Month: May 2021

Growing Stronger Through a Crisis: How We Got to the Other Side of the Pandemic & What’s Next

Matt Low editorial graphic with title name

COVID-19 brought challenges to our personal and professional lives that few of us have ever experienced or could have imagined. There have been strains we have never felt and losses that we couldn’t have fathomed. Through the last year, though, the engineering and public works professions have not only persevered but reached new levels of collaboration, resiliency, teamwork, and dedication. Tough times and challenges offer opportunities, if you look for them, to find out what you’re made of. Our firm is small by most standards, 100 professionals, but the last year has shown what a proud and dedicated group of teammates can accomplish in the face of adversity. Being ushered out the door in March 2020 to work remotely for an unknown amount of time was, well, unsettling to say the least. We really had no idea what was ahead for us; it wasn’t just us, the uncertainty extended to our clients, too. Still – important projects that directly affect quality of life needed to be done. The work needed to continue. Failing roadways, deteriorated bridges, antiquated wastewater treatment plants, and dated airports had no idea there was a pandemic.


So, as we get to the other side of the COVID-19 pandemic – what have we learned?

For one thing, investments in emerging technology are extremely important. Those that had previously invested in networking, laptops, video conferencing applications, online collaboration tools, and other remote working technological assets barely missed a beat while those that needed to play catch-up fell behind quickly and suffered. Some of our public agency clients were not prepared for remote work because it wasn’t allowed due to network security reasons or other IT issues. It took a bit of time for those issues to be remedied and get their programs running again on all cylinders.

At Hoyle, Tanner we realized our strength and dedication to our projects carried us a long way to making sure that schedules were maintained to the best of our ability. We quickly learned that our professionals could manage themselves without needing to be in an office full time – which will be a tremendous asset in flexibility and work-life balance moving forward. Our industry and many others that were accustomed to in-person situations are likely forever changed for the better.

Lastly, company culture and leadership are integral to success. Rainy day and sunny day leadership are very different, and it takes an independent skill set to excel at either, or both. Are your employees engaged? If so, they would probably run through a wall for you to keep pushing the values and mission of your firm. If not, productivity, excuses, and missed deadlines were probably the result. During the pandemic, we took the opportunity to undertake a comprehensive strategic planning program, initiate a rebranding project, and most importantly didn’t panic. All with the goal that as we emerged from the last year of darkness, we would be poised and ready to serve our stakeholders (clients, employees, and consultant partners) better than ever before. We “leaned into the punch” and tried to use the situation to figure out who we would be next.


What’s next?

More challenges for sure. There’s talk in Washington, D.C. of infrastructure spending, recovery funds, as well as a growing need for investment into aging assets. Will injecting more money into the system solve these issues? Maybe but maybe not. There is a labor shortage in the construction industry that more money alone may not fix. Construction industry jobs have increased by nearly 2 million in the last 10 years, but openings have grown by nearly 250,000 (US Department of Labor, 2021). One of our New Hampshire offices recently assisted a client in advertising a bridge project twice with no bid responses for either. More money may not be the remedy for that. For projects that are receiving bids, the prices are escalating tremendously due to strains on the material supply chain, likely partially (or mostly) caused by the pandemic. Time will only tell if material costs and labor availability will come back into alignment with the available funding in the system.

With all we have been through in the last year, it is only natural to wonder what awaits in 2022 and beyond. One thing we can count on, though, is that the engineering and public works industries will likely be at the forefront of continuing to shape the “new normal” that we all eagerly await. One thing you can count on, Hoyle, Tanner will be here, ready to take on these and many more challenges just like we always have.

7 Things to Consider When Preserving Historic Bridges

Engineering students receive extensive training in math, science and engineering topics related to their specific field of study. For Structural Engineers, this includes courses on analyzing structures constructed from the most common building materials – steel, concrete, prestressed concrete, and in some cases, timber and masonry. These courses generally focus on modern design codes, material properties and construction techniques. While these courses do provide a good technical background, they do not typically include much instruction related to historic bridges. When we are entrusted to work on these special structures, engineers should keep the following in mind:

  1. History of the Bridge. The year the bridge was built is an important piece of information as it can provide an understanding of the design codes, standard vehicle loads (if any), material properties, and construction techniques of the time. The history of maintenance, repairs and rehabilitation of the bridge is also good information to review to have a complete picture of the bridge before beginning any structural analysis.
  • Plan Availability. Locate the original design drawings of the bridge, if possible. These drawings are not generally available for most structures built before the 1920s; however, some of these bridges may be covered by patented designs which can provide valuable information on design procedures and assumptions. It is important to note that even if plans are available, they are not typically ‘as-built’ plans and the field conditions may vary from what is shown on the plans. If design drawings are not available, the Historic American Engineering Record has prepared detailed drawings of select historic bridges that can supplement field measurements.
  • Material Properties. The materials used in historic bridges (steel or concrete) have different properties compared to modern materials which effect their strength, durability and weldability (for steel structures). There are number of excellent references that provide appropriate design values for these materials which can also be supplemented by testing. For less common materials such as cast iron, timber and stone, conservative values are typically used as these materials are typically less uniform and more variable in their physical properties.
  • Inspection Access. A thorough assessment of all bridge elements is needed during the evaluation phase of the project. Many historic bridges, however, are posted for reduced live load capacity which does not allow for the use of traditional bridge inspection equipment. In these situations, access can be gained through rope-access inspection techniques or remotely through Small Unmanned Aerial Systems (drones). We utilized the rope-access for the inspection of the Coos Bridge in Byron, Maine which was posted for 5-tons but where a hands-on inspection was required for fracture critical members. A drone was used for the inspection of the Kingsley Covered Bridge in Clarendon, Vermont.
  • Community Needs. While preservation of historic bridges is the primary goal of many project stakeholders, it is important to consider the needs of the community. A bridge with weight or height restrictions can have significant impacts on first responder response time and use by school buses or fuel delivery vehicles which have a negative impact on residents’ quality of life. In these situations, engineers need to be creative in their approach to meeting the communities’ needs while maintaining the historic integrity of the bridge. Our team rose to this challenge for the rehabilitation of the Union Village Covered Bridge in Thetford, Vermont: The bridge had an 8-ton live load capacity which was not sufficient for fire trucks used in the area and required them to take a long detour which increased response time. Our rehabilitation design included the installation of timber glulam stringers beneath the bridge to share load with the trusses and increase the live load capacity to 20-tons. This treatment is reversible (i.e. the beams could be removed at a later date) and the use of wood for the support members improved the aesthetic of the bridge as opposed to steel beams.
  • Coordination with Resource Agency Partners. The majority of historic bridge projects must be reviewed under Section 106 of the National Historic Preservation Act of 1966. This act requires that the effect of any proposed work to historic structures be reviewed and evaluated. While engineers are typically most concerned with the structural concerns of the project, resource agency professionals are charged with preservation and appropriate treatment of historic structures. Therefore, a strong knowledge of the Section 106 process and roles of each party is important to project success.
  • Aesthetics. All work completed must keep with the strong aesthetics that these historic bridges possess. This can be accomplished by using appropriate repair materials, matching the finish of replacement members to existing members (rough sawn timber, for example), and using period-appropriate hardware such as ogee washers. One simple but effective example of an aesthetic treatment was the application of a protective coating over the concrete railing of String Bridge in Exeter, New Hampshire. This two-span concrete rigid frame was built in 1935 and had undergone numerous repairs to the railings which resulted in a “patchwork quilt” appearance of the rail. We recommended a light-colored protective coating which served a dual purpose of protecting the concrete while also improving aesthetics with a more uniform appearance that matched the existing concrete. Just like I mentioned in item 6 of this list, we coordinated with the Historic District Commission before installation for approval.

Preserving historic structures is one of the many bridge services that Hoyle, Tanner provides our communities. For more information contact me, Sean James, PE, Senior Vice President and Structural Engineer for our Bridges & Structural group.

Sustainable Drainage: What are the Techniques for Protecting the Watershed?

Sustainable Drainage Systems are a collection of practices used to mimic natural processes of the hydrologic water cycle, which is the path of water as it moves around the earth and includes condensation, precipitation, infiltration, runoff, and evapotranspiration.  These sustainable drainage systems can consist of natural features or man-made features made to look and act like natural features (bioretention facilities, rain gardens, vegetated rooftops).  In the United States, Sustainable Drainage Systems are more commonly referred to as Best Management Practices (BMPs) or Low-Impact Development (LID).

What are Best Management Practices (BMPs) and Low-Impact Development (LID)?

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) defines Low-Impact Development as systems and practices that use or mimic natural processes that result in the infiltration, evapotranspiration, or use of stormwater to protect water quality and associated aquatic habitat. Why does this matter? As EPA notes, applied on a broad scale, LID can maintain or restore a watershed’s hydrologic and ecological functions.

Implementing LID practices allows the treatment of stormwater closer to the source using natural processes. Closer to the source means treating the water as close to where it reaches the earth’s surface as possible.  For example, stormwater that sheet flows off a roadway and is collected in a swale then treated by an LID practice is treating the water closer to the source than if the stormwater were collected in a closed drainage system within the roadway and conveyed several hundred feet away to a larger detention pond.  The swale (known as a level spreader) acts as a level swale that collects the stormwater and infiltrates it slowly into the ground, similar to what the water would do if the paved roadway were not present. For more significant flows that overtop the level spreader, a best management practice can provide some treatment of common pollutants, including total phosphorus (TP), total nitrogen (TN), and total suspended solids (TSS) (gravels in the stormwater) before the stormwater reaches a waterbody. 

Best Management Practices (BMPs) are defined as methods that have been determined to be the most effective and practical means of preventing or reducing non-point source pollution to help achieve water quality goals. Non-point source pollution includes TP, TN, and TSS.  Some BMP’s commonly used include bioretention facilities, rain gardens, vegetated rooftops, and tree box filters. Methods used to treat the stormwater include infiltration, filtration, detention, retention, and disconnection.  Infiltration and filtration are similar in the way the water flows through a media which provides the treatment.  The media used in infiltration practices it the natural soils which then convey the stormwater to the groundwater below. In filtration systems, the media is a man-made media, sometimes consisting of sand, sometimes a combination of sand/soil/and compost mixture, and sometimes a manufactured filter similar to filters you find in your house or car.  Detention and retention are similar methods, they detain water. Detention practices detain water for a short time while retention practices typically have standing water at all times. Both treat the stormwater by allowing pollutants to settle out of the water over time. Disconnection methods includes conveying stormwater from an impervious surface (rooftop or pavement) to a pervious surface (grass) to allow the stormwater to naturally filter through the grass and into the soils prior to reaching surface water or groundwater sources.

Protecting our Watershed with These Methods

So how do BMPs or LID practices help with flooding or protecting the watershed?

One way these methods protect our watersheds are through the filtration.  A rain garden is designed as a small depression in the ground that consists of various native plants planted on top of a filter media.  The filter media allows the stormwater to be conveyed through it and also allows for uptake of the stormwater through the roots of the plants providing treatment of the stormwater and evapotranspiration of the stormwater (release of water to the atmosphere from soil and plant leaves).  Stormwater that filters through the media can either infiltrate into the groundwater if the soils are conducive to that, or the treated stormwater can be collected in a pipe and conveyed to nearby surface waters.  Treating the stormwater is important because untreated stormwater that reaches a waterbody (wetland, stream, pond) can affect the plant and animal life in that waterbody.  This can lead to the degradation of ecosystems across the watershed.

A construction photo of underground storage chambers for flood control at Manchester-Boston Regional Airport.

Another way we can protect the watershed using LID is through flood control. Underground storage chambers can be used as flood control in areas where there is limited above-ground storage. These best management practices are common in urban developments, including shopping centers and stadiums.  They are commonly placed beneath parking lots (such as this one pictured above, at Manchester-Boston Regional Airport) and act as a large storage facility for stormwater which can then be released at a controlled rate to nearby surface waters or infiltrated into the groundwater.

This photo shows the park where an underground storage system will be provided. The usability and aesthetics of the park will remain the same as existing conditions after construction.

Our Recent Drainage Projects

In Massachusetts, we are working on two projects that are the same roadway and therefore have similar properties, although they are in two different towns.  A large portion of these projects is within a water supply reservoir watershed.  Its location means that treating the stormwater runoff is critical so that any contaminants in the runoff do not compromise the clean water in the reservoir. Massachusetts stormwater regulations are geared toward treating the stormwater at the source as opposed to collecting large volumes of stormwater and treating it in a larger detention basin somewhere down the road.  To achieve compliance with the regulations and treat the stormwater, we have designed LID practices such as forebays, level spreaders, and grass swales at as many outlet pipe locations (outfalls) as allowable based on site constraints, including right-of-way and topography. 

Sample engineering plan and section for sustainable drainage methods.

A town in Vermont is having erosion issues at the base of a steep, dead-end, gravel road.  The erosion issues are due to the lack of stormwater conveyance practices and the lack of storage of more significant storm events.  This section of town is upstream from a large wetland, however it is not hydrologically connected to it, which means stormwater does not directly get conveyed to the wetland.  We were tasked by the regional planning commission to design two stormwater treatment practices that would convey the stormwater to the wetland area without creating additional erosion or flood control issues downstream. Both treatment practices included underground storage chambers for flood control of the larger storm events.  More formal ditch lines and a closed drainage system were designed to collect the stormwater that currently flows over the gravel roadway. 

This photo shows the location of a proposed underground storage facility for stormwater with an above-ground rain garden. In the bottom right corner of this photo, there is an existing rain garden that will be expanded.

The upstream BMP was designed to infiltrate the smaller storms.  It was requested this BMP not permanently impact the adjacent Town Green area; therefore with the underground chambers, the BMP will not be visible from above, thus not impacting the character of the Town Green.  It was requested the downstream BMP include a bioretention area (or rain garden) above the underground storage chambers.  The town requested a more natural stormwater collection process and liked the visual aspect of what a rain garden offered.  The soils beneath this BMP were not conducive to infiltration, therefore the flow out of the storage chambers was conveyed toward the downstream wetland via a pipe.

Sustainable Drainage Systems are everywhere – you have probably seen them and not even known it!  Take a look around next time you are out and about and see what you can find. For more information about sustainable drainage, reach out to me!

Employee Spotlight: Elizabeth “Betsy” Bosiak

Betsy Bosiak Land Acquisition Specialist & Traveler


1.  What drew you to Hoyle, Tanner?
I had always enjoyed working with the personnel at Hoyle Tanner. I had worked with them when I worked at the New Hampshire Department of Transportation and when I was Chairman of the Epsom Planning Board, we used them as our engineering firm. When I was offered the position of Land Acquisition Specialist, I was pleased to become part of the team.
2. What’s something invaluable you’ve learned here?
How to put together estimates for Right-of-Way time and expenses. 
3. What’s your favorite time of year to work at Hoyle, Tanner?
Summer – it is much easier to look at properties to see what is there. You can’t locate items under the snow, plants, etc.
4. What’s the coolest thing you are working on?
I just finished an easement acquisition between a client and a utility company for a bridge project, and it was interesting because each of the parties involved had items they wanted to include, which doesn’t typically happen.
5. What’s the best thing that’s happened to you so far this week?
The warm weather and being able to get outside and work in my yard.
6. How many different states have you lived in?
Four States – Connecticut, New Hampshire, Ohio and Maryland
7. If you could only eat one meal for the rest of your life what would it be?
Chicken Parmigiana
8. What kind of pet do you have and how did you choose to name it?
We used to have feral cats we took care of, which lived in a shed outside which we called “the cats.”
9. What is a fun or interesting fact about your hometown?
Watching it change from a small town where most of the population was related to a growing suburb of Concord.
10. What are three things still left on your bucket list
1. Visit countries in Europe
2. Visit remaining states I haven’t been to

11. Name three items you’d take with you to a desert island
The only things I need are:
1. The latest best seller
2. A comfortable bed
3. A tent

12. What characteristic do you admire most in others?
Knowledge & pleasantry
13. How old is the oldest item in your closet?
I have a 30-year-old sweatshirt.
14. Words to live by? Favorite Quote?
“Learn something new every day.” I like learning things, and it keeps my mind open.
15. What did you want to be when you were growing up?
A teacher and a landscape architect.
16. If you were to skydive from an airplane what would you think about on the way down?
“How did I allow myself get talked into this?” I don’t like heights or looking down from them.