Thomas J. McGuinness has spent three decades on projects with agencies such as the New York State Dept. of Transportation building mostly highways and bridges. With the $2.6-billion, 10-mile project to add a third track to the Long Island Rail Road, he is adding commuter rail to his list of credits.

The project is one of the most significant in the region for the New York Metropolitan Transportation Authority’s commuter rail division, and it marks the MTA’s first major design-build effort. The agency plans to use the project as a model for its capital program moving forward.

McGuinness, project executive for MTA Construction & Development, played a key role in a collaborative effort that included unprecedented outreach to Long Island communities, flexible contractor access to one of the country’s busiest commuter rail corridors and the use of an innovative hydraulic jacking system to move cast-in-place concrete boxes carrying entire underpasses and rail bridges into place in a matter of hours rather than closing local streets for days. 

“Tom brought his experience at the New York DOT and the Mario Cuomo Bridge to this project and helped its success—with innovation and leadership,” says Alan Paskoff, project executive with 3rd Track Constructors (3TC), a consortium of Dragados USA, John P. Picone, Halmar International and CCA Civil. “Tom has no problem coming up to our floor in the building where we are co-located to sit with our managers to solve problems and move the project along.”

Under 3TC’s $1.7-billion contract, crews are eliminating eight grade crossings, building new parking facilities, making improvements to stations and replacing communications, signals, track, switches, substations and power sources. The project is on schedule for completion in 2022. 

The contractor also met MTA outreach requirements with an “ambassador” program. “Local ambassadors are assigned to each municipality,” explains McGuinness. “We hold monthly meetings with local officials. We have commitments to reduce noise levels. We measure air quality, vibrations, noise.” Mitigation measures have included sound curtains, sound walls and temporary fencing. When 3TC did the first grade crossing, it set up an ice cream truck handing out free treats and rebuilt two Little League fields.

McGuinness brought his design-build experience on the new Mario Cuomo Bridge to the rail project, applying 

design-build delivery, which is still fairly new to New York state. 

“Here, we’re set up so that the vast majority of the decisions are made on the project level,” says McGuinness. “No need to go back to the home office to review changes. We’ve also committed in our contract with 3TC to accelerated progress payments, paid typically in two weeks.” The project team also learned to involve end users, such as railroad operations and maintenance crew, early on in planning, McGuinness adds. “Having them engage led to a lot of the success of time-critical tasks.”

While he has done his share in the joint office, McGuinness quips, “I’d rather be working in the mud and playing with the equipment.” 

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