Transportation Director Joe Wilson enlightened me to the development, management, and maintenance of the City’s roads. I got a close-up look of the main brain for all of the City’s traffic signals. Joe also took me out to a command center at Charlotte Motor Speedway and explained how the City can take over manual control of signals to manage traffic congestion from the influx of NASCAR fans on race days. Joe’s department is not just about operations of signals and maintenance of streets and signs. The department is also involved with planning. Because infrastructure projects are so large and can take up so much time, Joe explains how the department must work 30 years in the past and 30 years in the future.
I also met with Water Resources Director Christie Putnam. Christie gave me a great overview of where the entire City’s water comes from and the process it goes through before it comes out of a faucet. Christie also explained how the City collects water meter data using radio frequencies. Some cities are investing in newer technologies that make collecting meter data more efficient. Kannapolis, for example, is currently in the process of replacing water meters across the City with smart meters. A lot of my time with Christie was spent at the Hillgrove Water Treatment Plant. My home is located on the same street as this plant. I was amazed to finally see what happens behind the chain-linked and barbed wire fence.
This week, I was given a more extensive tour of Concord Regional Airport by the airport’s business development manager, Rob Walter. Rob drove me around the airport and pointed out corporate hangers, fueling stations, maintenance garages, sites for future expansions, etc. I also got a rare visit to the control tower. There are ~70,000 take offs and landings each year at Concord Regional Airport. The airport sells over 2 million gallons of fuel. While the revenue from fuel covers the operations of the airport, Rob explained that taxes on aircraft help cover debt service payments on the original construction of the airport. There are all types of aircraft housed at the airport from small planes and helicopters to the multi-million dollar private jets belonging to the likes of Hendrick and Roush. NASCAR itself has a hanger right next to the terminal. The airport also offers commercial service through Allegiant Air. Allegiant air just received approval from the Concord City Council meeting last Thursday night to add additional flights to Florida. The airport sees most of its activity before NASCAR races. This is when NASCAR drivers and their crews will fly into Concord Regional Airport to prepare for a race.
I also sat down with Bob Pate, the director of the electric department. In addition to sharing the details of setting the electric rate and usage patterns by season, Bob was excited to talk about the potential widespread use of electric smart meters in Concord. There is currently a pilot program underway with some residents and businesses participating. Smart meters send signals directly to the electric department’s headquarters of operations. If implemented on a large scale, Bob’s team would be able to read thousands of meters a day off of a screen in comparison to sending staff out into the field to physically read each meter. Citizens could also take advantage of an online portal that allows them to review live usage and live cost, updating very 10 seconds. Citizens can also set alerts to notify themselves if usage abnormally jumps up. The price tag for a widespread implementation of electric smart meters is expected to cost $8 million to $10 million. Bob believes that in the long run the increased efficiency from electric smart meters could result in the electric smart meters paying for themselves.
L.J. Weslowski is the manager for the Concord Kannapolis Area Transit. L.J. discussed how ridership continues to increase and that the transit system is realizing greater efficiency by replacing buses with hybrid electric-diesel buses. L.J. also talked at length about funding sources for public transit. Many local governments across the country rely on federal and state funding to provide transit service to citizens. Federal and state sources of money are in-part why Concord Kannapolis Area Transit could afford the purchase of eight new hybrid electric-diesel buses. With continuing reductions in federal and state funding, L.J. explained that local governments will have to take on the burden and come up with creative solutions in order to continue funding quality transit service. L.J. further discussed local transit’s relationship with the federal government. The Federal Transit Administration (FTA) reviews the transit system every 3 years for grant management performance and compliance with current FTA requirements. If the findings of this review are bad enough, the FTA may freeze or cease funding to transit systems until deficiencies are corrected.
In addition to all of my visits with staff and of site facilities, I am making good progress with my assignments. Many of the North Carolina cities I’ve reached out to in regards to security for city halls have been very responsive. Lt. Franks with the City of Greensboro invited me to drive up to Greensboro on a council meeting night to see their security first-hand. He also offered to treat me to dinner. It sounds like a good opportunity, which I may have to take him up on. The sensitive nature of some of my questions resulted in the City of Durham contacting the Concord City Manager’s Office to confirm that I was supposed to be working on this assignment.
I am continuing to make progress with my street trees project. I look forward to going out into the field with a transportation engineer this coming week to see in person some of the problems that poorly planned street trees are causing. Since I finished my article for the City Circular, I have been asked to also review career development plans for engineers across city departments. The scope of my review will be to highlight any inconsistencies that may exist between plans.
If you’ve made it this far through today’s post, thank you for reading. I had a lot of updates to share. This afternoon, I am meeting with Public Affairs and Projects Manager Peter Franzese for lunch a Mykonos and to learn more about his role with the City. Next week, I’ll talk more about research assignments and any additional meetings I have with City staff. Not only am I learning a lot through this internship, I am truly enjoying it.