Founded in 1947 by Thomas R. Camp, Herman G. Dresser and Jack E. McKee, CDM Smith has grown to become a global engineering and construction firm providing client service and solutions in the water, environment, transportation, energy and facilities sectors. The company boasts nearly 5,000 employees in 131 offices worldwide, with 85 offices in the United States.
The privately held firm provides consulting, design, construction and program management services for industrial, private water, federal government and municipal government clients, and is listed as No. 23 on ENR’s 2019 ranking of Top Design Firms.
The company is rooted in the water market, not surprising considering Camp’s background – he served 15 years as a professor in charge of Sanitary Engineering at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) before branching out into the consulting world. Over time, the firm has gradually added to its offerings, while also expanding its geographic footprint through a combination of organic growth and acquisition.
In 2011, the firm – then known as Camp, Dresser and McKee or CDM – underwent perhaps its biggest transition when it merged with Wilbur Smith Associates, thus creating CDM Smith. Wilbur Smith Associates was a 1,000-person firm with a strong background in transportation, opening new doors for the 70-plus year-old company.
Along the way, CDM Smith made strategic acquisitions to gain entry into international markets, including Europe, the Middle East, India, Asia, Africa, Australia and South America. Among the notable acquisitions was the German firm Jessberger + Partner, a world leader in tunnel and underground space engineering, and in ground freezing with a resume that includes more than 100 projects.
“CDM Smith has taken a balanced approach to growth; we grow organically as well as through mergers and acquisitions,” says Mike Schultz, a geotechnical engineer and senior vice president at CDM Smith. “While the Wilbur Smith acquisition remains our largest acquisition, we’re not all about being the biggest. We have acquired a number of smaller firms that has allowed us to put together an organization that is extensive and robust.”
CDM Smith and Tunneling
CDM Smith has added tunneling to its repertoire as a natural extension of its other offerings. Notable early projects included Boston’s Central Artery/Tunnel (CA/T), where CDM Smith worked on the initial phases of site assessment and site investigation. Later, the firm, working as a subconsultant, designed one of the first slurry walls for the CA/T as part of a utility relocation project.
Perhaps its earliest showcase project was the Brightwater Conveyance System project for King County, Washington, which involved more than 13 miles of soft-ground tunnels. CDM Smith was the geotechnical engineer, responsible for developing and executing the ground investigation program, writing of the Geotechnical Data Report (GDR) and the Geotechnical Baseline Report (GBR), interpreting complex geotechnical and groundwater conditions, developing liner design loads, and providing engineering support during construction. CDM Smith was involved from planning through construction for the three separate tunneling contracts and the ground-freeze shaft.
More recently, CDM Smith has been the engineer-of-record for three soft-ground/mixed face tunneling projects: The Siphon Replacement Between Brooklyn and Staten Island (Harbor Siphons Project), New York City, New York; Annacis Island WWTP & Outfall Tunnel in Vancouver, British Columbia; and, Bergen Point Wastewater Treatment Plant Outfall Replacement Tunnel (Suffolk Outfall Tunnel), Suffolk County, New York. The projects employed pressurized face tunnel boring machines (TBM), with the Harbor Siphons project utilizing an earth balance pressure machine, while the Suffolk Outfall Tunnel used a slurry machine. Projects had other similarities as well that included challenging ground conditions in their own respect, high groundwater pressures and challenging site conditions.
Mahmood Khwaja, principal tunnel engineer and technical leader for tunnel engineering for CDM Smith, notes that the “Suffolk Outfall Tunnel project had another unique feature. Typically design and selection of temporary excavation support for shafts is considered means and methods and left to the contractor. In this case, we were prescriptive in the use of ground freezing for the launching shaft. This was required to address challenging technical requirements and site logistics concerns.”
“One of the areas we are known for is ground freezing,” Schultz says. “In addition to Brightwater, we have designed ground freezes for the Russia Wharf tunnel in Boston and the Narragansett Bay CSO tunnel. We have a freeze lab located in Bochum, Germany, that has allowed us to expand that technology to clients globally.”
CDM Smith’s approach is to test frozen ground samples in a laboratory room held to the target freeze temperature. “Our laboratory can perform testing down to -25 C,” notes Michael Loeffler, a geotechnical engineer and vice president, based in Alsbach, Germany, and responsible for geotechnical and tunneling services for CDM Smith covering Europe and Middle East. Schultz and Khwaja routinely collaborate with Loeffler and his team in Bochum to provide ground freeze testing on projects like Access to the Region’s Core Project, Port of Miami Tunnel Project, Gateway Tunnel Project and the Northeast Boundary Tunnel Project. “We provide this niche service as part of our one-stop comprehensive tunneling capability,” notes Schultz. Loeffler agrees, noting that “our clients worldwide are looking for a single-point-of-responsibility for these very complex underground engineering projects and we continue to see strong demand to support our niche practice as well.”
Internationally, the firm has an established footprint in tunneling, particularly transportation, through its legacy companies. “In Europe especially, we have a strong operation in tunneling because we started in transportation, as opposed to our colleagues in the United States who started in water,” says Loeffler. “Tunneling is part of our heritage and over the years we have extended it beyond Europe to the Middle East.” In an almost familial banter, reminiscent of siblings one-upping the other, “we, in the U.S., are making headway into the transportation market with the Heroes Tunnel Project and supporting clients like Sound Transit and Chicago Transit Authority for specialized services,” note Khwaja and Schultz, almost in unison. “And, we have Abu Hamour,” Loeffler responds, referencing the wastewater project in Doha, Qatar.
When discussing one of the firm’s current landmark project, Loeffler does so with great pride. The project involves the recently completed Ismailia Tunnels and the under construction Ahmed Hamdy 2 Tunnels, all bored, or being bored, under the Suez Canal for the Egyptian government, CDM Smith provided services that included independent technical design review, construction supervision, and detailed design engineering for cross-passage using SEM approach with ground freezing to support excavation. The project includes two 11.6-m ID, TBM-driven tunnels, each 5-km long and 60 m below the surface of the canal. In Africa, the firm is serving in a project management role for the massive Lesotho Highlands Water Project, which involves 38 km of 5-m diameter tunnel as part hydropower and water conveyance project.
With its wide geographic footprint and local representation, CDM Smith sees opportunity for growth with emerging underground projects all over the globe. Having representation throughout the world allows the firm to compete in those markets. “Working internationally, there are always three issues that you have to deal with: tax, legal issues and language,” Loeffler says. “Even on large international projects where the primary language is English, knowledge of the local language is critical. You always need local partners, otherwise you get lost in international business.”
Having an international presence can help on the home front as well. “In the United States we see a lot of large foreign contractors coming into the market competing for design-build or P3 projects,” Schultz says, “and oftentimes, they are looking for prime designers and consultants who they can work with. Also, having a global workforce helps us provide our product – the designs – as cost effectively as possible.”
CDM Smith has been supporting transit agencies, throughout the United States, particularly on soft engineering work. LA Metro is a classic example, where CDM Smith has been supporting many of their signature projects through environmental and planning phases. These projects include Regional Connector and Eastside Extension. “We want to build on that and start to deliver detailed design services for many transit agencies, particularly for geotechnical and tunneling disciplines,” notes Khwaja.
Staying Ahead of the Curve
Recognizing how the market is evolving, and being able to deliver services clients require, is paramount to success. CDM Smith recognizes that design-build projects are comprising an increasing larger percentage of how projects are delivered, and they are positioned to complete in that environment. Within the design-build or alternate delivery arena, the company has experience in variety of roles, including program manager, construction manager, designer and design-builder. CDM Smith’s recent legacy work and recent win in Houston as part of the $1.6 billion Northeast Water Purification Plant and in Washington, D.C., as part of the Blue Plains Pump Station is testament of their ability to take on challenging, large-scale and complex projects and delivering with superb client service.
While not a tunneling project, the Northeast Water Purification Plant is a joint venture design-build contract that involves one of the largest water plants in the country. Similarly, CDM Smith, in a joint venture, won the $215 million Blue Plains Pump Station and Enhanced Clarification Facility (ECF) contract with DC Water.
While CDM Smith doesn’t foresee taking on the role of design-builder for tunneling projects, it does see opportunity for a role as a prime designer. “There are a lot of specialist contractors in the tunneling sector that have the know-how and the equipment, so in those cases we are comfortable working on the design aspect of the project,” Schultz says.
There is an increasing acceptance and use of steel-fiber reinforced concrete segments in the United States. As the use of precast segments has continued to take hold, so has the practice of using fiber reinforcement vs. traditional steel cage reinforcing. “We definitely see fiber reinforced liners penetrating the market more and more,” notes Khwaja. One recent example of this trend was the Bergen Point Wastewater Treatment Plant (WWTP) Outfall Tunnel in Suffolk County, New York – a 14,200-ft long, 10-ft ID tunnel connecting the Bergen Point WWTP to the Barrier Island under the Great South Bay. The bid design required traditionally reinforced precast concrete segments, with the option to add steel fiber reinforcement for added strength and to finalize the design for construction loads. The contractor asked to completely substitute steel reinforcing fibers instead due to their enhanced properties.
CDM Smith, as the engineer for the owner, Suffolk County, evaluated existing standards and practices in the United States. In the end, CDM Smith accepted the proposed substitution and modified the contract documents to allow the use of fiber reinforcing. “Where appropriate, we encourage the use of fiber reinforced segments,” Khwaja says, “it needs to be evaluated on a case-by-case basis, and we need to educate our clients as they make the shift away from traditionally reinforced segments. I believe that is the way that the industry is going, and there seems to be a growing consensus that the end product is better.”
Lastly, the issue of climate change has planners reconsidering how we deal with flooding issues and infrastructure in coastal areas. This is something that can be especially difficult financially for smaller communities. In Keokuk, Iowa, for example, CDM Smith is working with the Mississippi River town on designing a 3,000-ft long, 10-ft ID flood control tunnel that is expected to cost the city of around 10,000 residents several million dollars. “That is a real financial strain on the community,” Khwaja says, “and we are beginning to see more and more communities having to deal with these issues. It is a real challenge. It is incumbent upon us to find the most cost-sensitive solutions without compromising design requirements.”
Additionally, CDM Smith’s position as a private firm helps set it apart, Schultz says. “We are one of the larger privately-owned firms, and we have a commitment to ourselves and each other to remain privately held and to be masters of our own destiny. We find that is very attractive when we are looking to attract staff to come work for us because they see there is an advantage in not being driven solely by the bottom line or being directed to move in one direction or another. We are totally focused on delivering excellence to our clients.”
With the diverse set of expertise across the country – and the world – CDM Smith is excited about its prospects heading into the future. The company, founded in the water market, has continued to expand into new disciplines and new geographies.
“We bring to the table for our clients and prospective clients an integrated network of offices and local connections so that on almost any project, we can have someone locally who understands the geography, the language and the culture,” Schultz says.
“Additionally, we are an integrated design contractor and we can assist clients in everything from small projects to big projects. Some firms address a specific niche, where we are able to do it all: tunneling, water, transportation, planning, environmental. We offer a full suite of services on projects, and that is what differentiates us in the marketplace.”