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Bridging Connections between the Classroom and the World of Engineering

A recent trip to Wheelabrator Technologies, the Bear Mountain Bridge and museum, and the new Popolopen Creek footbridge sparked the imagination of students in Alan Zollner’s Project Lead the Way classes at Hendrick Hudson High School.

Sixteen students from Zollner’s Principles of Engineering and Digital Electronics classes started the day at Wheelabrator Technologies in Peekskill. Wheelabrator turns the energy in Westchester's municipal waste (trash) into electricity by heating steam to run a turbine steam generator. Plant staff described the facility’s operation, from delivery of Westchester's municipal solid waste to the tipping room, the loading of furnaces, and the incineration process that generates steam and ash.  Students also toured the facility and were treated to a Q/A session with the plant’s Ash Disposal and Safety Manager.

The group then headed north to the Bear Mountain Bridge to learn about the historic structure’s construction and maintenance. A representative from Historic Bridges of the Hudson Valley welcomed the group at the Bear Mountain Bridge Museum and led the students to original blueprints of all six mid- Hudson River bridge crossings, along with construction photos of the Bear Mountain Bridge.

A structural engineer from NYS Bridge Authority, the agency responsible for the bridge’s oversight, led the students on a tour, pointing out the bridge’s cable system, various structural elements and maintenance checks. Another NYSBA structural engineer gave a presentation on the bridge’s unique design, pointing out that, at the time of its construction in 1924, the structure was the world's longest suspension bridge.

The group hiked beneath the bridge to see the newly constructed Popolopen Creek footbridge, as NYSBA engineers described some of the special design challenges related to this new suspension bridge.  Along the way, students took in views of the railroad bridge, as well as the large truss bridge that carries Route 9W over the Popolopen Creek, bringing the total number of bridges observed during the field trip to four.

The NYSBA engineers pointed out where the ends of the suspension bridge cables are anchored in the rock along the Hudson River’s western shore and described the sensor technologies that allow them to monitor the cables and roadway. 

Finally, the NYSBA chief engineer talked about structural engineering as a career, describing the many infrastructure projects engineers work on. Students also watched a video highlighting unique structural engineering jobs, such as rappelling from the Washington Monument to inspect it after a seismic event.

“We all came away with an incredible new appreciation for the history and engineering of the Bear Mountain Bridge, as well as the design elements, maintenance, logistics, record-keeping, and economics of important structures in the region,” said Zollner. “The students loved the experience and were very appreciative of the opportunity to visit these sites.”

BMB Trip Bear Mountain Bridge Trip