PB Sets Its Sights on Region's Big Projects
The New York region's crowded roster of huge transportation projects now under way all have complex plans, billion-dollar budgets and daunting construction challenges and are expected to bolster the construction industry's core infrastructure market for years to come. Most of the projects also have another thing in common—a role for Parsons Brinckerhoff.
If the region's only major projects were the New York Metropolitan Transportation Authority's (MTA) $4.5-billion Second Avenue Subway and $2.4-billion No. 7 Subway Line Extension, that would be significant enough. But other megaprojects are also bustling along, including the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey's $1.3-billion, 65-ft raising of the Bayonne Bridge; the New Jersey Dept. of Transportation's $1.3-billion rehabilitation of the Pulaski Skyway; and the Conn. Dept. of Transportation's $2-billion I-95 New Haven Harbor Crossing project. PB's contribution to each—along with other big jobs—is largely responsible for the 7% jump in its annual regional revenue to $172.7 million in 2013 as well as its step up a notch to third place in the design firm ranking.
Those increases helped draw the attention of Engineering News-Record's regional editors, who named PB this year's Design Firm of the Year. They also focused on PB's efforts in other areas including innovation, sustainability, mentoring and community outreach.
PB is owned by Balfour Beatty, which at press time announced that it is eyeing a possible sale of the unit to "deliver attractive shareholder value and make Balfour Beatty a simpler and more focused group," according to a May 6 statement from Steve Marshall, group chairman. He added that PB has grown since being acquired in 2009 but that "having professional services and construction capabilities within one organization has not delivered material competitive advantage for the group."
Things To Do
PB's to-do list often includes clients asking it to push the envelope on innovation, whether for construction techniques or project management, says Neil Lucey, New York manager at the firm. For example, it used ground-freezing techniques to avoid costly shoring and service disruptions during major tunneling efforts in the region. That included using the process at Northern Boulevard in Queens to keep two subway lines in use while the East Side Access project tunneled below, Lucey says. He adds that PB also undertook the largest ground-freezing project ever attempted in the U.S. on the No. 7 line.
"We've been a leader in alternative delivery," Lucey says, adding that the firm wrote New York State DOT's design-build manual and serves as program manager helping to select design teams for projects using the process.
The firm has 23 professionals on staff who are LEED-accredited under the U.S. Green Building Council's program. PB is also a charter member of the industry-sponsored Institute of Sustainable Infrastructure, and its New York office is ISO14001-certified under the international environmental standards regime.
PB is active in mentoring minority and women-owned businesses in the region and involved in various programs that include those under the WTS International and the Conference of Minority Transportation Officials.
The firm places a big focus on safety through regular training programs and policies. "The biggest thing that being part of the Balfour Beatty organization has done for us is bring a re-emphasis on risk management and on safety practices and principles," says Bernard McNeilly, Northeast region general manager.
One of Many
Transportation project volumes have ebbed and flowed over the past century, says Robert Paaswell, civil engineering professor at City College of New York and director emeritus of its University Transportation Research Center. But today's boom reflects the rebirth of U.S. cities. "We're becoming urbanized again, and there's more demand" for services, he says. "We're rebuilding and reconditioning infrastructure.
"In any other region, a project as big as the [Pulaski] Skyway would be considered the biggest project they've ever done," Paaswell says. "Here's it's one of many medium-size projects."
PB found its services in sharp demand in the immediate aftermath of Superstorm Sandy in October 2012, McNeilly says. "We received a number of calls from clients to do immediate assessments, such as work at the Brooklyn Battery Tunnel and the Queens Midtown Tunnel. But the very concept of sustainability and resiliency is really becoming a thought process and a way of doing business."
That, McNeilly says, adds to more rigorous service expectations from clients in general. "Our clients are expecting more date certainty on their projects," he says. "The sense of urgency and pace of some of our projects has really been heightened."
Even though PB now has a global portfolio with 13,490 employees, the firm has long roots in New York City, where it started in 1885 working on the original subway system. The firm has 1,070 employees across the region, most of them working on transportation projects, but some on power and energy work.
The firm and its top peers have distinguished themselves with their focus on growth, Paaswell says. "PB and AECOM and Parsons Corp.—they are firms that are just growing with the times," he says. "They've gotten bigger through acquisitions. They've had excellent, far-sighted management."
One of PB's main areas of concentration is on the Pulaski Skyway, which links Newark to Jersey City and the entrance to the Holland Tunnel. The multiyear effort will rehabilitate a 3.5-mile-long roadway that first opened in 1932.
"The Skyway deck is badly in need of replacement," McNeilly says. Just last month, the team shut down two New York-bound lanes of the structure to begin work on the project, which runs through 2020.
PB's multifaceted role has included a feasibility assessment, planning interim repair contracts and designing the first major construction phase to replace 1 million sq ft of deck slab. Future tasks include construction support and designing superstructure repairs and seismic retrofit work.
In its program manager role, it has helped municipal and transportation officials plan for the disruption caused by a two-year shutdown—providing extensive modeling, a traffic mitigation plan and work on a major public awareness campaign.
PB's portfolio of work under way also includes another large NJDOT job—the $350-million Route 72 Manahawkin Bay Bridge. PB will build a twin main span and rehabilitate existing structures linking Long Beach Island to the mainland.
The firm also has roles on four MTA megaprojects. Besides designing one leg of the No. 7 subway job and serving as construction manager on the Second Avenue subway project, PB is part of a three-firm general engineering consultant joint venture on the $8.3-billion East Side Access project to extend Long Island Rail Road service to Grand Central Station. The firm is on the construction management team at the $1.4-billion Fulton Street Transportation Center in downtown Manhattan. "We have a very big impact on what we like to term 'things that you don't necessarily see when you're walking through New York City,'" McNeilly says.
Among its work in Connecticut, PB has been serving as program manager for the Q Bridge project to create a new interchange for Interstates 91 and 95 and State Route 34. It's an effort that McNeilly says has been hitting its marks, with half of the main span already open.
Anchored by the 10-lane bridge, also known as the Pearl Harbor Memorial Bridge, the job is by far the highest-profile civil engineering effort in the state, says Paul Brady, executive director of the Connecticut chapter of the American Council of Engineering Companies.
When Hurricane Sandy hit, few firms understood its long-term impact better than PB because "response to extreme weather events has been something that PB has been thinking about for some time," Lucey says. To that end, the firm has participated in and organized regional engineering conferences about response to infrastructure catastrophes and damage mitigation.
PB's initial work in Sandy's wake included emergency shore restoration efforts on Long Island and other similar projects. Since the storm, it has been working overtime on various infrastructure recovery initiatives, assisting a long list of agencies while reaching out to hard-hit communities.
"Social awareness is extremely important to the organization," McNeilly says. "We believe that better connectivity to our clients and better connectivity with the customers of our clients is the key to our success."