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Pittsburgh's Civil Engineering News Blog

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  • 29 Oct 2014 7:23 AM | Djuna Gulliver (Administrator)

    Article by Karl Sieg

    The best indicator of the cost of maintenance and construction of America’s surface transportation system may be the Construction Cost Index (CCI) of the Engineering News-Record.  As of September 2014, the CCI is about double its 1993 value.

    In 1993, Congress added 4.3 cents a gallon to the gasoline tax, with the added revenue dedicated to deficit reduction.  With the addition of the 0.1-cent-a-gallon levy to finance the leaking underground storage tank trust fund, the federal tax rose to 18.4 cents a gallon. The federal Motor Fuel User Fee still stands at only 18.4 cents-a-gallon today.

    Since 1997, the full federal gasoline tax has gone to the Highway Trust Fund.                                    

    To prevent the Highway Trust fund from running out of money, Congress extended its life until May, 2015, through what some consider to be ‘gimmicks’ (see previous issues of this newsletter).

    The federal government has been taxing our fuel for 82 years.  From the beginning, the money was going to things other than roads and bridges.  Most Americans favor an increase in the federal motor fuel user fee to adjust for inflation and costs from delayed maintenance and construction, assuming the money is actually used to build and maintain our surface transportation system.  However, many of those Americans oppose an increase, due to a distrust of their public policy makers who they believe will vote to use it elsewhere.

    The image of ‘snake eyes’ above resembles a pair of eyes, which is appended to the term 'snake' because of the long-standing association of this word with treachery and betrayal.  Because it is the lowest possible roll of the dice, and will often be a loser in many dice games, the term is a reference to bad luck.

    So, what kind of luck will Americans have in the next 9 months? 

    Will your Congressman vote to ensure that the user fees you pay are used to build and maintain your transportation system?

    How will you vote?  Every Congressman is a candidate for re-election on November 4.  Your vote is one of an estimated 200,000 construction industry votes in Western Pennsylvania.  Your vote counts!  A photo of your Congressman is at the bottom of the first page of the May issue of this newsletter (click here to see who's running in your district).  The winners in the 2012 General Election and their margins of victory are shown in the December 2012 issue of this newsletter, on the Section website, above.

    A recent projection is that only 18 percent of Philadelphia voters will turnout in the November 4 election, but 25% in metropolitan Pittsburgh. Since the Philadelphia Metropolitan Statistical Area (MSA) is 60% larger than the Pittsburgh MSA, the tepid turnout of Philly voters may make each vote in Western Pennsylvania more valuable. 

  • 23 Oct 2014 3:18 PM | Djuna Gulliver (Administrator)

    Pittsburgh’s long industrial past includes a history not only in steel, but also in aluminum, glass, and transportation.  Since the 1980’s, much of this industry-based economy has since transformed to tech-based commerce such as robotics, medicine, and education.  And as the industry-based companies closed shop, they left behind land that had been exposed to various industrial compounds.  This brought about a tricky problem: what should Pittsburgh do with these former industrial sites, or brownfields.

    Brownfield is classified as a “real property, the expansion, redevelopment, or reuse of which may be complicated by the presence or potential presence of a hazardous substance, pollutant, or contaminant.”(HR-2869-2002)  Pittsburgh was a city of industry, and therefore is also city of many brownfields.  The economic transformation of Pittsburgh required innovation in brownfield redevelopment. 

    On September 11th, 2014, EWRI hosted a 2-part seminar on brownfield redevelopment and remediation.  During the first part of the seminar, Dr. Deborah Lange, executive director of Western Pennsylvania Brownfields Center, described the complex, multi-disciplinary requirements of brownfield redevelopment. Neighborhoods such as Braddock, Hazelwood, South Side Works, and East Liberty were used to describe the nine key characteristics that must be considered when redeveloping a brownfield.

    • Community engagement
    • Historical relevance
    • Infrastructure
    • Remediation needs
    • Optimal use of the land
    • Multi-jurisdictional cooperation
    • Political commitment
    • Public-private partnerships
    • Socio-economics

    Despite the complications that each brownfield brings, Pittsburgh has endeavored to transform these former industrial sites, resulting in many success stories.

    The second part of the seminar focused on novel remediation strategies of a series of compounds that have long contaminated many brownfield sites, chlorinated solvents.  Chlorinated solvents were utilized by many industries as cleansers, degreasers, thinners, or resins.  Long-term exposure to chlorinated solvents results in damage to the nervous system, liver, or kidneys, and in some cases lead to cancer.  Unfortunately, industry’s historic use of chlorinated solvents has lead to current widespread contamination in the groundwater.

    Fortunately, many innovative technologies are now being used to reduce the chlorinated solvent contamination.  The second part of the seminar featured Dr. Udai Singh, Vice President of CH2M HILL, with a long-term experience in modern remediation techniques.  Dr. Singh described the latest practice of groundwater remediation that has been proven reduce chlorinated solvents concentrations.  These technologies include:

    • In situ thermal treatment: the contaminated subsurface is heated, mobilizing the chlorinated solvents, which are then extracted and treated
    • Soil mixing: contaminated soils are mixed with reagents such as zero-valent iron, oxidants, or bentonite to react/stabilize the chlorinated solvents
    • Air sparging/ soil vapor extraction: air is injected in the contaminated subsurface, and volatile chlorinated solvents are extracted and treated
    • In situ bioremediation: organic substrates such as lactate, whey, or vegetable oils are injected in the contaminated subsurface, promoting biodegradation of the chlorinated solvents
    • In situ chemical oxidation: strong oxidizing agents are injected in the contaminated subsurface, reacting and degrading the chlorinated solvents.

    Preliminary studies have found these technologies capable of reducing the chlorinated solvent concentration by 95-99%.  Dr. Singh noted that the technologies varied in cost, with soil mixing as a low-cost remediation solution, and in situ chemical oxidation as a higher cost alternative.  However, each innovative process had various advantages and disadvantages, demonstrating there was no silver bullet to chlorinated solvent remediation.

    Interested in other EWRI-PGH seminars?  Visit http://www.asce-pgh.org/EWRI for upcoming events.


  • 16 Oct 2014 12:08 PM | Djuna Gulliver (Administrator)

    Presented by David Widmer, PLS, NCEES President 2014-2015

    Over 50 students and professionals gathered in the University of Pittsburgh O’Hara Student Center for a presentation on the new computer based testing procedures for the FE and PE exams.  NCEES President David H. Widmer, PLS gave an overview of the new exam, and discussed what prompted this change.

    The traditional pencil/paper based exam has been plagued by security issues.  David shared a story of discovering one girl with a jeans jacket full of recording devices taking the exam in Puerto Rico.  That jacket is now on display at the NCEES Headquarters in Clemson, SC.  The new computer based exam is expected to have less issues as security has been enhanced.

    The FE exam was transitioned to computer based testing at the beginning of 2014.  This change allows people to sit for the exam up to once each 2 month cycle and to take the test on any day of the week, depending on location of the Pearson Vue Testing Center. There is currently a maximum of 3 takings per year.  Additionally, the new FE exam is shorter than the original – down to about 110 questions and 6 ½ hours.  Results are provided the Wednesday following the week the exam was taken.  David shared statistics showing that there has been good distribution of when people sign up for the test, taking advantage of the new system.  He also showed that the pass rates for the computer based test have been comparable to those of the pencil/paper based exam. 

    The PE exam is expected to be converted to computer based testing in 2016, with a staged implementation plan – not all disciplines will be done at once and civil is expected to be one of the later exam topics to be changed over.  The biggest change for the PE exam will be the use of a virtual library.  Instead of bringing references with you to the exam, you’ll be using a searchable database provided at the testing site. 

    David also spoke to the licensed professionals in the room about opportunities to get involved with NCEES and exam development.  There is a constant need for exam testers to help write and test questions as they are developed.  If anyone is interested in getting involved they should contact David Widmer at DWidmer@widmerengineering.com.

    For more information of YMF activities contact YMF President Linda Kaplan at lkaplan@gfnet.com.  

  • 14 Oct 2014 9:52 PM | Djuna Gulliver (Administrator)

    In order to mitigate combined sewer overflows, cities throughout the nation are making significant financial investments to the implementation of green infrastructure as a viable solution. Some notable cities include:  Syracuse ($78 million), Buffalo ($93 million), Cleveland ($42 million), St. Louis ($100 million), Kansas City ($109 million), Milwaukee ($1300 million), New York City ($2400 million) and Philadelphia ($1670 million). The investments from the latter cities (Milwaukee, New York, and Philadelphia) are not a typo - cities are planning to invest billions on green infrastructure. The City of Philadelphia made headlines in 2011 when the Philadelphia Water Department unveiled their near 100% green infrastructure combined sewer overflow plan, “Green City, Clean Waters.” At the time, Philadelphia’s plan was the largest financial commitment ever in United States history to green infrastructure implementation as part of an EPA approved long-term combined sewer overflow solution. Milwaukee soon followed thereafter in 2013 with their plan.  New York City trumped them all with their 2014 plan to spend $2400 million on green infrastructure. The nature (no pun intended) in which cities are investing their capital on the combined sewer overflow issue is clearly headed in a green direction.

    With such large investments being made in green infrastructure, monitoring long-term performance of constructed sites has become critical to protect the financial investments and ensure proper operation and lifespan of the facilities. To varying degrees, each of the cities above are setting aside some of the committed dollars for monitoring the local performance of green infrastructure sites.

    On September 4, 2014 the Pittsburgh Chapter of the Environmental and Water Resources Institute hosted a lunchtime seminar with Stephen White, EIT M.ASCE from the Philadelphia Water Department (PWD) to give a presentation on the department’s long term green infrastructure performance monitoring program and the results to date.  A key component of Philadelphia’s “Green City, Clean Waters” plan is to collect long-term performance monitoring data that would help PWD understand and characterize the functionality of the green infrastructure over time. Ultimately the data collected would help PWD determine, 1.) Best management practices for future green infrastructure design and construction, and 2.) Insights for coordinating field crews for on-going maintenance activities.

    Some highlights from Mr. White’s presentation included:

    • Since 2011, PWD has constructed approximately 500 green infrastructure facilities throughout the city. Out of the 500, approximately 240 of the sites are stormwater tree trenches. The remaining sites are a mixture of swales, rain gardens, pervious pavements, and infiltration trenches. A rendering provided by PWD of a typical stormwater tree trench is shown.
    •  Out of the 500 installations, PWD is monitoring approximately 50 sites for long term performance. Monitoring equipment consists of water level/temperature pressure transducers within the storage basins of each facility. The water level within each site is continually monitored on 5 minute increments to measure infiltration rates and volume capture. At the time of the presentation, only water quantity is being monitored by PWD (no water quality monitoring). Typical water level/temperature monitoring sensor installed at many PWD sites is shown.
    • Data from seven stormwater tree trench sites were presented. Long term data from three of trenches indicate a distinct seasonal fluctuation in hydraulic conductivity with values ranging from 0.1 in/hr to 2.5 in/hr depending on the site and season. An example of the seasonal variation of the hydraulic conductivity from one of the presented trenches is shown below.
    • Data from one pervious pavement installation was presented. Data indicates a decrease in infiltration rates of the pervious surface. However, the decreased infiltration rate is equal to 50 in/hr, far exceeding design storm rainfall intensities.
    • Groundwater mounding and basement flooding is of major concern to PWD. PWD is currently monitoring groundwater levels in and around several green infrastructure installations to determine if infiltration practices pose potential problems for adjacent basements due to elevated groundwater levels.

    Following the presentation there was a lively question and answer session with the audience. The event was attended by a diverse group of professional backgrounds such as: consulting engineers, watershed organizations, community planners, landscape architects, academia, and local government agency/sewer authority representatives.  EWRI Pittsburgh will continue to bring the latest updates on green infrastructure findings throughout the nation as part of future events.

  • 09 Oct 2014 5:04 PM | Djuna Gulliver (Administrator)

    In June, 2014, the Pittsburgh Younger Member Forum (YMF) sent a team of engineers to volunteer at the National Concrete Canoe Competition hosted by the University of Pittsburgh at Johnstown (UPJ). The event, now in its 26th year, centers around designing, constructing, presenting and racing canoes made of - you guessed it--concrete.  This year’s competition took place June 19-21, 2014 on the UPJ Campus and nearby Quemahoning Reservoir.

    23 teams participated, traveling from as far as Canada, Puerto Rico, and China.  The three day affair included technical presentations, a career fair, canoe displays, and an awards ceremony. Designs were judged based on technical paper submissions, oral presentations, overall final product, and culminating in a race against the clock and one another.    

    YMF Members Mike Zerby, Stephanie Buncich, Jesse Fresch, Lauren Dziagwa, Karen Mueser, Linda Kaplan, Sara Mullaney, Sonya Flournoy, Bill Confair, and Jim Radion helped out with everything from keeping time during the races, scoring, set-up/breakdown, organizing students, and cheering on the teams.  YMF Past-President Angela Mayer also served as a judge. 

    The UPJ Team finished in 15th place, while the University of Nevada Reno paddled their hardest to win the overall competition.   

    For more information on the National Concrete Canoe Competition, go to http://www.asce.org/concretecanoe/

  • 03 Oct 2014 6:29 PM | Djuna Gulliver (Administrator)

    For the third year in a row, the Pittsburgh Younger Member Forum teamed up with the Keystone-Mountain-Lakes Carpenter’s Union to enter the annual CANstruction Pittsburgh competition.

    This year’s entry “Send Hunger to the Land of Make Believe” was a replica of King Friday the Thirteenth’s castle from Mr. Rogers Neighborhood, and was our most ambitious design yet. Constructed over the course of six hours by Karen Mueser, Linda Kaplan, Paroma Saha and Nicholle Piper of the YMF and Rick Okraszewski and Dave Plutt of the Carpenter’s Union, the castle was eight feet wide, seven feet deep and eight feet tall. The castle was comprised of a black bean curtain wall, a keep made of great northern beans, and towers comprised of pinto beans, garbanzo beans, and chicken and vegetable broth had battlements of sauerkraut and tuna fish - sure to keep out invaders if by the smell alone!

    Perhaps the best part of CANstruction is the cause. All of the cans used in the structure were donated to our food bank partner, The Brashear Association, which is located in Pittsburgh’s Southside. With more than 2,500 cans of food weighing over 2,200 pounds, the castle will provide many meals for the families of Pittsburgh and we are pleased to be donating so much good food to the members of our community that need it.

    While CANstruction is ultimately a food charity, there is a healthy dose of competition between the teams and six awards from the ‘Best Use of Labels’ to ‘Fan Favorite’ were up for grabs. This year, “Send Hunger to the Land of Make Believe” won the 2014 award for “Best Meal” for our suggested recipe of a Tuna Salad Sandwich and Four Bean Soup.

    We would like to extend a special thanks to everyone that donated to the project including: friends, family, and members of the ASCE Pittsburgh Section, Giant Eagle Parkway Center, Massaro Corporation, Carnegie Mellon University Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering, The Greater Pennsylvania Regional Carpenters Unions, DiGioia Gray & Associates, and American Geotechnical and Environmental Services, Inc.

    For more information on CANstruction please contact team captain Karen Mueser at Karen.mueser@lrkimball.com. You can also check out the CANstruction Pittsburgh website at Pittsburgh.canstruction.org

  • 30 Sep 2014 5:01 PM | Djuna Gulliver (Administrator)

    To celebrate AISC’s National Steel Day the Pittsburgh SEI Chapter hosted a construction site tour of the Scott Hall project on Carnegie Mellon University’s (CMU) campus.

    When finished, this 100K SF building will house wet and dry laboratories, collaborative and office spaces, a cafe, and a 10K SF cleanroom facility.  This impacted the design of the building significantly as vibration requirements for the cleanroom and laboratory spaces were very strict. 

    Preceding the tour, a brief overview of the project was presented as well as a look at some of the more unique structural design challenges.  The project site sits in the back of CMU’s campus on a steep hillside leading down to active railroad tracks.  The building is cantilevered out over the hillside and supported on diagonally splayed steel columns.  Each column is outfitted with multiple strain gages to allow for continual monitoring of the building.  Building floor plans had to be designed as trusses in order to resolve all forces from the columns, resulting in unusual framing and connection designs.

    The structure is designed to tie into four other campus buildings, creating a connecting hub for many of CMU’s engineering departments.  To accomplish this, a portion of the building is being constructed under the main campus level in a previous service entrance area.  Main campus walkways will then extend over this portion of the structure creating new green roof space.  The cleanrooms will be housed in the area under the green roof. Construction is expected to be completed Winter 2015.

    Project manager Max Dorosa led the tour with the assistance of project structural engineers Matt Larson and Daniel Brodkin from Arup USA.  For more information on the project, final design renderings, and up-to-date progress photos check out the project website at http://www.cmu.edu/cdfd/scott-hall/

    For more information on SEI Pittsburgh Activities, contact Sonya Flournoy, at Sonya.Flournoy@lrkimball.com

  • 30 Sep 2014 4:50 PM | Djuna Gulliver (Administrator)

    Identifying streams and wetlands protected under the Clean Water Act became confusing and complex following the Supreme Court decisions of 2001 and 2006.   For nearly a decade, members of Congress, state and local officials, industry, agriculture, environmental groups, and the public have asked for rulemaking to provide clarity.

    The EPA and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers published a proposed new rule on April 21, 2014, defining the scope of waters protected under the Clean Water Act as WOTUS, or the Waters of the US in the Federal Register.  The proposed rule can be reviewed at: http://www2.epa.gov/uswaters/definition-waters-united-states-under-clean-water-act.

    Specifically, the proposed rule clarifies that under the Clean Water Act:

           Most seasonal and rain-dependent streams are protected.

           Wetlands near rivers and streams are protected.

           Other types of waters may have more uncertain connections with downstream water and protection will be evaluated through a case specific analysis of whether the connection is or is not significant. However, to provide more certainty, the proposal requests comment on options protecting similarly situated waters in certain geographic areas or adding to the categories of waters protected without case specific analysis.

    The proposed rule is consistent with the Supreme Court's more narrow reading of Clean Water Act jurisdiction and also regulates groundwater.  It does not protect any new types of waters that have not historically been covered under the Clean Water Act.  It also proposes to reduce jurisdiction and exclude certain ephemeral and intermittent ditches.

    EPA estimates the proposed rule would annually provide $388 million to $514 million of benefits to the public, including flood reduction, pollution filtration, provisions for wildlife habitat, hunting and fishing support, and groundwater recharge.  Public benefits significantly outweigh the annual costs of about $162 million to $278 million for stream/wetland mitigation and waterway pollution reduction.

    The public comment period on the proposed rule will close on Monday, October 20, 2014.  ASCE strongly urges its members to submit your comments, identified by Docket ID No. EPA-HQ-OW-2011-0880 by one of the following methods:

    • Federal eRulemaking Portal: http://www.regulations.gov.
    • Email: ow-docket@epa.gov. Include EPA-HQ-OW-2011-0880 in the subject line of the message.
    • Mail: Send the original and three copies of your comments to: Water Docket, Environmental Protection Agency, Mail Code 2822T, 1200 Pennsylvania Avenue NW., Washington, DC 20460, Attention: Docket ID No. EPA-HQ-OW-2011-0880.
    • Hand Delivery/Courier: Deliver your comments to EPA Docket Center, EPA West, Room 3334, 1301 Constitution Avenue NW., Washington, DC 20460, Attention Docket ID No. EPA-HQ-OW-2011-0880. Such deliveries are accepted only during the Docket's normal hours of operation, which are 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., Monday through Friday, excluding legal holidays. Special arrangements should be made for deliveries of boxed information. The telephone number for the Water Docket is 202-566-2426.

  • 23 Sep 2014 8:20 PM | Djuna Gulliver (Administrator)

    Welcome to the new ASCE-Pittsburgh News Blog-Rocks Roads Ripples n’At.  

    On September 4th, 2014, the ASCE-Pittsburgh Board of Directors voted to convert the monthly newsletter to a weekly blog format.  This move is part of a continuing effort to make important information readily accessible, searchable, and interactive for current and future Pittsburgh Section ASCE members, public policy makers, news media, and advertisers.

    Rocks Roads Ripples n’At will convey the usual newsletter information, as well as additional event photos and personal member profiles.  The blog format will allow frequent updates on government relations, legislative developments, and other areas of interest to our members.  The format encourages comments and discussion on new and archived articles.

    Newsletters will continue to be printed until the end of December, 2014.

    The transition from newsletter to blog format is expected to encounter some challenges.  However, with patience and continued support from our members, we hope the new format will allow larger outreach to fellow engineers and interested followers.

    We hope you enjoy the blog, and look forward to your discussions on future posts.

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