Q&A – Bradford Townsend

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Bradford Townsend

Bradford Townsend – Vice President, Parsons’ Bridge and Tunnel Division

Bradford Townsend serves as Vice President in Parsons’ Bridge and Tunnel Division responsible for technical direction and management of alternative project delivery. Prior to joining Parsons, his work experience includes serving as deputy chief engineer of the $20 billion Taiwan High-Speed Rail Project as well as leadership roles on the Hai Van Pass Tunnel Construction Project in Vietnam, in addition to serving as 2014 conference chair for the North American Tunneling Conference. Townsend is a registered professional engineer and holds a bachelor’s degree in natural/environmental science from Johnson State College in Vermont and a master’s degree in civil engineering from the University of New Hampshire.

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Briefly describe your personal and educational background, and how you became involved in the tunneling industry?

My bachelor’s degree is in the natural sciences with concentration on limnology, the study of fresh water systems. My background courses were very heavy on the hard sciences such as chemistry and zoology, but also addressed many areas on the ecological side and environmental law. I went on to pursue a master’s in chemistry, but having built things all my life, I decided I wanted to continue building and would not be satisfied working in a laboratory environment. So, I pursued my degree in civil engineering, and the rest was history!

I started my career in the geotechnical area working for Haley & Aldrich out of Cambridge, Mass. Having a background that focused on structural and geotechnical engineering, it did not take long for me to begin focusing my efforts on the below-grade projects where I could utilize both my geotechnical and structural skill sets, as well as taking a very active role in construction support engineering such as dewatering, SOE, blasting and rock support, and tunneling when the opportunity presented itself.

What are some of the projects you are currently involved with?

Currently my effort with Parsons has been focused on both above- and below-grade work in the alternative delivery arena, particularly the Los Angeles Metro work, such as the Regional Connector and Westside Subway (Purple Line Extension). In addition, having had a role in the program management side of the Transbay Transit Center in San Francisco while working in my previous position with Hatch Mott McDonald, I am still active in supporting this effort for the Transbay Joint Power Authority though the Parsons’ role as Engineer of Record for the Downtown Extension portion of the project. This is an approximate 1.3-mile extension of the Caltrain commuter rail service to reach the core of the financial district in the new Transbay Transit Center through a series cut-and-cover and mined tunnels.

What do you find most rewarding about working in the tunneling industry?

I like all types of design associated with transportation and infrastructure work as I feel this is giving something back to society which, hopefully, will be to the betterment of mankind. Having a significant background in the natural sciences aspect of our world, I find it rewarding to offer solutions that attempt to minimize the impact on the environment while still being economically viable. I suppose one of the more rewarding aspects of the underground industry is the camaraderie among those involved. This is very similar to what I experienced while playing rugby for so many years in various parts of the world as well as the United States. The bonding between people and willingness to help each other develop solutions were very rewarding for me. And, yes, the technical challenges and striving to control the ground response to excavation is also lots of fun. It is rather like playing with Mother Earth! The unknowns and various responses to any action always seem to invoke the creative side of the mind to find the most appropriate solution.

You are serving as NAT 2014 committee chairman. What can you tell us about the theme of the conference? How is it relevant to the challenges facing the industry?

This year the conference is to be held in Los Angeles, June 22-25. Now that North America appears to be rapidly adopting design-build and alternative project delivery models, which is partly due to the financial challenges that many agencies are facing, I wanted to have a theme that emphasizes the use of these procurement methods. Los Angeles is proving to be a very good opportunity to do just that since many of the Metro projects that are hitting the street are being procured by design-build. As a result, the conference is being formatted to try to address many of the issues, observations and experience that the industry is facing by returning to the age-old procurement method. We feel that by staging a conference where the main theme is design-build and alternative project delivery we are hoping to engage in a significant dialogue throughout the conference, which will allow an exchange of ideas on what can be done to further promote and assist in the successful implementation of alternative project delivery mechanisms as a preferred method of procuring future projects.

This effort not only needs to engage the owners but contractors and engineers, and the insurance/bonding and financing industries too.

What is new to the conference this year?

For this year’s conference we have taken a new approach to scholarships. We are actively trying to seek new ways to engage younger engineers to join the underground industry. It is through this engagement that we hope to attract young talent that will help build the rank and file of the industry and contribute to the success of all. Most of our infrastructure is well over 50 years old and due to growth and attrition, there is much work to be done to support the infrastructure that is required to keep our economy moving forward in a meaningful way. As an example of the desperate need for new infrastructure, not so many years ago the typical design life used for much of our infrastructure was a mere 50 years. Now the typical design life is 100 years or more. To accomplish our mission of rebuilding our infrastructure, there will be a significant demand for good talent. As most of the prime building  areas are already occupied or as urban environments stretch well beyond their originally envisioned size, the need to go underground and capitalize on this space is becoming more commonplace than not.

To further our discussions and encourage active dialogue among attendees, we are planning to open the conference with a panel presentation on the various aspects of the alternative project delivery procurement methods. Through presentations by engineers, contractors, owners and insurance/finance representatives, we are hoping that the lessons learned and items that will facilitate the growth and implementation of the alternative project delivery method will be shared among the attendees for the benefit of all.

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