In today’s construction news, read about how AI is helping engineers make lighter concrete blocks for new bridges in Pennsylvania, where 13% of bridges are not built well. AI could also be used to make a wall along a highway that blocks out noise and greenhouse gas emissions from cars. Meanwhile, single-family homebuilding in the U.S. barely went up in October, and it might stay that way for a while longer because of higher mortgage rates, which made homebuilders lose faith to an 11-month low in November.
NEW Road and Bridge Construction and Repair Tool
Engineers are utilizing AI to make lighter concrete blocks for new bridges in Pennsylvania, where 13% are structurally poor. Another idea uses A.I. to create a highway wall that absorbs car noise and greenhouse gas emissions.
Some engineers are looking to A.I. to build more resilient projects for less money at a time when the federal allocation of billions of dollars toward infrastructure projects would help with only a fraction of the cost needed to repair or replace the nation’s aging bridges, tunnels, buildings, and roads
“These are structures, with the tools that we have, that save materials, save costs, and save everything,” said University of Pittsburgh engineering professor Amir Alavi, who is part of the consortium developing the two A.I. projects with the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation and the Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission.
The potential is huge. At least 8% of the world’s carbon emissions come from cement production, and 30 billion tons of concrete are used annually; therefore, more efficient production would have huge environmental impacts.
A.I., which can synthesize information and uncover patterns and conclusions like the human mind, might speed up and improve engineering jobs to an immeasurable degree. It analyzes massive volumes of data and provides superior knowledge, models, and decision-making possibilities.
It may save money by replacing dozens of engineers with one machine, and it may be more creative by finding novel ways to execute basic chores.
The technology is unlicensed and its benefits are unproven, so experts advise against rushing to adopt it. Some are concerned about AI’s ability to design infrastructure with multiple regulators and participants over time. Others worry that A.I.’s ability to immediately gather data from the internet could lead to incorrect results.
Recent years have highlighted American infrastructure issues: Texas’ power grid failed during devastating ice storms in 2021 and continues to struggle; Flint, Mich., and Jackson, Miss., have struggled with failing water supplies; and more than 42,000 bridges are in poor condition nationwide.
Most of the nation’s roads and bridges were built decades ago, so “infrastructure challenges are significant in many dimensions,” said Ohio State University civil, environmental, and geodetic engineering professor Abdollah Shafieezadeh.
Pennsylvania collaborations demonstrate A.I.’s capacity to address these concerns.
Engineers utilizing A.I. are creating innovative concrete block forms that consume 20% less material while preserving durability for the bridge project. According to the American Road & Transportation Builders Association, more than 12,000 Pennsylvania bridges need repair. The Pennsylvania Department of Transportation will build one using the blocks.
Pittsburgh engineers and the Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission are designing a more efficient noise-absorbing wall that will capture some vehicle nitrous oxide. An location disproportionately affected by highway sound pollution will host it. Materials will be 30% cheaper with the designs.
Dr. Alavi stated these new experiments have been successful in the lab but not in the field.
One of A.I.’s biggest draws in civil engineering is its ability to avoid and detect damage, along with its quickness at designing.
Experts say engineers and transportation organizations might discover problems early on, such as a bridge fracture before it buckled, saving money on repairs.
According to Northeastern University engineering and computer science professor Seyede Fatemeh Ghoreishi, this technology can analyze real-time events like the Philadelphia bridge collapse this summer or the Los Angeles fire that shut down Interstate 10 this month and could be used to automate emergency responses.
However, like in many sectors, A.I., human work, and physical safety are increasingly discussed and debated.
A.I. has numerous uses, but tech titans have testified before Congress to regulate it. Last month, President Biden issued an executive order for A.I. safety, privacy, and worker assistance.
A.I. systems spreading falsehoods worries experts. A.I. integrates data, so if it’s wrong or prejudiced, it may draw false conclusions.
Former American Society of Civil Engineers president Norma Jean Mattei said, “It really is a great tool, but it really is a tool you should use just for a first draft at this point.”
The career-long engineering education and ethics educator Dr. Mattei said, “Once it develops, I’m confident that we’ll get to a point where you’re less likely to get issues. We’re not there.”
A.I. standards are lacking, which is concerning. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration does not have robotics requirements. Automakers are not required to comply with federal software safety testing rules, despite growing concerns about autonomous vehicle crashes.
Columbia University assistant professor of architecture technology Lola Ben-Alon uses A.I. cautiously. She advised taking time to learn how to use it, but she claimed she was “not condemning it” and that it had immense potential.
Most people agree that A.I. is a tool for humans in infrastructure projects and elsewhere.
“There’s still a strong and important place for human existence and experience” in engineering, Dr. Ben-Alon remarked.
Pittsburgh initiatives may struggle to get funding due to A.I. uncertainties. However, a Pennsylvania Department of Transportation official said the agency was excited to see how Dr. Alavi and his team’s concrete may increase bridge building.
Dr. Alavi stated his profession has showed him how serious A.I. risks are. However, he is confident in his team’s designs’ safety and optimistic for the technology’s future. “After 10, 12 years, this will change our lives,” Dr. Alavi remarked.
Housing Starts in US Grow Marginally
Single-family homebuilding rose little in October and may stay moderate due to increasing mortgage rates, which lowered homebuilder confidence to an 11-month low in November.
The Commerce Department reported Friday that permits for future single-family homebuilding rose to the highest level in almost 1-1/2 years last month, supporting new development due to a severe housing shortage. Residential investment rose in the third quarter after nine months of decrease.
“Homebuilders have an opportunity to capitalize on the low supply of homes on the market,” said LPL Financial Charlotte chief economist Jeffrey Roach. “If mortgage rates move lower in the latter half of next year, we could see some improved demand for residential real estate.”
Single-family housing starts, which make up most homebuilding, climbed 0.2% to 970,000 units last month, according to the Census Bureau. September starts were revised up to 968,000 from 963,000. Single-family homebuilding peaked in May.
Starts rose 12.0% in the Northeast and 12.3% in the West, but fell 4.9% in the highly populated South and 0.9% in the Midwest, the most inexpensive housing region.
Homebuilder optimism fell this month, according to a Thursday survey. The National Association of Home Builders predicted decreased sales over the next six months due to mortgage rates above 7% since mid-August.
“This suggests that building activity could decline over the winter, especially with builder loan rates rising,” said Nationwide senior economist Ben Ayers in Columbus, Ohio.
According to Freddie Mac, the 30-year fixed mortgage rate averaged 7.79% in late October, the highest since November 2000. It fell this month after labor market statistics showed softening and averaged a still-high 7.44% this week.
Mortgage rates may fall in the coming weeks as the yield on the 10-year Treasury note falls due to inflation-friendly economic data that has financial markets expecting a Federal Reserve interest rate drop next spring.
U.S. Treasury prices rose Friday, with the 10-year yield falling to a two-month low. The dollar fell versus a basket. Falling Wall Street stocks.
BIG MULTI-FAMILY BACKLOG
Housing project starts with five or more units rose 4.9% to 382,000 in October. A vast supply of multi-family housing is under construction and the rental vacancy rate hit a 2-1/2 high in the third quarter, limiting advances for this housing market.
Higher rents have driven inflation above the Fed’s 2% target, but a considerable supply of multi-family housing is likely to relieve pricing pressures next year.
In 2024, “the big wave of multifamily supply headed toward the rental market increases our conviction that core inflation will slow, allowing the Fed to reduce interest rates,” said Comerica Bank’s Dallas senior economist Bill Adams.
The October housing starts rate jumped 1.9% to 1.372 million units. Reuters economists expected starts to fall to 1.350 million units.
Last month, single-family house construction permits jumped 0.5% to 968,000 units, the highest level since May 2022. Northeast and West saw the most growth. Southern and Midwest permits fell.
Multi-family building permits rose 2.2% to 469,000. Overall building permits rose 1.1% to 1.487 million last month.
Houses approved for development but not started grew 1.8% to 281,000.
The single-family homebuilding backlog remained at 140,000 units for the third month, while completions fell 0.9% to 993,000 units.
Realtors expect 1.5 million to 1.6 million new starts and completions per month to close the inventory gap.
Housing under construction fell 0.1% to 1.674 million units. Single-family housing under construction fell 0.6% to 669,000 units, the lowest level since May 2021.
Multi-family housing under construction rose 0.1% to 987,000 units, near record highs.
“Our view that the supply of second-hand homes on the market will remain limited over the next two years means demand will continue to be diverted to new builds,” said Capital Economics property economist Thomas Ryan.
Summary of today’s construction news
To sum it up, uncertainties about AI could make it hard for Pittsburgh projects to get funds. A representative from the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation, on the other hand, said that the department was excited to see how Dr. Alavi and his team’s concrete could help build more bridges.
Meanwhile, the number of homes being built fell by 0.1%, to 1.674 million units. Single-family homes that are still being built dropped by 0.6%, to a rate of 669,000 units. This is the lowest number since May 2021.