GTF Joint Venture

The long-awaited Metropolitan Transportation Authority’s East Side Access Project will connect New York’s Long Island with Manhattan – specifically, Grand Central Station. “Currently, commuters from Long Island Rail Road have a choice to go to Brooklyn or Penn Station; the long-term goal is to ease overcrowding at Penn and instead offer Long Island and eastern Queens commuters the choice to go to Grand Central,” says Stephen Price, project executive of the Queens Bored Tunnels and Structures contract of the massive $7.3 billion project.

A joint venture among Granite Construction Northeast, Traylor Brothers Inc. and Frontier-Kemper Constructors Inc. – GTF Joint Venture – began work on that portion of the project in September 2009. The roughly $720 million Queens Bored Tunnels and Structures work will be completed in early 2013. 

The project calls for the tunneling of four short tunnel drives of a total of about 10,500 feet, with each being a little more than 22 feet in diameter. The tunnels’ depths vary, but Price notes that at the deepest point, they are about 80 feet below the surface.

“We’re mining underneath the Sunnyside rail yard, which is probably the most active rail yard in the country, which also encompasses Amtrak’s Northeast corridor, which is one of the busiest commuter rail lines in the country,” Price says. “It also accommodates the Long Island Rail Road, which is the busiest commuter rail in the country.”

In order to work around active rail lines in Sunnyside Yard, some of the work will be performed on nights and weekends. However, most of the mining is done continuously. “The owner didn’t want mining to stop for any reason under active rail lines, because they want it to be done as fast as possible,” Price notes.

Digging Deep

To deal with the challenges associated with such an ambitious tunneling project, the joint venture will be using two slurry tunnel boring machines that are designed to handle the ex­pected ground conditions under Sunnyside. The machines will tunnel through a high water table, sand, boulders and short sections of solid rock, Price says. 

“Tunneling in itself is always a challenge,” he notes. “I don’t think there’s any such thing as an easy tunneling job, but we think we’ve chosen the right methodology and the right equipment, so we’re doing what we’re supposed to be doing.”

The project is currently on schedule, with the machines to be shipped at the end of the summer for crews to begin the tunneling work later. Although the East Side Access Project is one of the largest and most challenging construction projects in New York City right now, Price says the joint venture is making the Queens Bored portion a success by draw­­ing from each company’s unique expertise. 

“The three companies each contribute a great deal of experience that’s required for this type of project,” he states. “Granite is one of the largest transit contractors in the country, and the Northeast division is one of the largest in the New York City area. Traylor is probably the most experienced pressurized face-tunneling contractor in the country; the company has done more than 20 miles of this type of tunnel. And Frontier-Kemper has done a considerable amount of underground work in New York City, so we’re drawing upon the expertise of all three companies.”

Despite the challenges, the joint venture is focused on turning over a successful project for the client. “It’s a technical challenge and const­ruction management challenge to run a project that is so technical in nature and of this size,” Price says. “Successful completion of such an im­portant component of the East Side Access Project would be very satisfying for all of us.” 

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