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WV Division of Highways to consider WVU student design recommendations for new Morgantown bridges

A photo is taken from the group in a the middle of a two lane road. A student wearing a blue Statler College T-shirt kneels on the gold center lines with a small bridge in the background along with trees.

As a WVU undergraduate taking his senior capstone class in civil and environmental engineering, Benjamin Opie was part of a cohort of students researching solutions for replacing two Morgantown bridges in subpar condition, including the Scotts Run bridge located on Lazzelle Union Road. The state Division of Highways will implement the students’ recommendations when they begin construction on the new bridges in 2025. (WVU Photo/Jennifer Shephard)

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West Virginia University undergraduate engineering students have lent their expertise to the construction of new bridges in Morgantown.

Civil engineering major Benjamin Opie, from Bethel Park, Pennsylvania, is one of the WVU Benjamin M. Statler College of Engineering and Mineral Resources students enrolled in the senior capstone course offered by the Wadsworth Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering who spent the Spring 2024 semester researching the costs and benefits of different bridge designs and materials, and evaluating conditions at the sites of two local bridges in need of replacement.

Opie helped lead a group that focused on replacing the Scotts Run bridge on Lazzelle Union Road, while a second group worked on designing a replacement for the Fieldcrest Bridge that passes over West Run Road. Both bridges are in bad shape despite being only a few decades old, according to Opie, with the bridge passing over Scotts Run exhibiting cracking on the bottom of the beams and top of the deck, among other issues.

Associate professor Karl Barth, who teaches the bridge design capstone, said West Virginia Division of Highways engineers, in conjunction with Nucor Corporation, High Steel Structures and Cleveland-Cliffs, will use the students’ designs when they replace the problematic bridges, with work beginning in early to mid-2025.

“The two bridge designs worked on in the capstone class represent cutting-edge technologies with significant potential for improving infrastructure economy and efficiency,” Barth said. “The class was the perfect environment to develop these technologies, and both the WVDOH and the steel industry, as represented by the American Iron and Steel Institute, are excited to deploy them.”

The students in Barth’s bridge capstone course designed for structural stability, longevity and cost effectiveness.

“We wanted to propose a design that will last a long time,” Opie said. “Like a lot of bridges constructed around the same period, the current Scotts Run bridge is what’s called a concrete adjacent box beam design. We were looking to gear away from that because it tends to fail earlier than it should. We evaluated options that can last from 75 to 100 years.”

Opie described the senior capstone as “the final of all finals. Everything you’ve done in your four years is getting you ready for this. It’s that project that prepares you for going out and working in industry. Throughout the semester, you talk with numerous different professional contractors and consultants to get their perspectives. These are people who are out there actively designing bridges or dealing with projects like ours, who pointed us to software models, talked to us about pricing and explained the approaches they’d take in the field given our conditions.”

Opie found he was able to draw on his summer 2023 internship experience with engineering consulting firm Michael Baker International, which provided a foundation in reading drawing plans and a fluency in the terminology of bridge design.

What the capstone added to that was a synthesis of “every single part of civil engineering. It brought everything together,” he said.

“It brought in the structural analysis side when we looked at the bridge superstructure and our options for steel and concrete materials. It brought in the environmental and water side of things when we looked at the hydraulic and hydrologic analysis. We talked about substructure and where the bridge sits on what’s called the abutments, and that brought in the geotechnical side. We talked about how we’re going to manage traffic control throughout the construction, which brought in transportation engineering. Seeing all those sides of civil engineering come together was the biggest takeaway of the capstone for me.”

Barth said the research done by Opie and his capstone peers will have a direct impact on codes of standard practice.

The students’ work will benefit residents of West Virginia as well as other states where their work will impact practice. This partnership between the University and the WVDOH is a collaboration that fulfills our land-grant mission while involving WVU civil and environmental engineering seniors in a unique opportunity for student learning.”

The head of the WVDOH said the partnership is mutually beneficial as students get to contribute to the agency’s plans to improving the state’s infrastructure while getting a glimpse of how the agency operates.

“Nobody values education more than I do,” West Virginia Secretary of Transportation Jimmy Wriston said. “As a champion of higher learning, it’s exciting to partner with our engineering schools to ensure the next generation of engineers are ready, willing and able to apply practical, real world experience to their skill sets.” 

While Opie received a job offer as a field engineer in Baltimore, he chose to continue his own learning in the WVU civil engineering master’s degree program.

“The capstone was difficult and frustrating at times,” he acknowledged, “but at the end of the day, being able to work through that and seeing it all come full circle is one of the best feelings I’ve had in a while.”



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