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Final Thoughts: Let’s Talk About Our Favorite Projects

Robert Schickel on April 17, 2019 - in Articles, Column

As I sat at my desk trying to come up with an interesting topic to discuss, I decided to let you, the reader, do a little thinking about your interesting work topics. It’s important to realize the effect projects have on you as well as others, so I’ll mention a few of the projects I was fortunate enough to be part of and invite Informed Infrastructure readers to think about some of the projects they worked on.

Most Challenging Project

Have you worked on a project that really challenged you in some way? A project that really made you think and, perhaps, kept you up at night?

One of my most challenging projects was the rehabilitation of the Chicago Skyway Bridge south of the city over the Calumet River and Harbor. The project included replacing existing steel bents (piers) with concrete piers, replacing deteriorated floorbeams and other truss members, and replacing the six-lane-wide concrete deck—while maintaining traffic in both directions.

Our team devised a method of replacing the floorbeams from centerline to outside end and tying down the remaining half. The deck replacement for one direction was completed at the same time. Maintaining traffic included movable barriers to provide two lanes of traffic in the peak flow direction and one lane opposing. This was repeated for the northbound lanes during the second year.

Jacking up the structure to remove and replace the steel bents, cutting floorbeams in half, and pouring a new deck 125 feet in the air provided challenges that most of my other projects never came close to.

Unique Project

Have you ever been involved with a project that will never come along again? My unique project was designing a bridge for a private entity over a tributary to the Intracoastal Waterway in Florida with the following requirements: Maximum loading was a semi-tractor tanker/trailer carrying water; provide clearance for small watercraft underneath; and ensure that the owner’s buffalo herd would not cross the bridge.

It took a bit of research into what buffaloes don’t like and a few calls to some folks familiar with cattle to determine that an array of rails (as in railroad) with spaces between them spanning an apparent bottomless pit would do the trick. The design specification became rails spaced at 1.5 times a hoof width over a 2-foot deep rectangular hole. (Or something like that; it never made the AASTHO spec book …)

Encourage young people to think about engineering as a career through your experiences.

Most Fun Project

What projects have you worked on that were enjoyable? So much fun that you would do it again for free. I have two.

One in Illinois provided an opportunity to learn about something I never thought about. The project included an equestrian bridge over a four-lane road. The design needed to take into account the reaction of a horse to traffic below. Because the bridge also could be used by pedestrians, the geometrics already were in place, but visual and noise barriers had to be considered.

Another learning opportunity came about because of a threatened species of snake: the Eastern Massasauga Rattlesnake. I’m not terribly fond of snakes, but talking with the superintendent, I learned about the environment compatible to these snakes. The project widened the highway adjoining the forest preserve, but we didn’t want to infringe upon the habitat. More importantly, we didn’t want to provide an easy way for these snakes to leave the preserve and become roadkill.

Working with forest preserve officials, it was decided that a concrete “snake wall” could be constructed. Because the Eastern Massasauga Rattlesnake only grows to about 2 feet in length, it would just need to be a little taller than that. To ensure the snake wouldn’t simply go around the end of the wall, a “snake pit” was constructed that would entrap the snakes and could be unlocked by the appropriate handler for release back into the forest preserve. As I said earlier, I’m not fond of snakes, so I haven’t been back to see if this is working, but it’s fun to tell the story!

Tell Your Story

There are many opportunities to be part of challenging or unique or fun projects in the civil engineering world. So I invite you to remember some of the projects you’ve been part of and tell others about how challenging they were or how much you enjoyed working on them; then be sure to stress how rewarding they were to you.

We need to let others know about our profession. Encourage young people to think about engineering as a career through your experiences. Or just send me an email about your experiences. I would love to hear about your projects.

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About Robert Schickel

Robert Schickel was born in New Jersey and received his BS in Civil Engineering degree in 1971 from Valparaiso University in Indiana. His career started as a bridge design engineer and expanded to include design of various transportation facilities, including highways, bridges, rail lines and stations, and airport runways. Mr. Schickel managed engineering offices ranging from 20 to 140 people. He also served as a consultant to a large utility company. Mr. Schickel currently resides in Indiana and serves as Adjunct Professor for the College of Engineering at Valparaiso University. He enjoys his retired life at his lake house, playing golf, listening to music and spending time with his family, especially his grandchildren.

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