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Pittsburgh's Civil Engineering News Blog

  • 03 Mar 2016 11:12 AM | ASCE Blog Editor (Administrator)

    By Alex Potter-Weight

    More than 80 Pittsburgh Geological Society and ASCE members and guests gathered at the Foster’s Restaurant on Wednesday, January 20th for a joint meeting of PGS and the Geo-Institute.  As part of the meeting, Peter R. Michael, PG, presented the lecture “Preventing Coal Waste Impoundment Breakthroughs into Underground Mines.” The topic featured a famous case study of a breakthrough in eastern Kentucky in 2000, and included recommendations for preventing future events and recent research on the subject of coal waste flow.

    On October 11, 2000, over 300 million gallons of water and coal waste slurry drained from a coal waste impoundment in Martin County, Kentucky into an adjacent underground coal mine.  Most of that material then discharged from two mine portals and affected more than 75 miles or rivers and streams in the surrounding area. 

    To prevent future catastrophic events, the U.S. Office of Surface Mining Reclamation and Enforcement (OSMRE) and partnering agencies undertook a significant investigation of possible causes and an assessment of current coal waste impoundment practices.  Mr. Michael took part in this project with OSMRE and one of the key points in his presentation focused on proper initial accounting of all mineable coal seams in the vicinity of the facility. He demonstrated why sole reliance on existing mine maps should be avoided and that other methods such as local interviews, drilling, and geophysical investigations should be considered.  These practices allow for more accurate and complete identifications of underground mines that could affect the stability of the impoundment.  Next, Mr. Michael discussed the importance of analyzing the quality of the existing barriers preventing breakthroughs.  Finally, the presentation concluded with an in-depth discussion of the properties of coal waste slurries and the features that would indicate high flowability.  An analysis of flow properties of coal waste was recently performed by Dr. David Zeng of Case Western Reserve University.  The research focused primarily on the moisture content and plasticity of the material in determining the susceptibility of the waste slurries to high flow rates.

    Attendees earned 1.0 Professional Development Hour (PDH) for the presentation from the Pittsburgh Geological Society and the Geo-Institute Chapter of the ASCE Pittsburgh Section.  This annual joint technical dinner meeting between the two societies also included a social hour to network with other professional leaders, and a buffet dinner.  

  • 29 Feb 2016 8:48 PM | ASCE Blog Editor (Administrator)

    By Stephanie Roman from Public Source

    Ninety percent of car crashes are preventable.

    As it stands, about 30,000 people die in car crashes every year in the United States, said Mark Kopko of the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation [PennDOT]. “If you could reduce that by 90 percent, that’s huge.”

    Autonomous cars have the capacity to do that.

    In Allegheny County, that could mean a vast reduction in the roughly 12,000 crashes in 2014 — especially of those attributed to driver error, like drunk or distracted driving and speeding.

    The technology isn’t a distant dream. Much of it is being researched and designed here in Pittsburgh.

    Ride-sharing app company Uber and Carnegie Mellon University [CMU] announced a partnership to work on autonomous cars a year ago. Uber set up an Advanced Technologies Center in Pittsburgh, where they have access to CMU’s talent as well as its National Robotics Engineering Center.

    The cars could reduce congested parking and allow commuters to prepare for work. Eventually, they might even provide people unable to drive with access to safe and reliable transportation from their doorsteps.

    But Pittsburgh’s varied weather, the resulting pothole problem and the city’s erratic streets may throw up roadblocks for these smart cars. And, the overall safety of pedestrians, bicyclists and other motorists is already a concern without the added factor of cars governed by nascent technology.

    Figuring out how to legislate a cutting-edge technology poses another challenge. Some states have passed regulations creating safety measures for the testing of autonomous cars, but not Pennsylvania.

    A state workgroup is making preparations to be ready for self-driving cars by the year 2040.

    “There’s still too many questions and the potentials are there, so that’s the beauty,” said Kopko, PennDOT manager of traveler information and advanced vehicle technology.

    The car decides

    Photo by Ken Conley, flickr. A Chevy Tahoe, with autonomous capabilities added by Carnegie Mellon University researchers, navigated a 55-mile urban course in a 2007 competition in California. The vehicle has more than a dozen sensors and averaged a speed of 14 mph during the challenge.In 2013, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration defined five stages of vehicle autonomy, with level 0 being that the driver has full control of steering, brakes and throttle, and level 4 meaning that the car performs all functions independently.

    Some commercial vehicles are already considered levels 1 and 2, with functions like automatic braking, adaptive cruise control and self-parking.

    But there’s much to be achieved before level-4 cars chauffeur people around town.

    Fully autonomous vehicles need to cover two domains: highway driving and urban driving.

    “Technologically, we’re pretty much there in terms of highway driving,” said John Dolan, principal systems scientist at CMU’s Robotics Institute. The demands of urban driving are “problematic,” he continued. “Nobody’s really claiming they’ve solved it.”

    There are three major fields when it comes to teaching cars to drive themselves: perception, behaviors and motion planning.

    Perception is how the cars see. They do that with sensors, like cameras, lasers testing distance, and radars detecting speed.

    Behaviors are how the car makes tactical decisions, like choosing to merge into the Fort Pitt Tunnel or moving ahead at a stop sign.

    Motion planning is the time the car has to make those decisions. It’s the most difficult aspect to design. While a car's sensors would be able to detect if a deer leapt out unexpectedly, it still may not be able to avoid a collision.

    Many automakers are working on models of autonomous cars, and liability is a major concern.

    “There’s reliability issues. Kind of like NASA and the space industry, they’re going to test it rigorously over the course of several years,” Dolan said. “They need redundancy.”

    The cars also need massive computing power, which Dolan said may be the most expensive feature.

    It’s likely that the first autonomous cars on the market will be luxury vehicles, and the costs will increase from there. Dolan estimated prices will start at about $60,000 to $75,000.

    Street talk

    Photo by Connor Mulvaney, Public Source. The intersection of Bedford Avenue and the I-579 Crosstown Boulevard ramp near downtown Pittsburgh is difficult to navigate for human drivers, and it could pose a challenge for autonomous cars.Tesla Motors CEO Elon Musk says his company will have autonomous cars road-ready in about two years.

    Some autonomous car and tech developers say city planners shouldn’t get carried away with changes to infrastructure to make way for these cars as their capabilities will continue to evolve.

    Certain changes would help, though. Cities, including Pittsburgh, may need to consider standardizing traffic signals and redesigning “problem intersections.”

    For example, bizarre on-ramps, traffic lights and one-way signs between Bedford Avenue, Crosstown Boulevard and I-376 in the Hill District could confuse car computers just as much as they do humans — unless it’s been extensively mapped.

    Another improvement would be to install dedicated short-range communication in traffic lights, which would signal cars when to go or slow down.

    Cooperation among states may also be needed.

    “There’s a huge amount of variations on [street] signs between states,” said Blaine Leonard, program manager for intelligent transportation systems at the Utah DOT. “We need to do a better job of figuring out how to make those more consistent.”

    PennDOT doesn’t have major investments planned, although the agency is staying abreast of the technology. Eventually, it may look at reducing lane width or cutting out interstate lanes entirely.

    One suggestion in PennDOT’s 2040 outline is to reduce the width of the Squirrel Hill tunnel lanes to 10 feet, and to add a third 9-foot lane for autonomous cars.

    Kopko said the only near-term project would involve line painting.

    “Some [vehicles] look at lines and some don’t,” he said.

    Leonard added that white line paint isn’t as visible at night or in inclement weather, and it fades. One solution, he said, might be to put radio frequency identification, known as RFID, in the line paint.

    If autonomous cars truly revolutionize the way people get around, what happens to all the parking?

    “Because of the way that they circulate, the demand for parking may go down in the city. Those types of vehicles may park on the fringes for free or for cheap,” said Justin Miller, a senior planner for the city of Pittsburgh.

    Miller said planners may have to consider making new parking structures adaptable, in case they become unneeded.

    PennDOT agrees.

    “In an urban setting, the amount of parking garages could be potential green space,” said Kurt Myers, deputy secretary of PennDOT driver and vehicle services.

    Legislating the unknown

    Legislating autonomous vehicles is a hurdle because of the liability involved.

    “[The government willl] start to or need to get involved from a safety perspective, at least to make sure this stuff is deployed responsibly,” said Dean Pomerleau, an adjunct robotics professor at CMU and pioneer of self-driving technology. “And despite whatever Elon Musk and the tech guys say, there will be crashes.”

    California and a handful of other states have enacted regulations permitting autonomous vehicle testing on public roads and establishing baseline safety measures — primarily that licensed drivers need to be in the car to take control if necessary.

    In January, President Barack Obama and U.S. Department of Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx announced they would pump $4 billion into autonomous car development over the next decade.

    Foxx said the proposal will ease legislative and financial obstacles for auto and tech companies developing the cars.

    PennDOT formed the Pennsylvania Connected and Automated Vehicle Working Group in 2012. It includes lawyers and representatives from the Turnpike Commission, the Federal Highway Administration and CMU.

    The 2040 outline is the most official item on the books right now. There are no state regulations regarding autonomous cars in place.

    With the rate of car turnover, Leonard, of the Utah DOT, said it could take 40 years for autonomous cars to become the norm.

    “Even when autonomous vehicles are available and in operation, it will be a long time before they are fully integrated,” Myers said.

    Removing a barrier

    Autonomous cars will need a licensed driver in the seat — at least at first. But someday people who are unable to drive on their own could have the same access to cars.

    Peri Jude Radecic, CEO of the Disability Rights Network of Pennsylvania, said this could be life-changing for people with disabilities.

    “In rural areas, the problems are magnified, so having another transportation option available to us would be a great advance forward,” she said.

    Radecic said transportation departments and the government should ensure autonomous cars are developed in compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act.

    “It would save a lot of money and headaches down the road if we’re able to have these conversations ... now,” she said.

    Many experts say that, like an Uber, autonomous vehicles will probably be available to order as taxis at first. They could become a choice alternative for people who live too far from their bus stop to walk or bike, but still want to be economical about transport.

    “This really has the potential to impact the quality of life from a mobility standpoint for individuals literally across the world,” Myers said.

    Leonard thought about how it could change his and his cohort’s future.

    “I really think for [the Baby Boomer] generation the driverless car thing is really going to make it possible to participate in society when we can’t be driving,” he said.

    The dream for many involved in the development of autonomous cars is that people without licenses will be able to get around without having to rely on friends or public transportation.

    “It may very well be where people look back and say, ‘How archaic it is that you had to sit behind a wheel,’” Myers said.

    Reach PublicSource reporter Stephanie Roman at Follow her on Twitter @ShogunSteph. Read the original article here.

  • 25 Feb 2016 8:20 AM | ASCE Blog Editor (Administrator)

    By Michael Krepsik

    Anyone with a PE license in a state requiring Board-approved courses can tell you about the difficulties they’ve had finding, traveling to, and registering for courses.  If you are an out-of-state PE trying to maintain a license, the opportunities to achieve the required continuing education credits can be daunting.  The states of Florida and New York are notability difficult and the regulations are confusing.  As a Florida license holder and co-workers with several New York PE’s, I set out to learn the continuing education requirements for the 2015-2017 renewal cycle and, specifically, if local and National ASCE courses and webinars would count for continuing education credit for either state.


    For the 2015-2017 renewal cycle, Florida has completely dropped the requirement for 8 PDHs in Board-approved courses.  Instead, a total of 18 PDHs are now required, 1 hour of which must cover ethics and 1 hour of which must cover laws and rules.  While waiving the Board-approved course requirement initially sounds promising, the language in Florida’s statues about qualifying continuing education courses is vague and outdated.  And of course, if you are audited and fail to supply sufficient back-up information, your license maybe revoked.  For example, a continuing education course is typically considered acceptable if the provider is registered as a continuing education provider with NCEES, a regionally accredited educational institution, a commercial educator, a governmental agency, or a state of national professional association whose primary purpose is to promote the profession of engineering. Based on my conversation with a contact at the Florida Board of Engineers, MOST courses offered by ASCE on the local or national level will qualify towards license renewal.  I include the caveat MOST, as item 9 under Non-Qualifying Activities includes such language as “Courses the content of which is below the level of knowledge and skill that reflects the responsibility of engineer in charge.”  Bad punctuation and grammar aside, this statement leads me to believe that if the Florida Board doesn’t feel a particular course is not presented at a high enough level then that course will not be counted towards bi-annual credits.

    Take-Away – ASCE courses should count but make sure you obtain more PDHs than you need as not everything may count!

    New York

    For the 2015-2017 renewal cycle, New York will continue to require 36 hours of continuing education for engineers, with a minimum of 1 hour on ethics.  A minimum of 18 hours must be obtained through courses and a maximum of 18 hours may be in educational activities, such as preparing and teaching courses, publishing a journal or book, making a technical presentation, obtaining a patent, and a few other options.  To be considered acceptable, the courses/education activities must be:

    • Administered by an approved New York State provider
    • About an approved subject area
    • Submitted in an approved format
    • Include opportunity for immediate interaction with an instructor/presenter.

    While the ASCE National live webinar series seem to meet the above requirements, I was unable to ascertain if ASCE National is an approved provider.  The Metropolitan Section of ASCE is listed as an approved provider of courses, in order to provide their members with local presentations which yield valid PDHs.  The only reference on the ASCE National website (and the general consensus when I called) concerning the suitability of ASCE national webinar courses for continuing education requirements was that engineers are advised to check with their state licensing boards before registering for a course to determine eligibility.  The few out-of-state New York PE’s I spoke with indicated that they usually booked a 2 or 3-day seminar in New York state each year to fulfill the bulk of their requirements; then looked for specialty on-line courses from vendors who are approved providers.

    Take-Away – Research carefully before registering and learn the approved course sponsors:  (Tip: most approved courses will proudly announce they are approved in New York; obtaining an approved course certification is not easy.)

  • 18 Feb 2016 8:52 AM | ASCE Blog Editor (Administrator)

    Tom Batroney, PE, ENV SP, M.ASCE – ASCE Pittsburgh Sustainability Committee Chair

    Jason J. Borne, PE, CPSWQ, ENV SP, M.ASCE – ASCE Pittsburgh Sustainability Committee Vice Chair

    This is the second part in a series of ASCE-Pittsburgh articles related to the Envision Rating System. The first part of the series introducing the system can be read here.

    The Envision Rating System, developed in part by the American Society of Civil Engineers, provides engineers a standardized tool for evaluating the level of sustainability for the diverse sectors of civil engineering infrastructure projects including:

    • Transportation
    • Parks
    • Dams
    • Energy
    • Stormwater
    • Water
    • Wastewater

    The intention of the rating system is to provide a holistic method for evaluating sustainability metrics throughout the life cycle of projects.

    This installment of the article series discusses the five categories within the Envision Rating System: Quality of Life, Leadership, Resource Allocation, Natural World, and Climate and Risk. Each category is further subdivided into subcategories that include detailed credits. In total, the rating system is made up of 60 subcategory credits that evaluate a specific project component related to sustainability. The categories and subcategories are intended to capture the level of sustainability in a simple and understandable credit system approach. As more credits are accumulated within the categories and subcategories, the greater the overall sustainability rating of the project. These credits can then be applied for achieving an official Envision Certification Award for the project (Platinum, Gold, Silver, Bronze). The following is a short description of each category and subcategory. 

    Quality of Life

    Quality of Life addresses a project’s impact on host and affected communities. These impacts may be physical, economic, or social. Quality of Life focuses on assessing whether infrastructure projects align with community goals, are incorporated into existing community networks, and will benefit the community in the long term. Community members affected by the project are considered important stakeholders in the decision-making process. The category is further divided into three subcategories: Purpose, Wellbeing, and Community. Many of these questions address the question: “Are we doing the right project?”


    The Leadership category addresses a team’s ability to communicate and collaborate with a wide variety of people in fostering ideas for a successful project. The category is subdivided into three subcategories: Collaboration, Management, and Planning. The credits for Collaboration pertain to involving stakeholders to capture ideas and foster innovation across project groups. The intent is to improve communication across teams and stakeholders allowing for cross pollination of ideas. The Management subcategory deals with creating collaborations between various systems within a project, thus reducing waste and often times cost. The Planning subcategory is intended to increase the project team’s awareness of long-term factors which may impact the project. Understanding planning issues, such as the regulatory environment and future growth trends in the area, can lead to a project that avoids pitfalls and plans effectively.  

    Resource Allocation

    The Resource Allocation category addresses the materials used in the construction and operation for the lifespan of the project. The category is subdivided into three subcategories: Materials, Energy, and Water. For each subcategory, the quantity, source, and characteristics of these resources and their impacts on the overall sustainability of the project are assessed. In general, the category assesses the ability of the project to limit the amount of:

    • Finite materials used on the project,
    • Non-renewable fossil fuel energy sources, and
    • Water consumption.

    There are also additional credits for emphasizing monitoring systems during operations.

    Natural World

    Infrastructure projects have an impact on the natural world around them, including habitats, species, and nonliving natural systems. The way a project is located within these systems can create unwanted impacts if not properly accounted for in design and operation.  The Natural World category addresses how to understand and minimize negative impacts while considering ways in which the project can interact with natural systems in a positive way. The Natural World category is subdivided into three subcategories: Siting, Land and Water, and Biodiversity. In general, these subcategories address the project’s ability to limit the environmental impact on the surrounding landscape and habitat.

    Climate and Risk

    The Climate and Risk category addresses potential short term and long term climate change and risk management of the project. The category is divided into two subcategories: Emissions and Resilience. The Emissions subcategory evaluates the projects ability at reducing greenhouse gas and air pollutant emissions during the full life span of the project (construction and startup activities, operations, and decommissioning.) The Resilience subcategory evaluates the projects ability to be adaptable to potential changes in environmental conditions, both in the short term and the long term.  

    The intent of the second part of the article series was to provide a high level overview of the credits within the Envision Rating System. For more in-depth information, visit the Envision website at The next installment of the Envision Rating System article series will focus on the companion tools available within the Envision Rating System, including the planning level Self-Assessment Checklist Tool, and the Business Case Evaluator Tool for assessing economic return benefits for sustainable design.

    For more information on becoming involved within ASCE Pittsburgh’s Sustainability Committee visit our webpage at:

  • 11 Feb 2016 8:51 AM | ASCE Blog Editor (Administrator)

    Brian Sekula, P.E., P.L.S., M.ASCE was celebrated at the 2015 ASCE Pittsburgh Kick-off Dinner for his commitment to civil engineering.  At the Kick-off Dinner, Brian received his life membership recognition.

    Mr. Sekula earned his Bachelor of Science degree in Civil Engineering from Drexel University in 1973.  During his cooperative education periods, he worked with a construction company and several consulting engineering firms.  In 1980, he then went on to obtain a Master of Science in Civil Engineering with an emphasis in Geotechnical Engineering at The Pennsylvania State University in 1980.  While at Penn State, he was able to include in his course work classes in Airport Engineering, Solid Waste, Hydrogeology, and Agronomy soil classes.  He went on later in his career to obtain a Master of Business Administration from Clarion University in 1996.

    His professional career began in 1974 as a project engineer with Lee-Simpson Associates, Inc. a consulting engineer in DuBois, Pennsylvania where he worked on sanitary engineering projects, geotechnical projects, and airport projects.  During his tenure at Lee-Simpson, he obtained his license as a Professional Land Surveyor and Professional Engineer, and also obtained his Pennsylvania Operator’s Licenses for a Water System and Sewage Treatment Plants.

    His next position was as Energy Coordinator at North American Refractories Company (NARCO) in Curwensville, Pennsylvania, where he identified and designed energy saving projects that dealt with natural gas, oil, propane, or electric.  Following NARCO, he worked for 8 years in the bituminous coal industry preparing surface mine permit applications.  After the mining position, he returned to consulting engineering in the sanitary/municipal field with deep involvement with sewage and water treatment plants, water distribution systems, and sewage collection systems. 

    His current position is with The EADS Group, Inc. as a Principal, Vice-President, and Office Manager.  He also oversees the Sanitary/Municipal, surveying, and environmental departments, and is very involved with oversight of design reviews, mentoring of younger engineers, and assisting with project management and client coordination.  He still works with mining permitting, environmental permitting, geotechnical engineering, and provides technical assistance and mentoring to the surveying department.

    Mr. Sekula’s is active in the community, including being a board member and Secretary of the Clarion County Economic Development Corporation, a member of the Clearfield County Planning Commission, Treasurer of the Union Township Fire Company, a member of the City of DuBois Watershed Committee, and a volunteer at St. Catherine Church in DuBois.  He was also the past Chairman of the DuBois Red Cross Board of Directors, past Treasurer of the DuBois Area Jaycees, and former member of Parish Council of St. Catherine Church.

    Mr. Sekula took the time to answer a few questions on the occasion of his life membership recognition.

    What are some of the most exciting projects you’ve worked on?

    I worked as an expert witness for the defendant in a professional liability case.  The case revolved around the design of a mine drainage treatment system and whether it met the standard of practice.  In that case, I used my civil engineering and mining experience, chemistry, knowledge of water treatment systems, and experience as a water system operator.  It was challenging and fun.  The defendant won the case which was upheld upon appeal.

    I performed a sewage plant re-rating for a DEP Water Quality Management permit which included an Engineer’s Report, plans, permit modules, and specifications.  Upon DEP completing the technical review and issuing a revised permit, the plant received a re-rated hydraulic capacity of 2.4 MGD without any capital investment required.  The initial hydraulic capacity of the plant was 1.6 MGD.     

    How has ASCE impacted your career?

    I recall early on where ASCE promoted civil engineering as a “People Serving Profession”.  That concept was interesting and somewhat a puzzle.  After having worked in the field for now over 40 years, I believe I understand it.  We design and see projects built that impact people all of the time.  Whether it is a highway, bridge, water system, building, airport, or sewage system they all impact the general population.  In our business pursuits, we interact with people I believe a good bit more that many of the other engineering disciplines.  To get our projects done, we need to work with Councils, Supervisors, Authority members, and the general populace.  The design part is relatively easy compared to the personal interaction we need to do.     

  • 04 Feb 2016 2:31 PM | ASCE Blog Editor (Administrator)

    By Linda Kaplan, P.E.,  and Nicholle Piper

    The second session for the Civil Engineering Western Pennsylvania ACE [Architecture, Construction, Engineering] Mentor Program was held at Mascaro Construction on November 18, 2015.  

    This year’s project is the design of a summer camp, with a focus on sustainability and using the natural landscape (previously reported on here).  Each student was responsible for a cabin design, and each group was responsible for the design of central camp elements.  Approximately 40 students attended the second session to further the design of their camps by preparing civil engineering site layout plans. 

    The second session began with a presentation that provided an overview of civil engineering, describing the history and the sub-disciplines, including environmental engineering, geotechnical engineering, site/civil engineering, transportation engineering, structural engineering, and water resources engineering. In addition, a natural resources scientist from Langan Engineering explained landscape architecture, identifying wetlands and stream boundaries, and permitting impacts to aquatic features.

    After the presentation, the students divided into their groups and were provided a 24”x 36” site background plan and a sample ordinance.  The site background plan provided existing features including a stream, wetland, and road as well as contour lines that represent elevations.  The ordinance provided design criteria for the proposed sidewalk access, parking spots, loading areas, drop-off locations, and dumpster areas.  In addition, the ordinance provided instructions for the stormwater management design, wetland and stream encroachments, and utility layout (including sanitary sewer, electric, water, and gas service).  Each group used color pencils to layout the various site utilities, following the APWA/CGA color code (per ANSI Standard Z535.1).  The groups then presented the civil engineering design of each camp, describing the iterations since the October 21, 2015 preliminary plans.

    The students met again on December 2, 2015 at the Engineers Society of Western Pennsylvania, this time to learn about Structural Engineering, led by SEI Pittsburgh.

    The session concentrated on concrete design since steel has been presented the past several years. Beginning with a presentation about structural engineering, the focus then shifted to the details of concrete mix design.   Each of the four main components of concrete were discussed: Portland Cement, large aggregates, small aggregates, and water. Additionally, various forms of concrete tests were presented, including compression tests and slump tests.  Then, using the calculations presented, each group was charged with developing a mix design for the bridge abutments that would be on their camp site.  The students were tasked with designing their concrete to meet a specified slump. The students had to scale down their design to determine the ratio of components they would need, assuming 1 pound of Portland Cement.

    After their mix design was “approved” the students had the opportunity to mix a small batch of their concrete and test their slump.  Each group was given 1 pound of Portland cement and could then request their required amounts of large and small aggregates, and water.  They then mixed their concrete in 5 gallon buckets, and used a modified slump cone to test the workability of their design.  This hands on activity gave the students a thorough understanding of concrete variability and the application of their design.

    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 ESWP for allowing us to mix concrete in their banquet hall, and to the Keystone-Mountain-Lakes Carpenters Union for their assistance with supplies, set up, and clean up.  

  • 28 Jan 2016 10:09 AM | ASCE Blog Editor (Administrator)

    By Djuna Gulliver

    Nathan Toohey, P.E., was an undergraduate student in the Civil and Environmental Engineering Department at Carnegie Mellon University in the year 2000 when he won the ASCE Pittsburgh Section Student Award Foundation Grant.  “It was a great feeling, to be acknowledged by my peers, colleagues, and especially my mentors,” Nathan says. 

    By 2003, Nathan had graduated and taken a non-profit job in Fort Collins, CO, with Village Earth to work on community-based sustainable development practices with civil engineering applications.  This job gave him the opportunity to travel to Purulia, India to assess the hydrologic needs for three rural villages through water quality analysis, geologic reconnaissance, and topographical surveying.  There, he also assessed necessary structural and cosmetic refurbishments for an abandoned community center.

    In 2007, Nathan decided to pursue a Master’s degree at the Colorado School of Mines researching the ability to geomechanically characterize chemically-stabilized soils using a seismic wave-based technology.  In December 2015, at School of Mines, he finished a Ph.D. specializing in dynamic (low-frequency), poromechanical characterization of saturated sands.  With his Ph. D. adviser, Nathan developed a real-time monitoring system of a vibratory plate, used to compact foundation soils on the seabed floor in Venice Lagoon, Italy after the seabed was dredged for retractable floodgates.  Amidst his research, Nathan also co-patented two methods (one accepted, the other pending) that characterize subsurface fractures networks to provide treatment completions evaluations using passive seismic signals during hydraulic fracturing stimulation.

    Nathan took the time out of his busy schedule to talk about what he loves about his field and what he misses about Pittsburgh.

    What do you enjoy most about your current job?

    Collaborative, inter-disciplinary research. Contemporary engineering solutions require knowledge and insight from multidisciplinary teams to bridge gaps between civil, environmental, mechanical, and electrical engineering knowledge to incorporate the advancements provided by the systems control and computing science communities. 

    In tandem with graduate school, I work for an oil and gas service company that provides geophysical monitoring and completions evaluation for hydraulic fracturing.  It is very rewarding to be a part of this energy industry with the ability to interactively contribute to technological innovation and improvement. 

    What advice would you give other young engineers?

    Get practical experience, but aspire for higher education. Pursue advancing the state-of-art, once you have a well-developed understanding of current practice. Innovate! Learn to communicate with those who do or do not have a similar technical background. The consulting world can be notoriously resistant to change and innovation. Develop and communicate new ideas and integrated solutions. Civil engineering is advancing in so many new and exciting directions, be a part of it!

    I have also benefited from working professionally with colleagues in Sweden, Italy, Canada and India. I encourage engineering students to seek international experience, either in academia or industry. Institutional impedance can often blind US developments with respect to what the rest of the world is developing.  Listen, observe, and collaborate.

    What is your best memory of being a civil engineering student?

    Working with the Carnegie Mellon Civil and Environmental Engineering faculty. Jim Garrett, Susan Finger and Larry Cartwright played instrumental roles in how my professional choices ultimately guided my career trajectory. 

    I also spent my junior year studying abroad at Ecole Polytechnique Federale de Lausanne (EPFL) in Switzerland. This was a fantastic opportunity to engage engineering from a different perspective, and to also identify the ties that bind us.

    What classes and activities did you participate in that have most influenced you?

    I wanted to be a civil engineer because of the practicality of building. Designing a project and seeing the results always held great reward in my eyes. Senior Design and Construction was a literal realization of this process. I also participated in an Independent Study semester doing timber design and construction, with Larry Cartwright advising. Both of these experiences gave me considerable insight into what might actually be incongruent with respect to an expected engineering design and physical construction constraints.

    Is there anything you miss about Pittsburgh?

    So many good, friends, culture. Pittsburgh has such a wonderfully diverse culture, and the seeds for amazing technological development. But I mostly miss good old-fashioned pierogies and them Stillers!

    To contact Nathan Toohey email him at:

    In 1988, members of the ASCE Pittsburgh Section founded the Student Award Foundation (SAF) of the Pittsburgh Section of the American Society of Civil Engineering.  Since that time, the SAF has given awards to emerging leaders who call the Pittsburgh Section home.  In 2007, American Bridge Company provided a donation of $75,000 and, since, the primary award is the American Bridge Leadership Award.  Thanks to the donation by American Bridge, the SAF annually confers the American Bridge Leadership Award of $5,000 or more.  In addition to the American Bridge Leadership Award, the SAF bestows 

  • 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.”

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