RPI Engineering Students Visit Praeger’s Successor

“Seeing a project of this scale in its construction phase is somewhat surreal in that you really can’t appreciate the design of a structure until you see it being constructed in real life.” — Sofia Kyle, transportation engineering

Special project advisor Brian Conybeare talks about the design-build process and project history/NNYB Outreach

Special project advisor Brian Conybeare talks about the design-build process and project history/NNYB Outreach

Although his engineering students have seen Manhattan and New Jersey from atop the George Washington Bridge, Professor Michael Symans knew they had to view this one for themselves. He was right.

A recent visit to the New NY Bridge site allowed Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute junior- and senior-year students to observe some of the engineering work — structural, geotechnical, transportation engineering, and environmental — they’re studying, especially now that most of its underwater work is completed.

“It was interesting to see what (how) what we learned is applied to real life design and construction — installing and designing piles (foundation or how mass transit needs evolve and change over time (transportation engineering).” – Antonio D’Elia, structural engineering

Symans’ bridge design classes are within the structural engineering portion of RPI’s civil engineering program. “We offer concentrations in other areas like geotechnical, which relates to what’s been done on the project: soil conditions, piles that support the bridge. Students were really interested in this aspect.”

Appreciation, fascination and sense of community for the state’s biggest project were how some RPI students described their recent Hudson Valley visit/NNYB Outreach

Appreciation, fascination and sense of community for the state’s biggest project were how some RPI students described their recent Hudson Valley visit/NNYB Outreach

Since his work in structural engineering focuses on earthquake engineering — including developing systems that will protect structures from earthquakes — Symans was particularly interested in the sliding seismic isolation system being employed. “A major benefit is that it reduces the forces required for design of the substructure.”

“Seismic isolation is a method for isolating a structure from ground shaking due to earthquakes,” Symans explained. “The structure is supported on a flexible system that decouples the structure from the ground, thereby minimizing the transfer of earthquake energy into the structure.”

Students easily compared the new bridge — designed for longevity, aesthetically-pleasing — to the current structure. Because he was limited by material shortages after the Korean War, RPI alumnus Emil H. Praeger designed the bridge for a 50-year service life that resulted in a utilitarian appearance, Symans noted.

“The extent to which engineers, public officials, contractors, and laborers must work together to successfully complete such a large-scale project was evident from the presentations.” — Jonathan Schmierer, structural engineering

RPI’s history of bridge design — either by alumni or where they were heavily involved — also includes the Brooklyn Bridge, GWB, Verazanno-Narrows Bridge, Throgs Neck Bridge, Williamsburg Bridge, Queensboro Bridge and Manhattan Bridge.

Bob Palermo of GZA, project foundation lead, discusses the new bridge’s pile installation and design/NNYB Outreach

Bob Palermo of GZA, project foundation lead, discusses the new bridge’s pile installation and design/NNYB Outreach

Within the school’s Bedford Program — a collaborative effort between CEE and the School of Architecture — students design structures, attend annual international travel workshops, and visit iconic bridges, buildings, airports, etc. leading architecture/engineering design firms. Past trips have been to France, Spain, Germany, Japan, China, Hong Kong, and Australia.

“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 Governor Andrew Cuomo

While his students said visiting the GWB was a wonderful experience — from a technical and structural perspective, and because few ever go to the top of a bridge tower —  Symans was spot-on about the project site.

“It was a fantastic trip, and wonderful for the students to see and experience,” he said. “They’re eager to return.”

I’d like to know what you think.

Copyright © Janie Rosman and Kaleidoscope Eyes 2014

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