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Pittsburgh's Civil Engineering News Blog
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
Good day Pittsburgh Section, my name is Pat Sullivan and as some of you may know, over the last 3 years, I have been one of the Region 2 Governors for the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE). Region 2 covers the states of Pennsylvania, Maryland, Delaware and Northern Virginia and also Washington DC. There are 7 sections in Region 2: Pittsburgh, Philadelphia, Delaware, Lehigh Valley, Maryland, National Capital and Central Pennsylvania. I am up for re-election and I would appreciate your support in helping me continue my duties as Governor. One of these duties is to meet with and aid sections and branches in enhancing their programs and providing opportunities for collaboration, sharing, and access to national resources. But the duty I most enjoy is the collaboration with the students at the approximately 25 colleges and universities in our region. My bio and ASCE resume is available to view on both the section website www.asce-pgh.com and the national website www.asce.org/elections .
As an ASCE member, please consider voting. In addition to voting for the Region 2 Governor, you can also vote for ASCE National President and there is also a referendum that will allow students to vote.
As you can see from the photos below, I have had an absolutely wonderful time being Governor. Starting back in September of 2018, as master of ceremonies for the Pittsburgh Sections’ 100th anniversary celebration and the Pittsburgh Sections’ 100th Anniversary book signing “Engineering Pittsburgh” to attending the Region 2 Student Conference at George Mason University in November of 2018 with the University of Pittsburgh student representatives.
Then it was off to the Region 1, 2 4 and 5 MRLC Conference in Orlando FL in January of 2019. It was cold that week, but I had a chance to catch up with student representatives from the University of Pittsburgh and emcee the lunchtime session, where I had a chance to ‘chat’ with over 500 attendees.
Of course, it isn’t all fun and games…occasionally there is work to be done, here we are hard at work at Bill Brittle’s house in central Maryland. And it is also necessary to support the ASCE Pittsburgh Section during important announcements, such as the 2018 Pittsburgh Section Report Card press briefing.
But as I said above, I enjoy talking to students, both at the university level and the high school level. I absolutely enjoy speaking to the high school students about civil engineering and how it started for me.
I hope to be able to continue these activities for the next three years. Thank you for your support.
In 2022 the four Pennsylvania ASCE Sections (Central Pennsylvania, Lehigh Valley, Philadelphia and Pittsburgh) will be releasing a new Report Card for Pennsylvania’s Infrastructure, however the work behind the scenes to develop the Report Card will be commencing late this Spring. The 2018 Report Card for Pennsylvania’s Infrastructure graded 18 categories of infrastructure and can be viewed at www.pareportcard.org as a reference as to the nature of the end product that is the goal to develop.
Volunteers are needed to join the infrastructure category committees. We are seeking to connect with members who have experience public policy or are interested in learning more about:
● The current condition of public infrastructure;
● The legislative and regulatory environment it is developed in;
● Infrastructure’s operations and maintenance and;
● How Public agencies and private corporations fund construction; operation; and renewal.
This is an opportunity to work in a team environment of like-minded professionals. The committees will work with staff from ASCE National and ASCE’s Committee on America’s Infrastructure to provide a snapshot of our infrastructure as it relates to us locally and on a national level. The volunteers will gather background information for each of the categories – including reports, studies, surveys and other research materials – from professional societies, non-profit associations, and local, state and Federal agencies, in order to determine grades for each category.
Grades will be developed in a simple A to F school report card format. Assigned letter grades are based on the following eight criteria: capacity, condition, funding, funding need, operation and maintenance, public safety, resilience, and innovation. The grades are an evaluation of the current state of the physical infrastructure itself and are not a reflection on the agencies responsible for the infrastructure, who are often working with limited resources. Historically, small teams of ASCE volunteers coordinate and meet with public agencies in the development and advance of the Report Card release to seek their input and notify them of the findings.
This is a wonderful opportunity for professionals as well as students who are interested in developing a deeper understanding of public policy and be acknowledged in a published report. Anyone interested should contact the Report Card for Pennsylvania’s Infrastructure Co-chairs, David DiGioia at email@example.com or Michelle Madzelan at firstname.lastname@example.org.
When the ASCE Geo-Institute Pittsburgh Chapter (G-I) started planning the 2020/2021 program year we did not know if, when, or how we could even hold events. The Pittsburgh ASCE-GI dinner lecture series have always been very popular with the local geotechnical community. The series provides a chance to socialize, network, and learn from informative presentations. Cancelling the program year was not an option. New G-I committee members were elected to the G-I Board in Spring 2020 and knew that they had to find a way to carry on the torch of the dinner series and was immediately tasked with the challenge of finding new ways to engage with the geotechnical community during the COVID pandemic.
We decided that the best and safest way to proceed was to begin hosting the dinner series as virtual webinars. We all missed the typical food, drink, socializing, and networking of the normal dinner series; but the presentations to the geotechnical community could continue. The Pittsburgh Geo-Institute worked hard to line up engaging and exciting guest speakers for the 2020/2021 webinar series.
After organizing such a great speaker line up the GI board members wanted to ensure that the platform and time they picked for their webinar series ensured the highest quality for all members. After a thorough review of all the available platforms the Geo-Institute decided to use Zoom for their webinars. While after work hours were always best for the in-person presentations, it was decided that the best time for virtual presentations was during the lunch hour. The mid-day presentations were chosen because they would add a nice break to everyone’s standard working from home day and allow our members to take a break from their computer screens and spend time with their families after work.
The virtual program year was kicked off in September with the University of Pittsburgh’s IRISE Landslide Seminar; this was a collaboration with the University of Pittsburgh and the Pittsburgh Geo-Institute. The University of Pittsburgh hosted the platforms of these seminars.
On October 15, 2020, the ASCE Geo-Institute Pittsburgh Chapter kicked off their Zoom webinar programs with Fatma Ciloglu, Ph.D., P.E., with Michael Baker International. Dr. Ciloglu presented on Combi Piles-Lessons Learned to Manage Active Piping Erosion at Deep Foundations. This event was open to all members and non-members at no cost. A total of 144 professionals registered for this event, making it one of the largest events ever hosted by the ASCE Geo-Institute Pittsburgh Chapter to date.
After the success of the first two virtual meetings the Pittsburgh Geo-Institute was pleased to host the 56th Terzaghi Lecture by Edward J. Cording on November 19, 2020. The Tergazhi lecture was titled Observing and Controlling Ground Behavior During Tunneling. This event was once again open to all members and non-members at no cost. This virtual presentation set another registration record for the Pittsburgh Geo-Institute attendance with 188 people registering for the event.
On January 20, 2021, the Pittsburgh Geo-Institute was pleased to cohost the always popular annual joint meeting with AEG and PGS. Richard L. Beam, P.G. presented on Pennsylvania’s Abandoned Mine Land (AML) Emergency Program and drew in approximately 145 attendees across the three organizations.
While the start of the 2020/2021 program year looked bleak and uncertain, it has turned out some of the most well attended presentations of the ASCE Geo-Institute Pittsburgh Chapter. The virtual presentations allow professionals from outside of just the Greater Pittsburgh Area to benefit from the educational presentations, including those from faraway states like California, Arizona, and Utah. The ASCE Geo-Institute Pittsburgh Chapter thanks all their presenters and members for helping to make this year a successful program year. We look forward to the eventual restart of the popular in-person dinner meetings so that members can once again socialize and enjoy each other’s company, but until then please continue to join virtually from your home or wherever you may be!
Jack A. Raudenbush, P.E., M.ASCE, your Region 2 Director, is a member of the Central Pennsylvania Section. Jack represented you at the Oct. 26-27 board meeting. Use the following link to read his highlights from the ASCE Society board meeting which included such items as ASCE Code of Ethics and Life Membership.
In November of 2018 the four sections of ASCE in Pennsylvania (Central Pennsylvania, Lehigh Valley, Philadelphia and Pittsburgh) released the 2018 Pennsylvania Infrastructure Report Card via the ASCE Pennsylvania State Council. The dire grades the Commonwealth received under the category of Transportation spurred Representative Martina White into forming a House Transportation Infrastructure Task Force in July 2019. The Task Force of 10 House members, representing a diverse cross section of the state, conducted a comprehensive overview of the status of Pennsylvania’s transportation system and its funding mechanisms. The resulting House Transportation Infrastructure Task Force Report issued in the Fall of 2019 cited the 2018 Pennsylvania Infrastructure Report Card extensively and led to the creation of 10 bills implementing some of the recommendations in the Report.
In August of this year, the ASCE PA State Council decided to change its Legislative Day, traditionally held by conducting legislative visit in the Capitol of Harrisburg, to a series of virtual legislative visits. The Council hired the firm of Mulberry Public Affairs LLC (Mulberry), to provide logistical support for the effort. Mulberry has had a long-standing relationship with ASCE’s Report Card efforts. Their experience and expertise in helping to shape the meetings issue briefs, and strategically scheduling the meetings, was instrumental in authoring a letter of support for the package of bills and facilitating the virtual meetings.
Between September 1st and October 13st this Fall, a dozen ASCE members from all four Pennsylvania Sections participated in 10 virtual legislative meetings with key House and Senate members. The message the ASCE members delivered was that ASCE supports enacting the Transportation Task Force bill package as a vital first step to address the transportation funding shortfall in Pennsylvania, and would allow for critical investments in the state’s infrastructure. In particular, ASCE Pennsylvania was supportive that the legislative package:
• Expands critical innovative project delivery methods such as bundling projects and design build;
• Provides county governments more flexibility to raise revenue for vital transportation projects;
• Creates new revenue streams for local governments and county infrastructure banks;
• Extends the use of public-private partnerships for eligible municipalities; and
• Develops a pavement condition committee to ensure the safety of our state’s roads.
In addition, during meetings with Senate members, ASCE members expressed support for the passage of HB 2101 which amends the Engineer, Land Surveyor, and Geologist Registration Law that had previously passed the PA House by a unanimous vote of 202-0.
The virtual format of this year’s outreach proved to be very successful and provided both ASCE members and the Elected Officials a mechanism for open and detailed conversations. The overall tone was one of recognition of the challenges infrastructure faces in the state as well of support for creative and innovative means of addressing its needs. While Pennsylvania is facing significant economic impact due to the pandemic, and this year marks the end of this Legislative Session, the ASCE members made significant contributions to ensuring these bills either move before the end of the year or are reintroduced in next year’s session.
The 2020 Presidents and Governors Forum (PGF) was held this year on September 10-12, when 147 Section and Branch Presidents, Regional Governors, Society Directors, Board Members, and Institute Leaders from across the country and abroad convened virtually. This annual event, sponsored by the Leader Training Committee, provided opportunities for attendees to learn about ASCE resources, network with other ASCE leaders, and develop skills that benefit their Sections/Branches, Regions and Institutes.
Though I have attended previous ASCE leadership conferences for younger members, this was the first time I have attended the PGF. I found this conference to be very motivating and had several notes from each section. I think what struck me the most throughout the time was the reminder of the purpose of ASCE. The opening speaker summarized that the purpose of ASCE is to Foster Engineering Leaders: Help you matter more and enable you to make a bigger difference. This goal really stayed in my mind during the many discussions on boosting membership, communicating with members, and engaging students.
Sometimes I think it can be so easy to get caught up in the membership numbers, or attendee counts for events, that we lose sight of our purpose for coming together as civil engineering professionals. We have extremely bright engineers and academia in the Pittsburgh area who are challenging and advancing the civil engineering profession in order to help make our world safer and more accessible. I hope through this coming year, and the next while I am section president, to refocus our efforts on highlighting the research and projects happening in our area while also connecting our regional members with resources, and each other, on topics they find useful.
The overall community of ASCE is globally reaching and has compiled leadership and technical resources for all. Please remember to regularly take advantage of your membership benefits by browsing the ASCE.org website for free webinars and information. I also encourage you to post discussion topics on our Pittsburgh Discussion Forum at http://www.asce-pgh.org/page-349473, and to begin thinking about nominating any deserving student leaders or projects for 2020 ASCE Pittsburgh Awards or national awards. All award categories and information can be found on our Section website http://www.asce-pgh.org/awards.htm and the Society page https://www.asce.org/awards/.
For more information about the PGF, please visit LTC’s website at:
Jack A. Raudenbush, P.E., F.ASCE, your Region 2 Director is a member of the Central Pennsylvania Section. Jack will be representing you at the next Board meeting on October 27 and 28, 2020.
Visit an ASCE designed historic site! These sites illustrate the creativity and innovative spirit of civil engineers. Visit https://www.asce.org/landmarks to find sites near you. Share photos of your travels with me and I will post in Region 2 correspondence and on our Region’s social media pages.
The Mason Dixon Line
The Mason Dixon line, commonly referenced as the boundary between Pennsylvania and Maryland, also includes a portion of the northern boundary of West Virginia and the western boundary of Delaware. It was surveyed between 1763 and 1767 by Charles Mason and Jeremiah Dixon. The Mason–Dixon line was marked by stones every mile 1 mile and "crownstones" every 5 miles, using stone shipped from England. The Maryland side says "M" and the Delaware and Pennsylvania sides say "P". The parallel (latitude line) was established as 15 miles south of the then southernmost point in Philadelphia.
Mason and Dixon started off with a crew of five, but by the time they got towards the end of the survey the party had grown to about 115. They thought at the end of the survey that the stones were accurate within 50ft. But what is realized today is that some of them are as much as 900ft off. The reason is not because Mason and Dixon were inaccurate in their execution nor because the equipment was faulty. It was actually gravity. Gravity had an impact on the plumb bob they were using. They had a 6ft telescope and it used a plumb bob on a fine wire. But gravity varied from location to location because of the influence of mountains.
Jack A. Raudenbush, P.E., F.ASCE, your Region 2 Director is a member of the Central Pennsylvania Section. Jack will be representing you at the next Board meeting in Washington, DC on March 14 and 15, 2020.
Region 2 is offering to reimburse Sections and Branches for the cost of purchasing ASCE’s Professional Skills Series in Leadership and Management training modules. Please contact me if interested in learning about this limited time reimbursement offer.
Module = $249/Each Reimbursement from Region 2 = $249/Each
Your Final Amount = $0!!
The Pittsburgh Section was awarded the Outstanding Section and Branch Award for Large Sections and Branches. The award, presented in January at the MRLC in Philadelphia, recognized the Pittsburgh Section for its exceptional activities and engaged Board Members, Student Chapters and various Committees as presented in their Annual Report.
The Pittsburgh Section of ASCE has nearly 1,700 members and hosts over 50 events per year including the Annual Kick-off Dinner, the Life Member Recognition Banquet, and the Engineers Week Awards Banquet. It has five technical institutes and a very active Younger Member Forum as well as very supportive activities for the local Student Chapters.
These sites illustrate the creativity and innovative spirit of civil engineers. Visit https://www.asce.org/landmarks to find sites near you. Share photos of your travels with me and I will post in Region 2 correspondence and on our Region’s social media pages.
In February, I visited the historic Rockville Bridge. This railroad bridge was built in 1900-02 and continues to carry rail freight across the Susquehanna River near Harrisburg, PA. It is the longest stone masonry arch railroad viaduct in the world. Constructed by the Pennsylvania Railroad, it has forty-eight 70-foot spans, for a total length of 3,820 feet.
I look forward to seeing you at ASCE events.
Jack A. Raudenbush, P.E., F.ASCE
Director, Region 2
Thanks to all of our ASCE volunteers, we had a great Engineers Week with regional students! This annual two-day activity took place at the Carnegie Science Center from 9:00 am to 3:00 pm on Thursday and Friday (Feb 20-21). Over 20 Pittsburgh Section members came out to donating a few hours of their day by encouraging middle and high school students with a potential interest in becoming a Civil Engineer.
The watershed model was once again popular with the students! For those not familiar with it, the students interact during the watershed model demonstration by simulating rain while Section volunteers discuss how Civil Engineers develop methods to control storm runoff pollution and help keep our drinking water sources as clean as possible. Dousing the volunteers in water is always an added bonus for most enthusiastic students!
This year we also brought back the wind tunnel to simulate wind effects on structures. This model presents the need for Civil Engineers to consider wind loads during the design process and demonstrates how the shape of the structure might influence the effects of wind forces. Students had a great time with this display, assembling their own ‘masterpieces’ from various geometrically-shaped foam panels and testing them in the wind tunnel. As with any scientists, students were not deterred by failure. Instead they observed the consequences and went back to the drawing board time and again until they constructed a structure that outlasted those of their classmates.
We also had a handful of volunteers participated in small group speed networking sessions with students, where engineers of various backgrounds and levels of experience shared their day-to-day roles as a Civil Engineer in hopes of sparking interest and answering questions that students may be curious about. Five rounds of speed networking were performed, each in one hour sessions.
Overall it was a great two days. Thank you to all that participated! For those of you that missed this opportunity and would like to participate in future ASCE Educational Outreach programs, please continue to check out our Outreach webpage and Section calendar as there are sure to be other opportunities on the horizon that may be a fit for you.
Brian Heinzl, P.E.
ASCE Pittsburgh Section
Educational Outreach Chair