Infrastructure Technology Institute
In March 2009, members of Northwestern’s student chapter of the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) took an alternative spring break trip to San Francisco to tour the region’s unique transportation infrastructure. The trip, jointly sponsored by ITI, the Illinois Section of ASCE, and the students themselves, built upon the successful San Francisco tour undertaken by Northwestern students in 2007. Eleven undergraduate engineering students and three ITI staff members spent four days exploring bridges, public rail transit, public ferry transit, sustainable building design, seismic research, and urban planning.
On the first day of their tour, the group visited the new California Academy of Sciences building, which not only engaged their engineering education with its exhibits but also served in itself as an example of sustainable design and green building technology: it is a LEED platinum-certified building, with a green roof, solar panels, and extensive use of recycled materials to minimize its CO2 footprint. The students then proceeded to the Golden Gate Bridge where they examined one of the world’s most iconic structures at arm’s length.
The trip also featured a guided tour of seismic enhancements to the San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge, including the replacement of the entire eastern span, a portion of which collapsed during the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake. Hosted by members of the construction and design teams, the tour taught students about the structural design and construction of the span as well as the management and environmental impact of this immense transportation infrastructure project.
The next day, the students rode Caltrain commuter rail to San José. A group of public officials, architects, and transportation experts rode with them, fostering an en route discussion of transportation infrastructure and service design. The students heard a presentation from Rod Diridon, former Santa Clara County Supervisor and champion of California’s new high-speed rail initiatives. The group then toured Caltrain facilities, including the San José-Diridon passenger station and the new state-of-the-art locomotive maintenance facility before boarding an Amtrak train to Oakland and a ferry back to San Francisco.
Near the end of the trip, the group visited a seismic research facility at the University of California-Berkeley, where they witnessed a demonstration of the laboratory’s five-story tall earthquake simulator.
This tour showed engineering students the inner workings of a variety of key transportation infrastructure facilities and systems in action and under construction. They learned directly from planners, engineers, managers, and political leaders about the challenges facing today’s transportation systems and creative strategies for meeting them.