Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Parsons Brinckerhoff marks 125th anniversary

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Parsons Brinckerhoff (PB) is celebrating its 125th year as a New York City-based international engineering giant. In 1885, William Barclay Parsons established a consulting engineering practice at 22 William Street in Lower Manhattan. Since then, PB has continued to play leading roles on transportation, power, buildings, and environmental projects throughout the world. Today, the firm is a strategic consulting, planning, engineering and program/construction management organization with approximately 14,000 employees in 150 offices on six continents.

In January, the firm, which maintains its headquarters in New York City, welcomed a new Chief Executive Officer, George J. Pierson, and began its first full year of operation as a wholly-owned subsidiary of Balfour Beatty plc, London.

During its 125-year history, PB has participated in the development of the first mass transit systems for New York City, San Francisco, Atlanta, Taipei and Singapore; the advancement of immersed-tube tunnel technology; and various innovations in the design and construction of bridges.

Recent and current PB projects include the Kanchanaphisek Bridge in Bangkok, Thailand, opened in November, 2007; the new Woodrow Wilson Bridge outside Washington, D.C., dedicated in May, 2008; the Epping-to-Chatswood Rail Link in Sydney, Australia, opened in February, 2009; the Central Link light rail in Seattle, Washington, opened in July, 2009; the ongoing Medupi Power Station in South Africa; the ongoing Chicago O'Hare International Airport Modernization Program; and the ongoing Building Schools for the Future program in Newcastle, UK.

One of the first undertakings of Parsons's new venture was the design of a subway system for New York City in the 1890s. And from the first IRT line, which opened in 1904, to the current extension of the No. 7 line and the new Second Avenue Subway, PB's service to the New York City subway system has spanned its entire 125-year history.

As Chief Engineer of the Board of Rapid Transit Railroad Commissioners, Parsons oversaw the planning, design and construction of the initial New York City subway system. The first segment of the subway system - the IRT line, running 9 miles from City Hall to 145th Street in Harlem - was completed in 1904 to great fanfare. At the time, The New York Times called it "the greatest achievement of the time in municipal engineering."

Today, PB is the primary designer of the project to extend the No. 7 subway line from Times Square to 34th Street and Eleventh Avenue. The firm is also providing construction management services on the Second Avenue Subway, which will initially provide operating service between 96th Street and 63rd Street.

Similarly, PB's long service to the Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) system began in 1953 with a feasibility study that recommended a system of heavy rail mass transit for the San Francisco Bay Area. Beginning in 1959, PB served BART as part of general engineering consultant joint ventures for development of the initial 71-mile system as well as the 30-mile BART extensions program, including the 8.7-mile-long, four-station San Francisco International Airport Extension, which opened in June 2003. Today, PB is GEC for the 5.4-mile Warm Springs Extension, which will bring BART southward from Alameda County to the edge of Santa Clara County.

For 40 years, PB also worked closely with the Metropolitan Atlanta Rapid Transit Authority in Atlanta, leading four distinct GEC joint ventures to develop a system that today includes 48 miles of rail and 38 stations fully integrated with a 1,500-mile (2,400-kilometer) bus network.

Designed by PB, the 1-mile Detroit-Windsor Tunnel connecting Detroit, Mich., and Windsor, Ontario, which opened in 1930, was only the third subaqueous road tunnel in the United States and served as a model for more than a dozen immersed-tube tunnels to which PB has contributed.

Today, PB is the engineer to the joint venture responsible for design, tender preparation and construction supervision for the world's deepest immersed tunnel to date. Located in Istanbul, the Marmaray Tunnel under the Bosphorus Strait will provide a rail link for a rapid transit system connecting Europe and Asia. While most of the tunnel will be bored through solid rock, the central .9-mile section will be an immersed tube designed to absorb seismic forces.

One of PB's earliest bridge projects was the railroad bridge over the Cape Cod Canal, which was the longest vertical lift bridge in the world when it opened in 1935. In the succeeding 75 years, PB has applied innovation to the design and construction of hundreds of bridges of all types.

In the 1950s, the George P. Coleman Memorial Bridge crossing over the York River near Chesapeake Bay, Virginia held a double distinction as the longest double-swing span in the world at 1,000 feet and as an engineering innovation because it was supported by a foundation of six hollow caissons. In the 1990s, PB studied alternatives for replacing the bridge and prepared a design for a four-lane bridge on the existing caissons. In 1996, six sections of the new superstructure were assembled 30 miles away, floated to the site and placed on the caissons in just nine days, marking the first time that a bridge of its size was assembled off-site and floated into place ready to carry traffic. The project won the 1997 Grand Conceptor Award from the American Council of Engineering Companies, the 1997 Roebling Award from the American Society of Civil Engineers and the 1997 George S. Richardson Medal from the International Bridge Conference.

More recently, PB has played key roles in the design of cable-stayed bridges in Owensboro, Kentucky; Charleston, South Carolina; and Bangkok, Thailand. PB is currently leading a general engineering consultant joint venture for the Woodrow Wilson Bridge outside Washington, D.C., which was named the Outstanding Civil Engineering Achievement of 2008 by the American Society of Civil Engineers.

January 2010 not only marked PB's 125th anniversary, but also a transition in executive leadership, with the appointment of Pierson as Chief Executive Officer on January 1, 2010. The firm also enters its 125th year with new strategic alliances. In October 2009, PB became a wholly-owned subsidiary of Balfour Beatty, an international engineering, construction, professional services and investment firm based in London. The acquisition of PB by Balfour Beatty also led to the integration of Heery International, an Atlanta-based company owned by Balfour Beatty, into PB, adding another nearly 1,000 employees and bringing to PB a respected building design and construction management team.

While continuing to look globally for growth, PB maintains its high profile in New York.

"We designed the first subway here and more than 100 years later we are still playing a major role in planning, designing, building and maintaining the critical transportation infrastructure this city needs to prosper for the next 100 years," Pierson said

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