For UB Engineering Students, Bridge Project Offers Invaluable Learning

Back from a whirlwind two-day trip to the project site, Jerome O’Connor P.E. Executive Director, Institute of Bridge Engineering, University of Buffalo, talked animatedly about the bridge. Tappan Zee, that is.

“It’s the perfect real-world ‘lab’ for our students so the trip was very timely for us,” O’Connor said of its replacement structure, the New NY Bridge.

Bridge engineering professors Jerome O’Connor & Anthony Tessari with students/Photo by Dr. Chao Huang

Bridge engineering professors Jerome O’Connor & Anthony Tessari with students/Photo by Dr. Chao Huang

And because they needed to see design-build first-hand, O’Connor, Bridge Foundations teacher Dr. Anthony Tessari, and 13 students spent 14 hours driving over two days to meet project officials and see the process first-hand.

While drivers and onlookers might only see a little construction, there’s more there than meets the eye. “From an engineering point of view, there’s a world of activity going on below the waterline,” O’Connor said. “We know how hard it is to get a project get to this stage, so when you do, you want to be sure it’ll last at least 100 years. A century-long service life is definitely feasible.”

Until the early 1990’s, bridges were designed to last for 50 years, then the standard was increased to 75 years; “however, signature bridges like this are intended to last 100, 120 or more years,” he said.

TZC Vice President and Project Manager Walter Reichert, Thruway Authority Project Director Peter Sanderson, and UB ngr. prof. Jerome O’Connor./Photo by Team Outreach

TZC Vice President and Project Manager Walter Reichert, Thruway Authority Project Director Peter Sanderson, and UB ngr. prof. Jerome O’Connor./Photo by Team Outreach

A civil engineer, O’Connor said the discipline (bridge engineering) has multiple aspects to it. With 600,000 bridges nationwide, engineers need to know specifics: it needs to be able to handle an earthquake and survive a hurricane. What happens if there’s a fire on the bridge? How will these mega-projects be financed, etc.?

“The New NY Bridge is a once in a lifetime project and we want it to inspire local students at all levels from graduate school and college down to elementary classrooms. The goal of our educational outreach effort at all levels is to use this historic infrastructure project to inspire the next generation of bridge builders here in New York.” — Brian Conybeare, Special Project Advisor to Governor Andrew Cuomo

In 2009, O’Connor and Lee began a program for bridge engineering “because there was not any place in the country (that we know of) to get a master’s degree with a concentration in bridge engineering,” he said. At the Institute of Bridge Engineering, master’s degree candidates learn about policy, finance, as well as technical aspects of the profession.

“It is very difficult to get a major project started, so I admire the determination to get the necessary replacement structure built,” O’Connor reflected.

UB photo 6 - students and engineers

Projects that use government money must first consider alternatives, the first of which is, What if we do nothing at all? Cautioning that the project “won’t be easy from an engineering perspective or financially,” O’Connor added, “but the state would be a lot worse off if it didn’t replace the bridge.” Doing nothing would only postpone the problem and make future repairs more expensive.

The project included a No Build Alternative (“Do Nothing Alternative”) that, per the Environmental Impact Statement, “would be feasible, not prudent, would not meet the project’s purpose and need and could result in severe social, economic, and environmental impacts.”

“Design-build pinpoints responsibility for the project on one entity,” O’Connor explained.

Tappan Zee Constructors, LLC  (TZC) is the one accountable so even though there are a lot of subcontractors, they are all part of the same team,” he continued. If the governor wants to know why something happened, he knows where to look. Design-build is used in many other countries, yet is fairly new in the U.S. It works well, and I think it’s a good way to handle things.”

Dr. Anthony Tessari, who teaches a course in bridge foundations, was able to show students a pile driving operation from a boat

Dr. Anthony Tessari, who teaches a course in bridge foundations, was able to show students a pile driving operation from a boat

Prior to joining UB’s MCEER (Multidisciplinary Center for Earthquake Engineering Research) in 2002, O’Connor worked for NYS Department of Transportation for 20 years.

“We’ve been doing research for Federal Highway Administration since 1986 when Professor Lee (Dr. George C. Lee, SUNY Distinguished Professor of UB’s Department of Civil, Structural and Environmental Engineering) and Bob Ketter (the late Dr. Robert L. Ketter, former President of the State University of New York at Buffalo), started the National Center for Earthquake Engineering Research (NCEER),” O’Connor said.

Special project advisor Brian Conybeare addressing UB engineering students/Photo by J. O’Connor

Special project advisor Brian Conybeare addressing UB engineering students/Photo by J. O’Connor

Last year, they kicked off the Institute of Bridge Engineering, which is part of UB’s “E Fund” initiative created by UB President Satish K. Tripathi to increase multidiscipline research strength, enhance students’ educational experiences, and expand the institution’s impact.

UB is beefing up its bridge program with the addition of $3.7 million to assist the school with achieving goals outlined by Governor Andrew Cuomo, Chancellor Nancy L. Zimpher and university leaders as part of the NYSUNY 20:20 plan. O’Connor is excited about returning regularly as New York State’s monumental undertaking progresses.

I’d like to know what you think.

Copyright © Janie Rosman and Kaleidoscope Eyes 2014

No comments yet

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: