|Executive Forum Discusses "The State of Our Bridges"|
The Younger Member Forum held its Seventh Annual Executive Forum on February 21, 2008. The year's discussion focused on "The State of Our Bridges," a topic that has gained national attention following the collapse of the I-35W bridge in Minneapolis last August. Over 100 young engineers attended the event and had a unique opportunity to meet prominent engineers involved with designing, constructing and maintaining bridges in the New York metropolitan area.
The event was held at the Cornell Club of New York and included a networking reception, buffet dinner and panel discussion moderated by Jaidev Sankar, P.E. of DMJM Harris. The featured panel speakers consisted of owners, designers and contractors:
Before taking questions from the attendees, each of the panelists first discussed their career paths and shared some of their unique experiences working in the field of bridges.
With a total of 787 bridges under the jurisdiction of NYCDOT and a bridge maintenance staff of 550 tradespersons and 200 engineers, Henry Perahia mentioned that NYCDOT’s Division of Bridges could be equated to a medium-sized construction company and an engineering firm. Although the safety of the nation’s bridges gained prominence following the Minnesota bridge collapse, Henry Perahia noted that troubles experienced with New York City bridges in the 1970s with the collapse of the West Side Highway and in the 1980s with the closure of the Williamsburg Bridge have led to increased investments on maintaining bridges. As a result, NYCDOT has seen consistent increases in its bridge ratings.
Thomas Bach spoke about how MTA Bridges and Tunnels has invested a $1.2B capital program between 2005 and 2009 to keep its seven bridges maintained. In addition to meeting federal requirements of biennial inspections, MTA Bridges and Tunnels engineers walk the bridges each day and work with contractors to stay on top of potential safety issues. Back in September, both Thomas Bach and Henry Perahia provided testimony to a New York City Council Committee on Transportation hearing on bridge safety, assuring elected officials that our bridges are safe but need continual attention to ensure a good state of repair.
Members of ASCE also provided testimony before Congress in September as part of the increased public concern of the condition of the nation’s bridges. Andrew Herrmann, who is a member of ASCE’s Board of Direction and has over 30 years of experience at Hardesty & Hanover in the inspection, rating, design, rehabilitation and construction of bridges, described how he provided testimony before the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure and the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works to increase funding and improve bridge inspection requirements. Although New York State requires bridge inspection teams to be headed by a licensed professional engineer, this is not a federal requirement so other states may have maintenance personnel conducting bridge inspections.
Barry Feldman spoke about the Port Authority's structural integrity program and described some of the complexities involved with designing alternatives to replace the Goethals Bridge, which will be the first major new bridge to be constructed in the New York metropolitan area in several decades. Vincent Sefershayan talked about how it is the responsibility of a contractor to use their experience and deliver the same product, whether it is for the construction of a small river crossing or the rehabilitation of a major bridge serving an interstate highway.
The panelists mentioned how our region’s economy is driven by bridges and spoke about the challenges of rehabilitating or replacing bridges while maintaining the flow of traffic. Henry Perahia pointed out that doing maintenance on one of the East River bridges is like "trying to tune an engine or a car driving at 50 miles and hour down a highway." Because the East River bridges play such a vital role in travel between Manhattan, Brooklyn and Queens, NYCDOT must coordinate maintenance projects between bridges and can only close about twenty percent of the total combined lanes at any given time. However, for a structural engineer the term for an unsafe bridge is "closed" and engineers will not hesitate to shut down any bridge that is deemed unsafe.
As most of the event’s attendees were young engineers that represent the next generation of civil engineers, each of the panelists were asked to describe some of the changes that have occurred in the past twenty years. Andrew Herrmann talked about how designs have become a lot more complex and that with computers replacing slide rules engineers could lose a "feel" for what they are designing. Vincent Sefershayan spoke about an increased emphasis on safety and how many contracts have stringent safety requirements. The panelists also mentioned how the bridge industry has grown to be more complex and legal fees and other things have increased costs.
The Younger Member Forum would like to thank its sponsors of this event: ARUP, DMJM Harris, Hardesty & Hanover, HDR, Judlau Contracting, Langan Engineering & Environmental Services, Lichtenstein Consulting Engineers, The Louis Berger Group, Parsons Brinckerhoff, Sam Schwartz and Weidlinger Associates.
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