Who’ll Stop the Rain?

The recent devastation Louisiana experienced from heavy August rains has affected not only roads, but bridges, houses, and schools. Roads alone will cost over an estimated $10 million to repair. We’ve heard this before from this unfortunate state after Hurricane Katrina struck in 2005, and quite frankly, at times Mother Nature will simply get her way. For more details, see “Louisiana Flooding Prompts Cleanup, Recovery” from Engineering News-Record.


Louisiana roadways such as this one, were severely damaged during August storms with an estimated damage of more than $10 million.  Photo courtesy of Louisiana Dept. of Transportation and Development



MA Engineering Consultants, Inc. is not a stranger to these type situations when it comes to storm damage recovery. For instance, in South Carolina, our firm provided preliminary damage assessment from a storm that caused catastrophic damage to unpaved roadways throughout Charleston County. Our services included site visits, cost assessments and final findings report. For more information, see the NEPA Document section of the MAEC website.


Also of note is a recent blog written by MAEC Associate Scott Brookart, PE, CFM, who heads MAEC’s Water Resources group. He explored the issue of water runoff in his thought-provoking blog “Managing Watershed and Stormwater Runoff…Or Can We?


Pokemon Go for Engineers


MAEC provides 2D / 3D mapping and Digital Terrain Models (DTM) in our Geomatics Department

We can still learn some lessons from our kids. Pokemon Go is all the rage lately, right? Yes, we’ve probably seen what appears to be zombie-like activity of youngsters staring into phones chasing what appears to be ghosts in the mall, but it turns out that this game utilizes “Augmented Reality” which could potentially be used in engineering applications.

More important than the game is the technology behind it. Augmented reality places digital data over top of physical data or “reality”, to provide what appears to be an image overlaid right where you happen to be. As time progresses, this technology could play an important role in engineering as augmented reality headsets (known as head-mounted displays or HMDs), can overlay digital instructions over equipment in realtime while adjusting to the movements of the person wearing it.

The HMD market continues to expand, but as an engineering firm, when do you make the investment and which type HMD brand should you purchase, and what application is each HMD best used?

Help is on the way. In the article,  Understanding Augmented Reality Headsets written by Andrew Wheeler on August 10, 2016, Wheeler provides an in-depth commentary on describing augmented reality, the terminology, how it compares to virtual reality, the various HMDs on the market, and how they’re used. The article was written for Engineering.com and also includes a link to Wheeler’s article “Understanding Virtual Reality Headsets.”

Remember, the next time you witness someone wandering around in the middle of traffic looking at their phone, they’re probably playing Pokemon Go. Ok, so maybe there are some lessons we don’t want to learn from our kids.

Engineering Pipelines to Resist Mother Nature’s Wrath


Fault rupture test at Cornell University. Photo credit: Robert Barker, Cornell University

As North Carolinians are well aware, we’re currently in the season of natural disasters – namely hurricanes – that wreak havoc on both human life and the infrastructures we’ve developed.

Recently, Innovative Thinking has been focusing on Mother Nature’s role in engineering. Last week we took a look at how  indestructible bridges are being created using design principles  mimicking nature’s laws. Also, MAEC’s Scott Brookhart, PE, CFM, wrote a blog regarding  thoughts on the infrastructure surrounding the management of storm water runoff, one of the many outcomes of Mother Nature’s storm systems.

Now, in timely fashion for today’s blog, researchers at Cornell University may have discovered an earthquake-resilient pipeline that can better protect water utility networks from natural disasters, most notably for west coast inhabitants, but with potentially far-reaching implications.

In an article by Daryl Lovell titled “Earthquake-resilient pipeline could shake up future for again infrastructure on west coast” on July 26, 2016, The Cornell researchers

…ran multiple tests, including an earthquake simulation in which a 28-foot-long section of the pipe was outfitted with more than 120 monitoring instruments and buried within 80 tons of soil…

The test mimicked a fault rupture that can occur during an earthquake when global plates begin to slip past each other, causing the ground to shift and deform. A large, hydraulically powered “split box” imposed 2 feet of fault rupture along a 50-degree angle, forcing the buried pipeline into a combination of compression and bending.

The steel pipe, developed by JFE Holdings in Japan, uses a unique structural wave design to control buckling, allowing the pipe to bend and compress without rupturing or losing water pressure. The wave features are installed at key locations along the pipeline to absorb large ground deformation, such as movements imposed by earthquakes and landslides or from undermining associated with scour during hurricanes and floods.

Where ever you may live, this is a development worth keeping an eye on as you keep an eye-to-the-sky and an ear-to-the-ground.

London Bridge ISN’T Falling Down- the Case for Indestructible Bridges


Optimal arch bridge. Photo credit: Professor Wanda Lewis

Children world-wide may have to rethink the nursery rhyme “London Bridge is Falling Down” if Emeritus Professor Wanda Lewis in the School of Engineering at the University of Warwick (UK) has her way. Professor Lewis has taken a design process called ‘form-finding’, inspired by natural world events, to a new, and possibly engineer-changing level.

According to the Warwick “News & Events” web report:

Form-finding enables the design of rigid structures that follow a strong natural form — structures that are sustained by a force of pure compression or tension, with no bending stresses, which are the main points of weakness in other structures.

This could, for the first time, lead to the design of bridges and buildings that can take any combination of permanent loading without generating complex stresses.

Such structures will have enhanced safety, and long durability, without the need for repair or restructuring.

Over the past 25 years Professor Lewis has been studying and using design principles derived from nature – such as a tree that bends but doesn’t break in the wind – to produce simple stress patterns that are used in laboratory models and experiments as she makes her way toward building an indestructible bridge.

For the full story, see “Indestructible bridges could be a reality“.

Managing Watershed and Stormwater Runoff…Or Can We?

Scott Brookhart    PE, CFM, Associate  Cary, NC

This week’s blog was written by MA Engineering’s Scott Brookhart, Associate, Hydrology. View MAEC’s Hydrology projects.

Recently, Mr. Bookhart was instrumental in helping MA Engineering receive approval from NCDOT to perform Tier III Complex Hydraulic Design (Work Code 479) and Tier IV UHE-National Flood Insurance Program (Work Code 480), in addition to our existing prequalification for Tier I & Tier II. 

On the evening of July 16, 2016 approximately 3-5 inches of rain from a slow moving line of thunderstorms fell in the Raleigh-Cary, NC area over the course of a few hours.  For the Town of Cary this was an exceptional albeit short duration event that resulted in significant flash flooding.  It took only minutes for creeks, road crossings, and drainage networks to surcharge or overtop resulting in stranded cars, water rescues and personal property and infrastructure damage.

As a water resources engineer who has spent years modeling floodplains and studying watershed management I expected to see areas designated as regulatory flood zones inundated, but what surprised me about this flash flood was how much the upper reaches of smaller watersheds were impacted.  Just down the road from where I live our local street overtopped with approximately 3-4’ of water making it impassable for short period of time.  This was in a non-regulatory flood zone with a drainage area of less than 0.4 square miles.  Thanks to strong buffer and stormwater management requirements enforced when this sub-watershed was developed, the natural stream had room to flood and only had impacts at the crossings and in a few yards.  However, it reiterated for me the power of the natural system and the futility of trying to contain it.  We should be focused on working within the natural framework as much as possible.

With the mix of climate change, the potential for higher frequency and intensity storm events, and continuing development in our communities, it is inevitable that events like this one will have more and more impact as the levels of runoff increase, despite implementation of many solid stormwater programs.  Older infrastructure will continue to have a hard time keeping up, and the level of flood risk to individual property owners and communities can increase without continued action.

bridgeThere are efforts at the national, state, and local levels to better identify flood risk and focus on building resilient and sustainable communities.  Resilient communities will be better able to identify and mitigate flood risk through access to better flood risk data and outreach methods.  As a Water Resources Engineer I view it as my responsibility to promote watershed management that not only looks at solutions for stormwater management and water quality but for floodplain management as well.  A complete watershed approach is necessary to give the natural systems a chance to function as intended and/or restore functionality within our growing communities.

Whether the project is a roadway improvement project, a subdivision, a park, a stream restoration, or a commercial development; we can look at these projects from a complete watershed approach and think beyond the minimum regulatory requirements.  There are obviously many challenges to promoting these concepts within the industry and the public arena such as changes to the regulatory environment, the cost of implementation, and raising public awareness.

At MA Engineering we support continuing the conversation and advancing the science to help our clients see the benefits of these enhanced approaches to complete watershed management for resilient and sustainable communities.

View MAEC’s Hydrology projects.

The Engineering of Hybrid Car Systems

Roadway design is a large part of MA Engineering’s portfolio of services. From Durham’s massive East End Connector to the widening of NC 268 in Wilkes County, NC, we’ve played an integral part in these type projects.

But what about the vehicles that use these roads, particularly cars with hybrid engine systems? How do these systems work to move our vehicles from one point to the next? What are the engineering, scientific and physics principles that “drive” hybrid systems?

lohner-porsche-668x409Hybrid system vehicles have been around since 1900 when Ferdinand Porsche developed the Mixte Hybrid. 100 years later, as environmental concerns continued to grow, hybrid systems have taken center stage in automobile design and engineering.


Simply put, hybrid engines combine gas-powered systems with electrical-powered ones to take turns creating the energy to propel the vehicle. In essence, they’re meshed together. Depending on if the vehicle is accelerating to pass, braking, or at a complete stop determines which system is being used, and if in-full or in-part. A short 90 second video by Drive.com.au provides an excellent visual representation of this process – which includes charging the electrical system’s battery as you drive – along with a helpful descriptive narrative.

The U.S. Department of Energy on it’s Fuel Economy section also provides an animation of the process which helps explain the physics and engineering behind this blending of combustive powers to enable vehicle movement.

For a more nuts ‘n bolts (pardon the pun) discussion on hybrid engines, be sure to view Seeker.com’s “Why Electricity Makes Engines More Efficient” video.

Finally, a comprehensive history of hybrid vehicles can be found at hybridCARS.com.

Happy Motoring!

“Mapping” Out Our Country

Tus-bridge-maphe United States is comprised of many types of  networks from computers to roadways to rivers. And while they’re not networks in-and-of themselves, bridges provide connectivity of our road & highway “networks”, without which, these networks would short-circuit.

And we now have an illustrative map of the bridges spanning America – all 600,000 of them.

In an online article by Christopher Ingraham for The Washington Post (February 2015) titled “A surprisingly accurate map of the U.S. made with 600,000 bridges — and nothing else” our nation’s bridge infrastructure is on display in a fairly dramatic format – one dot equaling one bridge.

According to Ingraham:

The underlying data comes from the National Bridge Inventory maintained by the Federal Highway Administration. It contains every highway bridge in the U.S. greater than 20 feet in length

It’s amazing how just plotting our bridges paints a pretty accurate picture of our cultural geography. Densely populated areas immediately stand out, as do the major highways linking them…You can see the contours of the major street grids in cities like Houston, Phoenix and D.C. Sparsely populated regions with few roads stand out as blank areas on the map.

A map of all U.S. streets, as well as one for all U.S. rivers also exists.

Click for more on the U.S. bridge map and accompanying larger imagery.