Reducing Risk to Adjacent Properties from Underground Utility Construction

In populated areas, underground utilities are the lifeblood of the community. These utilities require periodic maintenance, expansions and replacement. Therefore, underground utility construction is common in cities, suburbs and rural villages alike.

Most people notice underground utility construction because of the traffic problems they may cause. However, if you are familiar with geotechnical or geostructural construction, you may have noticed poor or inconsistent risk management practices in the underground utility construction sector. Utility construction is not subject to the same type of codes and standards as buildings or transportation structures. Instead, the work may be governed primarily by the utility owner’s standards. Since the sophistication of utility owners can vary widely between a small-town water department and a major operator like ConEd or DC Water, the agency standards may vary widely from one owner to the next. Continue reading “Reducing Risk to Adjacent Properties from Underground Utility Construction”

What are the Alternatives to Pier Underpinning?

A common application of underpinning is maintaining the stability of the foundations for adjacent structures during excavation on urban sites. If the excavation is deeper than the foundation depth for an adjacent structure, then the soil below the foundation could fail as the excavation proceeds, potentially causing the structure to collapse. Increasing the depth of an existing basement or cellar often requires underpinning to avoid similar foundation failures.

In these circumstances, concrete pier underpinning is typically employed. This technique became popular during subways construction in New York early in the twentieth century. The piers are constructed in a carefully staged sequence whereby a sheeted hand-excavated pit is advanced to the required depyh below a short segment of the existing foundation and is filled with concrete upon completion to create a pier. After load is transferred to the new pier, work can begin on an adjacent pier. Work continues until the entire foundation is resupported below the bottom of the excavation for the new structure. Then, excavation for the new structure can begin. In addition to transmitting loads to below the bottom of the excavation, the underpinning retains soil below the structure preventing soil below the building from being undermined.

While pier underpinning is common and well understood, it is a relatively expensive and high-risk type of construction. Sometimes adverse subsurface or site conditions, including access constraints, make pier underpinning difficult. This sometimes leads project stakeholders to seek alternatives. So what are the alternatives? Continue reading “What are the Alternatives to Pier Underpinning?”

June 2020 Service Update

The spread of COVID-19, stay-at-home orders, travel restrictions, recession, and protests of racism and police violence have made for a chaotic first half of 2020. While not the most affected of industries, the architecture/engineering/construction business has experienced significant disruptions. This has resulted in operational inefficiencies and project delays, forcing businesses to adapt to a new and hopefully short-lived “normal”.

In most of the northeast and mid-Atlantic regions, the rate of new cases has declined, suggesting that the first wave of the pandemic is over. States and cities are relaxing, if not lifting stay-at-home orders and travel restrictions and allowing businesses to reopen with interim measures to prevent the spread of the coronavirus.

Richard J. Driscoll, Consulting Engineer (RJDCE) has strived to continue serving clients and ongoing projects during the COVID-19 crisis with minimal disruption. Most services, including consulting, engineering analysis and design were not interrupted. However, some delayed projects resumed in May, concurrent with a seasonal increase in workload. This resulted in scheduling challenges, especially for projects needing drafting and site visits, resulting in a backlog that should clear in the next few weeks.

Recently, RJDCE resumed providing routine site visits in New Hampshire and Vermont, implementing new measures to reduce the risk of virus transmission. As travel restrictions are relaxed, site visits can be scheduled in other states as well. For the time being, meetings will continue to be conducted online whenever possible.

While much of the United States is not through the first wave, many public health experts expect a second wave in the fall that could be more severe, especially if it occurs concurrently with cold and flu season. RJDCE will be preparing contingency plans to maintain continuity of operations for such an occurrence. In the meantime, RJDCE recommends scheduling assessments and other services requiring site visits during the summer month in case a second wave requires stay-at-home orders to be reinstated.

RJDCE thanks you for your support. Stay safe.

Peer Review in Design and Construction: an Underutilized Tool

Peer review is a useful but underutilized tool for risk management in design and construction. A peer review is an independent evaluation of some aspect of a project by a professional with relevant knowledge and experience. The objective of a peer review might be quality assurance, compliance with applicable codes, standards and best practices, economy, constructability or risk management. Continue reading “Peer Review in Design and Construction: an Underutilized Tool”

Structural Implications of a Construction Shutdown

As this post is being written, several states have issued “stay at home” orders to impede the COVID-19 pandemic that require the shutdown on nonessential businesses. Some jurisdictions, including Boston and New York, have shut down nonessential construction sites in connection with this crisis. See also: Statement of COVID-19.

A construction project may be shut down for a variety of reasons, such as the loss of financing, stop-work orders, labor or supply disruptions or disasters. The duration of the shutdown can vary from days to years, depending on the circumstances. Some of the implications of a shutdown are obvious. There are considerations for security and fire protection. The project cost will increase due to loss of efficiency, escalation and remobilization. The revenue to be generated by the project will be delayed.

Less obvious are the risks associated with the performance of temporary structures and partially-completed permanent structures during an extended shutdown. These risks can lead to hazards to workers when construction resumes, as well as to abutters and the general public. If not managed these risks can greatly increase the cost of the project, increase the liability of project stakeholders and cause injury or property damage.

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Statement on COVID-19

Richard J. Driscoll, Consulting Engineer (RJDCE) is monitoring the ongoing public health crisis associated with the spread of the novel coronavirus and the resulting disease, COVID-19. States of emergency have been declared in much of RJDCE’s service area, including the states of, including the states of Maryland, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New York and Virginia, the District of Columbia and New York City.

RJDCE is continuing to provide services to clients and is available to take on new projects. Since it already uses online collaboration tools, RJDCE anticipates maintaining operations throughout the crisis. Travel will be limited and meetings and site visits will be accommodated on a case-by-case basis. RJDCE would be pleased to remotely assist firms that are experiencing disruptions.

If you have questions about a current project or the status RJDCE’ operations generally, or need assistance, please contact RJDCE.

Continue reading “Statement on COVID-19”

Five Years of RJDCE

In February 2020, Richard J. Driscoll, Consulting Engineer (RJDCE) celebrates its fifth anniversary as a practice. Like many small businesses, RJDCE emerged from very humble beginnings. In its short history, it has seen slow and mostly steady growth, evolving from a niche practice in a major metropolitan area to more of a general practice with specialty capabilities offered in several states. However, this evolution has taken some twists and turns, requiring the practice to be flexible to the needs of its clients and the markets it serves, to maintain a breadth and depth of capabilities and constantly learn and adjust.


After over a decade of professional experience Richard J. Driscoll, PE was looking to make a change. Having obtained, two interdisciplinary graduate degrees, working on the Central Artery/Tunnel program and transit projects in Boston, spending several years with a legacy foundation engineering firm in New York City and a couple of years with a national multi-discipline firm in Washington, DC, he found himself with a broad skill set, but a specialist in below-ground construction in the urban environment. Since few firms had room for such an unusual specialty, this was feeling like a dead end.

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2019 In Review


2019 was an eventful year for Richard J. Driscoll, Consulting Engineer (RJDCE). The year saw new practice records for prospective projects, new projects, billings and revenue. In addition, RJDCE observed new milestones and completed new initiatives to propel future growth.

Looking Back to 2019

RJDCE followed a record year in 2018 with another record year in 2019. The number of new projects more than doubled compared to last year, resulting in healthy growth in billing and revenue. Most of this growth occurred in RJDCE’s forensic engineering practice area and included residential and non-residential condition assessments and distress investigations, construction damage claims and the practice’s first expert witness engagements. Even a couple of this year’s design projects either precipitated from forensic investigations or required incidental forensic services.

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New RJDCE Website

Welcome to the new Richard J. Driscoll, Consulting Engineer (RJDCE) website!

Over the past several months, RJDCE has undertaken a reorganization and modernization of the practice’s website. Improvements to the website have included new content, improvements to navigation and a modern new theme. The previous website was derived from a personal website when the practice launched in 2015 and was built out over the next couple of years. This is the first major upgrade to the website since it was launched and built out.

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