Fox Conference returns to New York City with record attendance

Fox Conference chairman Robert Palermo and FTA Administrator Nuria Fernandez.

Fox Conference chairman Robert Palermo and FTA Administrator Nuria Fernandez.

In November 2021, President Joe Biden signed the bipartisan $1 trillion infrastructure bill into law. The bill was written with the intention of rebuilding and improving the nation’s roads, bridges, highways, tunnels and internet access.

Shortly after it was signed into law U.S. Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg called it “the most significant investment in jobs and infrastructure in my lifetime,” saying the bill will “rebuild and replace infrastructure that is decades, or even a century, old.”

On Tuesday, May 10, Federal Transit Administrator Nuria Fernandez spoke to more than 380 tunneling and underground construction professionals during the George A. Fox Conference at the New York Hilton Midtown. Fernandez, the 15th FTA administrator, spoke about the legislation that she said will make $73 billion available for tunnel construction in the United States.

“The signing of the bipartisan infrastructure law was historic and necessary,” said Fernandez. “With the funding from this law we want to build and connect communities and that is what you do — your industry connects communities.” The funding available from the bill for the construction of transit and water tunnels is enough to pay off eight current projects and put another seven in the pipeline, said Fernandez. Of particular interest is the $13 billion Hudson Tunnel Project that will build two new tunnels and rehabilitate the exiting 111-year-old tunnels connecting New York and New Jersey. In March, the project completed the geotechnical investigation work, a necessary part of entering the engineering phase of the $5.6 billion Federal Transit Administration Capital Investment Grant (CIG) it is seeking for the Hudson Tunnel Project.

The infrastructure legislation includes at least $12.3 billion for New Jersey’s roads, bridges and transit, which would include billions of dollars that can be tapped to build the Gateway Tunnel under the Hudson River. During her presentation, Fernandez assured the audience that the Biden administration supports the tunneling industry and is “working very closely with the Hudson Tunnel project sponsors.”

Fernandez, who was previously general manager and chief executive officer of the Santa Clara Valley Transportation Authority (VTA) said future projects will be considered with the people they will serve at top of mind. “We support the work you do, and we are committed to your innovations, designs and thoughts,” said Fernandez. “We want to make sure what we are building will be sustainable, will connect communities and serve those communities, and will be there for centuries to come.”

The George A. Fox Conference celebrated its 20th anniversary; however, it opened with chair Robert Palermo asking for a moment of silence to honor two of the conference’s founding members, Edward Plotkin and Ray Henn, both of whom died in early 2022. Palermo said they were giants in the industry (see pages 28 and 29). The one-day conference included sessions focused on the challenges of rethinking and recalibration of the design-build process; a tunnel industry update and a panel focused on workforce sustainability in addition to a number of presentations about tunneling projects. The projects discussed included the Catskill Aqueduct construction; Crossings under the Hudson River; Amtrak Northeast corridor tunnel and station projects, I-64 Hampton Roads bridge tunnel expansion and Bergen Point Outfall.

The conference, held for the first time at the Hilton Midtown, included a special session on the history of the conference and the man it was named for, George A. Fox, who was president of Grow Tunneling and had a 50-year career in tunneling in the New York City area. He played key roles in the construction of 70 major public works projects valued at $61 billion. Lonnie Jacobs interviewed David Goodman of Grow Tunneling in a video remembrance of Fox.

The conference included an interesting talk about the history of crossing under the Hudson River from Angus Gillespie, author of Crossing Under the Hudson: The story of the Holland and Lincoln Tunnels.

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