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Pittsburgh's Civil Engineering News Blog

  • 29 Mar 2023 7:44 PM | Anonymous

    “Montgomery Locks and Dam Subsurface Investigation”-James R. James, P.E.

    Write up By: George Chammas and Taylor DaCanal

    On January 19, 2023, the ASCE Pittsburgh Section Geo-Institute (GI) held its

     annual joint meeting with the Pittsburgh Geological Society, and Association of Environmental Engineering and Geologists. The event was held at Cefalo’s Banquet and Event Center. This was the first GI meeting in 2023, and the turnout was tremendous with over 115 people registered. The presenter was Mr. James R James, P.E. of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Pittsburgh District, his presentation was titled “Montgomery Locks and Dam Subsurface Investigation". Mr. James focused on the geotechnical subsurface exploration for the locks and dams of the Ohio river.

    The presentation focused on the geotechnical challenges that were presented during the subsurface investigation for the navigation structures on the Ohio River. The project was located at the new lock chamber at the Montgomery Locks and Dam in Beaver County, Pennsylvania. The subsurface investigation consisted of rock coring, soil sampling, pressure meter testing, water pressure testing, optical televiewing, and acoustic televiewing. In addition to the field investigation, extensive laboratory testing was performed on the rock core samples and soil samples.

    One of the challenges in the subsurface investigation included recovery of soil samples in a traditional hollow stem auger. To better characterize the upper soil layers, the investigation utilized sonic drilling methods. Sonic drilling utilizes high frequency inside a sonic head to advance a core barrel.

    The other geotechnical aspects of the subsurface investigation involved the testing of rock samples specifically the coal seams. To better determine the shear strength parameters of the coal, direct shear tests and rock pullout strength testing was performed. The selection of the rock core samples was a critical part to the testing. This helped achieve more accurate shear strength parameters for the analysis of the concrete wall.

    Overall, the January event was an informational event to attend and learn about the different methods of subsurface investigations. It was interesting to learn about the subsurface investigation methods not typically used on every project. We hope to see more engineers, students, and anyone interested in learning more about the geotechnical field at upcoming events!

  • 02 Mar 2023 8:14 PM | Anonymous

    By: Erin Feichtner, Shirley Tang, and Ben Briston

    On January 14, 2023, the Future City Pittsburgh Regional Competition was held at in Robinson Township, Pennsylvania. This middle-school STEM program involves teams of students using project management skills and engineering concepts to address sustainability issues and build a future city. This year’s students took on the climate change challenge, designing futuristic cities to be adaptable and mitigating the challenges from climate change. Participants were tasked with brainstorming creative solutions to construct healthy and sustainable living environments, which involved producing a city plan and essay, constructing a scale model of the city complete with moving parts, and presenting their vision to the judges.

    Eighteen teams from Western Pennsylvania participated in this year’s Future City Pittsburgh Regional Competition. Members from the ASCE Pittsburgh Section helped judge the overall competition and the special awards. The special awards included recognition for Best Integrated City, Best Transportation System, Best Use of Green Construction, and many other achievements. The ASCE Pittsburgh Section sponsored the special award Best Future City Project, recognizing a team with an impressive use of engineering concepts and consideration to essential infrastructure systems such as stormwater drainage, landscaping, and utilities. This special award was won by Team Phamborough Sweden from West Mifflin High Area School, which made use of innovative city planning concepts as well as the use of multiple forms of renewable energy.

    The event was an impressive showcase of the students’ awareness of the issue of climate change as well as their understanding of the technologies that may be implemented in the future for the benefit of our communities.

    From Left to Right, Board Members Ben Briston, Shirley Tang, and Erin Feichtner at the Future City Pittsburgh Regional Competition

    Asking young people to consider how the built world will function in the future is not unique to the Future City competition. One of Professor John Sebastian’s University of Pittsburgh (Pitt) engineering undergraduate class recently presented their semester final projects to several ASCE Pittsburgh Section members.  Inspired by ASCE’s Future World Vision initiative, the topic of their undergraduate project was to develop design concepts and ideas for how to make Pitt’s campus functional 50+ years in the future. The class divided into 10 teams with various focus areas such as; Water & Environment, Construction & Materials, Transportation, and Energy & Utilities.  Researching materials, technology, and systems currently in development they presented master plans that would help Pitt flourish despite predicted future challenges like climate change, alternative energy needs, advanced materials options, and autonomous vehicle integration.

    For those ASCE members that attended both events, it was impressive to observe specific futuristic concepts that both the middle schoolers and undergraduate engineering students identified as being viable. Some of the recurring solutions were; vertical farming, EcoBricks, living/self-healing concrete, and Maglev Trains.  As professionals we cannot just leave it to the next generation of engineers to come up with new innovations.  We have a responsibility to do our own research and stay open to integrating new concepts into the industry so that we provide the public with the best built environment to survive the ever-changing world.

    Read more about ASCE’s Future World Vision Initiative here:

  • 11 Feb 2023 3:24 PM | Anonymous

    Written by: Xinchao “Steven” Wei, Ph.D., P.E. who is the Director and a Professor at the School of Engineering in Slippery Rock University.

    As many of you ASCE members already know, Pennsylvania’s infrastructure for 2022 received a grade of C minus, according to the 2022 ASCE Pennsylvania Infrastructure Report Card. As civil engineers ourselves, a grade of C- is not something we should be very proud of. It does however emphasize the challenges we are facing and great opportunities for us to make significant contributions to our community, our country, and our profession.

    Due to my work and family reasons, I travelled frequently to many places in China in the past two decade (except the past two years due to COVID). I personally witnessed the sea of change to infrastructure that occurred in almost every corner of the huge country (China is as big as the United States) from small villages to megacities. I would say China has been a wonderland for civil engineers and designers in the past two decades; with amazing highspeed rails, highways, bridges, and buildings being built. Some of the infrastructures are so creative, with stunning aesthetics, that they look alien or even crazy to a certain extent. In almost every front, investing in infrastructure has definitely been a way for China to modernize its economy, develop its workforce, and stimulate growth in the science and engineering industries.

    Beijing Daxing International Airport aka The Starfish Interior view of The Starfish

    While amazed by the rapid infrastructure modernization in China, the typical response from political figures or ordinary citizens is we cannot afford it!  I think the questions that are posed should be: How can China afford it? Where does the money come from?

    The secret is investment by public funds. Building our nation’s infrastructure is an investment which might not have immediate return but is made for the generations to come. Its impact can be profound; penetrating almost every sector of the economy, just like how it has transformed China in the past two decades. I am glad to see our government made significant investments in the future of this country’s infrastructure through multiple legislations including The Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, CHIPS and Science Act, and The Inflation Reduction Act. All of this is exciting news for us as civil engineers and ordinary citizens. We need to give credit to the ones who have worked hard to draft, pass, and sign these legislations to funnel money into infrastructure. But will it be enough? Probably not. Just like our own houses, we need to keep investing in repairs, updating, and lobbying for renovation.

    Together Let’s Rock Engineering!
  • 20 Dec 2022 5:59 PM | Anonymous

    Markosky are pleased to announce the promotion of Frank as our Structures Department Manager.  Frank has been with Markosky for over six years serving as a Project Manager and Lead Bridge Engineer on numerous transportation projects.  Frank’s extensive engineering experience in structures and bridge design is invaluable to the Markosky team and has helped him in serving as our Assistant Department Manager. Frank has completed over 60 structures projects through construction, and numerous projects to various stages of design. Frank has built and maintained various client relationships for Markosky and plans to continue to grow those relationships and to expand our structures services to new markets. We are confident that with Frank's leadership and technical skills that he will excel in growing our Structures Department and that he will help to continue to guarantee top of the line work from Markosky.

  • 14 Nov 2022 8:29 PM | Anonymous

    By: Jayne Marks, PE

    Jayne is a Structural Engineer in the Transportation Department of AECOM in Pittsburgh, PA. She was the Pittsburgh ASCE Younger Members Forum (YMF) President 2020 – 2021 and is the current Treasurer of the YMF, as well as the Winter Banquet Committee Chair.

    On October 23-26, 2022, ASCE hosted their annual ASCE Convention at the Disneyland Hotel in sunny Anaheim, CA. I was fortunate enough to be a part of an amazing team of contributors who won this year’s ASCE Collingwood Prize;  an award given to younger members under the age of 35 who are the author or authors of a paper (1) describing an engineering work with which the author(s) have been directly connected, or (2) recording investigations contributing to engineering knowledge to which the author(s) have contributed some essential part, and (3) containing a rational digest of results. Our paper is titled “Finite-Element Fatigue Analysis of a New Rib-to-Floor Beam Connection for Orthotropic Steel Decks” and was published in the February 2021, Volume 26, Issue 2 of the ASCE Journal of Bridge Engineering. Thanks to the generosity of my company, AECOM, and the Pittsburgh ASCE Section, I was able to attend the Convention with my co-authors and accept my award in person from outgoing ASCE President, Dennis Truax, and Executive Director, Tom Smith.

    Pictured: Dennis Truax, Jayne Marks, Yixin Chen, Joe Saunders, Tom Smith

    Attending the Convention was an amazing experience filled with many opportunities to gain new perspectives, form new goals, and keep my finger on the pulse of my profession. A large focus of the programming was on President Biden’s bipartisan infrastructure bill. Signed in November 2021, the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act is set to inject trillions of dollars into infrastructure over five years and presents a unique opportunity to the civil engineers who will be responsible for making this plan a reality.

    The opening keynote was a panel of various government officials assembled to discuss implementation of the bipartisan infrastructure law. I found this presentation to be particularly engaging because it offered a perspective on a facet of my job that I don’t think I personally give enough thought to during the day-to-day: how do the decisions we, as civil engineers, make affect our communities? How can we ensure that this new wealth of resources is spent equitably and efficiently to enact the most positive change?

    The Director of Los Angeles County Public Works, Mark Pestrella, stressed the importance of making data-based decisions when deciding how to utilize the money from the infrastructure bill. He mentioned that in LA, they’ve found that communities predominantly occupied by marginalized groups tend to be left behind when it comes to infrastructure spending; a conclusion they were able to come to based on data collected specifically to investigate this. Because of this, it’s important for civil engineers and decision makers to think creatively as we begin to utilize the funding provided by the bill: provide resources for smaller communities to help them navigate the grant writing processes, lump smaller projects in with larger projects to help them attain funding, combine smaller infrastructures systems into larger systems to avoid unnecessary segmentation, and provide education to communities so they’re able to properly maintain the systems they do have.

    Pictured: Dennis Truax, Becky Keogh, Mark Pestrella, Laura Hanson

    A similar message was reiterated during the Industry Leaders Forum event on the second day of the convention, with a strong focus on how racial inequality is a large component of this conversation. The newly appointed ASCE President, Maria C. Lehman, also highlighted the ongoing issue of gender inequality in our profession today during her acceptance speech. This was an inspiring address coming from someone so accomplished in her field. President Lehman has even been appointed to President Biden’s National Infrastructure Advisory Council which brought the conversation full circle. I sincerely appreciated these reminders that civil engineering is more than calculations done in a vacuum and that our choices and actions mean something beyond the obvious and important function of our jobs.

    In addition to the larger presentations, I had the opportunity to learn more in the smaller presentations throughout the convention. I took a journey into ancient Rome to learn more about the Colosseum and a project that endeavors to use modern technology to recreate a moveable version of the ancient wooden flooring system that was lost to time. I also have a better appreciation now for the fake phishing email tests my company sends out every couple of months after sitting in on the session “Understanding Cyber Security Threats from a Hacker’s Perspective.”

    Overall, attending the Convention was an incredibly valuable experience, not only for the things I learned, but for the people I met and the experiences I had. Disneyland was an amazing backdrop for a conference focused on innovation, creativity, and creation. Walt Disney once said:

    “I don’t believe there’s a challenge anywhere in the world that’s more important to people everywhere than finding solutions to the problems of our cities. But where do we begin? How do we start answering this great challenge? Well, we’re convinced we must start with the public need.”

    I made sure to keep this in mind as I got my picture taken with Mickey.

    Pictured: Jayne Marks, Mickey Mouse, Scott Pickrell

  • 29 Oct 2022 7:18 PM | Anonymous

    On August 25, 2022 a group of 15 industry professionals took a tour of the Charleroi Lock and Dam, a project owned and operated by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

    The lock is on the lower Monongahela River and is currently being modernized to include a new, larger River Chamber which will better accommodate today’s river traffic. Participants learned about several unique construction means and methods required for the project while viewing active construction within the dewatered lock chamber. Attendees were also treated to panoramic views of the construction site from the top of the new control tower. The existing lock chambers were constructed in 1932 and the new lock chamber is expected to be completed in 2024.


  • 13 Apr 2022 8:06 AM | Anonymous

    Check out the Spring 2022 Region 2 newsletter to learn what Director Jack Raudenbush has been doing, updates from around the Region, and even a Governor spot light of our very own Angela Mayer!

    Spring 2022 Newsletter

  • 26 Feb 2022 12:23 PM | Anonymous

    By Edward J. Major II, EIT, A.M.ASCE

    The 2022 YMF Winter Banquet was held on January 20th and I’m happy to report it was a SUCCESS!  Previously, the Younger Member Forum (YMF) organized an annual networking and technical event  called the December Dinner. This year, the YMF hosted the event in January to allow professionals and students the freedom to attend without possible schedule conflicts due to the holidays or final exams. While we were limited in capacity, we had 42 attendees come out to Penn Brewery on the North Side for an evening of food, networking and an informative lecture. Our keynote speaker, Jeff Argyros, gave a wonderful talk on the ALCOSAN Wet Weather Plant Expansion project. Attendees were also able to attend one of two tours of the brewery to learn about Penn Brewery’s history and process.  The night concluded with several raffle prizes, including tickets to some great Pittsburgh places such as Phipps Conservatory and the Children’s Museum.

    The YMF also wants to give all our Sponsors a huge THANK YOU! We were blown away by the generosity of these companies. Thank you to Arcadis for being the exclusive event sponsor of the Eisenhalle Room! Thank you to our bar sponsors, Colliers Engineering & Design and GHD! Thank you to our brewery tour sponsors, AECOM and Michael Baker International! And last but certainly not least, thank you to our dinner sponsors: Civil & Environmental Consultants, DLZ, Erdman Anthony, Geosyntec Consultants, Pennoni, and Venture Engineering!

    We hope to see everyone at next year’s event! Until then, stay safe and remember to follow us on Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn to stay up-to-date on all the YMF happenings!

    Pictured from Left to Right: Daniel Phillips (YMF President), Connor Gibson (YMF Treasurer), Rama Pandkar (YMF Secretary), Jeff Argyros (Keynote Speaker), and Jesse Doss (YMF Social Chair)

  • 03 Oct 2021 12:03 PM | Anonymous

    To all with a curious mind,

    Recently, as creator and host of the Everything STEAM Podcast, I published an episode called Sinking Cities that featured Sebastian Lobo Guerrero, a key member of the American Society of Civil Engineer’s Pittsburgh Chapter (ASCE) and employee of American Geotechnical & Environmental Services. In 2020 he was voted Civil Engineer of the Year for ASCE’s Pittsburgh Chapter. Sebastian recently served as the Director for the chapter as well as served as the President of ASCE’s Geotechnical Institute. In the episode, Sebastian and I discussed many causations of sinking cities, while pointing out case studies all over the world where sinking cities are such as; Mexico City, Bogota Colombia and much more. To finish out the episode, we covered engineering and environmental approaches to slow or remediate these sinking cities.

    Another episode that may be of interest to fellow members is an interview with Dr. Kent Harries. Dr. Harries is a tenure Professor at the University of Pittsburgh and is an active Fellow of ASCE Pittsburgh, ACI and IIFC. He will be featured in Woke Talk Podcast’s upcoming episode, Materials of the Future where we plan to discuss building materials that are used now, and showcase materials that could shake up the way we build our infrastructure in the future due to climate change action.

    In many episodes to come, we plan to shine a spotlight on many other important members of Pittsburgh’s ASCE Chapter. These episodes include; Public Transit, US Infrastructure, The Importance of Engineering, Diversity in Engineering, Women in STEM and much more. If you would be interested in being involved in these conversations please, feel free to go to the Contact Us page on our website (, or email us at To stay up to date with the podcast, connect with me on LinkedIn, or look up Everything STEAM on social media.

    To listen or watch the interview with Mr. Guerrero, head to Our Streaming Platforms. You can listen to our podcast episodes on Spotify, Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts, Anchor by Spotify, Stitcher and Amazon Music. To view our video content, look us up on YouTube or use the link above! We hope that you enjoy our content and support us in our cause to make our society more STEAM informed, thank you.

    About the Author: My name is Sam Stanford, and I am a Physicist, Structural EIT and alumni of the University of Pittsburgh. For more background information about myself, I was a member of Pitt ASCE, awarded top Civil Engineer of the Spring 2021 Graduating Class, Summa Cum Laude at the University of Pittsburgh and Slippery Rock University, and was inducted into the Sigma Pi Sigma Physics Honor Society.

    Woke Talk Podcast is not an ASCE sponsored program and the views expressed are their own and may not reflect the views of ASCE.

  • 08 Jun 2021 8:28 AM | Anonymous

    Building and Planning for a Healthy and Equitable Future in Pittsburgh

    When it comes to measuring the health and well-being of a community, there’s likely no better metric than the average life expectancy of its residents.

    What would you guess are the average life expectancies in total years of residents from the places listed below? As you read along, just go with whatever first intuitively pops into your head; try not to overthink it.

    A. A resident of the United States of America

    B. A resident of Allegheny County

    C. A resident of the City of Pittsburgh

    D. A resident of Highland Park neighborhood of Pittsburgh

    E. A resident of Larimar neighborhood of Pittsburgh

    Ok, do you have your guesses written down? Now click here for the answers.

    How did you do? Were you at all surprised at the results and the disparity between the residents who live in Highland Park and Larimar despite the fact that their communities are immediately adjacent to each other in Pittsburgh’s East End?

    They say "Time is the most valuable thing a person can spend." They also say "You can always earn more money, but you cannot earn more time." ‘Not sure who first coined those sayings, but they are undoubtedly true. What is also true is that some communities in Pittsburgh are literally being robbed of decades of their time.

    As Dr. Nobel Maseru explained during the 11th Annual Sustainability conference, there are many complex factors that go into these numbers, but the underlying social fabric is woven with threads of historical systemic racism. It's clear that this is the case simply by quick comparison of the bottom five and top five neighborhoods in the previously linked graph. As civil engineers, this is history that we must acknowledge. All of us, myself included, should educate ourselves on this critically relevant history.  For example, the history of transportation civil engineering projects and the history of redlining of neighborhoods, disinvestment, and increased flooding. The first step in fixing a problem is acknowledging it exists. After that, education and learning. Then hopefully informed action.

    On May 7 and 8, 2021 ASCE Pittsburgh Section, EWRI Pittsburgh, and Sustainable Pittsburgh held its 11th Annual Sustainability Conference, "Building and Planning for a Healthy and Equitable Future."  The conference was held virtually and included experts from around the region and nation. If you were unable to attend both sessions were recorded and can be found here on YouTube: Go here for Day 1 and here for Day 2.

    Below are some of my own personal reflections from the conference.

    1. I've been on the conference planning committee for just about all eleven Sustainability Conferences.  The racial equity panel discussion on Day 1 was one of the most important and eye-opening discussions I think this conference has ever had. If I were to recommend one session to watch one from the videos above, I would recommend this one. This was the first ever panel comprised entirely of BIPOC presenters that we've ever hosted at the conference and it was long overdue.

    Some of the key items that stood out to me during this discussion is how Allison Acevedo, Director of the Office of Environmental Justice at Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection, is making social justice and equity more of a priority for future funding decisions at the state level. Her group is also working towards decoupling this policy from future political regime changes. Likewise at the local level, Majestic Lane, Chief Equity Officer and Deputy Chief of Staff at City of Pittsburgh the City of Pittsburgh, stated how the City is in the process of developing neighborhood equity indicators and a framework for future City planning purposes. As engineers and planners, we now have the data to make better informed decisions regarding placement of investments in communities that need it most. Now it's a matter of top-down policy implementation at all levels of government as well as support from the engineering profession in order to make this type of action happen.

    2. Our keynote speaker Carolyn Kousky, Executive Director at the Wharton Risk Center, University of Pennsylvania, presented how climate related disasters are perpetuating deeper poverty and greater inequality across the nation. To break this cycle, we need systematic changes to federal disaster recovery funding policies - especially for disaster recovery loans and grants. We also need more affordable and timely insurance mechanisms so that climate risks in disadvantaged communities are considered.

    3. To address inequities perpetuated by climate change, communities will need infrastructure investments and budgets that are adaptable and flexible to a changing climate. Also, bold policy decisions are needed that may not be always popular with some key stakeholders, developers, and politicians. The City of Houston faced two major disasters and is moving forward with policy decisions that are requiring more from the development community in order to make their city more resilient. See Day 2 keynote speaker Carol Haddock MPA, PE - Public Works Director - City of Houston. See also the excellent climate resilience panel hosted by Grant Ervin, Chief Resilience Officer at the City of Pittsburgh where panelists talked about climate resilience initiatives underway as part of the City of Pittsburgh OnePGH Resilience Strategy.

    4. All of us, myself included, need to do a better job communicating to the public the health and climate related challenges we are facing. We need language that is more understandable, accessible, and relatable. We need less scientific jargon and more plain language. We also need to find ways to empower the local community as part of the decision-making process so that there is grass roots community level ownership. Just about all of Day 2, but especially the panel discussions, spoke to this issue. Dave Rosenblatt, State Chief Resilience Officer in the State of New Jersey, Will Pickering, CEO of the Pittsburgh Water and Sewer Authority, and Ariam Ford, Executive Director at Grounded all spoke to the critical need for addressing this issue.

    5. Creating lasting institutional change is very difficult. But for it to happen, it needs to start with leadership and a vision. Executing that vision also does not happen overnight and requires many years of partnerships and collaboration. Howard Neukrug, current Executive Director of the University of Pennsylvania Water Center and former CEO of the Philadelphia Water Department, talked about his multi-decade vision for the Office of Watersheds in the Philadelphia Water Department. As a result of the creation of the Office of Watersheds’ vision, eventually came the award winning and transformational "Green City, Clean Waters" plan for the City of Philadelphia. It's a terrific and motivating story. For young professionals this one is particularly worth watching.

    Overall, the conference left me with a sense of optimism for the future of the Pittsburgh region. As this conference demonstrated, we have some tremendous regional leaders in Pittsburgh. It's great hearing a quote like this from Will Pickering, CEO of Pittsburgh Water and Sewer Authority: "When it comes to climate change and the future health of our communities, it's plain to see from our perspective that the 'do nothing' option isn't one that's acceptable."

    Or this quote from Ariam Ford, Executive Director from the Pittsburgh based non-profit Grounded Strategies: "The process of empowering local residents and addressing historical inequities that Grounded is doing unfortunately isn't one that fits into the traditional engineering design process. The key is finding ways to bridge that gap between the grass roots communities and larger institutions."

    Finally, as civil engineers, we are in many ways responsible for the future health and well-being of our communities and the people who call them their home. As we go about our daily work planning, designing, and building critical infrastructure projects, we should never forget the following words of wisdom and inspiration which I feel summed up the conference in just two succinct sentences. The first is from Dr. Nobel Maseru, and the second is from Ms. Carol Haddock:

    "When inequality is too great, the idea of community cannot be obtained."

    "It's the people, not the pipes."

    On behalf of the conference planning committee, I would like to thank our conference speakers and all those that attended. We would also like to thank our partners: The City of Pittsburgh (especially Grant Ervin's team), American Public Works Association, and the Local Government Academy. 

    Tom Batroney, PE

    President-Elect ASCE Pittsburgh

    The Sustainability Conference Planning Committee Consists Of:

    Jason Baguet, PE, Sci-Tek Consultants

    Tom Batroney, PE, AKRF

    Ben Briston, PE, Wade Trim

    Ana Flores, EIT, Pittsburgh Water and Sewer Authority

    Jim Price, Sustainable Pittsburgh

    Greg Scott, PE, CDM Smith

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