Using Engineering and Business Smarts to Craft Goethals' P3
James E. Blackmore
New York City
ENR 12/26/16 p. 6
Project director uses variety of skills with a touch of philosophy to keep the New York region’s first major public-private parrtnership bridge project on track.
James Blackmore describes himself as a realist. A decade ago, when he embarked on the task of bringing to completion the $1.5-billion Goethals Bridge replacement, it was evident that the Port Authority of New York & New Jersey simply didn’t have enough money in its capital plan to fund that crossing and all its needs through traditional delivery methods.
He recalls that when the idea came up to use a public-private partnership—the first for the agency—he thought, “We don’t know how to do this. Why don’t we call people in who do?” He solicited P3-experienced firms to give presentations and put together a project agreement and an RFP. By early 2013—a decade later—crews were doing preliminary work on site before the official financial closure.
“That was probably the best time to tear my Achilles’ tendon,” recalls Blackmore. Why? Because the work on crafting the P3 was over, along with the chores of acquiring property and environmental impact statements. It also gave the project director time to think about management style.
“While lying on my back for three months, I thought about ways of being effective,” says Blackmore, whose extensive global construction experience, combined with an MBA, were key to shaping the P3 contract. “I had been a lot more cynical before. A lot of that sloughed off.”
Realism and toughness mingled with a “touchy-feely approach” that also has been key to progress, no matter what conflicts arise among the owner, concessionaire and design-build team. “Jim’s day-to-day and hands-on involvement is crucial in keeping the lines of communication open among the parties,” says Luke Chenery, CEO of NYNJ Link Developer LLC, the concessionaire. “Jim insists on a cooperative approach, reminding us all that we share the same goals, even during times of heated debates.”
Blackmore points out that, while being tough is essential in his role, “the more you try not to be combative, the more others may learn not to be, either.” When a dispute seems intractable, “I constantly remind people to take a step back and look at what we’re doing out here. Now, imagine this given problem relative to all of this. I’ll bring that up shamelessly as often as necessary.”