The Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority is managing one of the largest transportation construction programs in the country. It has a combined $17 billion in work underway on projects that will knit many existing light rail lines into a transportation network to unite the sprawling county—but the process of getting to that goal by 2021 is fraught with complications.
One major, multiyear component is construction of what has been termed the missing link: a $1.8-billion, three-station, underground light-rail connector running 1.9 miles through the heart of downtown.
For the last three years, Gary H. Baker, an executive officer at L.A. Metro, has served as project director, and in the process has earned admiration for his quiet skill in leading through the hazards, including resource constraints and cost escalations in a heated market; potentially explosive, methane-laced soil; a labyrinth of fragile underground utilities; and even the brutal intervention of undocumented steel pilings that brought the 22-ft-dia tunnel boring machine to an abrupt halt.
Joseph L. Seibold, executive vice president at Arcadis, which is the construction management support services consultant to L.A. Metro on the Regional Connector Project, says Baker is quietly leading to a successful conclusion without any fanfare. “He is a real leader and a class guy,” says Seibold. “[He] shares the credit and takes the blame … there are not enough people like that in our industry.” Adds Jaydeep Pendse, the resident engineer from Arcadis on construction of one of the new stations, “He is an individual of great integrity, and is always approachable regardless of the issue or challenge. He looks for solutions, and not to place blame.”
Characteristically, Baker deflects praise back to the team and says the key is to “surround yourself with good people and empower them to do their jobs and make decisions,” but adds that it is important to promptly deal with issues as they arise. “Problems don’t get better with age,” he says.