 trillion over the next seven years. The ASCE estimates that USD 1.6 trillion is needed to close the gap between planned investments and the sum required to achieve an infrastructure in a good state of repair.

Road network in Los Angeles

These dazzling numbers call for action, and a new signal of intent from President Barack Obama has answered that call. In his 2015 State of the Union Address, the President proposed a six-year infrastructure plan to the tune of USD 478 billion.

- Twenty-first century businesses need twenty-first century infrastructure – modern ports, stronger bridges, faster trains and the fastest Internet. Let’s pass a bipartisan infrastructure plan that could create more than 30 times as many jobs per year, and make this country stronger for decades to come, President Obama said, referring to a Republican bill to establish the 1,100-mile Keystone pipeline carrying crude oil from Canada to the Gulf of Mexico coast, that he later vetoed.

European expertise as restoration driver

The ASCE states that 32% of major roads are in poor or mediocre condition, and 42% of major urban highways are congested. This is a massive issue in view of the USA’s more than four million miles of public roads, with trucks moving some 60% of all goods.

In search of long-lasting solutions, North America is turning to European expertise. EU policymakers have traditionally taken a more expansive approach to long-term transport investments.

- North America will never become anything like the European Union. But we still might learn from Europe’s experience. EU transport policy was designed to promote economically and environmentally efficient, safe and secure transport services within the internal market and beyond. These EU plans have not been entirely successful, but we should look more carefully at what they have attempted, argues Stephen Blank, Special Advisor to the Collaboratory on Energy, Research and Policy at the University of Ottawa, in a recent feature on opencanada.org – Canada’s hub for international affairs.

Combining aesthetics with efficiency

Delays caused by congestion and detours to avoid deficient bridges or poor pavements cost time, fuel and increased emissions. Naturally, modernising the road network is North America’s greatest transport concern. Refurbishing or replacing badly maintained, low-capacity bridges and tunnels is a key driver in this restoration phase.

Axel Emil Christensen, Senior Market Director at Ramboll, highlights projects such as the Queensferry Crossing in Scotland, the Mersey Gateway in the UK and the upcoming Fehmarn Belt tunnel connecting Scandinavia with Continental Europe as reasons that the Americans are looking overseas.

- Western Europe has a strong tradition for designing and constructing major bridges and tunnels. I believe that North America can potentially benefit from our experience within two distinct areas: First, the aesthetics – our designs have excelled because both technical experts and architects are involved. Second, design optimisation – smart resource utilisation in our designs makes our bridges and tunnels cheaper to build, and they’re more sustainable and easier to maintain, he explains.

Ramboll specialists have already been involved in some North American replacement and modernisation projects. If more words are put into action, the ASCE expects accelerating infrastructure investments to stimulate the economy, create 2.7 million jobs, lower CO2 emissions and improve local and regional connectivity.

The Mersey Gateway bridge in the UK

Mersey Gateway: A catalyst for regional regeneration

In 2017, a six-lane, cable-stayed toll bridge across the River Mersey near Liverpool in northwest England will open to relieve the congested and ageing Silver Jubilee Bridge. The so-called Mersey Gateway is an integral part of the local Sustainable Transport Strategy and will be a catalyst for regeneration in the area. The scheme is expected to create over 4,000 jobs, improve travel times and reliability for millions of people and attract massive inward investment in the region.

The Mersey Gateway Bridge will be an iconic landmark. The award-winning design is based on a cable-stayed structure with three towers. The 80-metrehigh central tower will be shorter than the two outer towers, which will reach 110 and 125 metres, respectively. The bridge will be 2,130 metres long, with a river span of 1,000 metres.

The Quensferry Crossing

Queensferry Crossing: Northern Europe’s largest

The 2.7 km road bridge linking Edinburgh with the county of Fife is the largest bridge project in Northern Europe. The captivating multi-spanned, three tower cable-stayed structure will replace the existing Forth Road Bridge and become the longest of its kind. The overlapping stay cables represent a technical design innovation that improves the stability and resiliency of the bridge. When completed in 2016, the three towers will rise 207m above sea level, from which will stretch 23,000 miles of stay cabling.

- The project will be essential in protecting and promoting Scotland's sustainable economic growth, safeguarding a vital link in the country’s transport infrastructure, protecting thousands of jobs and securing over £1 billion in economic revenue, said Scottish Finance Secretary John Swinney at the announcement of the Forth Crossing Bridge Constructors (FCBC) consortium with Ramboll as lead designer.


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Axel Emil Christensen
Axel Emil Christensen
Senior Market Director
T+45 5161 6220