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Pittsburgh's Civil Engineering News Blog

  • 29 Jan 2015 8:56 AM | ASCE Blog Editor (Administrator)

    Article by Greg Scott (Adapted from ASCE National)

    The 114th Congress convened in January with over 70 new members and a Republican majority in the Senate.  We hope that ASCE Priority Issues, like infrastructure renewal, will be opportunities for bipartisan consensus and action. Here are some of the ASCE's Priority Issues that the new Congress will address over the coming months.


    1. First on the list for Congress is crafting new surface transportation policy legislation for the existing law, MAP-21. The most difficult task will be preventing a future funding shortfall within the Highway Trust Fund, which will remain solvent until this summer. This week, Senators have been encouraging in their statements for a long-term fix to the trust fund. Some Senate chairmen remaining open to an increase in the gas tax, and others endorse the approach. ASCE is on-record in support of a 25 cent per gallon increase in the federal gas tax and will be working with Congress on all options to #FixTheTrustFund.

    2. Also on the transportation priority list, Congress is renewing the current Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) authorization bill. This legislation governs policy for the agency as well as provides runway project grants and authority for airports to collect passenger fees. ASCE is advocating in favor of an increase in the current federal cap on passenger facility charges (PFCs). PFCs are fees collected locally by airports and used for a variety of modernization projects including constructing new runways, terminal areas, noise mitigation, and airport access.


    1. Congress aggressively moved legislation for the Keystone XL pipeline to carry Canadian oil across the US Midwest to Gulf ports. A House vote on a bill approving the pipeline is mirrored in a similar bill in the Senate. The bill is expected to face a veto by the President. The Senate is still short four votes for the “veto proof” majority of 67.

    2. Senate Energy Committee Chair Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) has signaled that she and Ranking Member Maria Cantwell (D-WA) want to move a comprehensive energy package forward this Congress. On the Democratic side, that will mean creating a bill favorable to renewable energy, modernizing the energy grid, and maintaining grants for energy research projects. Those interests must be weighed against the Republican controlled priorities of the committee, which include expanding onshore and offshore drilling, natural gas and crude exports, and more oversight over research programs. Should Congress and the Administration agree on energy exports, ASCE will be engaged in the discussion as shipping those products would have a significant impact on surrounding highway, rail, and port facilities.

    3. Congress is likely to try to roll back recent carbon emissions regulations proposed by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Senate Environment and Public Works Committee Chairman Jim Inhofe (R-OK), one of the most visible anti-climate change members of Congress, will seek to be a barrier to any previous and future efforts to address this issue. We can also expect Republicans to also use the appropriations process to block EPA funding to implement some of their final rules.

    Water resources

    1. One of the few pieces of major legislation to come out of last Congress was the Water Resources Reform and Development Act (WRRDA) of 2014. While there is certainly an oversight role for the new Congress to ensure programs authorized in WRRDA run smoothly, it’s likely the real focus will be on recent regulations proposed by the EPA and Army Corps of Engineers on federal water jurisdiction.

    2. Last year the EPA and Army Corps proposed new regulations defining “waters of the United States.” For years Industry had argued existing water guidance was confusing, prompting the agencies to propose new regulations in April, 2014. Almost immediately, the agencies faced criticism for going too far and extending federal their reach. Numerous members of Congress have called for EPA and the Army Corps to withdraw the rule. We can

    expect to see attempts though policy riders on appropriations bills and other measures to stop the regulations from becoming final.

    STEAM Education (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts, and Math)

    The 114th Congress will have to address the reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act. ESEA was passed in 1965 as a part of the "War on Poverty." ESEA emphasizes equal access to education and establishes high standards and accountability. The law authorizes federally funded education programs that are administered by the states. In 2002, Congress amended ESEA and reauthorized it as the “No Child Left Behind Act”. Efforts to reauthorize ESEA in the 112th and 113th Congresses made little progress. ASCE is a founding member of the Science-Technology-Education-Mathematics (STEM) Education Coalition and will continue to work through the Coalition on reauthorization. The goal of the Coalition is to ensure that STEM education is a top priority in any revision to ESEA.


    ASCE supports federal programs to mitigate the impact of natural and man-made hazards. Among the specific reauthorizations or enactments ASCE is supporting in Congress are:

    1. The National Earthquakes Hazards Reduction Program (NEHRR) a 37-year old federal program which providing the resources and leadership leading to big advances in understanding earthquake risks and the best ways to counter them.

    2. The National Windstorm Impact Reduction Program, similar for wind related hazards.

    3. The Safe Building Code Incentive Act which seeks to create federal incentives to encourage states to voluntarily adopt and enforce nationally recognized model building codes for residential and commercial structures. Uniform statewide adoption and enforcement of model building codes mitigates the impact of hurricanes, tornadoes, earthquakes, floods, fire, ice storms and other natural catastrophes.

    For more info, contact Greg Scott, at Buchart-Horn, Inc., 412-261-5059,

    Participate in the discussion of how Congress can accomplish this work by commenting on this blog post, or going to one of our forums.   

  • 26 Jan 2015 3:57 PM | ASCE Blog Editor (Administrator)

    Article by Linda Kaplan

    The Pittsburgh Section is pleased to announce that we have received the 2014 Outstanding Section & Branch Large Group Award from ASCE National!  This award is given to one section nationwide which has demonstrated an extensive and well-rounded set of programs for its members, commitment to the advancement of civil engineering, and proven adherence to the ASCE mission. This is the first time that the Pittsburgh Section has won this award.

    Upon receiving notification of the award, Section President Kemal Niksic, PE said, “Being recognized as the Outstanding ASCE Section in 2014 is a testimony to all the hard work and true commitment of our members: engineers, students, and professors.  We are proud to continue the great tradition of our region’s outstanding engineering corps, and are looking forward to being amongst leaders who will face all the challenges imposed by our aging infrastructure and fast changing socio-demographic and climate conditions.”

    The award was presented at the 2015 Multi-Regional Leadership Conference (MRLC) in Miami, Florida on January 10th, 2015. It was received by Section Secretary Coreen Casadei, PE and Director Lauren Terpak. 

    Additionally, the Pittsburgh Section was awarded an Honorable Mention for the 2014 Section and Branch Diversity Awards by the ASCE Committee on Diversity and Inclusion (CDI).  It was noted that “it remains clear to CDI that the Section is making significant and impactful contributions to the enhancement and awareness of the profession through the establishment of your new and very active D&I Committee, partnerships with SWE, NSBE, & ATHENA as well as the representation of women in several key Board positions.”

    This award was also presented at the MRLC in January where it was received by Section Diversity and Inclusion Committee Chair Lauren Terpak.  Lauren says, “I am happy to see the Section recognized for their efforts regarding Diversity and Inclusion, especially for a committee in its infancy. I have since spoke with conference coordinator Nancy Berson and acquired the contact information of the individuals from the other Sections and Branches that won Diversity and Inclusion awards nationally. We plan to reach out and learn from other groups.”

    Our Younger Members Forum (YMF) received the 2015 Eastern Regional Younger Member Council (ERYMC) Peer Group Award.  During the MRLC conference, each Younger Member Group in attendance is given the opportunity to vote on the Peer Group Award.    This award is given in recognition of an outstanding overall program including technical content, networking opportunities, social events, and community outreach to one.  It is the ASCE award voted on by other Sections.

    YMF President Linda Kaplan, PE and President-Elect Sonya Flournoy, PE received the award at the conference in Miami.  “This is a very significant award and we are honored to receive it,” said Linda, “It’s great to be recognized by our peers as leaders.  Everyone involved with our YMF group contributed to this and should be proud.”

    Congratulations to our peers and members who contributed to these awards!  We would not have had such a successful year without your enthusiasm and support.  We are looking forward to continuing and growing our programs.

    To find out about upcoming events check the ASCE Pittsburgh website at

  • 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.  


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