The site of a retired coal burning power plant in Somerset, Mass., may become part of the clean energy revolution, thanks to engineering services provided by design firm VHB, based in Watertown, Mass. 

Instead of contributing to climate change in its former use, plans call for Brayton Point to house the country’s first-of-its-kind submarine transmission cable factory that would provide critical infrastructure to link offshore wind power to onshore grids. “To take a site that was literally polluting and transform it … to deploy all of the offshore wind cable that we’re going to need up and down the East Coast, it’s really exciting,” says Meredith Avery, VHB New England regional manager and former managing director of environmental services in Massachusetts.

The design firm, which has more than 30 locations across the East Coast, has built a thriving transportation engineering portfolio and tackles dynamic projects such as Brayton Point that includes LEED certified buildings and manufacturing.

VHB is offering design solutions and ecosystem rehabilitation services through alternative delivery for a $400-million interchange improvement, and improving communities more directly through greenway projects that offer commuting options and outdoor space for distressed neighborhoods.

Because of its breadth and depth of expertise, VHB positions itself for projects of any scale. 

The engineer is "one of the most well-rounded firms out there,” says Jonathan Gulliver, highway administrator for the Massachusetts Dept. of Transportation, who has worked on projects with VHB for two decades and notes 70 assignments it has with the agency in the current fiscal year.

VHB community spirit extends to supporting non-profits through event-based fundraising. This year its New England offices gave funds to 20 nonprofits, including Watertown Food Pantry, Huntington’s Disease Society of America, Home for Little Wanderers and Vermont River Conservatory.

Ranked No. 2 on the 2024 ENR New England Top Design Firms list with $211.58 million in regional revenue, VHB was also No. 2 on last year’s ranking, with $191.22 million in revenue. The previous year it was in the No. 3 spot with $161 million in revenue.

VHB attributes that growth in part to its ability to absorb large waves of work, whether from the recent surge in federal funding for infrastructure or in past years from an upward tick in the real estate market. The firm says it prioritizes innovation through alternative delivery, clever design ideas and environmental sustainability—a deciding factor in its selection as this year’s ENR New England Design Firm of the Year. “We can use the power of the great people we have at VHB to come up with a better mousetrap,” says Tom Jackmin, senior vice president and chief strategic growth officer. “Then you win the job based on the better mousetrap—not just what we’ve done before.”

MIT’s Volpe Transportation Systems Center

VHB is designing MIT’s Volpe Transportation Systems Center redevelopment in Cambridge, Mass., which will transform the 14-acre complex into a mixed-use facility.
Rendering by Interface Multimedia, courtesy Elkus Manfredi Architects

Sustainable Leaders

VHB’s green leadership goes beyond working with energy clients and utilities; its goal is to integrate sustainability into every project. “There were days when you [would] do a development project and you wouldn't be talking about how you’re going to power it,” says Jackmin. “You wouldn’t ask, ‘How much of your energy can you generate on your own with rooftop solar … how are you going to be resilient?’”

VHB is embracing its mission to help old clients solve new challenges. “We want to help the [Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority] and MassDOT and our real estate clients,” says Jackmin. “We want to help everyone figure out their energy transition.”

Gulliver says the state transportation agency “looks at VHB as a really strong partner [in] making sure that we consider environmental resilience and impacts in every single one of our projects.”

“We want to help [clients]figure out their energy transition.”
—Tom Jackmin, Senior Vice President, VHB

The design firm’s 392-person environmental team offers energy project siting and permitting, coastal resilience planning, battery storage, environmental remediation and endangered species and natural resource protection services. Even the I-495/I-90 interchange improvement in Massachusetts, which Avery notes is not a “sustainability project” per se, warrants a green focus. “There are ways of mapping sustainability into non-sustainable-initiated projects … so that we’re not just making the same mistakes over and over and over again,” she says. Examples include solar generators for construction workers on site and a 7-acre wetland restoration project where two main interchange loops are being removed.

Redesign of the Tobin Bridge over the Mystic River between Boston and Chelsea, Mass., for which VHB is under contract, is an opportunity to address environmental justice issues in the community that the two-mile bridge passes through, says Avery. The 74-year-old span has shed lead paint chips into the community for years and is now undergoing a nearly $130-million overhaul.

It’s critical to ask questions such as “Could you map out a way to increase the canopy cover of trees or create some shading for the adjacent parcels?” Avery says. “Could you build the bridge in a way that provides any kind of mitigation for future flooding in vulnerable neighborhoods?”

Jackmin echoes the importance of these considerations in project design: “When you go home, you can say, ‘We helped transform this coal plant [for a] renewable energy transition.’ What could be a better transformation than that?” he says. “If there was ever a more important problem for us to lean into, I can’t imagine what it is.”

CEO Michael Carragher

VHB President and CEO Michael Carragher (left) is pictured with Meredith Avery, New England regional manager, and Tom Jackmin, senior vice president and chief strategic growth officer.
Photo courtesy VHB

Innovative Talent

Alternative project delivery is VHB’s hallmark approach to landing big projects such as the I-495/I-90 interchange improvement. The $400-million design-build project is one of the largest and most complex transportation projects in Massachusetts since the Big Dig. Jackmin says that early partnering with a contractor means that “you figure out between the two of you a really smart way to build something, you come up with some innovation and that’s how you win.”

As a 2,000-person firm with the ability to share resources across different offices, VHB can deal with the “immense” pressure that the design-build approach puts on the firm to move quickly, Jackmin says.

“When you have people who are driven by solving complex problems ... it [attracts] more people [who] have that mindset.”
—Meredith Avery, New England Regional Manager, VHB

These kinds of projects are part of how VHB draws and retains talent. “People get excited by that,” he says. “Those are the more complicated things that your people want to do.” With more competition for critical engineering talent, says Jackmin, “we need to retain our people and we want people to want to come to VHB.”

Avery says the company’s culture of solving complex design problems is one of the reasons it is successful. “When you have people who are driven by solving complex problems … and not just kind of driving toward the same widget over and over again, it [attracts] more people [who] have that mindset,” she says.

Sustainability design challenges are a key talent driver, says Avery, who recounted how a candidate for an open position at VHB told her that the firm’s energy transition work “is part of why I even put my name in to come into this company.’”

Notable VHB Projects Include:

I-495 at I-90 Hopkinton-Westborough Interchange Improvements

VHB is lead designer for the nearly $400-million design-build project, working with contractor partners Barletta Heavy Division Inc., O&G and Aetna Bridge Co. One of Massachusetts’ most complex transportation projects, it will replace the I-90/I-495 interchange and weaving areas. The design prioritizes protection of wetlands, floodplain, archaeological and historic sites and rare species habitat.

Prysmian Cable Manufacturing Facility at Brayton Point in Somerset, Mass.

Once New England’s largest coal-fired power plant, Brayton Point was retired in 2017 and is set to be redeveloped as the first facility in the country capable of producing subsea cables for the offshore wind industry. VHB is partnered with manufacturer Prysmian Group to provide permitting and engineering services for the proposed 47-acre project, which will house a cable manufacturing plant, electric converter station and docking facility.

Redevelopment of MIT’s Volpe Center in Cambridge, Mass.

Redeveloping the 14-acre Volpe Transportation Systems Center at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology into a mixed-use site is expected to provide nearly 1,400 housing units, four areas with an estimated 3.5 acres of open space, significant transit and vehicular transportation improvements as well as retail activity.


Big Firm With a Local Feel

VHB is advancing design on the final link of the Naugatuck River Greenway trail in Ansonia, Conn., one of the most distressed communities in the state. Josh Eannotti, a VHB transportation engineer, says it’s one of his favorite projects.

Such projects “are not huge,” he says, but “they are transformative to the communities, and we see that firsthand” because they provide alternative modes for commuting and give people an opportunity to recreate outdoors. “You can feel it on a local level,” Eannotti says.

Jackmin echoes this sentiment about VHB’s ability to deliver small, but meaningful changes to communities. “We like to work where we live. We want to drive by our house and say, ‘Hey, we just did that intersection.’”