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Pittsburgh's Civil Engineering News Blog

  • 27 Apr 2017 8:49 AM | ASCE Blog Editor (Administrator)

    By Greg Holbrook, P.E.

    A few years ago The Structural Engineering Institute created a “Vision for the Future”, which is the institute's long term strategy to ensure a vibrant and dynamic future for the structural engineering profession. The SEI envisions a future where, as stewards of the built environment, structural engineers will make key contributions to the advancement of society on a global scale. The vision is also for structural engineers to be leaders and innovators that play a critical role in improving the safety and well-being of the global population. To achieve these goals the SEI has established the following key initiatives:

    • Reform structural engineering education. Adopt new educational models to equip students with the broad technical, communications, and critical thinking skills they will need to compete in the global economy.
    • Improve mentoring and continuing education. Develop a national, standardized framework to launch the careers of young professionals, and create a meaningful platform for lifelong learning and constant professional growth.
    • Create a new SEI global activities division. Expand the influence of SEI and our standards overseas, address the needs of a worldwide membership, and position our members as global leaders in structural engineering research and practice.
    • Promote performance based codes and standards. Give structural engineers new tools to liberate them from the limitations of prescriptive code-checking, encourage innovation in their designs, and increase the value of their services.
    • Lead multi-disciplinary summits on technical matters of broad interest. Think outside of the traditional boundaries of structural engineering to identify and apply the most advanced new technologies and science to the practice.
    • Promote the structural engineer as a leader and innovator. Support and encourage the expansion of members’ roles to recognized positions of leadership in society by equipping them with the tools they need to succeed and be recognized by the public.
    • Advocate for structural engineering licensure. In partnership with our peer associations, advance the implementation of the SE license as a post-PE credential to ensure public safety and recognize the unique qualifications of structural engineers.

    Denver Art Museum Ready for the Party! The Structural Engineering Institute also has the SEI Futures Fund, which helps to advance the art, science, and practice of structural engineering.  The SEI undertakes a broad range of activities that build a brighter future for our profession, and since some of these activities fall outside the SEI annual budget the Futures Fund was established to provide philanthropic support for these activities from individuals and organizations.  The following strategic initiatives were created by the SEI Futures Fund Board:

    • Promote student interest in Structural Engineering
    • Support younger-member involvement in the SEI
    • Provide opportunity for professional development
    • Invest in the future of the Structural Engineering Profession

    Members Linda Kaplan, PE, and Jeff Jalbrzikowski, PS, with host Ashraf HabibullaThe 2017 Fundraising effort helped to support SEI’s new Global Activities initiatives to grow SEI global presence through resource workshops, an international practice guide, and increasing international sessions at Structures Congress.  The fundraiser also created a new SEI Student Competition and provided scholarships for young professionals to attend Structures Congress.  Proposals are currently being accepted for new initiatives.                  

    As a fundraiser for the SEI Futures Fund, CSI (Computers and Structures, Inc.) has hosted a gala event for the past two years at the SEI Structures Congress.  This year, the event was at the Denver Art Museum and had hor d'oeuvres, cocktails, live music and door prizes.  The event is sponsored in full by CSI and all proceeds for the event go directly to the Futures Fund.  The founder and CEO of CSI, Ashraf Habibullah, attended the event and is a proud supporter of the Futures Fund, and big promoter of the structural engineering profession.

    I strongly encourage you to consider a donation to the SEI Futures Fund, as it provides the opportunity for our profession to continue to grow and expand to build a vibrant community of structural engineers.  You can find out more about the Futures Fund and all of its initiatives at the SEI Futures Fund Website

  • 20 Apr 2017 9:47 AM | ASCE Blog Editor (Administrator)

    By Vishal Patel, P.E., edited by Brian Heinzl, P.E.

    More than 55 ASCE members and guests gathered at the Engineers’ Society of Western Pennsylvania on Thursday, March 23rd, 2017 for an ASCE Pittsburgh Section Geo-Institute and Deep Foundation Institute - Women in Deep Foundation (DFI – WiDF) Chapter meeting. Nancy Watt, a communications professional, writer, trainer, speaker and a graduate of Second City Comedy Improv Conservatory in Toronto, presented a lecture on how to enhance an employee’s communication skills for efficiency, integrity, and achievement at all levels of an origination.

    Ms. Watt started the presentation discussing the value of noticing gender differences in communication being critically important to stemming the tide of women leaving the geotechnical and foundation industry. Long seen as soft skills, the cost of poor communication inevitably results in increased employee turnover, poor customer service, ineffective change of management, failed project delivery and high litigation costs. 

    The presentation was orientated around various improvisational activities and discussions between attendees to improve communication, expand women’s mobility in the workplace, and cultivate integrity and achievement in all facets of an organization. It was a very atypical civil engineering gathering. In fact, the speaker pointed out that it was very unusual for the men to be the minority of the group in technical meetings.  

    The meeting was very interactive with several one-on-one improvised conversation skits and other thought-provoking communication activities engaging all of the participants. Ms. Watt presented a brief discussion of the results to provide feedback regarding body language and other nonverbal communication observations. Congratulations to all of the participants and thank you for your enthusiastic support of the Women in Deep Foundations and the Geo Institute!

    The Geo-Institute & DFI-WiDF were happy to provide 1.0 PDH for the presentation along with a great venue for social hour and dinner. 

  • 13 Apr 2017 1:23 PM | ASCE Blog Editor (Administrator)

    By Gregory Scott, P.E., Government Relations Committee Chair

    Every spring, ASCE holds its Legislative Fly-In Program in Washington, DC, an intensive two-day program that provides participants with an inside look at the public policy process.  On March 15th, while Winter Storm Stella wreaking havoc along much of the Northeast, over 200 ASCE Members representing 49 different states attended the 2017 American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) Legislative Fly-In.  Many of the attendees were impacted by the storm but still found a way to DC, a testament to their passion for advocacy concerning what they know best.

    The 2017 Legislative Fly-in program featured a day and a half of in-depth briefing sessions on the recently released 2017 Infrastructure Report Card, key legislative action in Congress, training on raising awareness and influencing elected leaders, networking with ASCE peers from across the country, a Younger Members Program, and tips on continuing relationships with elected officials after returning home.  The program culminated in one-on-one meetings on Capitol Hill with members of Congress and their staff.

    Rep. David McKinley (R-WV), one of two P.E.’s in Congress, addresses the Fly-In attendees.The delegation from Pennsylvania included Mr. Jason Bowes, Central PA Section Government Relations Committee Chair and State Advocacy Captain; Mr. Jesse Gormley, Philadelphia Section Member; Mr. Joseph Natale, Philadelphia Section Member; Ms. Adrienne Nikolic, Philadelphia Section Member; Mr. John Caperilla, Lehigh Valley Section Government Relations Committee Chair and Mr. Gregory Scott, Pittsburgh Section Government Relations Committee Chair and Federal Advocacy Captain.

    The ASCE Government Relations staff scheduled meetings for each of the attendees with their Senate and Congressional Representatives within a short window on Wednesday afternoon.  After being dropped off at Capitol Hill, Team Pennsylvania was off to the races to meet with both Senator’s and every team member’s Representative, as well as other Pennsylvania Representatives with a numerous ASCE member constituents.  As the afternoon progressed, the group had an opportunity to engage in spirited and encouraging discussions with staff and Representatives from their home Districts as well as those identified as staff of ‘key’ Representatives who serve on infrastructure related and appropriations committees.  The meetings lasted 15 to 30 minutes each, and a leave behind packet was given to the Legislator or staff member containing an overview of current key issues.

    Most discussions began with a brief overview of the results and conclusions of the 2017 Infrastructure Report Card, which assigned America an overall grade of a D+, unchanged from 2013 and indicating the continuing needs for infrastructure investment.  The Report highlighted that while the benefits were seen in seven categories where investments were made, three categories continued to fall short, and the remaining categories were holding steady, resulting in a lower of grades.  The focus of all discussions was the need for consistent and sufficient funding, and the requirement of bold leadership from all.

    One of the key items discussed were the FY17 and FY18 Spending/Appropriations Bills so that the FAST Act’s increased funding can take effect during this fiscal year and next.  Congress passed the five-year surface transportation act in December 2015 and included an increase in funding to help improve the nation’s highways, bridges and transit systems.  Most of the legislators were on board with the appropriations, however there seemed to be a lack of commitment without knowing what the new Administration’s Budget would contain.  If a Continuing Resolution (CR) is passed, then Pennsylvania will miss out on over $115 million dollars for FY17 alone due to the lack of a Fast ACT Appropriations Bill ($1.58 billion up to $1.69 billion).

    Additionally, the team discussed several water issues with the Representatives and staffers that included the Clean Water State Revolving Fund (SRF) and the Drinking Water State Revolving Fund.  We asked the Representatives and Senators to reauthorize the Clean Water and Drinking Water SRF’s which hasn’t been done since 1990 and 1994.  With most of America’s drinking water and wastewater infrastructure in need of repair and many areas dependent on these funds, the team advocated for both SRF’s to be tripled in appropriation from $1.39 Billion to $4.17 Billion for the Clean Water SRF and $863 million to $2.58 billion for the Drinking Water SRF in accordance with President Trump’s commitment to triple the SRF’s.

    In 2016 after years of work the Water Infrastructure Investment for the Nation (WIIN) Act passed through Congress and was signed by the President.  WIIN supported previous pieces of legislation but Congress has yet to appropriate the promised funding in any of them.  In 2014, Congress reauthorized the National Dam Safety Program (NDSP) in the Water Resources Reform and Development Act (WRRDA) and established new High Hazard Dam Rehabilitation Program to provide grants to high hazard non-federal dam rehab repair or renewal. The NDSP program is authorized at $13.9 million a year until 2019 and the federal rehab program is authorized at $445 million over 10 years though neither have received any funding.  In addition to dams, the team discussed the Levee Safety Program.  With the WRDDA Act of 2014, Congress established a new levee program to promote consistent safety standards, create levee guideline, and provide funding assistance to the state for establishing participating levee safety programs.  The program is authorized for $395 million dollars over 5 years however it has not received any appropriations for funding.

    Lastly, with the push for tax reform and the discussion that is forthcoming including all tax exemptions, ASCE took the opportunity to remind legislators that tax-exempt municipal bonds are often relied upon for municipalities to complete infrastructure projects.  The team discussed the importance of maintaining their tax-exempt status as just one of many ways to trim our infrastructure deficit.

    Advocacy panel discussion during the Younger Members program on March 14th.This year will be a busy one for the ASCE PA Government Relations team, with a State Infrastructure Day (Fly-In) scheduled for May 9th and efforts for the 2018 Report Card for Pennsylvania’s Infrastructure kicking off in the fall.  If you are interested in participating in either of these events, please contact the Pittsburgh Section Government Relations Committee Chair, Greg Scott, at

    For more information concerning the ASCE National Fly-In please visit  Also, consider becoming a Key Contact at to stay engaged with advocating for infrastructure and public policy.


  • 16 Mar 2017 10:24 AM | ASCE Blog Editor (Administrator)

    By Vishal Patel, P.G., edited by Brian Heinzl, P.E.

    More than 75 ASCE members and guests gathered at the Gaetano’s Banquet Restaurant on Thursday, February 23rd, 2017 for an ASCE Pittsburgh Section Geo-Institute Chapter meeting. Dr. Suresh K. Gutta, P.E. of American Geotechnical and Environmental Services, Inc. presented the lecture “New Baltimore Landslide Remediation – Design Perspective.” The presentation focused on monitoring an active landslide, remedial design methods, and construction observations.   

    In 1940 the Pennsylvania Turnpike was constructed mostly along the path of the original alignment of the old South Penn Railroad, and thus passed through the Borough of New Baltimore, PA, and the Allegheny Mountains.  The original construction reactivated an ancient landslide, referred to as the ‘New Baltimore Slide’ that had occurred in the geologic past due to undercutting of the mountain slope by the Raystown Branch of the Juniata River, which lies in the valley just beyond the limits of the present Turnpike alignment.  This reactivated slide zone extends to 800 feet along the roadway alignment and 1,500 feet upslope.  An average of 60 feet of soil and bedrock overburden has been slowly sliding along a weathered clay-rich siltstone failure plane for over 70 years, resulting in a recorded movement of 13 feet and causing major cracks along the mountainside.

    The current widening and the reconstruction of the Turnpike required the removal of the toe support of this active slide. Dr. Suresh Gutta talked about the how the design involved characterizing the failure mechanism, the challenges of installing geotechnical instrumentation in the rugged mountainous terrain, and the technologies used to record and report the data remotely.  The talk also addressed the design treatments required to stabilize the slide mass, including the development of a specific sequence of construction, and safety systems necessary for the protection of traffic during construction. Construction of the remediation was completed in September 2016.

    Attendees earned 1.0 PDH for the presentation.

    The February meeting also brought out a number of the past Pittsburgh Geo-Institute Chairpersons.  We seized the opportunity to capture a ‘geotechnical cross-section’ of these stewards of our professional society. Thank you all for your contributions in making our local Geo-Institute Chapter such a longstanding, successful program.

    From left to right in the picture:

    • William R. Adams Jr., PhD, PE, PG;
    • Andrew T. Rose, PhD, PE;
    • Don Splitstone, PE;
    • Craig W. Steigerwald, PE;
    • Suresh Gutta, PhD, PE;
    • Brian F. Heinzl, PE;
    • Sebastian Lobo-Guerrero PhD, PE;
    • James V. Hamel, PhD, PE, PG. 

  • 07 Mar 2017 9:24 PM | ASCE Blog Editor (Administrator)

    Announcement from YMF

    The YMF would like to announce the winners of their annual Pittsburgh Penguins Hockey Ticket Raffle.  Hockey tickets were donated by HDR, Inc.. The tickets were pulled at this year's YMF bowling tournament held on 2/25/17 at Noble Manor Lanes. Two winners were selected, each winning a pair of tickets to the March 17 Penguins game.  The winners were Shirley Clapperton, who bought her ticket from YMF President, Lou Gualtieri, and John Buechli, who bought his ticket from EWB Liason, Emily Eichner.  Congratulations Shirley and John.

  • 02 Mar 2017 6:03 PM | ASCE Blog Editor (Administrator)

    By Greg Scott, PE

    The Pittsburgh Section of ASCE participates as a member organization of the Construction Legislative Council of Western Pennsylvania (CLC).  The CLC’s goal is to promote the legislative interests of Western Pennsylvania's construction industry by actively participating in the legislative process and to present a unified voice in government regarding legislative matters of concern to the entire construction industry.  Recently the CLC has been actively advocating for the Pennsylvania Legislature to address a very serious concern about PennDOT funding under Act 44.  The CLC Chairman James Mall, wrote a very informative article which was published in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette in December.  ASCE encourages every member to read this article and join us in advocating for this issue to be promptly addressed.  Stay tuned for more information as the Section’s Government Relations Committee and the CLC advocate on this issue.  If you are interested in getting more active in Government Relations please sign up for free to be an ASCE Key Contact ( and/or email the Section’s Government Relations Committee Chair Greg Scott (

  • 01 Mar 2017 9:32 AM | ASCE Blog Editor (Administrator)

    By Greg Holbrook, PE

    Dr. David LattanziDavid Lattanzi, PhD, PE is an Assistant Professor at George Mason University, specializing in robotics, 3D visualization, and artificial intelligence as it relates to Civil and Structural Engineering. He presented at the annual Pittsburgh SEI Chapter and ABCD Organization joint meeting on these topics and how they are changing the industry.

    One emerging technology is the use of Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs), commonly known as drones, to assist with the inspection, analysis, and review of structures during most phases of construction and maintenance. A camera or similar recording device can be connected to a drone to capture video of the entire structure from multiple angles as the UAV is flown around the structure. The recorded data is detailed enough to review individual images of small components such as bolted connections, as well as larger components such as steel or concrete girders. Additionally, the data can be processed to develop 3D point clouds of the entire structure. With this information, one can review overall dimensions, full-system interaction, and potential structural defects. The user also has the ability to zoom into select details of the structure and access the pictures taken from the drone at that specific location.

    Recreated 3D model of the Place River Bridge – A case study done by the George Manson University research team

    Image of connection by UAV during case study of the Place River Bridge Dr. Lattanzi also shared some lessons learned while conducting a case study using UAVs to analyze a bridge or structure. First, planning is key. The team quickly determined that having a plan of the expected flight routes and the camera views/orientations was extremely important. To capture all the components of the structure and make a complete 3D model requires overlapping images from multiple angles and directions. Another lesson learned was that communication between team members is extremely important, both during the inspection and while manipulating the data to create the 3D model. Finally, the entire team agreed that one thing is certain: Inspectors aren’t being displaced anytime soon. For inspectors and engineers, drones are a new tool and the data they provide is the product. UAVs can capture data, but inspectors are required to understand the photo content and determine the importance and requirement for additional analysis or repair. This is similar to how engineers have come to embrace computers and technology for assistance in designing structures. Computers don’t design an entire structure; design requires input and judgement from an engineer to determine what is appropriate and how to analyze the output .

    Additional images of connections from UAV during case study of the Place River Bridge While it is encouraging that the industry embrace UAVs to streamline the construction and inspection processes there is still an uphill battle before full implementation can be achieved. First and foremost, there are a lot of regulations limiting where flights are allowed and how UAVs are used in the field and on construction sites. Additionally, measurements of defects can be estimated from images and data, but actual physical testing (such as hammer sounding, chloride tests, field measurements of cracks) can’t be accomplished. Furthermore, until operators have more experience and better understanding of the required process and approach to use while recording video and data, there is the potential that certain items may be missed that would have been found if inspectors physically reviewed all the connections and members in person.

    UAV and recording device used during the case study The presentation served to bring awareness to the use of UAVs and the data they collect to structural engineers, inspectors, and contractors who may be considering using drones to streamline inspections and construction for upcoming projects. This is just an overview of some of the benefits and limitations of UAVs in the construction industry. It is important to contact trained professionals that are knowledgeable in the use of UAVs when determining the applicability for a project and the appropriate information required to make its use successful.

  • 16 Feb 2017 1:11 PM | ASCE Blog Editor (Administrator)

    Stay up to date with the latest news in the P3 Rapid Bridge Replacement Project.

    Pennsylvania had approximately 4,500 structurally deficient bridge as of 2012; to try to address a portion of these bridges PennDOT took advantage of a public-private partnership (P3) known as the Rapid Bridge Replacement Project (RBRP). RBRP is a project to replace 558 structurally deficient bridges across Pennsylvania in three years and then maintain the following 28 years. As the project continues and a very busy construction season for RBRP this upcoming summer, you can follow all the work on the RBRP blog here. Also on the site, you can search each county to see what bridges are near you and what the schedule is for them as well as current pictures of the structural deficient bridges and once completed of the new structures.

  • 08 Feb 2017 8:15 AM | ASCE Blog Editor (Administrator)

    ASCE Pittsburgh Section Honored Again with National Outstanding Large Section Award

    Pittsburgh, PA – The Pittsburgh Section of the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) received the 2016 Outstanding Large Section Award presented by the National office of ASCE.  The national ASCE organization bestowed this award to the Pittsburgh Section for outstanding achievements in the areas of diversity and inclusion, community service, volunteer efforts, outreach, and advocacy of the profession.

    “I have witnessed it firsthand; this group of people strives to be the best in every activity and every goal they endeavor to pursue.  I enjoy observing the passion, enthusiasm, and step-up attitude that our officers, Board members, Institute Chairs and Committee leaders possess.  Having an opportunity to work with so many outstanding professionals who take time out of their professional and personal lives to promote our section and its members makes me proud,” says Pittsburgh Section President, Patrick J. Sullivan, Jr., P.E., Principal, Civil & Environmental Consultants, Inc.

    The Pittsburgh Section of ASCE has nearly 1,700 members, represents engineering and construction interests for communities throughout western Pennsylvania, and hosts over 50 local events per year.  Signature events include the Annual Kick-off Dinner and Life Member Recognition Banquet in the Fall and the Engineers Week Awards Banquet each February.  The Younger Member Forum inspires and informs the newest members of the profession, sharing experience and practical knowledge through networking and professional development events, while the Section’s five technical institutes also produce seminars and dinner events that provide the opportunity for all members to build and maintain their technical and professional skills while also earning Professional Development Hours.  The Institutes represent major Civil Engineering branches:

    • Architectural Engineering (AEI)
    • Environmental And Water Resources (EWRI)     
    • Geotechnical Engineering (GI)
    • Structural Engineering (SEI)
    • Transportation and Development (T&DI)


    ABOUT ASCE: Founded in 1852, the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) ( represents more than 140,000 members of the civil engineering profession worldwide and is America's oldest national professional engineering society.  ASCE's Mission is to provide essential value to our members and partners, advance civil engineering, and provide factual information to assist in the formulation of sound and responsible public policy.  ASCE advances technology, encourages lifelong learning, promotes professional performance, develops leaders, and advocates infrastructure and environmental stewardship.  For more information about the ASCE Pittsburgh Section, please see:

  • 19 Jan 2017 10:29 AM | ASCE Blog Editor (Administrator)

    By Pat Sullivan, P.E.

    During my time at the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) National Convention in Portland, OR, I was able to attend the keynote address by Frans Johansson, international author of the best-selling books “The Medici Effect” and “The Click Point.”  Mr. Johansson, a Brown University graduate (BSCE in Environmental Science), popularized the term “Medici Effect.” “The Medici Effect is the result of the phenomenon that happened in Florence, Italy when diverse concepts, cultures, and disciplines intersected, leading to one of Europe's most creative eras, the Renaissance. This ‘intersection’ is where groundbreaking innovation happens.”

    Mr. Johansson, is the founder of The Medici Group, a firm that specializes in mentoring and advising corporations on “how to innovate and grow, even when the rules are changing; develop next-generation leaders that can execute, even in the face of uncertainty; and create a self-sustaining culture of innovation that can withstand even the most volatile markets”.

    At the National Convention, Mr. Johansson’s topic was “Diversity Drives Innovation”.  Mr. Johansson states that diverse teams develop and create exponentially more ideas than teams comprised of personnel with the same experience, background and thought process.

    A few examples of diverse thinking and innovation are as follows:


    Photos courtesy of An architect was tasked to design a seven-story apartment building in Zimbabwe.  The temperatures in Zimbabwe can exceed 100 degrees F in summer months, so the building needed to be air-conditioned.  But the cost of providing this service would make the apartments unaffordable.  While walking through the proposed area, the architect spotted an anthill. He thought, “How can ants survive with the sun beating on the surface of their home.”  After some research, he discovered that ants use a series of tunnels to cool air from outside, distribute the air throughout the anthill, and discharge warm air from the top.  The architect then developed a design that utilized the same process, thereby eliminating the need for air conditioning to provide moderate temperatures in the apartment.


    In order for a specialized surgical team in the United Kingdom to properly and efficiently perform an operation, each member of the team has a specific purpose and must be able to move accordingly within the operating area to complete their responsibility.  The surgical team met with members of a McLaren Formula 1 pit team.  There are similarities in the two methods of organization.  The pit crew knows where and when they need to be at a specific location during a pit stop.  The surgical team studied the movements and their practices, and became more efficient in their profession.

    A woman of Muslim heritage moved to a beach side town in Australia, where the population is traditionally non-Muslim.  She wanted to swim, but could not wear a conventional swimsuit because of her religious beliefs. She invented a burqini, a full body swimsuit with a hood for covering her hair and of a color matching Islamic beliefs.


    Photos courtesy of icehotel.seAn entrepreneur named Yngve Bergqvist wanted to popularize the winter season for tourists in his hometown of Jukkasjarvi, Sweden, north of the Arctic Circle.  He created a series of outdoor ice exhibits, and then added additional exhibits from artists across the world to create a snow gallery.  He staged his snow gallery in an igloo.  When someone new to Sweden asked if they could spend the night in the igloo, something Yngve did not think would be desirable, he created the Icehotel, a CO2 negative building, where you can sleep in a room hewn from ice at a temperature of 20 degrees F.  It is one of the most popular destinations in Sweden.

    These examples urge you to look for and come up with ideas that change the game.  Be flexible, rethink standard practices, and ask “Why do we do it this way?” Buy a magazine that you would never buy or subscribe to, preferably that is outside of your expertise and look at the ideas that they have in their field. Ask yourself the question, “Can any of those ideas be applicable to the field of Civil Engineering?”

    More ideas are a significant predictor of innovative success.  So pay attention to surprise and the unexpected.  It may lead to amazing innovation.


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