Bio

McNichol / Gay Head Light

Dan McNichol is a number one best selling author and an award-winning journalist. His published books, articles and thought-leadership work focuses on mega construction projects in the United States and around the world.

McNichol recently created and completed a year long national media tour in a 1949 Hudson that advocated for the rebuilding of the nation’s vital civic systems with the tag: “America’s infrastructure is as old, rusty and energy defunct as this original Detroit lead-sled.” McNichol’s 33 state, 12,000 mile circumnavigation of the United States culminated in a successful statewide ballot initiative that now provides nearly 2 billion dollars of new funding for Texas’s transportation projects as part of the Lone Star State’s annual budget. Texan voters approved the measure by over 80%. McNichol worked on the landslide with funding and support from the Associated General Contractors of America (AGC) and the Texas Good Road’s Association.

The American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) named McNichol as one of nation’s outstanding journalists in 2014 and previously in 2003. He is the recipient of the Robert F. Boger Award for outstanding construction writing for his chronicling of the catastrophic I-35W bridge collapse. His writing and work have appeared in many publications including: The New York Times, USA Today, and Engineering News Record (ENR). He was honored with a PhD in Engineering and Technology for his publications and his contributions to the engineering and construction industries.

A former White House Appointee, he served the President of the United States on transportation and Infrastructure policies. Immediately following his service to The White House McNichol was a chief spokesperson for one of the nation’s largest civil projects known as The Big Dig.

McNichol is a frequent contributor to worldwide media outlets including: ABC World News, CBS News, CNN, Fox News, British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) network, China Central Television (CCTV), TV Tokyo, MSNBC and PBS’s The NewsHour, National Geographic Channel, Discovery Channel, History Channel and a frequent voice on National Public Radio (NPR).

This Spring the National Geographic Channel is scheduled to feature McNichol’s year long exploration of the nation’s infrastructure in a special film titled: Driving America.

 

Blog

S.O.S.

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Author: Dan McNichol Posted On: April 23rd, 2015 In: Uncategorized

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Save Our Superstructure: willful neglect has condemned a vital link to our past – a path to our future. Everyday the barely standing Old Northern Avenue Bridge begs Bostonians to value its history. Today that challenge is unmet.

Concerns of a catastrophic failure forced the Department of Public Works to close the bridge last year. Deemed by engineers as too dangerous for a pedestrian, the span once simultaneously supported trains, trolley’s and trucks along its deck. Today, the bridge carries only a message: Boston is lost.

Built in 1908, the Old Northern Avenue Bridge is the last swinging bridge in our city – one of few in the country. The structure is a piece of industrial art worthy of being a gateway to the self proclaimed Innovation District. When her center span sweeps over the historic Fort Point Channel people come to a standstill. In awe, crowds watch poetry in motion as hundreds of feet of steel trusses silently glide over the sea as they have for over a hundred years. The city is a better place with the Old Northern Avenue Bridge in its midst.

The Seaport District, aka the Innovation District, is adrift in a sea of suburban architecture from somewhere else. Where lighting attempts to coverup a lack of substance. The emerging community owes its worth to the waterfront it occupies, the subterranean superhighways below its surface streets and its proximity to the city’s center – not to the buildings being erected. Nearly 1,000 acres of promising land needs an anchor – a root to grow from.  The Fort Point Channel is that saving grace. The Northern Avenue Bridge is one of its most prominent layers in the city’s industrial yesteryears. Generations of Bostonians passed over the bridge as they toiled away at their legacy. Now is the time to recognize our ancestors work with a full restoration of their bridge. Save our bridge.

The Road – Gone

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Author: Dan McNichol Posted On: April 7th, 2015 In: Uncategorized

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Deputy Fire Chief, Paul Davidovich:  a US Marine helicopter pilot, retires to the Rocky Mountain town of Lyons, Colorado and builds a log cabin for he and his wife Maureen. All is well until ten years later when a biblical flash flood rips through their remote village in the dark of a September evening in 2013. The town’s lifeline, US Route 36, is swept away by an angry North Saint Vrain Creek which turns into a torrent of whitewater. Washed away is the town and the chief”s fire truck along with one of its citizens.
The Federal Emergency Managment Agency (FEMA) officials arriving on the scene remark that they’ve seen the worst of America’s natural disasters. Never has a town’s infrastructure been gutted so deeply. Unprecedented: utilities buried deep below ground have disappeared – washed away.
Winding, climbing US Route 36 is the only way into and out of the canyon that Lyons occupies. The two lane highway brings hikers, kayakers, mountain bikers and gaggles of tourists to town. More importantly, emergency medical services, foods, and fuels needed for daily life pass along it daily. Suddenly an emergency zone, the National Guard deploys Blackhawk helicopters – the one way to reach Lyons.
Driving in the town’s newest fire truck earlier that night, Cheif Davidovich and his crew are responding a low level emergency – a car and driver in a ditch. Portending the coming disaster, rainfall is getting heavier by the minute. The crew spots the distressed driver who is found standing on the roof of his car. River waters threaten to sweep him away. The crew pulls him to safety and immediately begins a hasty descent along the mountain road back to the firehouse. Suddenly the river rises over the roadway in front of the truck. The town’s prize purchase is adrift.
Coming to rest against a giant Ponderosa tree that has fallen across the river, Cheif Davidovich calls for all to abandon the truck and head up a cliff into a cave for protection. The only way off the truck to land is by converting the truck’s long extension ladder into a bridge to the ridge.
In the morning the former Marine helicopter pilot begins a house to house search for others stranded. Mapping out households of those in need of first aid, the Cheif spots a Blackhawk helicopter form the Colorado National Guard. Signaling for the chopper to land Cheif Davidovich directs the pilot and crew to begin evacuation of those most in need. Three days later the Cheif and his men return to town to find little of what they knew to be.
Sewage flowing into homes, schools, and government buildings forces a complete evacuation of Lyons. Rugged folks by nature most of the town’s citizens’s refuse to leave. Police assisted by the National Guard force them out. Heavy equipment is called in and used to rescue stranded people in and around town. Emergency dikes are built along the still angry river. The US Army Corps of Engineers arrive to immediatly begin rebuilding US Route 36. Rescue and rebuilding takes place along the road. There is not a choice but to rebuild the highway – its a way to life in Lyons.

The Interstate System

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Author: Dan McNichol Posted On: April 2nd, 2015 In: Uncategorized

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The Interstate System is a proper noun branding a 47,000 mile system of 62 superhighways interconnected by 55,000 bridges and 104 tunnels. Crisscrossing into every corner of America the network is marked by numbered red, white and blue shields labeling a mega internet of the most trafficked desire lines – trade routes – that feed people into places ultimately creating moments. Per calls the Interstate System “The Big Road”.

The Hudson Whisperer

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Author: Dan McNichol Posted On: December 16th, 2014 In: Uncategorized

Per Drinking AntiFreeze

Per is the Hudson Whisperer.

I was trucking though the mountains of Western Pennsylvania towards Massachusetts in a hastily rented U-haul rig. It was a crisp October morning in 2003. Yellow, orange and red leaves splashed the deep blue morning sky. I was high spirited regardless of unexpectedly having to tow my just purchased but broken Hudson.

Desperate I began dialing members of the Hudson Club for assistance from a thick roster I pulled from the old car’s glove box. Larry, the previous owner, told me where to find it. The bastard new I’d need it.

“If you breakdown anywhere, these folks will help you out. They’re good people. They’ll swap out your water pump and put a plate of potatoes in front of you.” True of them I’ve discovered, but not of him.

Larry, playing the part of an affable farmer that was too old to keep driving his prized Hudson, assured me I could drive “no problem” from his farm in Ohio back to Boston. Taking my $7,000 cashier check he patted me on the back. Waiving goodbye to each other, I eased the Hudson down his long dirt driveway.

A few miles from his mailbox I had my first breakdown. Loosing locomotion I pulled onto the shoulder of the highway. An intense clicking came from the gas tank followed by coughing, wheezing and the engine’s failure. It felt like I’d run out of gas but I’d just topped off the tank at a Texaco Station near the onramp to Interstate 70.

In a bed of stiff hay on the side of the Big Road I laid in wait against a farmer’s fence. The fall morning sky was clear. The sun was hot. I’d passed along this stretch of the Interstate many times driving between Philadelphia and Springfield, Ohio where my alma mater Wittenberg University sits about fifty miles down the road. In my four years there I had heard much of the The National Road, America’s first interstate highway that launched pioneers plying their way West. Springfield was the last town for the famed road running parallel with this part of I-70. I was stuck in history – an old car on an old road.

I was clueless about cars – foolish for buying this one. All day, as the car stuttered, stalled and died every 20 miles I’d call old Larry from the shoulder of the road. All day be blew me off. Hitting the Allegheny Mountains it was clear that pushing on this way was dangerous. Jagged rock faces leaned into the breakdown lanes of the mountain passes of I-80. God looks out for fools and drunks. I found a U-Haul rig in a nearby town. The operator for the rental company said it was the last one large enough to tow a trailer big enough for my big ass lead sled I know owned.

“Per Christiansen, lives near me” I thought out loud. More importantly was a notation, an icon of a wrench next to his name indicating a wiliness to aid the mechanically challenged – me.” Dialing and driving a the truck, trailer and broken Hudson I listened to a strange salutation on a vintage answering machine. “Please leave a message” echoed in my ear. I began my S.O.S. “Hi. My name’s Dan McNichol. I live near you in Boston. I’m an author of books on roads. I’ve just finished writing a book on the Eisenhower Intestate System. I bought a 1951 Hudson to do a national book tour but it broke down in Ohio. I need to get the car ready for a drive across America in a few weeks. I’ll be in Boston by the end of the day. I was wondering if you…” “Hello? Hello? Hello?,” interrupted the now live version of the voice I had just heard on tape.

Per screens his calls. Hearing “Hudson” I later learned, opened the man’s garage door to me. “Per. Pronounced ‘pair’, like the fruit,” corrected the wise man’s voice.  He was stern. I was desperate. It was the beginning of an important relationship spanning many years.

Blowout: Road Tripping Through America’s Infrastructure

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Author: Dan McNichol Posted On: November 2nd, 2014 In: Uncategorized

NPR I-93 Sept 2010

The National Public Radio interview I was doing was interrupted by an explosion – then a violent shaking of the old car. I wrestled the enormous cracked plastic steering wheel now shaking madly. I fought to keep the 60-year old classic between superhighway’s painted lines but she was wanting to dump all 3,500 pounds of herself into a tree lined ravine running alongside the right side of the road. Thankfully I had installed seat belts before agreeing to do the interview.

The veteran news correspondent, still wearing her oversized headphones and holding a microphone that looked like a dead rabbit, went silent. I kept talking to calm us. She was pale – her mouth hung open as she pushed hard on an imaginary break pedal on the passenger side. She watched me struggle. Her face said, “We’re going to die.”

We were losing speed as the blowout front tire on the driver’s side dragged us to the left. A truck I had overtaken a moment earlier was beside us again. A sedan in the passing lane pulled back into a blind spot. An over correction with a hard pull of the steering wheel to the right was as dangerous as letting the old car go where it wanted – in the ditch to our left. Stopping in the center of the 4 lane highway was the worse. I continued my struggle to calm the old cracked plastic steering wheel.

The antique yellowed review mirrors weren’t to be trusted. They were for powdering a nose or painting lips, not making life and death decisions. Instead I looked over both shoulders, jerking my head side to side. I decided to make a crash landing in the breakdown lane. But did the trucker know my escape route? Our emergency flight plan crossed his path.

More out of habit than proper warning I threw the toggle on the indicator. I knew the Hudson’s antique 6-volt light bulb in my passenger side tail light, no better than an old flashlight bulb, was worthless in the late morning’s sunshine. I ordered my conscripted copilot was to brace herself as I punched the gas.

The Hudson was shaking as if it were a World War II bomber taking flack. Beginning my approach for the emergency lane I had a sobering recollection: Breakdown lanes along this stretch of the overcrowded Route 128 are used for high speed travel during commuting rush hours. Unsuspecting out of state motorists with mechanical failures had been murdered along this road by mad men speeding between work and home.

We came to a halt at the end of a steel guardrail. As if the car was on fire I pushed as much as followed my crew out of the cockpit. We made it to the safe side of the highway barrier. Haunting me was the unanswered question: Was the stretch of road we were standing on a high speed travel lane or an after hours breakdown lane? I dialed Triple-A.

While waiting in tall grass for the wrecker, XXX continued her interview. She assured me that the crisis was going to make for good radio. Keeping her word the prime time piece aired with the blowout captured for listeners. Still, this was a bad omen for the future highway.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Desert Oasis

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Author: Dan McNichol Posted On: October 8th, 2014 In: Uncategorized

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January 10, 2014: Maricopa, Arizona: 

Al & Kimberly Saffrahn opened their gate, shop doors and home’s front door to Per and me. At their kitchen table Al shows off a personal treasure – a 1949 Hudson Commodore 8 steel cast model – Mrs. Martin in miniature. We drank a few cold beers kibitzing about snake bites and Hudsons before heading down a desert road to a great Mexican joint for dinner.

Pacfic Coast Highway

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Author: Dan McNichol Posted On: October 8th, 2014 In: Uncategorized

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January 6, 2014: Big Sur – Pacfic Coast Highway: Mrs. Martin is facing South as we roll onto Los Angeles where the Hudson Whisper is due to fly in from Boston to meet us.

Dire States 2.0

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Author: Dan McNichol Posted On: May 30th, 2014 In: Uncategorized

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The tour has been completed. Where should this work take us? Now, Dire States 2.o.

 

 

Google’s Infrastructure Vision

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Author: Dan McNichol Posted On: March 22nd, 2014 In: Uncategorized

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Information is powerful. How we use it defines us.

http://www.ted.com/talks/larry_page_where_s_google_going_next

15:00: Charlie Rose: “What is it about you and transportation systems?”
Larry Page: “I guess I was frustrated with this when I was at college in Michigan. I had to get on the bus and take it and wait for it when and it was cold and snowing. I did some research…I became obsessed with transportation systems. About 18 years ago I learned about people working on automated cars. I became fascinated by that. It kind of takes a while to get these projects going. But I am super excited about the possibilities of that. Improving the world. There are 20 million people or more injured per year. [Automobile accidents are] the leading cause of death for people under 34 in the US. Saving space and making life better: Los Angeles is half parking lots and roads. Half of the area. Most cities are not far behind acutely. It’s crazy that that’s what we use our space for. I think we can be there very, very soon. We’ve driven well over a 100,000 miles now – totally automated. I am super excited about getting that out quickly.”

17:00: Bikes in the future. Working with Google campuses and cities to put them on wires above the street.Separating bikes from cars with a minimal cost.

9:30: Access to the internet: 2 out of 3 people don’t have access to the internet. Hot air balloons – floating the grid above the earth and creating internet access in mountainous regions. Access points up high – cheaply.

Go Low & Slow

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Author: Dan McNichol Posted On: January 7th, 2014 In: Uncategorized

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“Go low and slow,” said Mark Lewis as casually as is Californian. The night before I had parked the Hudson outside my cabin’s door while staying the night at Deejen’s Big Sur Inn on the Pacific Coast Highway. As I approached Mark he was smiling and gazing at Mrs. Martin. We struck an early morning conversation over her. The “dude” from England stays connected to California by driving up and down the Pacific Coast Highway with his wife Claire every year. “I always stay here at Deejen’s along the way. I’ve been coming here for 30 years. It’s one of my favorite places anywhere.”

The sun was barely up when we met. The Pacific air was scented from smoke from a morning fire in my fireplace and a still smoldering forest fire that laid waste to thousands of acres in the forest weeks earlier. Mark got the messaging of Mrs. Martin as rolling metaphor. He was nodding his head in agreement as I  delivered the sound byte about America’s infrastructure being as old, rusty and energy defunct as this original Detroit lead sled. “Totally. Right on dude. It is.” agreed Lewis, whose first was a 1966 Mustang, 289 V-8. “The bridges, the roads, they are rotting away. We haven’t invested in our infrastructure since the 1950s.”

This tourist in his town gets infrastructure – both civil and technical. Mark sees a direct parallel between investment and return on investment when it come to building systems. “In IT, you invest constantly or you die. Firms believe that they can coast after a big investment in their systems. Individuals do the same thing he says when the buy a laptop, “Oh, I am good for a while now. But everyday systems gets slower becoming obsolete quickly.”

The man, or should I say the dude, keeps it real. A kid from Santa Barbara, a town he calls, “God’s waiting room” where dwellers there are either, “Newly wed to nearly dead.” Mark grew up in LA and later San Francisco where he was a free lance photo journalist who logged time with Associated Press as a freelancer. “I studied film photography and now my entire education is for not. The practice is lost – completely antiquated.” He left photo journalism moments before the big disrupter known as the internet blew it up. One of his claims is he was one of the last shooters working using film. Mark says he would have had to made the switch to digital but there’s nothing better than film, a medium he uses for her personal photographic pursuits. Before another bomb called dot.com imploded 14 years ago, Mark got into the information technology world which took him to London.

The man has survived by seeing into big oncoming trends and major disruptions in technology. This is why I asked if we could stay connected. I hope to draw deeper connections between IT infrastructure and real infrastructure with his intuitiveness.

“It’s all downhill form here,” said the knowledgeable native as I described my route to LA. “You’ll be in Santa Barbara is 5 hours, and LA in another 2.” Claire chimed in adding, “But in this old car you’re going to need days not hours.” She gets it.

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There’s no question about your being the best speaker of the year! We all found you presentation to be riveting. You held our attention exceptionally well. Your strong voice without amplification worked out beautifully.

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– Gary W. McManis

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The feedback was fantastic. You were a hit!

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