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Fall Dinner, The Tappan Zee Bridge: The Women Who Made It Happen

This year’s fall dinner celebrated the women who made the building of the new Tappan Zee Bridge, renamed the Mario Cuomo Bridge, happen. These included: Jamey Barbas (NYSTA), Maria Lehman (Parsons, formerly NYSTA), Melissa Toni (FHWA), Mei Mei Lee (AKRF), Elena Barnett (HDR)

Along the way, there were many challenges associated with this project, including the fact that the new bridge is required to last 100 years, the difficulty of attaining many of the permits along the, a plethora of endangered species in the project area, and the sheer scale of the project. However, these ladies led the project in a record-setting four years of construction and consequently, set an example for the country. They achieved this by collaboration and flexibility. They also credited political backing for moving the project along, as it became a top priority for the Obama administration.

This project was the first time that the State of New York employed design-build, a method of construction project delivery in which both the design and construction are led by the same contractors, which is often credited with far greater efficiency. Elena Barnett (HDR) highlighted the “design-build workshops” that engineers held with agency members, consultants, and the public to help them understand complex aspects of bridge construction. Melissa Toni (FHWA) emphasized the efficiency of having one point of contact for each state and federal agency involved who could quickly answer questions that otherwise would have taken significant back-and-forth.

Robust public outreach was integral for the EIS and a smooth construction period. Mei Mei Lee (AKRF) described the team talking to the public “early and often” and that transparency kept the project on track. There were outreach centers on both sides of the Hudson River, numerous public meetings, and informational videos and construction monitoring were available on the project website.

Another gratifying outcome of the project was an educational outreach program that used the bridge to teach young people about STEM.; The program ultimately reached approximately 60,000 students from elementary school to college students. The panelists were particularly proud of this aspect of the project, as many of them credited early exposure to STEM to leading them to their careers in transportation. The young girls who saw these women as role models no doubt will have a tremendous impact!




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