Like nearly everyone, District 11's Mike Szurley was trying to wrap his mind around the collapse of the Fern Hollow Bridge the morning of Friday, January 28, 2022. He was shocked by the news that the 447-foot bridge collapsed into Frick Park in the City of Pittsburgh. By that afternoon he was the project manager for the replacement of the structure.
Mike began with PennDOT in the summer of 2006 as an Engineering Scientific and Technical Intern working on the STAMPP program. He joined the department full-time as a Civil Engineer Trainee in June of 2009 and has progressed through the department in several roles prior to his current position as Civil Engineer Manager (Bridge). Mike is highly respected and is known as a team-oriented employee who values collaboration and communication on his projects.
Mike is no stranger to major projects. Currently he is the project manager on three major bridge projects in District 11 – the Tarentum Bridge Rehabilitation Project, the West End Bridge Preservation Project, and the innovative I-376 Commercial Street Bridge Replacement Project. The challenges on the Commercial Street project are abundant including managing the historic nature of the bridge over Frick Park and accommodating the nearly 100,000 vehicles that use the structure daily. Mike and his team are designing a new 825-foot steel multi-girder arched delta fram bridge that will be built next to the existing bridge and will be slid into place. The technique will minimize traffic disruptions and will allow the continual use of the park during most of the construction phase.
However, the Fern Hollow Bridge project was completely different than anything he had experienced. Mike notes that there was a sense of nervousness due to the heavily scrutinized nature of the project. President Biden had visited the site the day of the collapse. Mike knew that there would be eyes on the progress not only locally, but across the nation.
The obstacles in the replacement project were numerous – an expedited timeline, a progressive Design/Build technique allowing the design and construction phases to occur in tandem rather than the linear design process, supply chain and procurement issues, and long list of stakeholders that needed to be brought into the fold. Mike set about identifying key stakeholders and focused on solid communications, good documentation, and fostering a collaborative effort.
"Mike has done an extraordinary job as design project manager for the Fern Hollow bridge replacement project," said Doug Seeley, District 11 Assistant District Executive – Design. "His commitment to this unique project through leadership, perseverance, team organization, coordination, and facilitation of numerous meetings and engineering reviews has been key to the overall success of the project."
Mike was honored with the Engineers' Society of Western Pennsylvania "Young Engineer of the Year Award" on March 9 of this year. Jason Zang, acting District 11 Executive noted for the ceremony:
"From day one, Mike has demonstrated tremendous engineering judgement, understanding, and skill. He has been an extremely quick learner, but also always willing to take on any challenge presented to him. Because of this, he has taken on some of District 11's most challenging projects over his career, at such a young age, and has built himself quite an impressive portfolio of projects, and experiences to draw from. If you look at what he currently has on his pallet, some people call him crazy, and can't understand how he can manage it all. Yet, he manages it with ease and efficiency, and with a smile. He is always open to new ideas, new ways of doing things, and brings a positive outlook to District 11 every single day. But something that has impressed me more than anything, is his ability to build and lead a team. He is kind, cool, calm, and confident at all times. I have never seen him agitated, no matter what the circumstance. He is a great listener, a fantastic facilitator, and has the ability to draw people's best ideas, collect, organize, and move any effort forward in the best way possible. Fern Hollow is product of Mike's abilities and talents all working together. He masterfully led meeting after meeting, conversation after conversation, answering e-mails throughout the days and nights, and lead one of the best teams our industry has ever seen."
Long nights and weekends ultimately paid off with the opening of the new Fern Hollow Bridge on December 22, 2022. Mike laughs that his wife Julie appreciated his dedication and allowed him to eat dinner while working at his computer rather than at the dinner table with his son's Brody (6) and Tyler (4) during the yearlong sprint to the finish line. He was able to take his boys to the new bridge over the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday to show them what their father had been working on all these months.