Leslie Myers McCarthy, PhD, PE, is making a name for herself in the field of transportation engineering. An assistant professor of Civil and Environmental Engineering at Villanova University, the National Cooperative Highway Research Program (NCHRP) Project 04-39, "Field Performance of Corrugated Pipe Manufactured with Recycled Polyethylene Content," is one of several active studies on Dr. McCarthy's plate. With co-PI Andrea Welker, PhD, PE, professor of Civil and Environmental Engineering, and prime contractor TRI/Environmental Inc., the research team will investigate pipe contaminants and their correlation to stress cracking performance, expected service life, load and resistance factor design methodology and strain limits, as well as material and construction specifications to accommodate the use of recycled content. Drs. McCarthy and Welker, along with PhD student Michael Pluimer and undergraduate research assistant Christine Stefanowicz '14 CE, will be heavily involved in laboratory and on-site pipe and soil testing, and finite element analysis of pipe behavior under railroad loading.
Although the main focus of the NCHRP project is on corrugated plastic pipes under highways, the NCHRP expert panel was intrigued by Pluimer's idea of including a field investigation of loading under an active railroad. At about the same time, the Southeastern Pennsylvania Transit Authority (SEPTA) had become interested in this research idea in light of its sustainability initiative. Recognizing the benefit of working with Villanova to evaluate the use of plastic pipes made with recycled materials for railroad applications, SEPTA initiated a pilot study, which included the test pipe installation that took place earlier this fall. The pilot study includes both instrumented corrugated plastic pipe made with virgin resin and made with recycled materials, placed adjacent to each other underneath SEPTA's Doylestown commuter rail line. This is the first corrugated plastic pipe made with recycled materials installed underneath one of SEPTA's live tracks. The future of the use of corrugated plastic pipes on SEPTA’s infrastructure will be determined in part through the results of a cost-benefit analysis conducted by Drs. McCarthy and Welker, along with Peter Zalesky, PhD, an economics professor in the Villanova School of Business.