Engineering students to present resolutions for Tunnelton underpass of capstone course

Bringing practical knowledge into the classroom is paramount for young engineers and that’s exactly what students at Fairmont State University experienced through a semester-long senior capstone course offered by professor Tia Como, P.E.

During the capstone course, a West Virginia transportation concern is studied in detail, and used to embrace the versatility of the Civil Engineering Technology. The problem the students focus changes each year and they worked with Donny Williams, formerly of the WV Division of Highways, who suggested addressing ongoing problems associated with the CSX underpass in Tunnelton.

The class will present their findings to members of the American Society of Highway Engineers (ASHE) North Central WV Chapter. To enrich the learning process, these professionals will further critique their proposed plan of attack. This forum is also open to the public and will be held as a dinner meeting on May 2, 2019 at the Bridgeport Conference Center with a social at 5:30 p.m. and dinner beginning at 6 p.m.. The completed class deliverables include a written report, technical drawings, and an oral presentation.

This project has noteworthy academic elements and is a heart-felt community endeavor. At first, the focus was finding alternative routes to the underpass because it is the most direct route into and out of the community center. The fire station is situated on one side, and the EMS on the other, creating dangerous time concerns in emergency situations.  This route is also traveled by various school buses carrying up to 70 children. The existing conditions of the alternative routes are far from ideal, and in some cases impossible, for these vehicles.   

Students began by assessing viable options considering the limitations of the CSX railroad right-of-way, complications of a rural terrain, and shared ownership between the WV DOH, the City of Tunnelton and CSX. To better understand the terrain, the students utilized LiDAR datasets available through the WV Department of Environmental Protection, Division of Mining and Reclamation’s 2011 LiDAR program to analyze the topography.

This data was processed and incorporated into an existing conditions topographic map by Civil & Environmental Consultants, Inc. (CEC), with assistance from alumnus Daniel Martinez, E.I.T. who also exposed the students to readily available techniques for data collection and data analyses.

As the mission evolved, public comments via Facebook and newspaper notifications were solicited, then the class met with concerned citizens and re-visited the site. Based on these discussions, reviewing historical photographs, and seeing first-hand the magnitude of the obvious drainage problem, the approach changed from finding a suitable alternative route to studying ways to address the flooding.  

The flood waters span out from the underpass and traversing this route under these conditions is dangerous for any vehicle. There are severe consequences when Route 26 is shut down because this route is the major rural arterial highway in town.

Richard Gaines, P.E. of Stantec Consulting Services Inc., Fairmont State alumnus and advisory board member, is engaged to provide industrial expertise in studying the current drainage platform and critiquing the drainage plans proposed by the students. Stantec also graciously provided needed railroad mapping for the analyses.

To this end, the students will identify the current storm water drainage system and suggest noteworthy areas where improvements are needed. Stone culverts convey water underground along Rt. 26 and due to apparent blockages in the drainage system the increased pressure has caused it to rupture in several locations. A water drop analysis will be used to identify natural drainage paths.

Diversion and Detention/Retention areas will be proposed to reduce the flow into the proposed storm water Conyeance System. A stream investigative study is also being done to predict the potential of flooding property downstream.

The Thrasher Group is providing project information from work they completed for the town in 2012. Students will be using the company’s drawings to evaluate the current conditions of the road profile and storm network redesign that was done. 

There are still issues with the CSX underpass that need addressed to accommodate the traffic mix. In addition to addressing the clogged drains, the class is researching wrapping technology of Fiber Reinforced Plastics (FRP’s) and are reporting on other improvements to the road surface and sidewalk. Inclusive is the deterioration of Bank Street, leading to the underpass, and a suitable interim alternative route upgrade, prior to and, during construction.

Continued partnerships with the West Virginia Local Technical Assistance Program at WVU (WV LTAP) gave the students the ability to collect continuous traffic data to denote the traffic demands. Andrew Mogan, P.E., Program Coordinator, trained the students on using the recorders which provide pertinent data on the number of vehicles, their size and speed. 

This information provides average daily traffic (ADT) values, peak demands, and the selection of an appropriate design vehicle.  Kim Carr, Program Coordinator, delivers training on effective presentations.   

Given all the aspects of this years’ capstone experience, industry and community partnerships have made it possible to provide the students a full spectrum of data and expertise not otherwise available in a typical classroom setting.  lthough the project has spiraled in scope, Como is confident in the talents and motivation of this senior class’s desire to find appropriate solutions.

The cost for the dinner will be $20 and RSVPs are due no later than April 29, 2019 to Brandon LeRoy, ASHE NCWV president, at

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