The Interstate Highway System. High-speed rail projects. Expanding and improving airports across the United States. Mega infrastructure projects have the potential to positively impact the lives of hundreds of thousands of individuals every day, while generating jobs and economic impact for years to come. These may be the kinds of projects envisioned by the trillions in funding available from the federal Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (IIJA), but they are not the only projects with the potential for positive change.
These big-ticket investments generate big headlines, but there are thousands of smaller undertakings that will also improve the lives and safety of everyday people around the U.S.
As the lead designer on the Judlau Design-Build Team for the Triborough Bridge and Tunnel Authority, Parsons delivered design innovations for the RK-23C Design-Build Project that avoided high-risk buried oil-static lines, reduced the overall costs, improved community health, simplified the construction sequence and schedule, and allowed the project to be completed one month ahead of an aggressive schedule and four months earlier than the original project schedule estimated in the RFP.
The project included the design and construction of a new 13-span connector ramp to carry traffic from the Harlem River lift span of the Robert F. Kennedy (RFK) Bridge to northbound Harlem River Drive. While not a major new crossing, the new ramp provides a direct connection between these major arteries, allowing traffic from Queens to continue undisrupted to all points north of the RFK Bridge.
The work involved the design of new piles, columns, superstructure, drainage, roadway lighting, sign structures, and appurtenances. The new connector ramp incorporates bespoke architectural details, such as vertical flutes at the top of hammerhead piers, back-of-parapet geometric rustications, Art Deco–style lampposts, and stainless-steel New York State medallions.
Bridge-lighting features complement the new ramp elements, providing an inviting entrance from the adjacent neighborhood to the shoreline, where, in the future, a new park will be constructed by New York City.
The project was staged using intermittent day and night lane closures, and maintenance and protection-of-traffic plans that created a safe work zone along the Harlem River Drive median without reducing the parkway’s capacity in either direction during the day. The construction of the new pier foundations south of the Willis Avenue Bridge (also a Parsons project) required close communication with city agencies like the New York City Department of Transportation and the New York City Department of Environmental Protection, for the modification of the existing stormwater drainage system.
Working closely with Judlau and the Authority through the ATC process, we optimized the tender design, eliminated a pier and a span, and redesigned the structural layout to avoid potential conflicts with existing underground high-voltage lines present at the Harlem River Drive median. Our design also converted a straddle pier into a conventional hammerhead pier.
The Parsons team focused on delivering maximum project value while increasing the quality of living for all nearby communities. For New Yorkers and visitors to New York, this redesign and construction mean a savings of 150,000 hours of total travel time per year, a reduction of 2,500 tons of CO2 equivalent per year, and a significant drop in air and noise pollution in the surrounding communities.
This milestone is particularly important because Central Harlem has some of the highest childhood asthma rates in the U.S. By reducing CO2, this improved air quality and the wellbeing of the community. Little changes to critical infrastructure can make a massive impact in the health, safety, and quality of life in the communities it supports.
This single, smaller project demonstrates the major impact we can create when the IIJA funds are invested wisely. Building or repairing with a renewed focus on enhancing sustainability, resilience and long service life in our projects provides an outsized and positive impact. For cities and states looking to invest federal funding, tackling projects that address environmental justice challenges should be a top of the list consideration.
Our success in Harlem is completely scalable and can be replicated across New York and across the country.
The economic viability, safety, and overall welfare of the U.S. will benefit for generations to come from infrastructure investments both large and small. Every investment in infrastructure, is an investment in our nation’s future and success.