Villanova Engineering Students Investigating Feasibility of Fifth Delaware River Crossing

The students, working with SEPTA and DRPA, as well as world-renowned bridge and tunnel experts, will present their findings in December

For Immediate Release
Oct. 30, 2009

VILLANOVA, Pa., Oct. 30, 2009 – A group of engineering students at Villanova University is spending the fall semester studying the feasibility of adding a fifth Delaware River crossing between Philadelphia and southern New Jersey – potentially producing findings that could form the basis of future construction of a bridge or tunnel.

As part of the project, students in the senior-level Professional Practices in Civil Engineering course are working with executives at the Delaware River Port Authority (DRPA) and the Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority (SEPTA), as well as leading engineers at Figg Bridge Engineers, Inc. which specializes in bridge projects, and Hatch Mott MacDonald. Both firms have regional offices in the Philadelphia area.

The project is a technical and economic feasibility study in which students are evaluating several options, including tunnel vs. bridge and passenger-rail crossing vs. combined rail-vehicular crossing. Although various agencies to date have discussed the possibility of building a fifth crossing in the future, the 58 Villanova students are the first to explore the conceptual planning, preliminary design and public-policy phases of such a project.

“The real value of this course is in the self-confidence that our students gain by working, as teams, on a real, future-based project with substantial interaction with professional regional organizations and companies genuinely interested in their findings,” said associate professor Frank Falcone, PE, who developed the course. “For this semester’s project, our students may be establishing the basis for a major regional project that could transform the Delaware Valley. That’s what civil engineers do; that’s what I want them to learn.”

Students will present their final plan for a tunnel, steel bridge and concrete bridge at the conclusion of the class in December. Their plans will include a profile of each project; the cost to build, operate and maintain; suggested funding sources; and public policy information.

Villanova’s Professional Practices in Civil Engineering course was created by Falcone and associate professor Andrea Welker, PE, Ph.D., to offer a holistic approach to prepare students for the civil engineering profession. The goal is to provide students opportunities to learn about leadership, management, organizational theories, corporate cultures, ethical behavior and group interaction – to help them understand that the work of engineers has an impact on the economy, the environment, regional planning and public policy.

“Our students are working with the top people in these organizations,” Falcone said. “The level of interaction they have on this project is unlike anything else they’ve experienced at Villanova.”

Students are gaining technical support and knowledge from industry leaders including Randall Essex, a world-renowned tunnel expert with Hatch Mott MacDonald; and Jay Rohleder, a leading bridge expert with Figg Engineering Group. In September the class visited DRPA headquarters in Camden, N.J., where they heard from DRPA CEO John Matheussen; Bill Brooks, DRPA chief engineer; Bob Box, general manager with the Port Authority Transit Corporation (PATCO); and SEPTA’s Byron Comati.

This is not the first time Matheussen and his agency has worked with Villanova engineering students; three years ago, he asked students to look at five options for extending PATCO’s high-speed rail system. The option recommended by the class matched the one provided by the professional engineers with whom the DRPA consulted.

Villanova University, a co-educational Roman Catholic institution, was founded by the Order of Saint Augustine in 1842. A premier institution of higher education, Villanova provides a comprehensive education rooted in the liberal arts; a shared commitment to the Augustinian ideals of truth, unity and love; and a community dedicated to service to others. A wide variety of undergraduate and graduate degree programs are offered through the University’s four colleges: the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, the Villanova School of Business, the College of Engineering and the College of Nursing, as well as the Villanova School of Law. With a total enrollment that surpasses 10,000 undergraduate, graduate and law students, Villanova is the oldest and largest Catholic university in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania.