Why So Blue?

Why So Blue?

For many of us, when someone says there’s traffic on the Blue Route, we know exactly what they’re referring to. The highway isn’t referred to as the Mid-County Expressway, the Veterans Memorial Highway (its official name), or even 476. It’s just known simply as The Blue Route. But why is this 20-mile stretch of highway called the Blue Route? Well, read on to get the answer to a question you didn’t even ask.

The thought of a road along the current day route dates back to as early as 1929. Urban sprawl from Philadelphia was in its infancy, so nothing really came of it until President Eisenhower signed the Federal-Aid Highway Act in 1956. This act authorized $25 billion for the construction of 41,000 miles of the Interstate Highway System. The act was basically the jumping off point for the creation of all the highways we see today. In turn, this Act transferred responsibility for the expressway to the then-Pennsylvania Department of Highways.

It was at this time that the Pennsylvania Department of Highways drew up three possible routes to connect Interstate 476 (later known as the Northeast Extension) to I-95 just north of the City of Chester. The three options were a Red (later yellow) Route, a Green Route, and a Blue Route. The Red Route was the eastern-most path and cut through high-population areas along the western section of Springfield Township. The Green Route was the western-most path which would have taken the route West of Media. The Blue Route basically split the difference.

Eventually, after much deliberation, the Red Route was deemed to be too expensive and would affect many densely populated areas. The Green Route, although the cheapest alternative, would provide the least amount of service or relief for traffic. The Blue Route was selected as the most practical alignment. To say the construction of the highway would see it’s fair share of difficulties would be an understatement. The project would encounter many obstacles along the way, including environmental impact concerns, land acquisition delays, conflicts with local municipalities, and a budget crisis that would drag the construction out for years. The Pennsylvania Department of Highways broke ground on the project in 1966, but the highway wouldn’t be fully complete and connected from the Pennsylvania Turnpike to I-95 until 1991. Compared to that timeline, D.L. Howell gets plans approved at lightning speed.

So, the Blue Route is called the Blue Route simply because it was a color someone chose to outline a path on a conceptual highway plan. A nice, simple answer to a project that was anything but during its development and construction.

Photo by Wikipedia Commons. https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/6/67/I-476_Blue_Route_Map.jpg

A Trip Down Memory Lane

A Trip Down Memory Lane

We have all been very busy this past year, so slowing down and getting into the Thanksgiving holiday spirit may be a little tough. Let’s take a trip down memory lane to mid-November 2002 at something called a “Turkey Bowl”.

I had just joined the DL Howell team when Denny invited me to their annual Turkey Bowl event. It was a rough touch football game to get your appetite up before the big Thanksgiving dinner. As it turns out, I am better at photographing and documenting sporting events than sports itself.

Please enjoy a few throwback photos from the game! Remember, this was about 20 years ago, so all of the guys in these photos are in their early thirties.

The game was four on four. Things started strong, and these young engineers had the energy to run up and down a field. Strategy was important to them, but it didn’t really make a difference in the outcome of the game.

After attending the Turkey Bowl and learning more about DL Howell, I knew that this company was one that I wanted to grow with. Now, 20 years later, I’m sitting here writing a newsletter about one of the very first events I attended at DL Howell. Back then, we were a team of fewer than ten people. Today, we are a company with over forty engineering, land surveying, and administrative professionals. Our company/family is just a little larger now, but the feeling I have for the company I work for and all of the people I work with remains the same. As we continue to grow, we are always looking for good, hard-working people to join our team. Feel free to contact us if you are interested. 😊

Enjoy the upcoming Thanksgiving festivities and have a great, relaxing time with your family at home, but don’t forget those work family members! It’s a great thing to be able to make fun memories with them as well.

The Roundabout Learning Curve

The Roundabout Learning Curve

If you’ve ever driven into a circular intersection and felt as if you were lost in a revolving door – you are not alone. Even experienced drivers tend to find themselves confused when approaching a roundabout intersection in the road. Civil engineers understand that people will be thrown off by a poorly designed system and can essentially feel trapped when confronted by other vehicles in the circle. The results of this confusion can range from travel delays to serious injuries, and engineers are continually trying to solve this issue.

A key problem with large circular intersections has been that some require the vehicles moving through the circle to yield to the vehicles trying to enter the circle, which only creates more congestion within the driving lanes. To help resolve these difficulties, engineers have utilized a relatively new development in traffic engineering known as a roundabout. A modern roundabout generally features a smaller footprint than traditional traffic circles had in the past. In larger traditional circular intersections, vehicles tend to drive at higher speeds and often change lanes, making maneuvering within them more challenging.

Roundabouts are measured according to the overall distance across the circle from outer edge to outer edge of the driving lanes. The inner diameter of roundabouts can measure between 45 and 300 feet. The “desirable maximum entry design speed” on these roundabouts ranges from 15 to 30 mph, depending on the size of the circle. Signage, rumble strips, flashing lights, and other visual cues are used to alert drivers of the upcoming intersection and reduce their speed.

Modern roundabouts feature designs that help direct and control the flow of incoming traffic, including: configurations that deflect traffic around the central island of the roundabout, flared entrance points that provide wider entry lanes to add capacity and accommodate large vehicles, raised or painted areas called islands that separate the entering and exiting traffic and provide safe spaces for pedestrians to cross.

The geometry of the impending roads and the roundabout itself are also critical to the safe operation of this modern type of intersection. The angle of entry into the roundabout should be close to 90 degrees to slow down incoming traffic. If the angle is similar to that of a freeway entrance ramp, the vehicles tend to approach at high speeds, often leading to collisions.

The issue of what to put or not put in the roundabout’s central island is debated among traffic engineers. The central island is often raised above the grade of the road and can feature either landscaping or other man-made objects. Such visual obstructions can force the drivers to focus on the road in front of them instead of looking across the roundabout at other vehicles. It can be especially useful to block the view across the central island at night, when the headlights of vehicles approaching the roundabout might give drivers on the opposite side of the circular intersection the false notion that the road continues straight. On the other hand, some engineers contend that central islands should not have fixed objects because, evidently, drivers have had very serious collisions with these objects.

According to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, it is becoming more common that traditional intersections (with a stop sign or traffic light) get changed to a roundabout. The IIHS found that crash rates at those intersections tend to fall after such conversions. The IIHS reports a 72 to 80 percent decline in vehicular crashes that cause injuries and a 35 to 47 percent reduction in all crashes. While engineers are often tasked with deriving creative solutions to problems, there is no roundabout solution to driver safety.

Grades Matter!

Grades Matter!

Grades are something a college student never has to worry about after leaving university – unless that student heads into the world of civil engineering. Grades are one of the most important things to understand as a civil engineer because it is a term used to describe the elevation of the earth. When civil engineers grade a site, they change the slopes of the surrounding earth to create an even surface to build on and ensure that that water drains away from any given structure.

A typical grading plan will have contour lines showing the existing and proposed grades. Spot elevations are utilized to show points that are set higher than the surrounding grade to divert water to inlets or yard drains. Some grading plans may also include swales, ridges, berms, and retaining walls. These are special grading features implemented when the natural terrain is difficult to grade to create proper drainage.

Grading a site needs to be done with care; if not, it can cause serious problems. The most obvious issue is that water can infiltrate a house and damage the foundation and structure. Excessive grading will disturb soils and sediments, leaving the ground destabilized and more prone to erosion. However, when a site is properly graded, the land is more maintainable and safer for homeowners to use for future home additions!

If it’s called AutoCAD, why doesn’t it CAD automatically?!

If it’s called AutoCAD, why doesn’t it CAD automatically?!

One of the most polarizing issues in the engineering field is software. Mention AutoCAD in a room full of engineers and designers and it might be worse than talking about religion, politics, and/or money at a dinner party. It is a necessary evil, like a car. It may take some time and money to get it moving, but in the end, the benefits outweigh the drawbacks. And just like a car, a monthly or quarterly tune-up will keep it running relatively problem-free for years to come. But if you leave that CAD car out in a field and ignore it, it will take a lot of time and money to get that rusty heap back on the road so it can operate efficiently. Ultimately, it’s a balance between taking the time to set up AutoCAD or losing time on a job due to AutoCAD inefficiencies.

I have worked with CAD in some shape or form for thirty years. I have had the opportunity to manage CAD (and it is a full-time job!) and teach college classes. I have set up drafting standards at four companies with different needs, and I can say that there is no one-size-fits-all. One pitfall I see is drafters, designers, and engineers trying to solve the problems of a company they no longer work for. I think we have all heard “When I worked at (insert company name here), we did this”. New points of view can be helpful when offered in a constructive manner. Often, we focus on the software itself, but I think the people using the software are the most important part. Finding out how people draft and design and then creating standards and workflows that work with employees’ strengths is beneficial to setting up standards and a manual. Getting the company as a whole to decide on a CAD direction can be impossible. In order to be efficient, you want everyone on the same page, from the engineers down to the drafters. You don’t want the tail wagging the dog. Drafters’ input is just important as the top-level employees because they work with the software the most. Listening to the problems they face can give insight into solving issues quickly and provide them with ownership in the solutions.

AutoCAD is a great tool, but it is just that; a tool. You need straightforward and easy-to-understand workflows and standards, as well as well-versed operators to navigate the software. Setting up AutoCAD may seem like a daunting task, but it can be done, and once it is, you can get back to the job at hand, engineering!

Construction Has Started At Lennar’s Villages at Spring Hill

A new housing development in Spring City is underway for Lennar. Villages at Spring Hill is a community of new townhomes as well as single-family homes for sale. Located near the banks of the Schuylkill River and several area parks and trails, the community offers scenic views and opportunities for a developing area. B&J excavating is already moving ground and installing utilities to build and open model homes by December. Crews are moving fast, and Howell Kline surveying is on-site at least three times a week right now to meet the demands from stakeout for blasting and probing for rock to staking storm, sanitary, and water to have the utilities ready. The curb will be going in before the end of the month. The system B&J and Lennar have together is sound, and everything seems to flow smoothly on site.