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Pittsburgh's Civil Engineering News Blog

  • 22 Jan 2015 1:03 PM | ASCE Blog Editor (Administrator)

    Article by Linda Kaplan

    William J. Confair, PE, M.ASCE, won the 2015 Eastern Regional Younger Members Council Practitioner Advisor Award.  This award is given to one Practitioner Advisor in ASCE Regions 1, 2, 4, or 5, which covers the Eastern third of the country.  Bill was honored for his substantial efforts working with the University of Pittsburgh – Johnstown (UPJ) ASCE Student Chapter.  He is an alumnus of UPJ having graduated with a Bachelor of Science Degree in 2010.

    The UPJ student chapter had the honor of hosting the National Concrete Canoe Competition in June 2014.  Starting in the Fall of 2013, Bill served as an advisor to the students planning committee and assisted the chapter with scheduling, coordination for fundraising, interaction with the Pittsburgh Section, securing volunteers, obtaining interest in local companies to attend the career fair, and correspondence with ASCE National.  Additionally, Bill regularly coordinates and participates in panel discussion at the University covering a variety of topics including “What ASCE Can do for You” and “Post Graduate Options – Master’s Degrees vs. Employment.”

    Bill is a Bridge Engineer with AECOM in Pittsburgh, where he has worked for 5 years.  Signature projects include the rehabilitation of the South Tenth Street Suspension Bridge and the design of a new pedestrian bridge for the Montour Trail Council.  He also serves as the current Technical Committee Chair for the YMF, organizing tours and speaker events.  

    Bill took some time to discuss the award and his experiences working with the student chapter.

    Question: What did you think when you heard that you won the award?

    I felt very grateful and honored that I had won the award.  I put a lot of work into coordination with the students and the faculty advisor in order to have the students attend conferences, dinner meetings, and discussions.

    Question: What have you learned from working with the students?

    The biggest thing that I have learned from the students, essentially what piques their interests to get them involved in ASCE and attend events, is networking: Having the possibility to network and gain a potential internship or full time position.

    Question: What do you tell students who are unsure if ASCE membership is right for them?

    I tell them my personal experience when I attended the 2008 ASCE National Conference in Pittsburgh.  It begins with my attendance and networking skills at one of the younger member events.  I met with my future manager and discussed the possibility of an internship.  It turned out to be a successful summer internship that ended with a full-time offer once I graduated.  Without my involvement in ASCE, I would not have had this opportunity, nor would I be in my current position.

    Question: What is your favorite or funniest memory of working with students?

    My favorite memory while working with the students is a panel discussion in the spring semester.  Our panel discussion occurred on St. Patrick’s Day and a couple of the presenters dressed up for the occasion.  We definitely had some laughs and it lightened the atmosphere, which provided, in my mind, the best panel discussion that I have ever attended.

    Question: What accomplishments, as either a mentor or engineer, are you most proud of?

    I am proud of spreading my knowledge of engineering master’s degrees, among many other topics to students and junior engineers.  Panel discussions are my favorite events, because I feel like I have a lot to share with students and junior engineers.

    To learn more about ERYMC, visit the ASCE-National Website or visit the ASCE-Miami Website.

  • 15 Jan 2015 9:36 AM | ASCE Blog Editor (Administrator)

    Photo from Politics PAGovernor-Elect Tom Wolf has designated Leslie Richards as the new head of the Department of Transportation.  Leslie Richards is currently the vice chair of the Montgomery County Board of Commissioners, chair of the Delaware Valley Regional Planning Commission, and a member of the SEPTA Board.  As the head of the Department of Transportation, Richards will oversee nearly 12,000 employees and a $7.2 billion budget.  She will be replacing Barry Schoch, who will become a senior advisor to the Governor-Elect Tom Wolf on transportation and infrastructure issues, with a focus on implementing Act 89.

    Read more about Leslie Richards at Politics PA and Montgomery Media.

  • 05 Jan 2015 6:26 PM | ASCE Blog Editor (Administrator)

    SPC Announces Doug Smith as New Transportation Planning Director

    The Southwestern Pennsylvania Commission announced on January 1st that Doug Smith is its new Transportation Planning Director. “Doug is hitting the ground running,” said Jim Hassinger, SPC Executive Director. “He is making plans for advancing our continuing process of improving transportation planning for the region as we prepare the long range plan for adoption this summer and begin work on the next Transportation Improvement Program.”

    Doug is well prepared for the job - a registered professional engineer and cum laude graduate of West Virginia University with a B.S. in Civil Engineering. He has been with SPC since 2002 and has led innovative work in development of the regional congestion management process, regional system operations planning, road safety audit program, transportation enhancements program, coordination of the region’s traffic incident management program including multi-state training with Ohio and West Virginia, incorporation of advanced wireless technology in travel time and congestion analysis, and other SPC initiatives to enhance the use of technical tools in project evaluation and analysis for the region’s long range plan and Transportation Improvement Program. 

    Doug has previously worked in private sector transportation consulting in Pennsylvania, an MPO in West Virginia, and a state DOT in South Carolina with experience in project estimating and technical evaluation including highway and transit, traffic impact studies and the development of intelligent transportation systems. He has been called on by the Federal Highway Administration to provide best practice peer training for other metropolitan planning organizations.

    Doug is a veteran of the naval reserves, with service in West Virginia, North Carolina and Alabama, overseeing training in mobilization, readiness and construction. He has been active as a community volunteer in Scouting and youth baseball, and as a trail volunteer, having contributed over 4,000 hours of community service time.

    “Doug is a very conscientious, positive-minded professional,” said Hassinger. “All transportation professionals who know him already respect his talent and his willingness to work with people to get the job done right. We look forward to a great new year with Doug as SPC’s Transportation Planning Director!”

  • 28 Dec 2014 2:51 PM | ASCE Blog Editor (Administrator)

    Article by Linda Kaplan

    The ACE Mentoring program met on December 3, 2014 at Mascaro Construction’s office for the structural engineering session.  Approximately 40 students attended this session to advance the design of their museum project.  Each group’s museum wing was required to have a hanging piece as part of their installation.  In this session the students sized the beam needed to support that load.

    The session began with an overview of structural engineering and the many different parts of this field.  Following the presentation the students broke into their groups and were guided through a basic beam design based on shear and moment principles. They then used AISC shape tables to select the appropriate beam. 

    After everyone had completed the calculations, the students participated in a “Cardboard Beam” design competition.  Each group was given one piece of 8.5x11 thin cardboard and 24” of duct tape with which to make a beam spanning 12” that could hold up a gallon of water suspended from the middle.  Beams could not be solid sections and had to have a cross section under 2”x2”.  Many creative designs were presented and ultimately 2 of the 9 tested were able to hold. 

    Read more about the ACE Mentor Program or the Pittsburgh ACE program, or contact Linda Kaplan, Karen Mueser, or Nicholle Piper for more information or to volunteer for future sessions. 

  • 18 Dec 2014 12:57 PM | ASCE Blog Editor (Administrator)

    Article by Djuna Gulliver

    It takes a 24-hour boat ride along the Amazon to reach the city of Tapagem, Brazil, inhabited by 200 Quilombo people.  This secluded community offers a rare look at life outside the modern hustle and bustle of the technology age.  “My initial reaction was, ‘Wow this is one of the most peaceful places with beautiful scenery,’” says Sarah Trossman, chemical engineering major at the University of Pittsburgh (UPitt).  “The people are content with their simple way of life and it was very refreshing.”

    Yet, in such a remote area of the country, the Quilombo have no means of electricity, little means of communication, and more importantly, limited options for drinking water.  The villagers often resort to drinking river water, contaminated from upstream mining and poor latrine systems.  As a result, many villagers are ailed with chronic digestive problems.  The community of Tapagem is in great need of reliable, clean drinking water.

    In 2013, the University of Pittsburgh chapter of Engineers Without Borders (EWB-Pitt) set out to assess how they could bring improved drinking water to Tapagem.  “It is our goal to improve the quality of life of the community members. It is our vision to establish health conditions in the community through education, access to clean water, and proper sanitation,” says Johnathan Maynard, bioengineer major at UPitt.

    From left to right, Tom Joseph, Nino Tommarello, Rafael Reis, and Sarah Trossman set out to workIn August 2013, EWB-Pitt successfully completed their first assessment trip.  The EWB team surveyed the community on their current method of obtaining water, their understanding of water sanitation, their current state of health, and their use the chlorine provided by the government.  Additionally, the team tested the river water and well water for bacterial contamination. All of the water sampled contained unsafe levels of E.coli. Shockingly, the community well water had the highest levels of bacterial contamination.  Given the lack of a Tapagem sanitation system, some bacterial contamination was expected. But we were surprised that the well water was more contaminated than the river water,” says Trossman.  “The well contamination emphasized that whatever we implement in the future must be accompanied by very specific, well described maintenance instructions that the community members understand. We will give the community members the tools and resources they need which will enable them to sustain the project.”

    Clearly, EWB-Pitt has their work cut out for them.  A second trip is scheduled for the Summer of 2015.  During this trip, the team hopes to further sample the river and well water for both bacterial and metal contaminates.  They also hope to determine the best water treatment system for Tapagem.  Systems under consideration include individual rainwater catchment systems, chlorine drip systems, and biosand filter systems.

    Soccer game in TapagemIt’s not just the community of Tapagem that benefits from EWB. “Being involved with EWB gives me the opportunity to use the skills I learned in class to help others. EWB has expanded my understanding and offered me so many opportunities to gain new skills and develop myself professionally,” says Trossman.  Other EWB-Pitt members are additionally grateful for the application of college-learned techniques to underdeveloped communities. “I have wanted to join EWB since I was a junior in high school,” says Deepa Issar, bioengineering major at UPitt. “It’s applying the things I learn in classes to help others.”

    There is no doubt that EWB offers a Pittsburgh engineers a chance to use high-level skills for culturally unique yet marginalized communities. “I saw the need in undeveloped nations for access to reliable and quality resources including shelter, water, and sanitation that we take for granted in the first world,” Maynard says. “My desire to change this and to bring to the light the challenges these people face drove me to join this chapter to collaborate with others with aligned goals.”

    While EWB-Pitt had initially hoped to make the second trip in the Summer of 2014, funding constraints and a need for technical mentors delayed their travels. Still hoping for a second trip this coming summer, EWB-Pitt is now searching for new volunteers to be technical mentors.  Mentors could advise the student chapter on a range of topics, from water treatment/distribution to hydrology to Brazilian politics/culture.  Anyone interested in joining the EWB-Pitt team can find more information on the ASCE online forum posting, or contact Sarah Trossman, EWB-Pitt President.    

  • 11 Dec 2014 2:06 PM | ASCE Blog Editor (Administrator)

    Article by our allied organization, Water Environment Federation

    On November 26, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) issued a new memorandum updating aspects of its November 2002 memorandum on the subject of “Establishing Total Maximum Daily Load (TMDL) Wasteload Allocations (WLAs) for Storm Water Sources and NPDES Permit Requirements Based on Those WLAs.”  Perhaps most significantly, language regarding the use of flow as a surrogate has been removed. This may be in reaction to several recent court cases, including the Federal court ruling in Virginia Department of Transportation v. EPA where the court decided that EPA exceeded its authority in establishing a flow-based TMDL for Accotink Creek in Fairfax, Va.  The flow-based TMDL used stormwater runoff as a surrogate for sediment loading in the stream. While this approach has been used in EPA Region 1, it was challenged in Region 3 and 7.

    As a background, in Nov. 2010, EPA issued a memorandum updating and revising elements of the 2002 memorandum to better reflect current practices and trends in permits and WLAs for stormwater discharges. In March 2011, EPA sought public comment on the 2010 memorandum and, earlier this year, completed a nationwide review of current practices used in municipal separate storm sewer system (MS4) permits as well as industrial and construction stormwater discharge permits.

    EPA seems to have taken heed of public comments which asked for specific examples on how to include water quality-based effluent limits (WQBELs) and WLAs in permits. The agency refers to the recently released MS4 compendium, which highlights examples of WLA integration into MS4 permits from across the country.  Additionally, EPA greatly clarifies the application of WQBELs in MS4 permits. The memorandum now states that WQBELs can be expressed as “system-wide requirements rather than individual discharge location requirements such as effluent limitations on discharges from individual outfalls.”

    As a result of comments received and informed by reviews of EPA and state-issued stormwater permits, the agency is updating aspects of the 2002 memorandum by including “clear, specific, and measurable permit requirements,” and, where feasible, adding numeric effluent limits to National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System permits for stormwater discharges. Further, the agency recommends disaggregating stormwater sources in a WLA to allow for integration into permits.

  • 08 Dec 2014 6:18 PM | ASCE Blog Editor (Administrator)

    Article by Greg Holbrook, EIT

    Harbor Drive pedestrian bridgeI had the opportunity to represent the Pittsburgh Structural Engineering Institute chapter at the yearly SEI Local Leadership Conference (LLC) on October 24 & 25, 2014 in San Diego, CA. There were a number of presentations and breakout sessions to attend, including a strategic vision from the SEI President Donald Dusenberry, P.E., F.SEI, F.ASCE on the future of Structural Engineering and how the profession will transition into the world of technology and 3D modeling and analysis. Additionally, the premier presentation of the conference was given by Brett Makley, P.E. and Dan Fitzwilliam, P.E. of T.Y Lin International, design engineers of the Harbor Drive Pedestrian Bridge, which spans over six railroad tracks and Harbor Drive, a four lane roadway. This bridge was necessary to serve as a gateway to downtown San Diego and the recently constructed Petco Park, home to the Padres. The final technical presentation given by James A. D’Aloisio, P.E., SECB, LEED, AP BD+C of Klepper, Hahn & Hyatt, focused on how a Structural Engineering can be on the forefront of sustainable practices and explained the advantages and disadvantages of certain sustainability criteria in the industry with respect to current building codes.  As an added bonus, Mr. D’Aloisio has agreed to present this topic in Pittsburgh this Spring.      

    Harbor Drive pedestrian bridgeDuring breakout sessions and meetings, we discussed best practices for events as well as ideas to benefit future SEI events and activities at the local level. I was able to talk with many Structural Engineering graduate students that were on the governing bodies of their respective SEI student chapters. This will be useful for our SEI Pittsburgh chapter as we pursue the idea of helping the University of Pittsburgh start their own SEI Graduate Student Chapter (GSC). We are also in the process of planning a visit to the WVU SEI GSC to conduct a discussion and presentation about the transition of a structural engineer into the work force.  SEI Pittsburgh would like to make use of the online discussion forum available through the Pittsburgh Section website.  Feel free to leave your questions or ideas there.

    In addition to the technical presentations and discussions that took place, we took a tour of the Englekirk Center Shake Table at UC San Diego. This is the largest shake table in the United States and is capable of conducting tests on full scale buildings and structures. Anyone interested in learning more about current and past projects can find them here.

    For more information about the Pittsburgh SEI Chapter and how you can get involved, please contact SEI Chair Sonya Flournoy at or myself at

  • 04 Dec 2014 11:42 AM | ASCE Blog Editor (Administrator)

    Dr. Carlos SantamarinaMore than 50 ASCE members and guests gathered at the Pittsburgh Athletic Association on Thursday, October 23rd for the most recent installment of the Terzaghi Lecture series.  The lecture was given by Dr. J. Carlos Santamarina, Ph.D., Ing., A.M.ASCE.  Dr. Santamarina is the Goizueta Foundation Faculty Chair and a professor of Civil and Environmental Engineering at the Georgia Institute of Technology.  His presentation, “Energy Geotechnology: Enabling New Insights into Soil Behavior,” provided a fascinating overview of the increasingly critical role that geotechnical engineers will play in the uphill battle to reduce carbon emissions and conserve energy. 

    The lecture explored potential applications of geotechology that would aid this effort, such as the geological storage of CO2.  Dr. Santamarina explained how striving to move forward in the energy field will facilitate a more holistic understanding of soil behavior. The implications of this new perspective range from redefining basic soil characterization methods to understanding complex relationships between hydraulic, chemical, mechanical, biological, thermal and mechanical processes.  Ultimately, the presentation urged geotechnical engineers to start tackling the energy problem now during this important time in history.  As Dr. Santamarina explained, while there are still many unknowns in this area, the process of solving these difficult problems will improve the field for the better. 

    As the 2014 recipient of the distinguished Terzaghi Lectureship, Dr. Santamarina 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.  

  • 01 Dec 2014 7:34 AM | ASCE Blog Editor (Administrator)

    Timothy D. Brett, P.E., M.ASCE is one of five winners of the 2014 Edmund Friedman Young Engineer Award for Professional Achievement.   Tim received his award on October 9, 2014, at the ASCE Global Engineering Conference held in Panama City, Panama.

    Timothy D. Brett, P.E. holds a Bachelor’s degree in Environmental Systems Engineering from the Pennsylvania State University, and is currently a Project Engineer with Leopold, a Xylem brand located in Zelienople, PA.  Tim has over 12 years of experience mostly related to the water/wastewater industry in western PA.  Most notable accomplishments include:

    • Development of Wet Weather Plans, Long-Term Control Plans, and Act 537 Plans
    • Hydraulic and Hydrologic modeling of sewer systems including the ALCOSAN Upper Monongahela Planning Basin wet weather facilities plan,
    • Development of Feasibility Studies for a member of the 3RWW PM Team and various clients in Allegheny County for compliance with the Health Department’s Administrative Consent Order,
    • Involvement in the Feasibility Study Working Group, Complex Sewershed analysis and Green Infrastructure analysis   

    Tim took some time to discuss the being an award winner and being a civil engineer in Pittsburgh:

    Question: How do you feel about winning the award?

    Initially I was completely surprised when I received notification that I had won.  I never imagined winning such a prestigious award.  Even now it is still had to believe.  

    Question: What was it like to receive your award in Panama City, Panama?

    I was very fortunate to win the award in 2014 since the award ceremony was held in Panama City, Panama.  That afforded me the opportunity to travel to a country that I probably would have never visited otherwise and get to learn about and tour one of the greatest civil engineering feats ever, the Panama Canal.  It was amazing learning about the history and effort that went into building the canal 100 years ago; the head engineer that was in charge got his experience working on the locks and dams on the Ohio River.  One of the most interesting facts that I learned was that the biggest obstacle in building the canal wasn’t an engineering concern but rather the disease that plagued the workers.  In order to eradicate the disease, engineering solutions were used such as providing adequate shelter, clean drinking water and wastewater facilities.

    Question: How do you feel about being a civil engineer?

    I am truly excited about being a civil engineer and I don’t think there is a better place in the world to practice than Pittsburgh.  There is just such a great history of civil engineering in the region and it is continuing to evolve today with the shale industry and replacement of aging infrastructure.  When you really think about what a civil engineer does, we basically touch everyone’s life every day in ways that most people don’t think about until it is no longer available.  Examples range from the roads and bridges we drive on to the clean water that travels miles from its source to our houses.

    What are you the most proud of in your profession?

    I’m very proud of having the opportunity to have taken part in the planning for this region’s most expensive infrastructure project that will address combined sewer overflows into the region’s waterways.  Another proud moment was finding out one of our clients won an arbitration case against them.  It was a great experience being part of the team that prepared the documents presented in the case and also being a key witness.  

    What have you learned after 12 years of experience in civil engineering?

    I’ve learned that regardless of the project/task at hand, communication is key.  This definitely wasn’t something learned in a college course or something that you would expect as you are preparing for your career.  Whether it is communicating among team members or communicating a project to the public, without effective communication, a project can go in the wrong direction quickly even though there may be solid engineering analysis driving the project.

    Prior to his employment with Leopold, Tim was employed by Lennon, Smith, Souleret Engineering, Inc. as Assistant Manager of the Civil Engineering Environmental Studies Unit and as an environmental engineer for the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection.   In addition to his professional achievements, Tim has been active with the Pittsburgh Section of ASCE Environmental Water Resource Institute (EWRI) where he is currently Treasurer.  Through his involvement with EWRI, Tim has assisted in holding several continuing education events including an annual Sustainability Conference.  For the past 5 years, Tim has also volunteered as a Big Brother in the Big Brothers Big Sisters of Western PA where he has been matched with his Little Brother Mike.  Tim resides in Washington County with his wife Lindsey and their children Brooklyn and Carter.

    The Edmund Friedman Young Engineer Award for Professional Achievement is made to younger members of ASCE (35 years of age or younger) who are judged to have attained significant professional achievements by the degree to which they have served to advance the profession; exhibited technical competence, high character and integrity; developed improved member attitudes toward the profession; and contributed to public service outside their professional careers.

  • 19 Nov 2014 10:48 PM | ASCE Blog Editor (Administrator)

    Article by Linda Kaplan

    Michael D. Flowers, P.E., M.ASCE receives the 2014 Roebling Award  for outstanding leadership in construction of the most challenging bridge projects ever attempted by civil engineers in the modern era, particularly the record-setting, single-tower, asymmetrical self-anchored suspension bridge spanning San Francisco-Oakland Bay. 

    President and CEO of American Bridge, Michael earned a BS from West Virginia University and a MS from University of Pittsburgh.  Mr. Flowers has been associated with construction of a series of bridges and bridge retrofits, growing in complexity throughout his career.  His penultimate achievement and the basis for selecting him for the Roebling Award is the leadership and construction excellence he brought to the newly completed self-anchored suspension bridge tying Oakland and San Francisco together.  With a length of 2,047 feet the SAS Bay Bridge is the longest self-anchored suspension span bridge in the world. 

     American Bridge Company led a joint venture for the construction of the new $1.9 billion Self-Anchored-Suspension Bridge as a key part of the seismic replacement of the eastern spans of the San Francisco/Oakland Bay Bridge. This signature span involved the construction of a new 625m single-tower, asymmetric, self-anchored suspension bridge. The bridge’s four-legged steel tower is 160m tall, supporting 790mm main cables, from which the cable is suspended. The tower legs at the base weighed 1000mt each. Traffic is carried on twin steel orthotropic box girder roadways, suspended from cables each carrying five lanes of traffic. The massive trapezoidal boxes are nearly 30m in width and over 5m deep, some weighing in excess of 1500mt and spanning 85m in a single piece. The 1,400m long main cable is comprised of 137 prefabricated parallel wire strands of 127 wires each. The cable is a unique continuous loop, anchored in both the westbound and eastbound roadway sections at the eastern end of the bridge, crossing over the tower top through a huge 400mt steel saddle and looping around the pier at the west end of the bridge.

    As its name would imply, the bridge had no gravity anchors for the cable, but rather was “self-anchored.” In its final design, this required the roadway sections to carry very large compressive forces in combination with the bending and localized forces. The steel anchorages are roughly 20% of the size of a normal gravity anchorage and are neatly nested below the roadway surface within the box girders. The total weight of the permanent structural steel is about 50,000mt and the tower and roadway sections had to be temporarily supported on 25,000mt of false work to facilitate construction.

    Once the tower and the roadways were erected, the cable was installed, and then through a carefully orchestrated complex load transfer process, the roadway sections were lifted off the false work, thereby, transferring the load from the temporary structures into the permanent cables. A build-to-suit marine heavy lift shear leg crane was designed and built as part of the project and facilitated ship unloading and erection of many of the bigger-than-life pieces. The shear leg dubbed the Left Coast Lifter has a 1750mt capacity and was founded on a 400’x100’x22’ custom built barge.

    Nearly every aspect of the construction of this one-of-a-kind bridge required careful and thoughtful applications of structural engineering including the completion of all of the stages of our work in a safe seismic condition. The project was awarded in May of 2006 and the seismic safety of the San Francisco Oakland Bay Bridge was restored when we turned traffic onto the new span on Labor Day 2013.

    Michael will be presenting this project at an upcoming SEI/ABCD joint dinner event on January 22, 2015.  Look for details and registration coming soon.

    The Roebling Award recognizes and honors an individual who has made an outstanding contribution to the advancement of construction engineering.

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