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Pittsburgh's Civil Engineering News Blog

  • 21 Jan 2016 8:21 AM | ASCE Blog Editor (Administrator)

    By Nicolle Piper and Jonathan Shimko

    The Western Pennsylvania ACE Mentoring program kicked off in early October again this year.  About 40 high school students from over 10 area schools are participating. This year's project is to create a summer camp in the hills of Western Pennsylvania

    The focus this year will be on sustainability.  Each team must design their camp to be as environmentally friendly as possible – design considerations include structures arrangement on the site, types of materials used, types of natural resources harvested, and a respect for the surroundings.  Each session will not only introduce new Architecture, Construction, and Engineering disciplines, but also incorporate sustainable initiatives. While the overall camp layout and central facilities will be designed as a group, each student is required to design their own cabin within the camp.

    The first session of the year was held at Boy Scouts of America Camp Guyasuta in Sharpsburg where the team project was introduced to the students.  During the session, the students got to learn more about the LEED Silver rated McGinnis Education Center from Gary Moshier, the architect of the building.  They also got to tour the camp grounds.  As a team activity, each group designed their own camp flags.

    In the site and project planning session, the students prepared preliminary site layout plans.  The session began with a presentation on project planning from an architectural perspective and then transitioned to describe the coordination required between engineers and architects to plan an effective site layout.

    ASCE Pittsburgh Section Younger Member Forum (YMF) members served as presenters.  After the presentation, the students met with their groups and were provided with architectural building blocks and a site background plan.  The building blocks consisted of rectangles drawn to-scale that represented the footprints of the five required buildings and the minimum six required cabins.  

    The site background plan provided contours and existing features including a stream, wetland, and road.  Using an ordinance as a guideline, the groups began to plan the layout of the buildings and the site features that would comprise each of their camps.  

    Students presenting their site layoutsMentors offered guidance during the session, but each group created unique and creative camps, with the plan to update the site layout during the Civil Engineering session on November 18, 2015.  The session wrapped up with every group taking a few minutes to present their site layouts.

    The ACE Mentoring Program continued on November 4, 2015 at the Chatham University’s Eden Hall Campus in Gibsonia, Pennsylvania for a session on Water Resource Engineering, hosted by the ASCE Pittsburgh Section Environmental & Water Resources Institute (EWRI).  Students learned about the Eden Hall Campus’s sustainable design and operational considerations, as well as, stormwater issues that engineers consider when building in or near potential floodplains.

    Students touring a greenhouse in Eden HallThe session began with a tour of the Campus.  Kelly Henderson, Sustainability Education Coordinator for the Faulk School of Sustainability at Chatham University, provided the walking tour that included many innovative technologies and design elements that are employed at the campus, such as:

    • Sustainable agricultural
    • Stormwater management
    • Irrigation
    • Water reuse and recycle
    • Energy facilities

    After the tour students returned for a presentation and activity prepared by Jonathan Shimko who represented EWRI and Tetra Tech, Inc., that provided insight to methods used to calculate stormwater runoff and peak stream flows.  The goal of the exercise was for the students to calculate the potential floodplain associated with their camp designs.  The student were given a real set of data to develop a calculation to provide for a more sound and comprehensive design for their camps.

    The ACE mentoring program is an opportunity for students to learn about various ACE disciplines before picking a college program.  A majority of the participants enroll in Architecture or Engineering undergrad programs.  ACE is well respected by various college admissions personnel and offers some significant scholarships at the end of the year.

    Our appreciation to Chatham University and Tetra Tech, Inc., for providing support for this session. 


  • 14 Jan 2016 9:27 AM | ASCE Blog Editor (Administrator)

    By Alex Potter-Weight

    More than 50 ASCE members and guests gathered on November 19th at Cefalo’s Banquet and Event Center for the Pittsburgh Geo-Institute’s monthly dinner meeting and technical presentation, titled “Fixing a Crack in the Wanapum Dam”.  Dr. Rick Deschamps, Vice President of Engineering for Pittsburgh-based Nicholson Construction Company, presented the fascinating case history of a large dam remediation project that Nicholson performed in Washington State.  The presentation also included first-hand accounts of the construction from project engineers, Abigail Stein and Nathaniel Witter.

    The Wanapum Dam is on the Columbia River in Washington State, with a spillway 820 feet long and a hydroelectric capacity of nearly 1,100 Megawatts.  In February of 2014, after more than 50 years in service, a fracture was discovered on the upstream side of the concrete spillway.  The fracture ran the entire 65-foot width of one of the monoliths and was up to two inches wide.  After the dam was immediately lowered, a subsequent investigation showed that the primary cause of the fracture was an underestimation of the hydrostatic forces, resulting in an insufficient pre-construction design.  Dr. Deschamps praised all of the parties involved with the investigation for readily admitting the miscalculation, which allowed for an efficient and transparent remediation process.

    Nicholson Construction was brought into the project to repair the crack and prevent future damage so that the dam could be put back into service.  The first step in the repair work was coring of the dam to map the existing cracks.  This took place from a small gallery within the dam and the results of the exploration indicated that the problem was widespread as cracks were found within all of the monoliths.  Next, these cracks were grouted with either cement or chemical treatments.  The construction from the gallery also included the installation of uphole drains to relieve and monitor hydrostatic pressure.  Following the mapping and grouting from the gallery, construction continued from atop of the dam crest and spillway.  From there, large steel tendon and bar anchors were installed, each with a capacity of over 1,200 tons.  These anchors were drilled into the underlying bedrock and firmly locked the dam in place.  A final, challenging piece of the construction involved the installation and testing of the remaining bar anchors underwater, by divers. 

    Ultimately, the complex repair work was completed safely and on schedule, allowing the county public utility department to raise the water level back to its previous levels.  This raising of the water level not only returned the hydro-electric dam to its full operating capacity but also prevented depletion of the salmon population that migrates past the dam by way of a fish ladder.   

    Dr. Deschamps has given this presentation to different organizations since the completion of the project, including the Chicago Geo-Institute.  Hosted by the Geo-Institute Chapter of the ASCE Pittsburgh Section, the event included a social hour for exchanging professional insight and a buffet dinner.  Attendees earned 1.0 PDH hour for this presentation.  


  • 11 Jan 2016 4:39 PM | ASCE Blog Editor (Administrator)

    By Linda Kaplan

    On December 28th, several ASCE Pittsburgh Section Younger Member Forum (YMF) members eagerly waited to catch sight of the Greenfield Bridge implosion.  Best known as the site of the “bridge under a bridge,” the Greenfield Bridge has been a poster-child for failing infrastructure in the area and the necessity for smarter investing. 

    Originally constructed in 1921, the Greenfield Bridge carried Beechwood Boulevard over I-376 (Parkway East) near the Squirrel Hill Tunnel.  The concrete open spandrel deck arch had a 466’ total length with a 274’ main span over the Interstate.  When chunks of concrete began falling off of the structure causing safety concerns for traffic on I-376 below, $700,000 was spent to build a simple steel structure below the bridge, to catch the falling debris.  The situation even gained national attention when it was featured in a 60 Minutes piece and a Last Week Tonight episode on failing infrastructure. 

    A contract for full replacement of the structure was awarded in August of 2015, and on December 28th, the existing structure was demolished.  A large soil “pad” consisting of 4000 cubic yards of fill was piled 10 feet high on the section of 376 that was below the bridges and both the Greenfield Bridge and the “catch” bridge were imploded, collapsing onto the Interstate below. 

    YMF members joined 1000s of other spectators in Schenley Park to watch the implosion live.  When asked why they were there two hours early, section Director and YMF Past-President Linda Kaplan, PE, told WTAE news “We really wanted to make sure we got a good spot for the view, and being a bunch of bridge engineers, we really thought it was going to be very crowded because we assumed everyone would be this excited about it.”  Ms. Kaplan was also interviewed for the on-air reporting and can be seen discussing the implosion at the end of the video here.  All members who attended agreed that it was well worth the cold 2 hour wait to see the implosion live.  Other members reported feeling the shockwave as far away as Greentree. 

    Material from the demolished bridge is part of a massive reuse and recycling project.  Concrete will be ground down to be used as fill, and the steel is being trucked to Josh Steel Co in Braddock.  A Post-Gazette article describes the details of the program. 

    Construction will now begin on the new steel arch structure designed by HDR, Inc.  The new bridge is scheduled to open in the Spring of 2017 at an approved cost of $15,500,000.  Included in the design are nods to the historic nature of the old bridge, including urns and ornate lampposts.  Considering the extensive repairs that were done on the existing structure over the years, Section History and Heritage Chair, Todd Wilson says “At least in some ways, the new bridge might pay more tribute to the original idea of the bridge than the previous bridge in its current state.”


  • 15 Dec 2015 8:06 AM | ASCE Blog Editor (Administrator)

    By Gregory Scott, P.E.

    Last week, the U.S. House of Representatives and U.S. Senate both approved a five-year, $305 billion highway, transit and railway authorization bill. The overwhelming, bipartisan vote was 359 - 65 in the House and 83 - 16 in the Senate. President Obama signed the bill into law later on Friday December 4th.

    In the run-up to the vote, ASCE members urged adoption of the bill known as the Fixing America’s Surface Transportation (FAST) Act.  The FAST Act provides nearly $233 billion for highways, $49 billion for transit and $10 billion federal passenger rail.  By the end of the bill’s five-year duration, highway investment would rise by 15% and transit spending would grow by nearly 18%.  The FAST Act is the longest surface transportation authorization bill since the enactment of a previous five-year bill in 2005.

    The bill includes:

    • Creation of a dedicated $1.25 billion freight program to help ensure federal investments are targeted at improving U.S. economic competitiveness;
    • Providing $900 million per year for large-scale projects under a new, nationally-significant freight and highways program;
    • Cutting the TIFIA program from $1 billion annually to around $300 million per year. TIFIA helps leverage billions of dollars in private sector capital for investment in our nation’s infrastructure;
    • Innovation initiatives, such as establishing a national program to explore surface transportation funding alternatives to the fuels tax; and
    • Investment in transit by creating a new research and deployment program, increasing funds for fixed guideways, and establishing a new bus facility program.

    Further details on the bill’s content is availableat ASCE’s Infrastructure Blog: http://www.infrastructurereportcard.org/asce-news/infrastructure-in-the-news-infrastructure-on-the-fast-track-to-improvement/

    The bill was paid for through $70 billion in general fund money, which came from sources unrelated to transportation.  The largest offset came from spending down a capital surplus account in the Federal Reserve.  The bill does not “Fix The Trust Fund” as ASCE advocates, because it does not provide a sustainable source of revenues to support the HTF.  The Highway Trust Fund is now slated to experience a $24 billion annual shortfall starting in fiscal year 2021 should Congress fail to provide a future funding fix to this looming crisis.  ASCE’s President Mark W. Woodson, P.E., issued the following statement following the bill’s approval noting that despite its passage, Congress still has to address the long term solution for surface transportation funding.

    "After nearly a decade of short-term bills and numerous extensions, ASCE congratulates Congress on delivering a five-year authorization bill that will start to address our nation's backlog of surface transportation needs.  States will be able to plan, design, and build long-term projects because the bill increases funding and offers certainty that the federal government will continue to be a trusted investment partner.  The FAST Act increases federal investment into our aging roads, bridges, and transit systems, creates a national freight program, improves innovation, and streamlines the environmental and permitting process.  However, it does not provide a long-term fix to the Highway Trust Fund crisis.  ASCE urges Congressional leaders to start seriously exploring ways to fix the Highway Trust Fund in the long term now, so that in five years that solution can be implemented."

    Thank you to all our members’ efforts over the past several months in helping to secure program certainty and nominal funding for our nation’s federal surface transportation programs!


  • 10 Dec 2015 8:03 AM | ASCE Blog Editor (Administrator)

    By Kate Luce Angell

    Image from httptheodysseyonline.commarylandis-social-media-worth-it212436Some of you might remember me as the person who helped to develop the 2010 Pennsylvania Report Card.  Since October 2015, I’ve been leveraging social media to help the four PA sections of ASCE promote the current campaign in support of the Highway Trust Fund and spread the word about the 2014 PA Report Card.

    This autumn, as part of that effort, I audited all of the social media channels (Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn) currently used by the Pennsylvania sections and gave a report to section leaders on where their social media efforts stand. At the end of the year, I’ll take a step back and look at how successful we’ve been in advancing our Highway Trust Fund and Report Card efforts.

    Looking at sections’ social media accounts, it was great to see people posting reminders for ASCE and Young Member activities, pictures from get-togethers, and job opportunities. In the Social Media Playbook, ASCE says that the first two principles of social media efforts should be connecting with members (communicating locally), and acting as stewards of the society and its mission (promote events, share photos, celebrate member successes). Everyone was doing a pretty good job on these two. Kudos to all the hard-working volunteers who maintain these accounts! It isn’t easy, I know.

    However, ASCE social media also has a third principle: Promote civil engineering. That involves “sharing civil engineering news and interest stories so your community can understand the importance of your members’ work.”

    Image from httpwww.groupfirst.comnews201509follow-us-on-social-mediaThis goal is a little harder to meet for most sections. But it doesn’t have to be! I’ve put together a few tips to make it easier and more intuitive for you—whether you’re in charge of your section’s social media efforts or even just want to use your personal accounts to spread the word.

    1.     Think of yourself as a citizen advocate for ASCE and the profession. You’re part of a profession that of which people don’t automatically understand the critical importance. You have to help them out and educate them. If you’re handling your section’s social media, that means keeping on top of the efforts of ASCE National, as well as what’s going on at the state and local level, and lending your social media voice to help make people aware and take action. It means recognizing the cool things engineers are doing in your community and posting about them. If you are using your personal account, you can post about civil engineering topics to your friends and family.  And, if you’re game, you could even be tweeting out to your legislator about causes like infrastructure funding.

    2.     Like, Follow, Repost, Re-tweet. There’s a lot of great civil engineering social media content out there, ripe for re-posting and re-tweeting. Here are some ASCE options you may already be following:
    But there’s also AASHTO, the Society of Women Engineers, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, PennDOT, and so many more. Make it easy on yourself—if civil engineering news shows up in your Facebook and Twitter feed, you can amplify the message with just a click of the button. Or join the conversation at hashtags like #FixtheTrustFund.

    3.     Ask for help and get the OK. ASCE National has a nifty Social Media Playbook that can help you navigate the social media world. If a section wants to begin a new social media effort, ASCE National asks that you let them take a look first. But even if your section’s social media is well-established, you can always consult ASCE’s social media experts at socialmediahelp@asce.org.

    4.     Don’t expect big results right away. Social media can be a powerful tool to amplify important messages, but payback in the form of more followers or Likes might not come easily or quickly. Still, it’s worth it to have a social media presence that can work to raise awareness of all the great things civil engineers do, and how important you are to your communities. That’s a message that bears repeating.
  • 03 Dec 2015 8:14 AM | ASCE Blog Editor (Administrator)

    Article by Alex Potter-Weight

    More than 60 ASCE members and guests gathered at the Pittsburgh Athletic Association on Thursday, October 29th for the most recent installment of the Terzaghi Lecture series.  The lecture was given by Donald Bruce, Ph.D., C.Eng., D.GE, M.ASCE.  Dr. Bruce is the President of Geosystems, L.P. His presentation, “The Evolution of Construction Techniques: The “Great Leap” Theory,” proposed that the field of specialty geotechnical construction primary advances in bold “leaps,” rather than slow and steady evolution.    

    The lecture began with an introduction to the “Great Man” theory, which considers that history is defined by the actions of a select cast of legendary figures. Dr. Bruce discussed the lecture series’ namesake, Prof. Karl Terzaghi, as one of these preeminent men in human history for his pioneering contributions to geotechnical engineering.  He then suggested that within the branch of specialty geotechnical construction, a related trend shows that courageous, project-based paradigm shifts drive the industry forward.  The presentation listed six criteria that these “Great Leaps” must meet in order to truly propel geotechnical construction into the future: 1) developed for a large project, 2) constructed by an innovative contractor, 3) approved by a responsible agency aware of the risk, 4) successful execution, 5) publication, and 6) codification.

    Dr. Bruce used one primarily example to illustrate this process: the monumental Wolf Creek Dam remediation in Kentucky.  In addition to the massive scale of the works to fix significant signs of distress in the dam, this project met the other criteria for a great leap forward in the industry. 

    To build the project, a successful joint venture was put together between European geotechnical construction giants Trevi ICOS and Soletanche, and specialty subcontractor Hayward Baker was employed for part of the grouting operation. The two-phase project included emergency remediation by Advanced Construction Techniques and Gannett-Fleming in the first phase, followed by grouting of the dam’s foundation in the second phase. The solution utilized a 6-foot wide, 535,000 square foot “disposable” diaphragm wall through the embankment into bedrock.  The actual cutoff was created by drilling nearly 1,200 50-inch diameter secant piles through the diaphragm wall. The US Army Corps of Engineers and a Board of Consultants were responsible for oversight of the design and construction, and took on a considerable amount of risk in ultimately approving the innovative solution.  The project was successfully completed 9 months ahead of schedule with nearly perfect technical results to date. Since project completion, the project team has helped meet Dr. Bruce’s final two criteria by creating 12 technical papers so far, and providing a benchmark for new dam safety codes that are currently in progress.

    As the 2015 recipient of the distinguished Terzaghi Lectureship, Dr. Bruce has given his presentation to different ASCE sections throughout this year.  Hosted by the Geo-Institute Chapter of the ASCE Pittsburgh Section, the event also included a social hour and a sit-down dinner.  The Section was happy to be able to provide 1.0 PDH hours for this presentation.  


  • 30 Nov 2015 7:16 PM | ASCE Blog Editor (Administrator)

    Article by Patrick Sullivan

    During the ASCE National Convention in October 2015, Keynote Speaker Luke Williams, international best-selling author of the book “Disrupt: Think the Unthinkable to Spark Transformation in Your Business,” spent 90 minutes discussing innovative leadership, entrepreneurship, and cultural change.  Below are some of the highlights of Mr. Williams’ oratory and slide presentation.

    Self-Similarity Principle

    At conferences or social gatherings, individuals tend to migrate to or surround themselves with other professionals with education similar or identical to their own.  An experiment was conducted that brought hundreds of people from a wide variety of professions to a gathering. During the course of the event, individuals with similar educations found each other, and conversations associated with their profession ensued.

    Ideas Needed

    To have growth in professional development, financial performance and technical advancement, you need innovators.  The tasks that we work on every day are not the same as “ideas.”  Ideas are recipes that we use to reconfigure items to make them more valuable so that they provide increasing returns.  We then share these ideas with our profession in the form of presentations.  It is important to have your ideas mix with other ideas; that is why we present and meet with others who have their own ideas.  A good idea can become a better idea through the sharing/blending of two ideas.

    Skip the Umbrella

    Business is like the weather—we can’t accurately predict what will happen days, weeks or months from now.

    The Speed of Change

    There is a disease in today’s world called “no-phone-bia.”  We are constantly searching our body to make sure our phone is somewhere on our person.  Phones are the newest connection to information.  What did we have only 15 years ago? It was simply a mobile phone – that’s all.  Back in 2000, who could have predicted that smart phones would be owned by everyone?  The speed of change is unbelievable. Williams refers to it as the “Pace of Disruptive Change.”  In the phone industry, what happened to Nokia and Motorola?  What happened to the Blackberry, now known as the “Antique Canadian Communication Device?”  (He saw a Blackberry in a pawn shop on sale for $20 with a tag indicating that title.)  Different professions do not look at the pace of change with respect to other professions; engineers do not see the same pace of change that the financial market sees.  Change that occurs when one is forced to change is called complacent or incremental change.  A company that did not change is Blockbuster Video, once a leader in its market.

    Disruptive Change

    Don’t spot and react.  We focus on short-term patterns of activity and thinking. Williams challenges us to “be or lead the Disruptive Change” (though we likely will not be comfortable doing so).  One of the elements of Disruptive Change is the “Turning Point.”

    • Spark their curiosity
    • Innovator has discovered a Turning Point
    • Take data from the past and use it in the future
    • Arrange data to make it more valuable

    Disruptive Thinking

    Pay attention to things that are ignored.  Surface the clichés. In Engineering, you have “Best Practices.”  These are nothing more than accepting the standards.  This is not Disruptive Thinking.  Instead, take standards of practice of other professions and apply them to your profession/practice.  Try not to make decisions based on historical continuity.  The unbroken aspects of what we do are what we should focus on—not the problems.

    Disruptive Thinking involves a five-step approach:

    1. Craft a descriptive hypothesis

    2. Define a descriptive opportunity in the market

    3. Generate descriptive ideas

    4. Shape a descriptive solution

    5. Make a descriptive pitch, but sell the benefits and not the novelty

    Disruptive Thinking starts with a disruptive hypothesis. If a hypothesis is a reasonable prediction, then a disruptive hypothesis is an unreasonable provocation. 

    Three questions you should ask in generating a disruptive hypothesis:

    1. What can you invert? Example: Coke or Pepsi versus Red Bull.  Coke and Pepsi have traditional advertising, they taste good, and they are reasonably priced.

    2. What can you deny? Example: Rental cars versus Zipcar. For rental cars, you reserve, travel to their facility, pick up the car, give them your license and credit card, and return the car upon completion, typically at same location and at least one day later.  Zipcar uses an app and “zipcard” held over a UPC code on a car window. Pick-up and drop-off occur at many designated locations, and use is typically only an hour or two.

    3. What can you scale? Example: Expensive versus free or heavily discounted.  The company LittleMissMatched Socks sells three socks in a package, all of which are of a different color and style.  Young girls in the 8 to 12 year-old range apparently love to mismatch socks.

    After disruptive hypothesis, follow with the remaining four steps.

    Per Williams’ remarks, we need to have an instinct for change. Remake your landscape and use the turning points that are all around us.


  • 24 Nov 2015 9:00 AM | ASCE Blog Editor (Administrator)

    Article by Patrick Sullivan, Vice President, ASCE Pittsburgh Section

    From October 11 to October 14, 2015, I was honored to attend the ASCE National Convention in New York City on behalf of the ASCE Pittsburgh Section.  The conference began with an opening plenary session, closed with a general luncheon, and sandwiched in between were nine concurrent technical sessions, each consisting of five sub-sessions of consistent themes.  The themes were selected by ASCE and based on feedback from attendees at previous conferences.  The feedback suggested a consistency in content and identified seven areas of study:

    1)    Natural or man-made catastrophes

    2)    The state of the civil engineering industry and profession

    3)    Professional leadership and technical training

    4)    Cross-discipline technical products

    5)    Significant projects

    6)    History and heritage

    7)    Strategic issues and public policies

    ASCE has determined that, until further notice, these seven topics will be the basis of the concurrent sessions every year.  ASCE is also supporting two initiatives in 2015-2016.  The first is the “Raise the Bar” initiative, which supports the national movements to raise education requirements for licensure of future professional engineers.

    The second initiative is that of “Above and Beyond.”  This initiative uses the ASCE Foundation and asks members of ASCE to provide financial support for programs that promote lifelong leadership and learning, infrastructure investment advocacy, and sustainability. 

    The Keynote Speaker for the event was Luke Williams, international best-selling author of the book “Disrupt: Think the Unthinkable to Spark Transformation in Your Business.”  Mr. Williams spent 90 minutes discussing innovative leadership, entrepreneurship, and cultural change.  Look for an article on Mr. Williams’ presentation in a future blog.

    The opening reception Sunday evening featured one of New York’s most favorite districts, Chinatown.  Finger foods from some of Chinatown’s famous restaurants were on display during an evening of networking and socializing, which included music and a presentation featuring the Azure Dragon, one of the four symbols of the Chinese Constellations, or the Chinese dragon, a legendary creature in Chinese mythology and Chinese folklore.

    Informational and project-related sessions during the three-day event explored such topics as “Diversity and Inclusion in the Civil Engineering Workplace,” “So You Have Been Sued: How to Document Project Files,” “Innovations in Engineering,” “The History of Niagara Falls,” and “The Evolution of Engineering Licensure.”

    The convention closed on a funny note with speaker Don McMillan, a Stanford-educated electrical engineer turned comedian.  Don McMillan combined his high-tech roots with humor, referencing Avogadro’s number and XML in stand-up routines that have landed him spots on the Tonight Show and comedy clubs around the country.

    Click here to learn more about the 2015 ASCE National Convention.

  • 11 Nov 2015 5:28 PM | ASCE Blog Editor (Administrator)

    Article by Jason Borne and Tom Batroney

    In today’s environment, the conditions and constraints under which infrastructure must perform are becoming an increasing challenge.  Examples include an exponentially increasing global population (particularly within urban centers), increased severity in weather patterns and extreme events, and increased consumption of resources (some of which are becoming scarce).  All of these challenges are further exacerbated by the poor condition of our infrastructure that we depend on as part of our day-to-day lives, as evidenced in the 2014 Pennsylvania Infrastructure Report Card.  To maximize quality of life and minimize costs to taxpayers under these increasing challenging conditions, we need to follow sustainable design principles where possible.   Many public agencies and cities are now requiring it.  How do we truly evaluate how “sustainable” a project really is?  Civil engineers have the answer to this question.

    Growing sustainability awareness from the public and clients is bringing about an increased interest in the ability to quantify the financial, environmental, and social impacts within the life cycle of projects.  Industry leaders recognized the need for engineers, designers, and related practitioners to be able to evaluate the level of sustainability for all areas of civil infrastructure using an objective and standardized tool. In response to this growing need, the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE), the American Council of Engineering Companies (ACEC) and the American Public Works Association (APWA), leveraged their organizations’ support in the creation of the Institute of Sustainable Infrastructure (ISI). The ISI is a 501 (c) (3) non-profit organization, structured to develop and maintain a sustainability rating system for civil infrastructure. That system, called Envision, is a collaboration between ISI in Washington, D.C., and the Zofnass Program for Sustainable Infrastructure at the Graduate School of Design at Harvard University, Cambridge, Massachusetts.

    Envision establishes a holistic method to evaluate and rate the sustainability of infrastructure projects while simultaneously considering the entire project life cycle at a systems level, and the values of the community in which the project resides.  Prior to the release of Envision, available sustainability rating systems were largely sector specific addressing singular infrastructure elements (such as a building or road) versus a project’s entire contribution to the overall system in which it resides (such as the surrounding community or the below ground sewer and water infrastructure network).  

    Envision is a comprehensive sustainability rating system that is designed to supplement and complement sector specific rating systems, bringing them consistency and uniformity.  Envision does not replace the common industry-accepted sustainability-based systems that currently exist, but provides an overarching framework which allows for the integration of the results derived by these other systems.

    The Envision rating system objectives include:

    1. Improve the performance and resiliency of infrastructure projects from technical, social, environmental, and economic perspectives.
    2. Stretch traditional design boundaries
    3. Ensure community and environmental priorities are addressed
    4. Assess costs and benefits over a project’s expected life cycle
    5. Guide decisions about investment of scarce resources

    Sustainability assessment methods have historically focused on assessing “sustainable performance”.  System efficiency is stressed and consideration is predominantly given to the implications of the project impact on resource use and associated capital and operation and maintenance costs.  The guiding mantra being…“Are we doing the project right?”  These assessments are typically limited to resource consumption concerns such as energy, water, and recycled material.

    To have truly sustainable infrastructure, the scope of our perspective regarding sustainability must be expanded to include the “sustainable pathway”.  We need to ask ourselves not only “Are we doing the project right?” but additionally address the fundamental question…“Are we doing the right project?”  Envision is structured in a manner that brings to light potential design or operational “traps” that may affect how sustainable a project remains over its life cycle.  These concerns regarding project resiliency may include 1) resource traps, 2) configuration traps, and 3) standards traps.  

    For example, project “resource traps” may involve increased community dependence on resources that could become very scarce and expensive.  

    “Configuration traps” address configurations that are highly vulnerable to extreme weather events, natural disasters, economic conditions and/or actions by others. 

     “Standards traps” involves the application of design standards and methodologies that are not in alignment with new conditions or concerns.

    The Envision rating system for sustainable infrastructure provides an objective and standardized method to begin to address ever increasing infrastructure complexity as civil engineers.  The contents of the system provide a systematic way to gauge a project’s level of sustainability and affords infrastructure owners, engineers, and designers an opportunity to develop higher performing solutions by using a life cycle perspective and working with communities in which the project resides.  For public infrastructure owners, Envision helps to cut long term costs and keep taxes supporting infrastructure low.

    This article is the first of a three part series, providing a comprehensive overview of the ISI Envision sustainability rating system.  Part 2 will present the structure and contents of the rating system itself explaining the categories of credits and providing an understanding of the evaluation criteria.

    For more information on becoming involved within ASCE Pittsburgh’s Sustainability Committee visit our webpage at http://www.asce-pgh.org/SustainabilityCommittee


  • 09 Nov 2015 7:55 AM | ASCE Blog Editor (Administrator)

    Article by Kate Luce Angell

    Since September, the Pittsburgh section and other Pennsylvania sections of ASCE have been working on a statewide social media and public relations campaign aimed at raising awareness about the critical need for a long-term fix for the Highway Trust Fund, and about the findings of the 2014 Infrastructure Report Card.

    As you’re probably aware, Congress is facing yet another deadline before the Trust Fund runs out of money November 20. As a result, it’s been a busy time for infrastructure news, and there’s both good and bad. Below is a summary of what’s been happening recently and what has been going on with the campaign so far.

    First the good. The 6-year Surface Transportation Reauthorization and Reform Act of 2015 passed Nov. 5 in the House by a vote of 363-64. The Act maintains current funding levels for highway programs, increases bus funding by almost 40% to reverse cuts in the last transportation reauthorization, increases railway-highway grade crossing funding, and continues current funding levels for the Transportation Alternatives Program. It will also create a program to fund large freight projects.

    Now the bad. The Senate and House must now resolve the differences between their 2 versions of the legislation before the Highway Trust Fund runs out of money Nov. 20. Also, although it is 6-year legislation, there’s only funding in place for 3 years, and all of that comes from the Fed’s surplus capital, $29.3 billion as of Oct. 29. An increase in the federal gas tax, which many business leaders point to as the best way to guarantee long-term funding (as well as long overdue, last raised in 1993), was rejected by Republican leaders. Finally, pretty much everyone agrees that maintaining any infrastructure funding at the current levels is woefully inadequate.

    Public Relations News. ASCE Pittsburgh Government Relations Committee Chair, Greg Scott, had his Letter to the Editor imploring legislation to pass the Act printed Nov. 5 in the Post-Gazette. Additionally, the Post-Gazette editorial board also printed a strong support for long-term transportation funding on Nov. 3. Lastly, this article in the New York Times gives a good overview on current proceedings.

    Social Media News. The ASCE PA Facebook page has been regularly updated since the beginning of September with breaking infrastructure news and a series of infrastructure- and Trust Fund-related memes. Over the last week, ASCE Pennsylvania debuted another new meme on the ASCE PA Facebook page, this one focused on the need for transit funding, and we’ll release new memes in the upcoming weeks. There have also been several substantive articles from different publications on the nation’s infrastructure crisis. Check out the human cost of crumbling infrastructure in the Times, and a support for raising the gas tax in Mother Jones.

    How you can help.We’re still working under a ticking clock. To that end, the social media campaign going forward will focus on urging legislators to meet that new November 20 deadline. The Trust Fund website is a great place to start, but if you know your federal legislators, reach out to them personally and tell them how important it is for them to get this bill finalized and into law.

    Thanks for everyone’s ongoing efforts!


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