ENR Transportation Editor Aileen Cho chatted briefly with Jessica Becker, construction manager at Jacobs. She is currently working on the Metropolitan Transportation Authority's East Side Access project in New York City. Jacobs is supporting the delivery of the mega-project as Project Management Office partner. East Side Access is the first expansion of the Long Island Rail Road in over 100 years. Scheduled for completion in December, the project is set to transform the busiest commuter railroad in the US, easing congestion and dramatically reducing commute times for users.
This interviewed was edited and condensed.
How long have you been working on the East Side Access project and what does your role involve?
I’ve been working on the project for 12 years as a construction manager. I worked on the tunneling under Manhattan and approach structures in Queens, and now the vertical circulation elements. I’m coordinating more than 15 active systems contracts that cover 29 critical systems including power, tunnel ventilation, signal systems and traction power to ensure streamlined delivery. I’ve seen the change from tunneling back in 2009-2010 to finishes and now marble on the walls. Civil work was completed last May, and testing is underway. We’re on track for the end of this year.
Transforming America’s busiest commuter railroad set amidst America’s busiest city is no mean feat. What were the challenges?
Early on, the biggest challenge was the eight miles of tunneling 140 feet beneath the city. Minimizing disruptions was a priority. We used tunnel-boring machines for the majority of excavation. There was a temporary conveyor belt to remove soil and rock, 1.5 million cubic yards of material.
Given the project’s high profile, testing of systems will be critical ahead of the project’s completion in December 2022. What kind of testing is required?
A pivotal role is ensuring the systems working on opening day. Over the last few months we commenced train testing with the Long Island Railroad including permanent traction power and signal systems, dynamic tunnel envelope clearances, centralized traffic control testing, sprinklers, fire alarms.
How have technologies changed during your tenure?
There is a lot of data-driven decision-making, design automation and software that agencies and companies want to use. On the ESA we have partners that can consult on all aspects of the project. I was asked to create a PMO group a few years ago to streamline the schedule and critical path.
How did you get into this area of construction and engineering?
Both my grandfathers were engineers. In school, I realized I really enjoyed structural engineering and landing on the ESA out of college was a great opportunity. It paved the way to the future.
This was my very first project out of college. I met geotechnical engineers, designers, systems and software engineers, contractors, railroad employees. It enabled me to get involved in a lot of different aspects. When I started, I was often one of the only women in the room for a meeting. Now there are more women and people of all different backgrounds. There are so many contracts. We’re pulling in people from US and world. One example: The elevators and escalator drives were manufactured in England. Technicians were coming over to do work on the units.
What are the intended benefits of the project?
It will Increase LIRR’s capacity into Manhattan of handling 162,000 commuters. It will shorten travel time by about 40 minutes and ease congestion on other trains and subways. There are eight tracks and four passenger platforms, with 24 trains during peak hours. The new concourse is 350,000 sq ft with 25 storefronts and access points to Grand Central Terminal.