Meet people who are taking part in the high-speed rail program
11/9/2020 - Service to country and community is engrained in everything Ross Fuentes does. He has flown around the world and back while in the United States Air Force and, after eight years of service, returned to the Valley landing at high-speed rail.
A Porterville native, Fuentes began his career in the Air Force as part of an elite team, the Tactical Air Control Party (TACP). Embedded with U.S. Army units, Fuentes was responsible for precision planning and providing necessary air power and support on the front lines. Over the next eight years, he would be deployed to places including Puerto Rico, South Korea, Japan and Kuwait.
In Kuwait, Fuentes was part of Operation Southern Watch, a team of nine elite Air Force TACPs directly responsible for protecting the country from its neighboring foes.
“I wanted to serve my country proudly, and I knew I could potentially pay the ultimate price,” said Fuentes when asked why he enlisted. “I signed on the dotted line, and I knew if that time and place came when I would have to lay down my life for my country, I was fully prepared to do so.”
When time came to reenlist, Fuentes opted to return to school and pursue his educational goals.
After returning home, Fuentes enrolled at Fresno State. A first-generation college graduate, he earned his Bachelor of Science degree in construction management. He began his career as an intern at the Caltrans Construction Office in Visalia, shadowing other professional engineers. For the first time, Fuentes was able to envision himself in the engineering field and feel he could contribute to significant improvements in the Valley.
Now, Fuentes is employed with Baryeh Construction, Inc. and is part of the high-speed rail Project and Construction Management (PCM) team in Construction Package (CP) 2-3. He provides oversight of 22 miles of construction including numerous overcrossings, viaducts and HSR guideway within Kings County.
When looking back on his career in service and at high-speed rail, one key to Fuentes’ success is recognizing the importance of developing strong, professional relationships.
“Communication, coordination, and partnership are essential in any project, including high-speed rail,” said Fuentes. “If we all could recognize that our professional responsibility is not about any individual, but rather a team built on a foundation of strong and healthy relationships, creating a legacy for all Californians.”
The other keys to his success are the values he upholds daily - faith, family, country and service to others.
“My biggest accomplishment as a veteran was to be able to serve my country with honor,” added Fuentes. “I take pride in knowing that I was one of many men and women who shared one common oath for eight years: protecting our country and its democracy, ultimately providing the ‘Blanket of Freedom’ to all Americans.”
10/1/2020 - Even in the era of COVID-19, Dean’s Certified Welding Inc. shows no signs of easing up. That’s thanks in large part to the firm’s original President and CEO Mike Dean, who launched the firm in 1973.
“If you do what you say you’re going to do, and you do a good job, you can’t hardly fail,” said Dean. “It’s really been kind of a fairy-tale story.”
Initially, the firm started supplying field pipe welding to local Carlsbad tomato farmers. Today, the Temecula-based firm employs about 60 California-based workers.
“We’ve had guys retire out of the company after 30 years,” said Dean. “When people stick around like that, it means you’ve treated them right, taken care of them.”
The firm gets a lot of specialty work due to its vast experience. Dean recalled taking on the welding and testing of 100 miles of Central Valley water pipeline. “We got into bigger pipes and bigger jobs,” he said.
On the high-speed rail project, the firm subcontracted with design-builder Dragados Flatiron to weld 20-to-40-foot steel utility pipes for water and electrical lines. The infrastructure must withstand the steady vibration of electric high-speed trains traveling in excess of 220 miles per hour.
“Our welders are held to extremely high standards when it comes to the welding code and specifications,” said Zachary Gilbert, the firm’s Chief Operating Officer. “You put two pipes together and, depending on joint design, we’ll go around it over and over with molten metal.”
Gilbert bought into the business in 2014 and now shares a third of the firm’s ownership with Dean and Dean’s wife, Carolyn, the firm’s Vice President. Dean credits Gilbert with strengthening the company’s foundation, spearheading the launch of a successful Canadian division and preparing the firm for the future.
Company welders put over 300 20-foot long shock absorbers in walls of the seismic rehab of Naval Medical Center in San Diego to make it more seismic compliant. They also worked on Rams Stadium in Inglewood, California and helped remove a giant tunnel boring machine for the Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority.
Gilbert sees high-speed rail as another project to be proud of.
He said. “In 20 years, we’ll be able to say, ‘hey we were one of the first contractors working on that project to get it going.’”
For more on Dean’s Certified Welding, see our August 2020 Small Business Newsletter.
9/11/2020 - It was just another Tuesday for Todd Covington, a driver for Bubba’s Water Truck Service. His usual daily task is to provide dust suppression for a number of Construction Package (CP) 2-3 construction sites in Fresno, Kings, and Tulare counties. Little did he know that his typical day would be a heroic one.
Around 5:45 a.m. during his early morning commute along State Route (SR) 43 to high-speed rail’s Avenue 88 construction site, Covington noticed smoke along the shoulder of the highway. As he drove closer, he noticed a small car on fire that began to spread onto the grass close by. It was then he leaped into action.
Covington pulled his water truck into the northbound lane, turned on his hazard lights, and used the side spray to extinguish both the car and the grass fire.
Covington waved to the other driver and went on with his daily routine. “I went on about my day,” he said jokingly. “I had to be at work! But I knew it was the right thing to do.”
Covington’s shift started at 6 a.m.
Before starting with Bubba’s on June 29, Covington ran a water truck and helped cleanup after the Camp Fire, one of the deadliest and most destructive wildfires in California history. “It’s sad to see the destruction but it’s a feel-good type of job for me because you’re helping these families restart their lives.”
“It’s not a surprise that he took action when he saw a car on fire,” said Regina (Gina) Markos, President of Bubba’s Water Truck Service, when asked about her new employee. “It is also not surprising that he did that and then went on about his business like it was no big deal.”
9/4/2020 - Nursing was a rewarding career choice for Christina Cunningham. However, being a crane operator is in her blood.
After spending 15 years as a hospice nurse, Cunningham needed a change of pace. The next step in her career was obvious - to follow in her grandfather and great-grandfather’s footsteps and become a crane operator. How does one go from one career to the other? Easy.
“I get to play with Tonka Toys all day,” Cunningham said jokingly while standing next to her crane.
“Instead of helping people transition, I’m now helping bring something to life,” she replied more seriously.
Cunningham is a mother of two young girls and a son who is also a Marine. She now works as a crane operator for design-build contractor Dragados-Flatiron / Joint Venture and has worked on various structures across Construction Package 2-3 including the Conejo Viaduct and the South Avenue Grade Separation. If she’s not hoisting a rebar cage at Conejo, you may catch her at South Avenue assisting with placing girders over the rail line.
The reward from transitioning from nurse scrubs to construction boots was two-fold.
Cunningham’s grandfather was able to see her complete training and enter the same union he was part as a crane operator. The career change allowed them to become even closer before his passing.
“He would call all my aunts and uncles and tell them, ‘My granddaughter is doing cranes,’” added Cunningham. “He would call me every day and ask what I’m operating on and where I was going. It was nice to know my grandfather was proud of me and an honor for him to see that.”
The second reward is being part of history.
“I get to drive around with my kids and tell them, ‘Mom helped build this.’” added Cunningham. “It gives me a sense of pride, and being on high-speed rail is amazing, because we’re part of making history.”
9/4/2020 - Even with more than 20 years of transportation and engineering experience, is it enough to take on a project as massive as high-speed rail? Garth Fernandez is up for the challenge. His significant project management, design, and construction delivery experience in the Central Valley make the him the right person for the job.
In June, Fernandez took on a dual role within the California High-Speed Rail Authority (Authority) serving as interim regional director, overseeing construction activities in the Central Valley, as well continuing his role as Senior Contract Manager for Construction Package 1.
“I have seen the ebb and flow of the project through the years supporting it while at Caltrans,” said Fernandez. “Given the significant project leadership changes in the last year, I felt it was the appropriate time for me to contribute and be a part of the team.”
Before high-speed rail, Fernandez joined Caltrans in 1998 as a project engineer and was responsible for the design of sections of the State Route 180 corridor in Fresno.
Recently, he was responsible for highway improvements in the Central Valley and was responsible for all interactions between Caltrans and the high-speed rail programs.
“When I was asked to step in and help out as interim regional director, there was only one response – yes,” said Fernandez who joined the Authority in May.
Fernandez’s leadership, drive, knowledge, and quality approach have and will continue to greatly enhance the delivery of CP 1.
Recently, the Authority celebrated the creation 4,000 construction jobs, dispatching an average of nearly 1,100 workers on construction sites daily, opening the Avenue 15 grade separation in Madera County, and releasing the Final Supplemental Environmental Impact Report/Environmental Impact Statement (EIR/EIS) for the Central Valley Wye.
“As we head into Labor Day, we take a break and reflect on the significant efforts and the accomplishments we have achieved collectively,” added Fernandez. “Every high-speed rail crew member, laborer, construction worker is part of a select team working on a legacy project building the first high-speed Rail system in the United States. Be proud of the work you do and remember we all play an integral role in the quality and ultimate success of this project.”
9/2/2020 - "I look forward to being part of projects that will endure for future generations. Knowing that I had a part in these creations would bring me so much pride," shares engineering graduate student Rudy Lopez. "I strive to be a prominent engineer locally and eventually at the national level."
Appropriately placed on one of the nation’s largest infrastructure projects, Lopez is now a student assistant with the California High-Speed Rail Authority (Authority) and is working to obtain a Master of Engineering degree with an emphasis in structural engineering at Fresno State.
Lopez, originally from Guadalajara, Jalisco in Mexico, now resides in the Central Valley with his wife and children. Lopez grew up with his mother and three siblings, who all worked in the agriculture industry. Just like the tremendous work that continues with the high-speed rail project in California, Lopez is no stranger to pioneering new landscapes as the first of 38 grandchildren in his family to graduate from college. With his work on the project and educational achievements, Lopez continues to pave the way for younger generations in his family to pursue higher education.
Lopez graduated from Fresno State with a dual bachelor’s in mass communications and Spanish literature in 2006. In his undergraduate pursuits, Lopez was inspired by his older brother, admiring his work ethic and ownership of personal responsibilities. Fast forward some years, and Lopez explains that his close friends never cease to stop reminding him of his potential to become an engineer. Now, as a graduate student, Lopez shares the support and motivation that comes from his wife and two children. Given many new educational resources Lopez describes a newfound excitement to learning.
As a student assistant, Lopez’s work on the construction segment runs 60 miles from Fresno to the Tulare-Kern County line, known as Construction Package 2-3. Lopez highlights that his perspective as a local to the Central Valley positively shapes the work he does. “I truly believe we are making a difference for this generation and for many more to come.”
Lopez has a wide range of responsibilities such as 3D modeling of rail crossings and utility lines to help prepare the alignment for future high-speed rail and working on access tools that will allow the public to more easily find plans for the project. “High-speed rail has given me the opportunity to see a full scope of what engineering really is and the many opportunities there are within the industry," remarks Lopez. "I have seen the progress of all four high-speed rail segments firsthand, allowing me to see the work in the office taken into the field to become a reality."
Lopez, mentored by senior staff, is helping to shape California High-Speed Rail. “I believe that what we are doing with this project will give us a place in history books. This project is paramount to bringing California and the nation a system of transportation connectivity that will set a precedent in US history,“ says Lopez. "Generations to come will enjoy the fruitfulness of this construction the same way that we now enjoy the benefits of projects such as the Golden Gate Bridge or Hoover Dam."
7/14/2020 - Underneath quick smiles and a quiet demeanor, you’ll find the real Yaqeline Castro - a young woman with sharp mind and the ability to get things done.
Born and raised in the Central Valley, Castro recalled having a lot of different careers in mind. “I can remember having a toolkit and wanting to be a doctor, and then a banker, because I liked their blazers,” Castro laughed. “When I joined the student council in elementary school, I envisioned myself as the first female president. I just knew I wanted to work with people and help my community – and if that meant being the first female governor of California, that wouldn’t be so bad!”
Castro studied sociocultural anthropology when she attended the University of California, Merced. But her career trajectory took a turn during her senior year when she spent time in Washington, D.C. doing an internship at the Department of Education. “I learned a great deal about how the federal government is structured and interacts with state and local governments,” Castro said.
It wasn’t long before she joined the California High-Speed Authority as a member of the Capital Fellows Program. “It was the perfect post-graduate opportunity to learn about California state government and gain valuable work experience,” Castro explained. “I also wanted to ensure Central Valley communities are an equitable part of high-speed rail development.”
When Castro arrived at the Authority, she went right to work finding and writing stories, conducting research, helping with outreach events and encouraging college students to join the #iwillride movement, which supports options in mobility and transportation and the development of high-speed rail.
“I love working with a team that’s teaching me how to be part of the world of communications and media,” Castro said. “I’ve also been able to shadow my mentor, the head of communications, and interact with the executive team, which has trusted me and made me feel like an integral part of the project.”
Castro has learned her ability to observe, take direction and complete tasks has landed her a job when her fellowship ends. She will be the Outreach and Student Engagement Liaison for the communications team. She couldn’t be happier. “I hit the jackpot getting placed in communications,” she declared. “I have a space where ideas and creativity are welcome, supervisors give credit to people for hard work and team members like to laugh.”
She’s also proud of working on the high-speed rail project. “High-speed rail will bring a sustainable mode of transportation to California. And in all honesty, high-speed rail should have been built all throughout the United States 40 years ago. It’s time to get started!”
7/8/2020 - Creating a better tomorrow, today.
Vik Bapna’s mission statement grew out of a holistic approach to watershed and stormwater management.
In 2006, Bapna left a job with the Los Angeles County Flood Control District and co-founded Fullerton-based California Watershed Engineering (CWE) with Jason Pereira.
Today, around 35 employees work for the civil engineering, water resources and environmental engineering firm. Certified as a Small and Disadvantaged Business Enterprise, CWE subcontracts with STV for hydraulic and water quality analysis for the Environmental Impact Statement for high-speed rail’s Los Angeles to Anaheim segment.
“As transportation folks look to lay down proposed track, they’re not looking from a [water] perspective,” Bapna said. “We analyze that and let them know if there are issues.”
CWE has successfully designed and supported other construction projects from wetlands development for the City of Torrance to a project using runoff for irrigation and toilets in the City of Santa Monica. He also worked on one of California’s first urban watershed management plans – a Sun Valley park with sports fields on top of an infiltration system that captures stormwater and filters it underground to improve water quality.
“It flows the way it flows,” Bapna pointed out. He added he’s always thinking about “how to provide the most benefit to the community that you work in.”
For more on CWE, see our May 2020 Small Business Newsletter.
7/1/2020 - Remember the 1990s? That’s when venture capitalists poured billions of dollars into new internet businesses until the big dot-com bust.
Kais Menoufy was thinking about a strategic plan that would sustain his “young company” when he launched the firm in 2000. Today, Delegata Corporation has evolved into one of the most successful international information technology and management consulting firms in Sacramento.
Delegata is providing technology solutions to assist high-speed rail with performance measurement and management of its myriad construction projects.
“We are not a product company,” Menoufy offered. “We are a consulting firm and we provide solutions that work with software products across many platforms.”
Over the years, he has incorporated holistic delivery solutions to complex projects. “We created both a home for seasoned experts and a knowledge measurement system called the Diamond Mind, which houses over 6,000 historical artifacts from prior engagements. As an example, when we were hired for high-speed rail, we leveraged those artifacts. We knew it was going to work,” he said.
Ranked No. 2 on Sacramento Business Journal’s top Information Technology companies in 2014, Delegata boasts an impressive clientele list of California state departments. They include Caltrans, CalPERS, the Department of Motor Vehicles, Healthcare Services, CalSTA, the Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation, and the Department of Insurance.
Menoufy has also been immersed in charitable programs that support young adults. Building Bridges cultivates international relationships of diversity between the East and West through events, academic partnerships and diplomatic ties. Closing the Gap funds programs that support thousands of low-income and minority students with tutoring and more.
“We fund programs that help students with higher education,” he said. “Closing the Gap has helped more than 3,700 students go to college in 11 years.”
For more information on Delegata Corporation, see our May 2020 Small Business Newsletter.
6/22/2020 - Imagine being in college, well into junior year and about to start a new gig in your field of interest.
Three weeks later, you find out you’re finishing your semester virtually and student life is completely changed from now until the foreseeable future.
This would rattle the spirits of many individuals, but not for Daniel Hinojosa, the Central Valley’s new Engineering student assistant at the California High-Speed Rail Authority. He’s just happy to be part of the team.
“I am most excited to be working with some of the most knowledgeable and experienced engineers in the State of California,” said Hinojosa about the perks of working with the Authority.
Hinojosa is a Fresno State student majoring in construction management with a minor in business. He hopes one day to manage construction projects as large as the high-speed rail project.
Three months in, Hinojosa has been working closely with the engineering team and applying his construction management coursework to keep teams up to date of deadlines and deliverables.
You’ll also find him greeting team members and guests at the front desk of the Central Valley office from time to time.
“Switching to a virtual classroom was unexpected for me. It was nothing I couldn’t handle, but at times I felt like I was teaching myself,” said Hinojosa about this past semester. “This project has been the best hands on experience I have received so far and I’m truly happy to be here.”
6/2/2020 - Public outreach is challenging, but even more so with the COVID-19 pandemic presenting limitations for organizations to communicate and share project details with communities. By its very definition, ‘outreach’ implies direct and in-person communication between an organization and the community it serves, with the goal of capturing public comment on projects and environmental documents. Communications businesses that assist government agencies in holding public meetings and public hearings have tackled this challenge head on by swiftly adopting cutting-edge technology.
Arellano Associates provides outreach for agencies, including the California High-Speed Rail Authority (Authority), and has incorporated online tools that create new online experiences for meeting attendees. Geno Arellano’s team, working remotely from 44 locations, has managed to create 100% virtual communications with elected officials, key stakeholders and the public at large for her clients.
Val Martinez, owner of VMA Communications, in addition to serving government agencies and the Authority, provides the interface between teachers, administrators and parents for more than 15 school districts. Her team held an online Zoom meeting in May with 150 participants. Val noted, “…the pandemic has produced challenges for some clients, which presents an opportunity to find a new way to work.”
Geno Arellano is enthusiastic about the changes, “There’s no going back! We were already using digital tools across all our projects, but now we use them on multiple platforms and for different purposes. Our clients love it because it’s easy, often very affordable and a lot of fun!”
The quality of outreach communications is broadening, despite safer at home constraints, due to remarkable adaptations by flexible and savvy small businesses coping with COVID-19.
5/29/2020 - “One of the greatest things we can do to encourage others to bike is to advocate for better bike safety and infrastructure.” Jack Wursten, Legislative Analyst at the California High-Speed Rail Authority shares about the work that he does as a member of the Sacramento County Bicycle Advisory Committee. Wursten has served on the advisory committee since 2018 and contributes to long term planning that promotes safe bike infrastructure on development projects in Sacramento County. He has been an active cyclist for many years, biking to work every day and actively seeking to replace short car trips with a bike ride to run everyday errands.
Wursten shares that as he became a more active rider, he realized that there were many opportunities to make biking better, and the advisory committee was a productive way to engage with policy for promoting safe bike infrastructure.
To celebrate Bike Month this May, Wursten shares that he is taking this time to share his bike trips with his family. In the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, he notes that many of the streets have cleared, leaving space for him and his family to enjoy quality time together discovering some new neighborhoods, taking in the sun and just enjoying some time out of the house. He encourages others, if they have the means to do so, to enjoy bike rides while practicing social distancing and wearing a facemask. For those that want to begin cycling, Wursten encourages people to “simply get out and try a ride or two. Once you get out there, you realize how fun and easy it is. The more familiar you become with navigating the roads, the easier it will be to determine where you find the safest routes.”
To encourage more folks to start biking, Wursten expresses that providing safe infrastructure is one of the most important things that we can do. He expresses a deep desire to improve the safety of cycling in his community not only for himself but for his children and his community. “There is a level of empowerment in providing people a safe and accessible option of biking in their communities. You can improve the quality of life for many if they can safely bike to work, school or many other day-to-day activities.”
Wursten most looks forward to contributing his perspective and bringing the right voices to the table as the advisory works to help shape the Sacramento County Active Transportation Plan. According to the Sacramento Area Council of Governments, this plan is important to the county’s goal of creating sustainable communities, reducing greenhouse gas emissions, increasing public health and increasing the overall quality of life of Sacramento County residents.
4/21/2020 - For 25 years, Rick Brown PhD, worked as a business and organizational strategy consultant, working mostly in the public sector. He made what was perhaps one of the most pivotal decisions of his career in 2005, when he was engaged by a national environmental organization to help them gain a better understanding of climate change and the impact it could ultimately have on their work.
“In delving into the research and science around climate change, I had an epiphany; that this is the most important issue out there that I could work on,” Brown recalled. “Something needs to change.”
A year later, when the federal government passed the solar investment tax credit and California passed its solar initiative, he helped convince the board of a low-income housing tax credit company client that it should explore investing in the solar tax credit financing business. That eventually led to the formation of MMA Renewable Ventures, one of the first financing companies for the solar industry.
“I saw it as both an area of growth in terms of my mission,” Brown said. “I felt like if we’re really going to get a handle on climate change, we have to quickly move capital from fossil fuel to renewable energy investments.”
In 2009, MMA Renewable Ventures was sold to a Spanish energy firm, forcing Brown to plot his next move. “I left there and did a kitchen table start-up,” he said.
The kitchen-start-up became TerraVerde Energy, a Larkspur-based consulting firm that was founded to support California public agencies evaluate and deploy the distribution of solar photo-voltaic projects, battery energy storage and energy resiliency (microgrid) projects.
“I initially grew the business in the public-school sector,” said Brown, the board chair and founder of TerraVerde Energy. “As the success occurred, other types of public agencies – cities, counties, water agencies and then transit and community choice agencies – came along.”
One of those transit agencies is the California High-Speed Rail Authority (Authority), where TerraVerde Energy is helping the agency fulfill its commitment to operate exclusively on clean renewable energy. A subcontractor for WSP, TerraVerde Energy is helping the Authority develop its energy procurement strategy, focusing on four primary components – feasibility and design, procurement, project management and asset management.
“We’re doing the deep analytics to figure out what are the appropriate scoping and design requirements for the most cost-effective way of implementing solar and battery storage,” he said.
The Authority is one of several transit agencies who have tapped into TerraVerde Energy’s expertise. Other clients include Bay Area Rapid Transit, Caltrain and SamTrans. Additionally, TerraVerde Energy is also supporting over 60 public agencies in developing and managing solar management and storage.
Working on the high-speed system has allowed TerraVerde Energy to leverage its relationship with other transit agencies with similar strategic development work.
“It’s been a great experience for us. When we were first brought in, there was not a lot of internal knowledge about solar. We created an electricity usage model for the system,” he said. “Now, with high-speed rail staff and other consultants we’ve built something that the system could use for its life.”
“It will be upgraded when we have a real operation. That’s the exciting part - we provided a solution for achieving 100 percent renewable energy use at much lower cost than projected in previous business plans.”
3/6/2020 - Drive by a high-speed rail construction site and you just might find Avila Traffic Safety standing close by. Each day, Kellie Avila, founder and president of Avila Traffic Safety, takes pride in fulfilling her business' daily mission to deliver “safety with pride” to every customer.
“It’s been crazy busy over the last year. Now that high-speed rail has kicked it up a notch, it’s adding to our workload in a positive way,” said Avila in an interview earlier this year.
Founded in 2011, Avila Traffic Safety was formerly doing business as Associated Traffic Safety. However, a new outlook and mission led to a rebranding of the company early last year.
“Of course, we think our people – our tradesmen and women - set us apart from our competition,” added Avila. “We strive to set a standard of safety and customer service that puts us at the top of the selection process for traffic control services.”
Avila Traffic Safety began working on the high-speed rail project in 2016 providing traffic control services on various construction sites. Avila provides flagging services, construction area and permanent signage, as well as traffic control plans, rental equipment such as temporary water filled k-rail for safety and more. Working on the high-speed rail project has allowed Avila to expand the services of her Central Valley business into the San Joaquin Valley and three high-speed rail construction packages.
Avila Traffic Safety has provided services at major high-speed rail construction sites including the Wasco Viaduct, Davis and Peach overcrossings in Fresno County, and the Idaho and Kent overcrossings in Kings County. With crews dedicated only to high-speed rail, many new jobs have been created in the company.
In fact, Avila Traffic Safety’s very own Foster Ellis was dispatched as the 2,000th worker on the project.
“We wanted the opportunity to be part of something to benefit the future of California. We are always looking to diversify our customer base and we’re proud to be part of the high-speed rail project,” said Avila.
3/4/2020 - With more than 30 years in civil engineering, Aamir Durrani has taken his experience/expertise all across the United States before landing back in the Central Valley’s Kern County.
Throughout his career, Durrani has been tasked with many challenging obstacles while on some of the largest infrastructure projects in the United States. When others see a challenge, Durrani sees an opportunity.
“My passion has always been to be involved in America’s greatest [infrastructure] projects,” said Durrani in an interview at the Wasco Viaduct located on the edge of the city of Wasco. “From my high school days, I was interested in technology. My interest was building something that would be meaningful and last. That’s why I chose civil engineering.”
Durrani completed his undergraduate degree at University of California, Irvine in 1985 and completed his Master of Science in Civil Engineering (MSCE) at Georgia Institute of Technology in 1988. Durrani landed his dream job at HNTB shortly after and has been part of numerous transportation projects including the Big Dig Tunnel in Boston, the Automated People Mover (APM) tunnels at the Washington Dulles International Airport, and the Minneapolis Light Rail tunnels.
Now, Durrani is the Project and Construction Management Engineering Oversight Manager in construction package 4, the 22-mile stretch of high-speed rail that runs between Tulare and Kern counties.
“Engineering is always innovating and ever-evolving. It always provides opportunities for improvement and growth,” said Durrani. “I have had the opportunity to work on the best projects in America. Now I get to work on a pioneering project here in Kern County and do work that is historic and state-of-the-art.”
How do you keep the passion for engineering going? Durrani’s advice is simple.
“Life is a beautiful trip, just add purpose. Know yourself and what you want to do. Be practical and keep up with technology trends, so that you are prepared for opportunities now and in the future.”
See more of Aamir’s work on high-speed rail at https://youtu.be/Tu_j_9twu4s.
3/4/2020 - Daniel Teran is one of many talented engineers at the forefront of progress.
“For me there is no better type of work,” said Teran about working on the California High-Speed Rail project. “Every day is a new challenge that requires fast-paced problem solving.”
Engineering has always been in Teran’s blood. His love for STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) started at a young age with a fascination for puzzles and LEGO®. It was in high school that he found himself exceling in math and science, which led him toward a future in engineering.
“I always loved puzzles, building things, and trying to figure out how all the pieces come together – which is very similar to the work we do,” added Teran.
A proud Oregonian and Beaver (his college mascot), Teran is a graduate of Oregon State University. After college, he worked for the Washington State Department of Transportation where he worked on a multibillion-dollar transportation project called the Columbia River Crossing which ignited his interest for large scale projects. After working shortly for a private engineering firm, he and his family came to California to join the high-speed rail team.
Teran has served in a variety of capacities since joining high-speed rail. In 2016, he joined the Project and Construction Management team at Construction Package (CP) 2-3. He then worked for CP 4 in 2018 before returning to CP 2-3 in early 2019. His work focuses on coordinating third-parties like Caltrans, county entities and utilities, engineering and right-of-way in order to get to construction.
“These large infrastructure projects are game changers both locally and nationally,” added Teran about his time with high-speed rail. “I consider it an honor to be involved with a project like this and proud to work with other engineers working to make a lasting impact for generations to come.”
See more of Daniel’s work on high-speed rail at https://youtu.be/8KEKpvOeTMo.
3/3/2020 - Being in the male-dominated world of construction hasn’t stopped Mary Riolo from making her mark. Her take-charge attitude has taken her across California and Las Vegas, working on some of the largest projects around before working on California high-speed rail.
Riolo grew up north of Sacramento in Roseville, California. In 1994, a friend convinced her to join the Laborers Union, and six years later she joined the Carpenters Union.
Being part of the Carpenters Union has taken her to work on the San Francisco Bay Bridge for six years, the San Francisco Airport, and the Interstate 680 and State Route 24 interchanges.
Since coming to Fresno, Mary has taken her more than 20 years of experience to work on the Road 27 overpass and the Cedar Viaduct. She was also instrumental in laying out the formwork on the San Joaquin River Viaduct as a carpenter and pile driver.
When asked about why she enjoys construction, Riolo narrowed it down to three things. “I like the outdoors, it’s physical, and it’s high-energy,” she said with a smile.
“Women can do this. It’s not hard,” said Riolo when asked what advice she would give to others. “Go for it, help out and learn. Fall right in and do it. Construction is a great opportunity, great benefits, and you get to do great things.”
2/20/2020 - Lillie Lam caught the engineering bug while in elementary school, when a representative from a prominent engineering firm visited her class to give a presentation on career day.
“I grew up in East Oakland and a career in civil engineering was foreign to me,” Lam recalled. “I’m first born of an immigrant family from China. I don’t recall having a “job” interest. My very first exposure to engineering was in elementary school, I remembered when an engineer from Bechtel came to my school for career day.
“The engineer talked about the projects they worked on and the places they traveled to working on various projects. I remembered that peaking my interest in wanting to work at a place like Bechtel.”
While Lam didn’t apply for a position at Bechtel, she has fulfilled her vision, achieving her goal of becoming an engineer. Today, Lam is a Section Manager at HNTB for the civil group in Oakland, where she manages a team of about 15 engineers.
Before Lam landed at HNTB 15 years ago, she worked at a small local land development firm in Pleasanton. She worked there for two summers before being offered a permanent position after graduating from UC Davis with a Bachelor of Science Degree in Civil Engineering.
Initially, Lam had aspirations of becoming a structural engineer while attending UC Davis. However, Lam’s first internship was in land development. “It was something completely new to me,” she said. “It was interesting to learn about the work that went into developing a subdivision.
“I stayed with it for a couple of years before joining HNTB. I saw an article about HNTB in an Engineering News-Record magazine and looked them up. The rest is history,” Lam continued. “I left because I wanted to try something new and challenging. HNTB offered the infrastructure improvements I was interested in.”
Lam has worked on many projects during her 17-year career, most of them focusing on roadway and highway improvements. “Since joining HNTB in May 2005, I’ve been fortunate to work on a variety of projects,” she said. “I’ve worked on projects on various phases of design from conceptual to construction and a couple of design build projects. The experience has been rewarding to be able to play a role in improving transportation in the Bay Area.”
During her tenure at HNTB, Lam has had an opportunity to work on the high-speed rail project as the Deputy Design Manager and Civil/Roadway Lead for the San Francisco to Merced subsection supporting the 30 percent preliminary design for Environmental Document necessary to clear the section for Design Build procurement.
“High-speed rail was my first rail project,” Lam said. “I enjoy being part of the team that would bring high-speed rail to the Bay Area. It will provide an alternative mode of transportation from San Francisco to Los Angeles and assist in building the economy along the alignment for the cities in the Central Valley.
“The high-speed rail is a challenging project. The San Jose to Merced subsection is 89 miles long crossing multiple cities and counties. Some of the challenges encountered on this section included designing for wildlife crossings and designing an alignment passing through a floodplain. Some of my duties included managing the design team and coordinating the design.”
Lam credits her success to having a passion for her career and for the projects she’s worked on.
“Civil engineering is a rewarding career. You can see and experience what you played a role in constructing. I encourage all aspiring engineers to be flexible and open minded in their career choices. Take the time to build on your technical capabilities to be a well-rounded engineer.”
2/18/2020 - James Tung’s journey into a career in engineering can be measured as a testament to a parents’ influence in shaping the direction of their young teen.
When he was young and vacationing with his family, Tung distinctly remembers that while he and other family members were taking vacation photos, his father, Edward, would aim his camera in an entirely different – and unusual – direction.
“I’d say my dad was the biggest inspiration,” said Tung, who endearingly referred to Edward Tung as an “engine-nerd.’ “He was a civil /electrical engineer. I saw him working on a lot of projects growing up.
“Anytime we went on vacation, we’d be taking pictures of buildings and my dad would be off to the side, taking pictures of OCS (overhead contact system) wires - wires that power the train.”
With that, James Tung the Engineer was born.
Today, Tung is a Project Manager for WSP, overseeing efforts to build the nation’s first high-speed rail system in the San Francisco to San Jose Project Section. But before landing at WSP, Tung had to navigate the typically challenging academic course load at his university of choice - McGill University in Montreal, Quebec, Canada.
After graduating from McGill in 2002 with a Bachelors’ Degree in Engineering, Tung enrolled in Virginia Polytechnical Institute and State University where he graduated with a Master’s in Civil Infrastructure Engineering in 2005.
James was working for a firm in Virginia when a recruiter contacted him, gauging his interest in working for Parsons Brinckerhoff, which since has been acquired by WSP.
“I always had an interest in working at ‘PB’,” James said. “In school, it was just one of those high-profile infrastructure companies that everyone knew about. They were responsible for some of the biggest projects around, and as such, became the topic of some of our case studies.”
In 2006, Tung was off to San Diego to work for ‘PB’ – a multinational engineering and design firm with approximately 14,000 employees worldwide. In 2010, WSP relocated Tung to the San Francisco Bay Area, where he began working on the California High-Speed Rail project.
The general perception is that succeeding in engineering requires the requisite acumen to master mathematics and various sciences. However, Tung offered a unique assessment of what it takes to truly launch a successful career in engineering.
“There’s this perception that engineering is all heavy math related puzzles, which is a fair assumption coming out of engineering school. As your career develops, you’ll notice that relationship building is also an essential aspect of engineering,” Tung said. “Networking, knowing who to talk to and where to seek advice, are all parts of the job.
“The more you put yourself out there, the more relationships you’ll build, and the more opportunities will open up to you.”
1/8/2020 - Andrew Gregg knows tenacity when he sees it. His father in-law Chris LeBaugh took on a huge task when he founded his small business, the LeBaugh Group, Inc.
“We were talking, and he really wanted to make a difference and I said, ‘well let’s talk about this environmental thing, maybe we can talk about doing something,” recalled Andrew Gregg of the firm’s origins. Gregg is TLG’s Vice President, an environmental attorney and LeBaugh’s son in-law. “Chris really put it out there to get this thing going.”
LeBaugh’s tenacity was no surprise to Gregg. LeBaugh is a U.S. Marine Corp veteran who eventually lost a leg after he was severely wounded and rescued fellow soldiers in Vietnam – a gallant act that won him a Silver Star and Purple Heart. LeBaugh persevered and, after rehabilitating, had a successful career as a commercial airline pilot before retiring relatively young.
In 2006, he launched TLG, a Disabled Veteran Business Enterprise (DVBE), specializing in engineering, environmental consulting and construction management. Gregg explained he currently represents TLG on a project to help create salmon habitat in the Willamette River in Portland, Ore., part of the Portland Harbor Superfund Site. For the last 11 years, the Signal Hill-based firm has worked with prime contractor STV on high-speed rail’s Los Angeles to Anaheim project section contributing to environmental and engineering work.
“It’s been nice to be one of the graybeards in the room at this point on the project. I wish people could take a longer-term view on this,” he said. “This thing will outlive all of us and for all the pain we all go through of trying to get this up and going, this will be something that can be around for a long, long time.”
12/27/2019 - This holiday season, high-speed rail staff and contractors spent time giving back to communities all across the Central Valley.
The season of giving began earlier this fall when the Project Construction Management team for Construction Package 2-3 (CP 2-3) teamed up for Stantec in the Community week to sew and gather materials to make blankets for kids at Valley Children’s Hospital in Madera County. Volunteers traveled to the high-speed rail offices in Selma and worked during their lunch hour to assemble more than 70 blankets for the winter months.
CP 2-3 continued to give back, this time with Toys for Tots. This month, design-build contractor Dragados-Flatiron Joint Venture and high-speed rail staff gathered as many new and unwrapped toys as possible for Fresno County children in need, so they too can feel the joys of Christmas.
“It’s great to work with a team who are this passionate to give back to the community, especially during the holidays,” said Jillian Canete, public outreach and oversight manager at CP 2-3. “The CP 2-3 team collected more than two dozen toys and is excited to partner with the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) Younger Member Forum’s (YMF) annual U.S. Marine’s Toys for Tots Drive.”
Further south, our CP 4 partners California Rail Builders (CRB) are in the holiday spirit taking part in Wasco’s Toys for Tigers Christmas Tree Spectacular for the second time.
“We’ve been looking forward to taking part in this event all year,” said Gina Torres, Public Information Manager for California Rail Builders. “Toys for Tigers is a great organization for the City of Wasco and allows us to give back and showcase that CRB is a partner in the community.”
At the event held on December 5, the team spent time with the children and families in attendance, participated in a Christmas tree decorating showdown and provided important information about the high-speed rail program and the upcoming work happening in their community. In addition, the CRB team donated toys that will be handed out to families in the city of Wasco.
12/19/2019 - Andrew Mancini is a transportation savant, characterized by his untiring passion for trains and buses. His fascination of trains and buses can be traced back to his pre-kindergarten days, when he demonstrated a remarkable ability to memorize the names of the various Caltrain locomotives and decipher complicated bus and train schedules.
Mancini was so spellbound by trains, he would implore his parents to take him to the local Caltrain station, where he would sit pensively as the trains rolled up and down the Peninsula Corridor.
“From as early as I can remember, I just had this passion for buses and trains,” Manicini said. “I had memorized all the Caltrain locomotives. I could look at the different maps and just commit them to memory.”
“Just driving up and down El Camino, he would notice the trains go by and the SamTrans buses,” recalled Mancini’s mother, Sara. “One of his most favorite things to do was for us to take him to the Caltrain station and watch the trains arrive or take a train ride. He just loved it.”
It was a passion Mancini felt compared to share. At age 5, Mancini decided to do so by creating a transportation museum at his family’s San Carlos home, where he would invite family members, friends, classmates and neighbors.
“I would turn different rooms into displays and use our backyard for some transportation-related games,” said Mancini, now a 16-year-old junior at Sequoia High School in Redwood City. “After the first seven years, the exhibits and the museum attendance were outgrowing our house. So, we moved the museum to the local elementary school.”
Since 2015, the Transportation Museum has been held at Brittan Acres Elementary School in San Carlos. Last October, an estimated 300 visitors – many of them young students – arrived at the campus to experience interactive exhibits and activities. The museum featured a transit-themed escape room, a Transcontinental Railroad exhibit, a table where kids could build transit villages out of Legos and displays of scenic train rides from around the world.
The Transportation Museum also featured information tables from the California High-Speed Rail Authority and the Metropolitan Transportation Commission.
“More than half the visitors were people I didn’t know but found out about the museum,” Mancini said.
Organizing the Transportation Museum is time consuming, especially considering Manicini plays the trombone in the high school band, is a member of the Peninsula Youth Orchestra, is president of the school’s debate team, serves as the yearbook editor and is a SamTrans Youth Ambassador.
“The defining characteristic of Andrew is that whatever he takes on, he sets really high standards,” Sara Mancini said. “He’s just really self-driven.”
To start his museum collection, Mancini wrote upwards of 40 hand-written letters to transit agencies throughout the country asking if they could support his museum by sending trinkets, schedules or maps that can be displayed. Recently, he visited a dozen museums in an effort pick up ideas that will help “make my museum more professional.”
“I would write all those letters and I got a pretty good response rate,” Mancini said. “That was the beginning of the museum collections. I used those artifacts and collectables to incorporate in the exhibits.”
As he closes his junior year in high school, Mancini has started considering what happens to his museum when he goes to college. A forward thinker, Mancini figures he’ll return home and organize the museum during the summer.
“The first thing I’ll do is make my parents commit to not getting rid of any of my artifacts,” Mancini quipped, drawing laughter from his mother. “Next year will definitely be big in terms of preparation for the museum. I can’t imagine I’ll ever want to give the museum up.”
Find out more about the Transportation Museum at https://www.thetransportationmuseum.com/.
12/11/2019 - When Lloyd Suehiro joined the U.S. Marine Corps in 1990, he pledged to live by three core values: honor, courage and commitment. He took those values around the world as a Marine and now brings them to the Central Valley where he works on high-speed rail.
During his time in the military, he saw unique structures such as Japan’s Shinkansen high-speed rail train and feudal castles dating back to the 16th century.
“I’ve always had a passion for building things,” explained Suehiro. His interest led him to pursuing a civil engineering degree after four years in the Marines.
He’s had jobs in geotechnical engineering, land development, and commercial and residential design. Still yearning to do something big, he joined the high-speed rail project as a field engineer in March 2016.
Today, Suehiro is an area construction manager providing construction oversight for the southern section of Construction Package 1 including large structures like the San Joaquin River Viaduct, Fresno Trench and Cedar Viaduct. He also oversees quality assurance of construction sites and works closely with design-builder Tutor Perini/Zachry/Parsons.
In October, Lloyd joined a panel of engineers for I Will Ride Day in the Authority’s Fresno office. College students from around the area were able to hear about his work on the high-speed rail project before heading out to see that work as part of a construction site tour.
“Being part of the high-speed rail project is more than just building a structure - it’s a mission. And everyone - whether you’re a contractor, a state employee, or working for a small business - is doing their part,” added Suehiro. “My experience as a Marine has taught me to always see a mission through until it’s complete.”
Read more about Lloyd Suehiro in the Small Business Newsletter at https://www.buildhsr.com/flipbook/vol_07_issue_03/default.html#page=8.
12/5/2019 - Major Rebecca Robison believes her hard-charging attitude came from her mother, who worked on the railroad in the 1970s while raising three girls. “She became the first female conductor west of the Mississippi River on any railroad in 1979,” Robison recalled. Now, Robison’s company She Marine Construction Supply (SMCS) is helping to bring high-speed rail to California.
The former U.S. Marine and combat veteran earned a Master of Business Administration before retiring from the military and opening SMCS, a Disabled Veteran Business Enterprise (DVBE), in Lake Isabella. People can hear the joy in Robison’s voice when she talks about her company. “It’s a platform to continue serving others,” Robison explained.
In 2015, talking about high-speed rail opportunities at a Bakersfield outreach event led a contract providing office supplies to Dragados-Flatiron Joint Venture, the design-builder for Construction Package 2-3 in the Central Valley. Recently, the SMCS team provided nearly 65,000 feet of color-coded conduit and couplings for high-speed rail utility relocation in Fresno County.
To meet future demand, she hopes to hire more workers. But to join her, Robison requires potential employees to read “Message to Garcia,” an essay about an American soldier who delivered a message to Cuban rebel forces during the Spanish American War. Prospective employees must also be familiar with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).
“My staff has to be prepared for the impacts of PTSD. It’s chronic and something I manage daily. They can decide if they want to join a team led by a disabled veteran,” explained Robison.
She’s also an advocate for small businesses looking for major construction contracts, including high-speed rail.
“Small business inspires at the soul level. It’s a playground for the imagination.”
Read more about She Marine Construction Supply in the Small Business Newsletter at https://www.buildhsr.com/flipbook/vol_07_issue_03/default.html#page=8.
11/27/2019 - Every year, hundreds of military veterans flock to an annual business summit in Moreno Valley that’s hosted by the Southwest Veterans’ Business Resource Center (SWVBRC). Attendees look for job and government contract leads from state agencies, including the California High-Speed Rail Authority. Watching with pride is Albert Renteria, who founded SWVBRC after 26 years in the U.S. Marine Corps.
Renteria was 17 when he joined the Marines in 1974. He eventually became a warrant officer and worked on a huge computer project. “During the 1991 Gulf War, we established a system to electronically track all deployed Marines enabling us to report a fatality within 8 hours of learning of the deceased,” he explained. “For the first time, we used technology that wasn’t available on the battlefield.”
After earning a degree in computer science, Renteria retired from the military and launched ARRC, an online company that provides marketing, advertising, video production and web development.
A master’s degree in e-commerce helped him build his firm which includes his wife, daughter and two sons. “We have grown substantially and have a large network and global clients,” Renteria said.
In 2008, he established SWVBRC and donates part of his earnings to the non-profit which educates veterans, active duty military members and their families about benefits and services available to them.
In the military, Renteria won two Meritorious Medals for designing a computer network and training fellow Marines. His greatest reward now is hearing from someone sharing the value of what they learned from him. His mission is ongoing. He said, “My purpose is to eradicate the notion of a homeless veteran by 2035.” He invites anyone willing to help to get on board.
Read more about the SWVBRC in the Small Business Newsletter at https://www.buildhsr.com/flipbook/vol_07_issue_03/default.html#page=16
UPDATE 09/30/20: Due to COVID-19, Albert launched a virtual summit and virtual exhibitor hall, leveraging what he learned during the Gulf War deploying reach back technology. Fine out more about the virtual exhibitor hall and check out a video for the virtual exhibitor hall. He has positioned what he’s done for years, and COVID-19 has allowed him to take this route with his turnkey process.
11/25/2019 - He spends 75 percent of his time “on the road” but Wayne Gross will tell anyone, “I have my dream job. I get to help people every day.”
Gross joined the State of California as an office technician about 15 years ago. Today, as an outreach liaison for the Department of General Services (DGS), he advises small businesses (SB) and disabled veteran business enterprises (DVBE) on how they can win state contracts. “First of all, they must be certified,” he emphasized.
Over the years, Gross has run numerous certification workshops, including workshops hosted by the California High-Speed Rail Authority. He said certified businesses help California meet its goals - 25 percent contract participation for small businesses and 3 percent for firms owned by disabled veterans. Gross advises companies on how to win bids. “They must update their profiles so that state agencies can find them. They need to market themselves and become professional “stalkers.” He added, “It is not what you know, it is who you know!”
Before working for the state, Gross spent 22 years with the United States Postal Service, which included a stint as the Postmaster in the Amador County town of Sutter Creek.
Prior to that, he did 9 years in the U.S. Air Force after graduating from Westminster College in Pennsylvania. Eventually, he landed at Mather Air Force Base in Sacramento County where he became an instructor navigator. “I trained approximately 600 students in map reading and over-water navigation,” Gross explained. “Some of my students were the first female navigators in the Air Force.”
Gross said what he learned in the Air Force still serves him today. “You are NEVER late for an appointment. You always call ahead if you are going to be late. Your word is gold, so don’t abuse it,” he said.
When he retires, he said he may get a job helping veterans. He added, “Anything is possible, but rest assure, I will not be sitting down for very long.”
Read more about Wayne Gross in the Small Business Newsletter at https://www.buildhsr.com/flipbook/vol_07_issue_03/default.html#page=14.
10/31/2019 - It was a spooky time out on the edge of Construction Package 4 (CP 4) this week. Joint venture contractor California Rail Builders (CRB) participated in the City of Wasco’s annual Trunk-or-Treat event held at the Wasco Recreation and Parks District.
Hosted by Assemblymember Rudy Salas, the CRB team joined more than a dozen community-based organizations and local businesses for a fun-filled evening, putting smiles on the faces of more than 500 children and their families.
“California Rail Builders is proud to be part of the Wasco community and give back in any way we can,” said Gina Torres, Public Information Manager for California Rail Builders. “Events like these are ways for us at CRB to highlight the work happening in CP 4 and the benefits high-speed rail will have in the near future.”
The CRB team also took time to share information about the high-speed rail project and the construction happening close by.
10/16/2019 - CEO and President of the Silicon Valley Leadership Group, Carl Guardino and his partners advocate for transportation and housing improvements that emphasize the fundamental tenants of sustainability. That means advocating for hundreds of transit-oriented affordable housing projects and pushing for rail and transportation-enhancement projects that culminate in improvements for Caltrain and extending BART to San Jose and into Santa Clara County.
The list of accomplishments runs deep for someone who didn’t envision himself as a transportation and housing policy advocate prior to joining the Silicon Valley Leadership Group. “When we are all growing up, we want to be centerfielder for the New York Yankees,” Guardino quipped. “But if you can’t hit a curveball, you go into policy and politics.”
“My passion and mission have always been around community and how I could best make a positive impact on the community through my work. That’s what led me to the Leadership Group more than 30 years ago.”
Years of promoting sustainable solutions for the region’s housing and traffic challenges has also helped San Jose reconsider the possibilities for Diridon Station and the surrounding area. Presently, Diridon serves as a transit hub for Caltrain, Amtrak, the Altamont Corridor Express and the Santa Clara Valley Transit Authority and will, in the future, serve as an extension for BART and high-speed rail.
Initially, San Jose’s leaders considered commercial development in the area, but Guardino advocated a more responsible land-usage vision.
“More than a decade ago, the City of San Jose was about to approve big-box retail next to the Diridon Station,” said Guardino, now serving his fourth term as an appointee to the California Transportation Commission. “We respectfully, but strongly, advocated against it.”
Good thing the City practiced the patience that Guardino preached. Today, San Jose is working with Google and City rail partners – including the California High-Speed Rail Authority – to develop a more sustainable approach to the development of Diridon Station and the surrounding land.
“There is so much more that we’re going to be able to do at Diridon through what Google is proposing,” Guardino said. “Can you imagine the difference between community-centric, transit-based development that Google wants to provide… when we could have been stuck with big-box retail at that site?”
The long-term vision for the station portends a promising future for Diridon and the City of San Jose. “Diridon Station is going to be the busiest transit hub in the Western United States, serving primarily the Bay Area,” Guardino concluded. “With high-speed rail, we will be able to shrink our entire state and serve the Bay Area and beyond.”
10/11/2019 - “We believe, in our country, that railways are going to grow a lot more than they have been growing,” said Norma Fernandez Buces from the Mexico City-based Grupo Selome. The environmental engineering firm has been working on road and rail issues in Mexico for nearly three decades—including the country’s newest high-speed rail project.
“We’ve been working with the Fonatur, which is one of the departments that takes care of the touristic development in Mexico, for this high-speed railway project, the Tren Maya,” said Fernandez Buces. “We worked before in a similar railway project in Mexico, the train Mexico Toluca. We also made environmental studies for that project.”
Fernandez Buces was recently in the Central Valley for a tour of high-speed rail construction. The tour was part of the International Conference of Ecology and Transportation (ICOET) held in Sacramento in late September.
“We’re here to learn more about mitigation of railways,” she explained. “I would like to learn more about the way they mitigate for climate change. The way that they are modeling in order to prevent climate change problems with infrastructure.”
ICOET is an interdisciplinary, interagency supported conference that looks at a wide range of ecological issues related to transportation systems including rail.
“Large scale planning is fundamental to avoid excessive land-use change and to avoid excessive damage to natural resources,” says Fernandez Buces. This is particularly important in Mexico, which has some of the worst air quality in the world. Like California, their focus is on changing habits and getting people out of their cars and into mass transit.
“We need to adapt, and we need to change the priority of how we are working and how we are doing things,” said Fernandez Buces. “Environmental issues should have been the first concern for humankind for a long time, but we’ve been neglecting them.”
10/8/2019 - On October 2, the California High-Speed Rail Authority and the Fresno State #Iwillride chapter partnered with the campus’ Sustainability Club to celebrate the second California Clean Air Day. Together, they encouraged students to take the pledge and help clean the air.
Students learned how the high-speed rail project is doing its part to protect the environment by reducing traffic congestion and pollution through its numerous sustainability efforts. High-speed rail will eliminate numerous rail crossings throughout the Central Valley, which could eliminate nearly 1,800 tons of greenhouse gas emissions every year. Students also pledged to do something immediate like planting a tree or reducing vehicle emissions by carpooling or walking to school.
“We’re excited to partner with #Iwillride as part of Clean Air day because we recognize that the high-speed rail program is aimed at reducing environmental pollution,” said Michael Mayfield, member of the Fresno State Sustainability Club. “I’m looking forward to the high-speed rail and look forward to using it. I personally don’t like driving. If I can ride high-speed rail and get where I need to be in an hour, that would be great for me and for the state.”
Students were also invited to attend the upcoming I Will Ride Day on October 18, which features a panel of high-speed rail engineers and a construction tour in the Central Valley. Learn more about I Will Ride Day at https://www.eventbrite.com/e/i-will-ride-day-tickets-68183750433.
8/13/2019 - Jennifer Gill is a serious biking enthusiast in Los Angeles with a goal to bike 4,000 miles in 2019 – a number comparable to the miles some auto commuters in Southern California travel in a year. In 2018, she biked over 3,600 miles across Southern California, navigating around several freeway systems and across many communities, managing to avoid serious accidents. A bicycle vacation the same year took her to Denmark, where bikes far outnumber automobiles, and hundreds are parked diagonally along the streets.
She looks forward to combining biking with rail to achieve her goal of 4,000 or possibly 5,000 miles by the end of 2019 and plans to take two or three-day trips with fellow enthusiasts to good cycling destinations in Southern California. They safely stow their bikes in the Metrolink Bike Car or on Amtrak to reach these destinations without a car.
Jennifer’s passion for biking and activism keep her involved with the Los Angeles Bicycle Advisory Committee (LABAC), an organization founded under Mayor Tom Bradley with a goal to create safer avenues for bicyclists. LABAC biking members are community-level liaisons familiar with cycling conditions in their home districts. They contribute feedback and ideas to the Bike Master Plan and the Mobility 2035 Plan and make suggestions for bike lanes, bike routes and other cycling features that have been implemented throughout the city. The LABAC also helped create the Expo Bicycle Advisory Committee which gave advice on a multitude of details for installation of the Expo Line Bikeway which runs from the University of Southern California near Downtown Los Angeles to Santa Monica.
Jennifer sees the sole use of a bike for local transportation, and travel across California in conjunction with rail, as part of the larger picture. “It's essential that bike elements are integrated into the earliest scoping and planning stages of major transit projects. There must safe bikeways to access stations and platforms, convenient space for bikes on board trains, secure bike parking and full-service bike hubs at the new stations.”
Jennifer looks forward to the sustainability benefits of biking with high-speed rail. “Carefully designed bicycle accommodations and multi-modal travel are essential for achieving our green mobility goals,” she stated. “Considering the importance of investments like high-speed rail, these innovations play a major role in California’s efforts to address climate change.”
7/17/2019 - Many college students - including former student assistant Reyna Rodriguez - look to internships and assistant positions to get first-hand knowledge and experience in their future career field. For more than two years, Reyna worked alongside high-speed rail engineers on multiple projects and provided a friendly face for those who visited the California High-Speed Rail Authority (Authority) Central Valley office.
Like many students around this time of year, Reyna is still winding down and recovering from her last assignments and final exams. Last May, Reyna celebrated an important milestone and received her Bachelor of Science degree in Civil Engineering from Fresno State.
As a student assistant, she took what she learned from the classroom out into the field. Rodriguez worked with high-speed rail engineers on various Central Valley projects including the relocation of the Fresno Rescue Mission. Along with helping local businesses temporarily impacted by the State Route 99 Realignment, she witnessed first-hand the intricacies and hard work behind building the nation’s first high-speed rail system.
“I’ve learned a lot about project management and working with people,” said Rodriguez when asked what she’s learned while working at the Authority. “You have to be flexible with working with them when it comes to [their] situation.”
Soft spoken by nature, Rodriguez still shared her excitement about being part of the high-speed rail team even upon her departure.
“The [high-speed rail] project is important for engineering students to know about, because this is our future,” said Rodriguez. She added her excitement of the environmental impacts it will have on our state’s future, honoring California’s culture of environmental stewardship.
Rodriguez will head back to Fresno State in the fall to pursue her Master of Science in Civil Engineering (MSCE) with an emphasis in Water Resources and Environmental Engineering (WREE). In June, Reyna took the next step into her career by becoming the new student assistant at the California Waterboards Central Valley office.
6/20/2019 - Seth Danquah has endured a long journey in his quest to form his own small business – some 7,500 miles, to be precise.
President of Danquah Group LLC, Danquah’s expedition began years ago when he enrolled in Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology in Ghana, where he graduated with a Bachelor’s Degree in Building Technology.
From there, Danquah was off to Southern Illinois University, leaving Edwardsville campus after earning a Master’s Degree in Economics and Finance. His arduous journey behind him, Danquah honed his expertise working in construction, where he worked as a cost estimator and manager providing cost advisory and management on various projects in California and other states.
Today, Danquah is the president of Danquah Group LLC, a professional service firm that is currently one of 500 small businesses working on the California High-Speed Rail Project. His Pleasanton-based firm crunches numbers on the project for Wong Harris, the prime contractor building Construction Package 1 in the Central Valley.
Having traveled such a long professional and educational road that has intersected with the opportunity to work on the high-speed rail project is a hallmark of his quest to grow his company that presently employs two full-time employees and three consultants.
“California high-speed rail has been a major source of revenue for our new company and has provided us more experience and relationships in the civil and heavy construction market,” Danquah said. “But more importantly, it has given us the confidence to expand our operations if we need to.”
“Working on high-speed rail has it challenges and rewards, typical of major capital programs. But we are happy to be working on the California high-speed rail, helping the program achieve value for money.”
Since forming his Pleasanton-based company, Danquah has supported various transit programs, providing cost and risk management advisory services on Federal Transit Administration funded transit programs. He has worked on numerous building projects, including aviation, schools, hospitals, clinics and other capital-improvement programs.
“These projects come with some unique requirements, assignments and challenges, depending on their state of development,” he said. “We’re called upon to offer concept estimates, detailed estimates, risk review and analysis, schedule and schedule review, and third-party estimate reviews.”
As the fifth anniversary of his firm fast approaches, Danquah senses that a more promising – and profitable – future is one the horizon.
“It’s an exciting and opportune time for us as a small business,” he said. “We are pursuing more challenges and looking forward to building our capabilities and competencies in project controls, cost estimating and management, and other support services to help clients deliver their capital improvement programs.”
“We are looking forward to starting training and development in project and construction management, leadership and management and other areas to help other small business in the industry develop core competencies and capabilities.”
Read more about the Danquah Group, LLC in our Small Business Newsletter.
5/31/2019 - In March 2017, college student Brandalyn Hastings spoke at a legislative committee meeting in Sacramento for the very first time. While a Senate Transportation and Housing Committee meeting might not be the most exciting gathering for the average college student, it was Hastings’ first taste of advocacy when she stood before the mic and spoke about why she supports high-speed rail.
“I see the high-speed rail not as just a mandatory investment in connecting our state, but I love the way the (California High-Speed Rail) Authority runs it and how they are being conscious of the communities around it and revitalizing areas that have gone down,” said Hastings in front of the committee in 2017 on how the project will help improve downtown Fresno.
Flash forward two years and Hastings, 26, now helps lead the I Will Ride campaign and helps students form their own chapters alongside her colleagues at Rose Strategic Communications (RSC).
Interestingly, she jokes she fell in love with the High-Speed Rail project by accident, having learned about it from a friend who started his own I Will Ride chapter at Fresno City College.
“What got me really interested in the project was the impact it would have,” said Hastings about her involvement with I Will Ride. “There’s so much room for growth and economic advancement in areas like Fulton Mall, and High-Speed Rail can definitely help bring that area of town back to life.”
Hastings, currently a Fresno State student and communications manager for RSC, continues to vocalize her support for high-speed rail wherever she goes and encourages other students to learn more about the project.
“There are so many different elements that make up the project. Whether you graduate to be an engineer working for a construction firm, or just get a chance to tour the future high-speed rail line and watch it come up, you’re part of something historic,” added Hastings. “I Will Ride is a great way for students to network with other students and professionals in their future fields of work.”
To date, she’s helped students establish I Will Ride chapters at college campuses across the Central Valley including UC Merced, California State University Bakersfield, Fresno State, and as a member of the Fresno City College chapter.
Hastings will complete her Bachelor of Art degree in psychology in 2021. Upon graduation, she hopes to stay engaged in the local community and vows to support high-speed rail for as long as it takes.
“High-speed rail is a positive move forward for our state and country and is great for people to learn more about and engage with. I hope in the next five years, trains are running and funds are identified to complete the project across the state.”
4/23/2019 - The California High-Speed Rail Authority (Authority) partnered with the Fresno State #Iwillride chapter to share its goal of delivering the greenest infrastructure project in the nation at its Earth Day 2019 celebration held Monday, April 22 on the Fresno State campus.
The team talked with dozens of college students about the work happening along the Merced to Fresno to Bakersfield line. Students were particularly interested in the timeline for the project’s completion, as well as learning how the high-speed rail system will help curb greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions and run on 100-percent renewable energy. Several students even pledged to join the #Iwillride chapter on campus and expressed support for the project.
Earth Day was hosted by Fresno State’s Sustainability Club/Project, which was founded to educate students and facilitate an inter-collegial community that will reinforce and innovate local, regional and global efforts toward sustainability and community resilience.
Find out more about #Iwillride at http://www.hsr.ca.gov/iwillride/index.html.
3/14/2019 - Planting 4,000 trees throughout the state of California is a lofty goal. Circle 3.0, a team made up of the California Urban Forests Council, West Coast Arborists, Inc. (WCA, Inc.), and the Western Chapter International Society of Arboriculture, is partnering with cities across the state to sponsor community tree plantings. Funded by a grant awarded in July 2018, 750 ‘carbon sequestering’ trees have been planted in five planting in Southern California to help offset greenhouse gas emissions.
WCA, Inc. is a family-owned company providing professional tree maintenance and management services. They assist the effort by identifying community locations, then providing trees and planting guidance. They coordinate with the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection (CAL FIRE), the agency administering the grant which is funded by the California Climate Initiative and the California High-Speed Rail Authority.
On March 9, in cooperation with the City of Glendale, WCA, Inc. coordinated the help of 120 enthusiastic community members - young, old, scouts, parents with kids and retirees – to plant 40 new trees in Glendale’s Verdugo Park. Several members of the Glendale Youth Alliance (GYA) were on hand to try out the new skills in urban forestry they received in a February workshop with WCA, Inc. The workshops were part of the GYA education program which provides job training and experience to young people in Glendale.
“The best part is bringing an experience with urban forestry to young people,” noted David Pineda, the WCA, Inc. Grant Coordinator. “This is a great idea and has been very successful.”
Cullen Davis, Graphic Designer for the California High-Speed Rail Program, joined the volunteer group on March 9 in Verdugo Park where he enjoyed planting an oak and an elm tree in the clear, sunny weather. He observed, “One of the nice things about working on the High-Speed Rail Program is that it supports efforts to improve the state’s overall environmental outlook, including the Verdugo Park tree planting event. It’s an easy metaphor for High-Speed Rail itself; these big infrastructure programs are long-view investments in the future. We have to plant it now so we can enjoy it later.”
In total, 200 public trees will be planted in Glendale. When mature, they will remove 6.4 tons of CO2 and 1,500 lbs. of pollutants every year. Two future events are planned in Northern California and two in Southern California, in Norwalk and Santa Fe Springs on April 27, before the end of the planting season in May.
2/23/2019 - Rick Simon, Project Manager of the Bakersfield to Palmdale and Palmdale to Burbank project sections, was fascinated by construction growing up in his Michigan hometown. He often observed and analyzed construction sites to determine why and how design decisions influenced how structures were built.
He observed freeway construction and visited construction sites as a child with his father, the main architect in town. Rick also had the unique opportunity to attend schools and a church his father designed, viewing the plans and learning firsthand about design decisions. These childhood experiences influenced his goal to one day design even bigger structures.
After graduating from Michigan State University (attending the same time as Magic Johnson played basketball there) Rick developed an interest in conceptual design. He was intrigued by sorting out where everything goes – establishing design criteria, what is trying to be accomplished, and the iterative process of addressing comments until the design satisfies the client.
Later in his career, Rick was a President of the Inland Empire Chapter of the Consulting Engineers and Land Surveyors of California (CELOC) which later became the American Council of Engineering Companies of California (ACEC). He acknowledges “networking in professional organizations is valuable to engineers just starting their careers”.
Rick finds the biggest challenge as an engineer is change management. He points out, “there are always changes in the design process and it’s best to accept there will be change and then manage it instead of trying to resist it. The question to answer is ‘How do we implement change and still maintain schedule and budget?’”
Before joining the California High-Speed Rail Authority, he designed freeways in San Diego, Phoenix, and the Inland Empire for over 30 years. Rick Simon continues to fulfill his youthful aspiration to work on very large, conceptual projects and observes, “Invent Amazing’ is what California’s high-speed rail project is about – It’s never been built in the United States and this would be the first.”
2/21/2019 - Noopur Jain’s work as Regional Delivery Manager in the Strategic Delivery office keeps her very busy and intently focused on Southern California and parts of the Central Valley project sections.
At most times in her career she has been the only woman at the table, in the office, or specifically on the engineering team. That has always been a challenge. In the last few years, Noopur sees changes, “There are more and more women taking on engineering. The high-speed rail program has a good number of women engineers and women in leadership roles” Noopur’s enthusiasm for engineering is evident in her encouraging words to girls, “Don’t be afraid. You can do it! Don’t think you are less than anyone.”
As the Regional Delivery Manager, Noopur is responsible for ensuring that all projects in the region are delivered within scope, schedule, budget and resources. She is also responsible for oversight and contract administration of all contracts in the region.
In addition to her work, Noopur has held various positions in the Women’s Transportation Seminar (WTS), an organization who advances, supports and promotes women in transportation. She is also a member of several committees for the Transportation Research Board (TRB).
Noopur enjoys ‘Inventing Amazing’ every day in her work on California’s High-Speed Rail Program, “Other countries have had high-speed rail for decades; it’s exciting to be part of the team bringing the first high-speed rail system to the nation, inventing and building a 21st century transportation system!”
2/20/2019 - Ancient archaeology has fascinated Juan Carlos Velasquez since he was young. Looking at ancient ruins – the foundations of buildings, waterways, even the pyramids - later fueled his interest in civil engineering. “What is left of ancient infrastructure was always fascinating to look at and how it’s put together.”
Juan Carlos got an early start on his career pathway as an intern in high school working in a civil engineering office, continuing his work there until after college. “In the beginning, I wasn’t sure which area of engineering I wanted to go into.” His interest in how modern cities function with roads, bridges, water and utilities influenced his choice of civil engineering over other engineering disciplines. “You use and see civil engineering everyday – it’s tangible.” His advice to engineering students today is to “stay open minded” about career opportunities.
As a civil engineer working on the largest infrastructure project in the United States, the high-speed rail project, Juan Carlos said his biggest challenge is communicating engineering concepts to the non-engineer. “It’s challenging explaining why a type of infrastructure is a good idea - I work with it every day and most people don’t have to think about infrastructure, they just use it.”
Juan Carlos observed, ‘Inventing Amazing’ is what he and others do every day building what will be California’s cleanest and most efficient mode of transportation, something he hopes to see people in the future using every day. “Most engineers don’t get to work on innovative projects, it’s different than adding a lane to a freeway or widening a road. High-speed rail is an amazing concept and idea.”
2/19/2019 - “I have a passion for what I do,” declared Dr. Anoosh Shamsabadi. Anyone who meets him soon realizes he lives and breathes his job as a Supervising Transportation Engineer at the California High-Speed Rail Authority (Authority). He oversees seismic design criteria, which ensures that high-speed rail bridges, tunnels, retaining walls and other structures will be strong enough to resist most earthquakes.
“This is the most exciting thing I’ve ever seen,” Shamsabadi chuckled. “Every day I come to work and I can’t believe I’m getting paid for this because I truly enjoy it.”
Shamsabadi grew up in Iran where his father and other relatives were engineers. Living in one of the most seismically active countries in the world, he heard a lot about earthquake engineering. His career path was cemented when he moved to the U.S. in 1979 and attended the University of Utah. There, he took a course on structural engineering and earthquake dynamics. “I knew that’s what I wanted to do.” he explained.
Shamsabadi received a bachelor’s and master’s degree in civil engineering in Utah and a doctorate from the University of Southern California. He landed a job at the California Department of Transportation (Caltrans) in 1987 where he provided technical oversight on seismic retrofitting of toll bridges and tunnel structures. He moved up quickly and helped write numerous manuals on trenching and shoring for excavating. He had a hand in Caltrans’ latest Seismic Design Criteria, which came out last November. The manuals are used worldwide for highway and rail construction and retrofitting.
Many countries including Japan, Turkey, India, Guatemala and Russia have paid for him to come train their engineers about designing earthquake resistant structures. He’s been a lecturer at the University of California, Irvine. He regularly appears before the Caltrans Seismic Advisory Board, an independent panel that scrutinizes policies, rules and plans for construction in earthquake prone California.
In 2015, Shamsabadi joined the Authority on loan from Caltrans. Eighteen months later, he was permanent. As a member of the Technical Advisory Panel, he monitors all things seismic for high-speed rail. “I feel like [the engineering department] is a family here,” he said. “And my bosses have full trust in me to do my best for the project and that only makes me work harder.”
He points to recent tests he designed and oversaw on how seismic shaking impacts bridge transition abutments during an earthquake. Transition abutments ensure smooth rides for trains as they move from a relatively rigid bridge deck onto abutments made of softer materials such as cement treated gravel, compacted gravel and compacted soil.
Shamsabadi saved hundreds of thousands of dollars by conducting full-scale field tests on transition zones in Utah where he made use of a pre-existing facility’s equipment and expertise. He pointed out, “In the past, high-speed rail bridge designers looked at vertical movements of the transition zones. The tests we did marked the first time anyone looked at lateral movements that occur during an earthquake.”
The results were recently incorporated into high-speed rail designs. Shamsabadi noted, “I believe transportation agencies around the world will adhere to California’s design criteria because it’s state-of-the-art. It’s about safety and I want people to be able to ride our high-speed rail system with confidence.”
2/15/2019 - Among the many engineers hard at work on the California High-Speed Rail Project is Ben Ruiz, a Senior Transportation Engineer currently based in the Selma office of Construction Package 2-3.
“I went into engineering because when I was in high school I really enjoyed math, science and those subjects,” Ruiz said. “My math teacher introduced us to engineering, took us to the engineering school at Fresno State University, and brought in an engineer from Caltrans to talk to us about what they do. I got really interested in it.”
Ruiz, who grew up in Layton, CA eventually went to Fresno State and got his degree in Civil Engineering. He then went to work for a small structural engineering firm, learning to design structures such as culverts and bridges, and was involved in many projects all over the state of California before coming to work on high-speed rail about two years ago.
“I have a lot of experience in bridge projects, but this is the first mega project I’ve been involved in,” Ruiz said. “Most of what I’ve worked on in the past was around $20 million at the most. Though it was the same kind of work that we’re doing here, it was nothing of this size. It’s unique to be working on a project where a change order request is larger than the entire cost of projects you worked before.”
Ruiz currently works under the Authority’s design and construction manager making sure the contractor and project oversight consultants are doing their jobs properly. He evaluates change order requests from the contractor, seeing if they really are a change from the contract, and comes up with his own cost estimate to see if the contractor’s claim is reasonable.
Ruiz still lives near Layton with his wife and four children, which he says is the closest he’s ever been to home while working on a project.
“It’s very exciting to be a part of the high-speed rail project,” Ruiz said. “It’s been a real learning experience with some of the other things I’ve gotten to do. So, I’m busy at work, but then with four kids, I’m busy when I get home too.”
2/5/2019 - Growing up in Madera, Mathew Peters never knew he was being raised in the backyard of what would eventually be construction of the California High-Speed Rail Project. A 23-year-old junior at Fresno State, Mathew has been studying engineering and design since he realized he was good at math and science. It was there that he was offered an internship with Dragados, USA, through the Valley Industrial Partnership Program (VIP) through his engineering program.
Placed on Construction Package 2-3, which oversees construction between Fresno, Kings and Tulare counties, Mathew has been given the opportunity to put his skills to the test working as a Field Engineer Intern with Dragados-Flatiron Joint Venture since July 2018. He spends his days working on scheduling, overseeing submittals and reviewing plans to be submitted to the California High-Speed Rail Authority.
“Being a student of design and having the ability to see the second half of design which is the actual construction phase, has been something I could never learn in school,” Mathew says. “It feels really good to gain so much hands-on training.”
Spending time in the field with the construction team and learning from seasoned engineers and management, Mathew is hopeful that he will have the opportunity to step into the role of Licensed Design Engineer with Dragados, USA once he graduates in December 2019. “There is no other project like this around,” he said, “I would be very fortunate to continue with this project when I graduate.”
1/30/2019 - It’s been a year since Parkash Daryani joined the California High-Speed Rail Authority’s (Authority) Business Advisory Council. His mission is clear. “I want to play a key role in cultivating the partnership between the Authority and the small business community to make the program successful,” Daryani said.
He’s no stranger to success. In 1974, Daryani left Pakistan and went to the University of Toronto where he received a master’s degree in electrical engineering. After working for the Royal Commission for Electric Power Planning, he came to California to set up a software center for Electric Power Research Institute in Palo Alto. He spent 5 years at Bechtel Corporation, then joined Macro Corporation, which specialized in control and communications systems for electric power and transportation systems. At Macros, he became the vice president in-charge of business operations in India and Egypt.
In 1990, Daryani launched Auriga Corporation in Milpitas to deal with rapidly expanding computer technology. “It was tough getting new business, getting paid in a timely fashion, attracting qualified people and borrowing money from the bank to finance the operations,” he admitted. Within four years, his firm reaped a profit and eventually expanded. In 2018, the certified Microbusiness (MB) employed 35 people and expected to make more than $5 million.
The company has provided services to more than 10 countries in Asia and Eastern Europe. In California, Auriga’s team has worked for the City of Anaheim, San Francisco Muni systems, Central Subway project and several state agencies including the Authority.
Even more hours go toward helping the community. Daryani represents the US Pan Asian American Chamber of Commerce (USPAACC) on the Business Advisory Council. His company supports the India Community Center, Asian American Heart Association and UNICEF. Daryani has a scholarship fund at the University of Toronto, and every summer, he hires two college interns.
“Our parents emphasized the value of community service,” he explained. “When I was a teenager, I used to serve food and water in temples and at community events.”
Meanwhile, he believes his company’s future is bright. “We can grow to be one of the premier providers of project management and engineering services because we believe that we have the best and brightest stars who can provide world-class service to the industry.”
Read more about Parkash Daryani and Auriga Corporation in the Small Business Newsletter.
1/23/2019 - Chi-Hsin Shao has spent years working in the transportation industry, serving in the 1980s as Head of the Transportation Planning Section for the San Francisco Planning Department and Deputy Commissioner of Policy and Planning for the City of Boston Transportation Department before eventually working in consulting. He served as a Principal at Cambridge Systematics and then Vice President at Korve Engineering in the 1990s. These experiences helped him gain the confidence that he too could own and operate his own consulting firm.
“My dream was to have my own consulting business,” Shao recalled. “It was fascinating to me how someone could establish and grow a business. I was inspired from my previous company and its owners, and I thought it would be a great accomplishment if I could do the same.”
Flash ahead nearly two decades, and Shao has realized his dream.
Today, Shao is the President of the San Francisco-based CHS Consulting Group, an Asian Pacific American-owned small business. CHS is an 18-person team of transportation planning and engineering experts who collectively work as subcontractors to Tutor-Perini/Zachry/Parsons (TPZP), focusing primarily on traffic signal design, lighting design, and Intelligent Transportation Systems (ITS) design for the Initial Construction Package 1 (CP 1) between Madera and Fresno counties, with the bulk of their work in the city of Fresno.
Shao readily acknowledged that his days working with Korve inspired the long-standing success he’s experienced as a small business owner. “I learned how to run a consulting firm from working at Korve, and it gave me the courage and incentive to establish a company on my own and be successful at it.”
“I was fortunate because when I started, I already had experience at the senior level in government agencies and consulting firms,” Shao continued. “I was pretty confident and had great hopes that I could do it.”
The journey to small business ownership started in Shao’s native Taiwan, where he completed his undergraduate work before traveling to Palo Alto and enrolling in the master’s program at Stanford’s Infrastructure Planning and Management program.
After receiving his Master’s degree, Shao began the 20-year professional journey that led him to form CHS Consulting Group. His firm provides multimodal transportation planning and engineering services, with a focus on complex urban transportation systems and helping local cities achieve more sustainable development. CHS has an extensive portfolio of experience outside the US, including China, Taiwan, Korea, the Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia, and Mexico.
Shao says he’s privileged and proud to be a part of the high-speed rail project and hopes there will be additional opportunities. “I certainly would like to get more involved in the project,” he shared. “My firm welcomes future opportunities both in the planning and design of California High-Speed Rail.”
Read more about CHS Consulting Group in our Small Business Newsletter.
12/14/2018 - Construction Package 4 (CP4) joint venture contractor, California Rail Builders (CRB) is becoming more and more a part of the community in Wasco, recently taking part in the town’s “Toys for Tigers Christmas Tree Spectacular Family Fun Night” in downtown Wasco.
The high-speed rail outreach team, Project Control Manager (PCM) and CRB staff all took part in the event at the Wasco Veterans Hall, on the evening of Friday, December 7. The high-speed rail team wanted to give back to the Wasco community and engage with residents by providing project information and educating them about high-speed rail.
The team helped set up the room and decorate for the event, with a table featuring a remote-control train set, along with a Christmas tree and other decorations. The train set was a particularly popular addition, attracting people to the table to learn more about the future of high-speed rail in the Wasco area.
The team answered questions and interacted with parents, children and Wasco city officials, who wanted to know about the project and construction timelines.
“The Toys for Tigers event presented the CRB team with a great opportunity to engage with the community,” said Gina Torres with CRB. “California Rail Builders also helped sponsor the event to make sure it was a success, which was greatly appreciated by the event organizers.”
Thanks to this effort and the admission fees collected from everyone who attended, 644 children from 233 families in the Wasco area will receive a toy, a game, a stuffed animal and a book this Christmas.
12/6/2018 - Though the California High-Speed Rail Authority (Authority) may be a recent addition to the list of state agencies, one of its employees is about to retire from state service after almost four decades.
Abraham Mendoza, a Fresno-based Assistant Contract Compliance Administrator, is retiring after more than 38 years on the job. One of the first people hired by the Authority in 2014, Mendoza has spent his career making sure that contractors live up to the requirements of state and federal employment laws and regulations. He helps oversee a staff of 10 employees who ensure that workers are being paid appropriately and are treated fairly by companies who contract with the State of California.
“I’ve always been involved in regulatory enforcement,” Mendoza said. “When I first started with the California Employment Development Department (EDD) in 1979, I made sure that equal services were being provided to farm workers. They needed someone who was bilingual and with a background in agriculture, which I had from summer jobs. That’s what brought me into state service.”
Born and raised in Fresno, Mendoza is a graduate of Fresno State, with degrees in Business and Public Administration. After his start with the EDD, Mendoza went on to work for several other state agencies over the years, as well as some Central Valley non-profits involved in job training programs, but never stayed out of state service for very long. He was already thinking about retirement when he noticed a position opening with the high-speed rail project. With his interests and job experience, it looked like a perfect fit.
“On a typical day with high-speed rail I deal with contract compliance,” Mendoza said. ”I look at certified payrolls that the contractors are required to submit to us from all three construction packages, and make sure that the workers are getting the right pay, and that the contractors are living up to the terms of the contract they signed with the state.”
Mendoza’s years of state government work also includes about 20 years working as the shop steward of the state employee’s union, the Service Employees International Union (SEIU).
“I was also on the Central Labor Council for the Central Valley area. So, I had a long-standing relationship with the unions in this area. They saw that I was a straight shooter, I didn’t take sides.”
Now Mendoza says he’s looking forward to spending more time with his wife, children, grandchildren, and extended family who mostly all live in the Fresno area, in addition to working on his hobbies and doing yard work.
“I have plans to relax. My wife and I have some travel plans. But I’m going to lay back for a while,” Mendoza said. “I’ve been offered positions as a consultant with my former employer, the Department of Fair Employment and Housing, and with the high-speed rail. But I’m a jack of all trades. I like to work on old cars and I have enough tools to do a lot of damage in whatever I decide to do.”
11/19/2018 - Representatives from the California Rail Builders (CRB) participated in Wasco’s annual Dia De Los Muertos on Friday, November 2, in the city’s downtown area. The team took advantage of the event to engage with Wasco residents and provide them with project information and answer any questions they might have about high-speed rail. CRB is responsible for designing and constructing the 22-mile segment that extends from a mile north of the Tulare/Kings County line to Wasco.
“CRB has been involved in a lot of different community events in Wasco, but this event is our team’s favorite to participate in. I am proud to work for CRB where it encourages us to give back to the community,” said Gina Torres with CRB.
The team had volunteers working the event and an information table giving away project branded pens, coasters and USB connectors. Maps of the high-speed rail alignment were provided as well to help residents understand where the train will be going through the city.
“It is important for us to be involved with the community that we are impacting and it gives an opportunity for community members to engage with our staff and ask questions regarding the project. We are committed to giving back to the community and look forward to participating and contributing in more events,” said Antonio Canete, CEO of California Rail Builders.
Project team members fielded questions from residents covering subjects like job opportunities, concerns about pre-construction surveys, and general project questions such as when will it be completed and will it stop in Wasco.
CRB was one of the sponsors for the event, hosted by The Wasco Downtown Association, and also provided staff to volunteer at the Orange Heart Foundation booth, a non-profit in Wasco.
10/9/2018 - Alexander Nelms has steadily grown more and more fascinated with high-speed rail and transportation issues, an interest dating back to his time as a student at Antelope Valley College in Lancaster. It was there, some four years ago, where an instructor encouraged students to explore different approaches to studying transportation projects and how they interfaced with the political process, creating unforeseen challenges in building mega-projects like the California high-speed rail.
“High-speed rail was an example to show how every layer of government engaged in the project,” Nelms recalled. “It’s difficult to align them all.”
Nelms’ interest in transportation and high-speed rail intensified when he transitioned to the University of California Berkeley, where he joined the #Iwillride chapter on campus and continued to demonstrate support for the project. Following graduation earlier this year, Nelms joined the Transportation Sustainability Research Center (TSRC), an arm of the school’s Institute of Transportation Studies, working there part-time.
Working at the TSRC launched Nelms deeper into the world of high-speed rail and other transportation issues, providing him with the rare opportunity to develop a broad-based knowledge that could ultimately create the foundation for a promising career in the transportation industry.
“What we do is help other organization get contracts with us,” said Nelms, 22, who graduated with a Bachelor’s Degree in Geography with minors in City Planning and Geographic Information Systems. “We help other organizations produce papers, reports, book chapters and surveys.”
Presently, Caltrans has sponsored a TSRC project that has afforded Nelms the chance to study high-speed rail stations as California’s high-speed rail project moves forward.
“Caltrans wants us to report on the future of high-speed rail access in California - how are people going to be using the stations? My role is to write the literature review, researching how high-speed rail works in other countries,” continued Nelms, who also works half-time as a Geographic Information System intern in the City of Berkeley’s IT department.
As part of the Caltrans study, Nelms recently traveled throughout the state on Amtrak and ACE, landing in cities including San Jose, Stockton, Fresno and Manteca, where he conducts passenger surveys.
“We’re trying to get an idea of how people will use the rail. The survey cards asked how people move around and what is their rail preference,” said Nelms, who is also working on starting a high-speed rail focus group in Hanford.
With all this focus on high-speed rail and various complex transportation issues, is it possible that Nelms would like to work on the high-speed rail project?
“That would be interesting, to work with the project,” he acknowledged. “It is really fascinating to research the project. But to be in the organization building it, that would be intriguing.”
10/3/2018 - “Give us three days. We’ll give you the tools to change the world.” Kavita Mehta, Environmental Manager on the Southern California Regional Program for the California High-Speed Rail Authority, accepted this challenge and attended the Climate Reality Leadership Workshop’s 39th event in Los Angeles this August with 2,200 participants from 40 countries. Former U.S. Vice President and Climate Reality Project Chairman Al Gore joined world-class scientists, communicators, and climate experts over the course of three days to train the next class of Climate Reality Leaders, a group of committed professionals and individuals spreading knowledge and acting to address the climate crisis.
“Al Gore shared his passion with everyone at the workshop in his keynote address and his participation throughout the workshop,” she noted. “Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti spoke about steps the City of Los Angeles and he himself have taken to keep Los Angeles in the forefront of the climate change solution.”
Kavita observed that climate change is a topic that environmental planners like her regularly think about. She was encouraged to see people from all walks of life attending the workshop. Her future climate leadership plans include taking meaningful actions and creating messaging that children as young as three years old, her son’s age, can understand.
She pointed out, “Important climate change events took place while we were at the workshop. The California State Assembly passed Senate Bill 100, later signed by Governor Brown, committing California to 100 percent clean energy by 2045. There was a panel involving CalFire on devastating effects climate change has had on wildfires right after Northern California had endured extreme fires.”
Kavita comes back from this conference with renewed passion for her job. “This type of workshop brings the work we do on the all-electric California High-Speed Rail program into focus as part of the much-needed solution in California to address the climate crisis. This project will provide a green alternative for travel within the state. It will take away emissions from thousands of cars and airplanes, as soon as it is built and for generations to come.”
9/20/2018 - Senator Cathleen Galgiani (D) - Stockton doesn’t mind letting people know how she feels about high-speed rail. “High-speed rail will take tens of thousands of cars off the roads, reducing congestion and air pollution,” she declared.
Her support for high-speed rail goes back several years. In 2008, Galgiani sponsored Assembly Bill (AB) 3034, which became the language for Proposition 1A, the High-Speed Rail Act. With bi-partisan support, she got the bill through the legislature with a two-thirds majority and California voters said yes to Prop 1A for $9.95 billion. Galgiani explained, “It established that the high-speed system would not be subsidized by taxpayers. It also promoted connectivity with other rail systems in the state.”
Fast forward to October 2017 when Governor Brown signed Senate Bill (SB) 605, another measure authored by Galgiani. The new law raises the annual income limit for small businesses bidding on public infrastructure projects from $10 million to $36 million. The firm can have up to 200 employees. “The bill allows many more growing small businesses to bid on big projects like high-speed rail,” Galgiani said. “It also prevents penalizing small businesses that grow and benefit from the program from becoming disqualified for success.”
Meanwhile, Galgiani said she’ll continue trying to move the high-speed rail project forward. “It will be a great benefit to the Central Valley by connecting the Valley to the large urban centers and the greater California economy.”
9/5/2018 - There are few more passionate about high-speed rail than fifth generation Fresno native Ed Dunkel, Jr, owner of Precision Civil Engineering (PCE), a certified Microbusiness based in Fresno. “High-speed rail will be great for California, and a much-needed economic boost for the City of Fresno.,” said Dunkel.
Dunkel and his crew are well versed in the high-speed rail program. Over the last six years, PCE has subcontracted with the program and construction management teams for Construction Package 1 and Construction Package 2-3 in the Central Valley. For both contracts, Dunkel and his team pore over infrastructure designs drawn by design-build teams, making sure they meet the highest standards for strength, safety and longevity.
PCE also served as a regional consultant for the Merced to Sacramento section of high-speed rail. Workers evaluated various routes to determine effects they could have on land, water, people, plants, animals and the air. “We held public meetings and talked to residents, elected officials and agencies along the alignments,” Dunkel explained. “Our corridor study also focused on Caltrain, Caltrans and the Altamont Corridor Express (ACE) and how they could hook up with high-speed rail and provide alternative routes to Stockton, Sacramento and other cities.”
Before construction began, the City of Fresno hired PCE to look at impacts of high-speed rail going in and out of Fresno. Dunkel and his team worked on the draft environmental impact report. Under two other contracts, they evaluated development proposed around the Fresno high-speed rail station site and environmental impacts of a proposed heavy maintenance facility.
To get it all done, Dunkel’s team grew from 35 employees to 50. “This project has been a fantastic opportunity for my company,” Dunkel declared. “Working on the project gave us a chance to gain experience, expand our services and give some people much needed work.”
8/10/2018 - The launch of Bruce Fukuji’s career arch can be traced to his days at University of California, Berkeley. After graduating in 1982, he teamed with five fellow students to form “Two and Three Dimensions,” a consultant firm that helped architecture firms visualize design concepts.
“I started off with that and what was great about that is I got to work in about 30 offices on great projects,” Fukuji recalled. “The culmination of that was working with George Lucas on Skywalker Ranch in Marin County. That was really fun, working with George Lucas directly, and Linda Ronstadt would come to look at the model of the ranch.”
Today, Fukuji is the principal owner of Albany-based Urban Design Innovations, playing an essential role in numerous projects throughout California and our nation as an architect, city planner and urban designer. His work includes the $5 billion expansion of the Stanford University Medical Center, the Grand Boulevard Initiative street design for El Camino Real in Sunnyvale and the Supportive Housing Program for homeless families at the former Alameda Naval Air Station. Fukuji also served on the Palo Alto Urban Design Committee, overseeing development of the community-based downtown plan.
Fukuji said, “Planning for the nation’s first high-speed rail system is one of the most significant endeavors that I’ve been associated with. “
Fukuji is currently overseeing preliminary station design for environmental clearance on the high-speed rail program. He works with communities and the Authority’s transit and local agency partners to create a vision and secure planning funding for San Francisco Bay Area stations.
“Around the world, high-speed rail stations are focal points of regional economic activity, attracting public and private investment and stimulating the regeneration of station areas,” Fukuji said. “We are linking locally desired projects with potential cap-and-trade funding. We are setting up the opportunity for local communities, and disadvantaged communities to take the initiative and benefit from collaborating with us and our partner agencies.”
7/31/2018 - Running a small business requires determination and passion.
So says Marie Campbell, president of Sapphos Environmental, Inc., an environmental compliance firm based in Pasadena. She founded the certified Small Business and Disadvantaged Business Enterprise in 1992 after years in the public and private sectors. “I thought it would be good to start a firm for people committed to advancing infrastructure in a manner that conserves the environment for current and future generations,” Campbell said.
A subcontractor to HNTB Corporation, Sapphos has earned more than $1 million for environmental compliance work on Construction Package 4, from the Kings-Tulare County line to just north of Bakersfield. The company provides project oversight for the Authority and the design-build contractor and makes sure pre-construction activities, construction and associated environmental permits comply with federal, state, and local statutes, including the California Endangered Species Acts, State Fish and Game Code, and the National Historic Preservation Act.
Campbell admits running a business has been challenging. “It’s hard for minorities and women to get credit for big purchases,” she said. She leveraged the equity in her home to buy a commercial space in Pasadena. In 2005, she said she became the first minority female business owner in the Western U.S. to get a loan from a major bank to buy her company’s current location.
Today, Campbell employs 35 full-time staff and approximately 10 contract employees who agree with her philosophy on getting permits. “The best solutions are the ones the stakeholders feel they own,” she said. “We want everyone at the end of the process to feel like they were heard and respected.”
7/10/2018 - Being an ironworker apprentice on the high-speed rail program is a family affair for Desrae Ruiz.
“My dad used to be an ironworker for so many years so now I’m doing it.” But that’s not where the family connection ends. In fact, Ruiz’s husband also works on the project. “My husband does nightshifts.”
“It’s just helping us build for the future,” she explains. “As far as my family, being able to be stable and not worrying about moving or worrying about what bills are coming next, we’re able to just make a schedule and follow through with it because of how stable this financially is.”
She says the family is so stable now they were able to buy a new truck for Christmas and they are looking into buying their first home. She says being a two-income family is also helping her achieve another goal of going back to school at Fresno State.
“To be able to be part of the high-speed rail is nice, I’m able to walk away and say I helped build that and still continue on to my own goal because of the financial stability it has for me.”
6/28/2018 - Kurt Okraski and Joseph Bartorelli are co-owners of a company that provides a unique service for the California High-Speed Rail Authority. Since 2007, Okraski, Bartorelli and their team at Vertical Mapping Resources (VMR) have delivered topographic mapping and high-resolution imagery that has helped engineers identify and design potential routes and potential environmental issues for the high-speed rail program.
VMR conducts aerial flyovers to provide a more detailed look at the topography at various project sections. “We provide precision aerial photogrammetric mapping, color digital orthophotography and LiDAR surface modeling services on the high-speed rail project,” said Okraski. “The digital mapping and imagery products that VMR creates provide the basis for all rail planning and environmental studies involved with the high-speed rail project.”
The path to forming one of the more unique companies on the high-speed rail project is rooted in a relationship that blossomed in college.
Okraski and Bartorelli met while attending University of Nevada, Reno in the 90s. At the time, Bartorelli was studying computer information systems during the day and working for an aerial mapping firm in the evening. As for Okraski, he was studying business. After completing their studies, Okraski returned to his native New York and Bartorelli continued on in the geospatial industry.
However, Okraski later returned to Reno, where he opened and managed a coffee shop. “Opening a café was always something that I always wanted to pursue.” Okraski said.
Okraski eventually sold the coffee shop and, a short while later, was recruited by Bartorelli to open an aerial mapping branch office in Phoenix. “It was Joe’s idea to open a Phoenix office for the company he was working for at that time,” Okraski recalls. “What we’re doing now, as far as aerial mapping, started with him.”
Since then, VMR has long taken flight, with offices in various locations in the Western United States and several members of the team devoted entirely to supporting the high-speed rail project. “This is the longest that I have been at the same career,” Okraski said. “It has been a rewarding 17 years.”
6/22/2018 - “I’d say close to thirty years.”
That’s how long Javier Velasquez says he’s been working in the construction industry. But in that time, how often has he worked close enough to have dinner at home with his family?
“Not very often, maybe three times in those 30 years for a couple weeks a month, but this is going to be good, this is going to be the longest probably,” he says.
Velasquez is the Batch Plant Manager at Dragados-Flatiron Joint Venture’s new girder facility being constructed just outside the city of Hanford. Velasquez moved to the small Central Valley city when he was 20, and while he’s called it home all this time, work has taken him around the state and around the country.
“On the weekends we’d come home, like if we work in the Bay Area, San Francisco, whatever. But when we work out of state maybe just come home once a month, you know twice a month, maybe once every three months, so it’s kind of hard.”
So what’s it like working so close to home? He says he has the opportunity to tackle the honey-do list that has grown quite lengthy after all these years. Still, for Velasquez there truly is no place like home.
“This feels like it’s not work. It feels good, it feels really good.”
5/30/2018 - Talk about a true success story! Little did Bianca Rodriguez know that founding the #Iwillride chapter at California State University, Fresno, as a student back in 2013 would be the launching point for her career as an engineer. As a member of that chapter, she served as an advocate for high-speed rail through her participation in the grassroots, student-led #Iwillride program, which led to a once-in-a-lifetime career opportunity working as an engineer for design-build contractor Tutor Perini/Zachry/Parsons (TPZP).
“My participation with #Iwillride helped put me in contact with the right people,” said Rodriguez. “I made hundreds of connections through the program, and even had the opportunity to work with engineers one-on-one.”
As a member of #Iwillride, Bianca had the opportunity to attend board meetings in Fresno and Sacramento. As an #Iwillride ambassador, she attended and spoke at national high-speed rail conferences in San Francisco and Los Angeles. During her final year at California State University, Fresno, Rodriguez organized a group of senior design students who proposed a high-speed rail station as their senior project. The group engaged with design engineers currently working on the project, attended weekly meetings with them and developed professional relationships. Bianca’s involvement with the project also led to a personal and professional milestone – the opportunity to speak at the ground breaking ceremony next to Governor Jerry Brown.
Being a member of an #Iwillride chapter provides many opportunities to its college members, including networking with industry professionals, participating in tours and events regarding high-speed rail and other transportation projects, and the opportunity to compete for internships and future job opportunities working on the project. “Take advantage of the opportunities high-speed rail has to offer! This is a once in a lifetime project and it’s happening here in Fresno,” the #Iwillride alumnae said. “The opportunities are endless, but you have to show interest and persistence. Take the initiative and get in contact with individuals on the project.”
Like many others, Bianca feels the Central Valley is due for some change, and a major project like high-speed rail will shine a light on Fresno to the rest of California and the nation. “Our generation understands that a project of this magnitude takes time, but we see high-speed rail as the future of California and we are willing to wait!”
5/3/2018 - Universities are creating unique programs to give students real-world experience with greater ease and flexibility, and industry leaders are responding. The University of Southern California’s (USC) Price School of Public Policy Masters’ student Brenna Humann visited the California High-Speed Rail Authority’s (Authority) Southern California Regional office recently to work alongside the project team for a few exciting days as an extern.
USC’s externship program provides students real-world exposure to an occupational area relevant to their area of study for three to five days, working directly with professionals on substantive projects.
Brenna accompanied Michelle Boehm, the Southern California Regional Director, to a daylong transportation conference. Brenna shared her excitement to be part of the high-speed rail team, “I was so thrilled that someone of Michelle's acumen and responsibility would welcome me to such an amazing front-row seat with industry experts.
Todd Nguyen, Environmental Planner and former student at USC’s Price School of Public Policy, took Brenna to meetings and supervised her review of various reports, in an effort coordinated by WSP, the Authority’s Rail Delivery Partner. Todd enjoyed hosting an extern, “Hosting Brenna was an absolute delight. When I was at USC, the externship program didn’t exist, and I knew how valuable an opportunity to shadow could be. It’s a great learning experience, as well as a relationship builder in Southern California.”
Brenna, now studying public policy, worked for several years as a journalist for the Antelope Valley News, and noted there is a lot of misinformation in her community about high-speed rail. “This is truly the future, and we should be focusing so much more on these options in the US.”
“Thanks so much to Todd, Michelle, and everyone at WSP. I got a front-row seat to something impacting my community that I didn't know much about. It's really helped me think about how I will conceive and research the issues related to transportation in other policy areas I'm studying. It's all connected!”
4/24/2018 - The City of Glendale is home to sprawling suburbs, bustling shopping centers and nearly 200,000 residents. When high-speed rail comes to Southern California, Cornerstone Studios, Inc. (CSI) wants to make sure there’s a welcoming place for the traveling public to exercise or relax when they step off a high-speed rail train.
The Santa Ana-based landscape architectural firm, certified as a Disadvantaged Business Enterprise (DBE), is working on the Burbank to Los Angeles/Anaheim project section of high-speed rail as a subcontractor to regional consultant STV. CSI is identifying locations along the high-speed rail corridor for parks, recreation and open spaces.
Cornerstone owner Renie Wong said she and her staff proposed and designed a long, linear park on land that currently houses a storage facility near the Glendale Metrolink Station and the proposed high-speed rail alignment. “We designed the park in an environmentally sustainable way,” she explained. “It has a community garden for growing fresh fruits and vegetables, play areas, picnic areas, a dog park, an amphitheater and jogging and bike trails. And it’s all connected to the Los Angeles River bike path which is right nearby.”
Residents have weighed in on what they want and those comments helped refine the design. Wong said the California High-Speed Rail Authority will choose the design that best represents the community.
Wong hopes she’ll be able to propose more parks and open spaces near high-speed rail tracks. “This will make the cities more livable and contribute to a more sustainable planet.”
Read more about Renie Wong and Cornerstone Studios, Inc. in the Small Business Newsletter.
4/4/2018 - Spain has some of the foremost experts on high-speed rail with more than 2,000 miles of operational high-speed rail lines in 2017. In 1992, they completed the Madrid to Seville line, the first dedicated passenger high-speed rail line, in time for Seville’s Expo ‘92.
Today, the California High-Speed Rail Authority (Authority) has the fortune of tapping into the engineering expertise that built Spain’s system. A recent meeting in Southern California brought engineers from the Authority and the Spanish firm SENER together to discuss details about the Palmdale to Burbank corridor. SENER has been providing environmental and engineering services to the Authority since 2015, and in 2018 celebrates its tenth year of doing business in the United States.
The Spanish engineers on the team, Alvaro Relaño, Juan Lema and Roberto Rodriguez Illanes, have worked all their lives on transportation projects around the world, in the U.S. and Spain.
Civil Engineer Alvaro Relaño, Engineering Manager for the Palmdale to Burbank section, has worked on transportation projects for 29 years. He was just out of college when the first high-speed rail line was being built from Madrid to Barcelona. Alvaro noted Spain and Switzerland lead the world in tunnel miles built and his team supervises innovative geotechnical work in the Angeles National Forest, where a tunnel has been proposed. Alvaro’s work on the project began in 2012, on the Authority’s Construction Projects 1, 2-3 and 4 in the Central Valley.
Juan Lema is the Project Manager of the Palmdale to Burbank Regional Consultant, with 19 years of transportation experience. He noted the opening of Spain’s first high-speed line in 1992 generated more transportation investment in Spain, and he went straight into work on high speed rail projects after college. Juan notes, “I have worked all my life in high-speed rail.” He has been involved in the Authority’s project since 2009, starting as part of an advisory group with the Federal Railroad Administration.
Roberto Rodriguez Illanes, Deputy Project & Engineering Manager on the project since 2015, graduated in 2002 and has been involved with high-speed rail all his life. Roberto sees many parallels with high-speed rail in Spain and California. “The topography, climate, business case and tunneling challenges are similar – the length of the San Francisco to Los Angeles segment compares to the Madrid to Barcelona route.”
All three engineers agree there are challenges being a global engineer. Alvaro Relaño observed, “Languages, regulations, cultural differences can be challenging at first, but experience with different cultures opens your mind.” He summed it up by adding, “Hopefully, the political will exists to continue moving forward. We are all looking forward to riding high-speed rail in California.”
3/21/2018 - A childhood dream became reality when Louis Avila launched Avison Construction in 1992. He started driving tractors for his father when he was 10. By age 28, he was grading roads and slabs for buildings. He started his company with one piece of equipment. “I bought a CAT 14G Motorgrader and had just the one piece of equipment before I had enough money to invest in a second one,” he explained.
In 2005, he obtained a contractor’s license, which enabled him to buy more equipment and hire other operators. Today, the Madera-based Disadvantaged Business Enterprise (DBE) employs 50 to 60 people, including Avila’s wife and four sons. “I couldn’t do it without them. I know they have my back,” he said.
In 2013, they won a $21.7 million contract with Tutor Perini/Zachry/Parsons (TPZP) for Construction Package 1 for high-speed rail. They paved asphalt to connect both ends of the newly constructed Tuolumne Street Bridge to surface streets in downtown Fresno, and recently finished some work on Avenue 7 in Madera. Another contract with TPZP subcontractor Valverde and Sons is expected to bring them an additional $150,000.
3/8/2018 - What do figure skating and transportation planning have in common? Camila Araujo De Resende is a Master of Planning student at USC’s Sol Price School of Public Policy and a former figure skater from Brazil. She came to visit Kavita Mehta, alumni of USC and Environmental Manager in the Southern California office of the California High-Speed Rail Authority (Authority) for a mentoring session. They met to review the Authority’s environmental process and Sustainability Report.
Kavita has been advising Camila since Fall 2017 about internships, the role of specialists, coursework and giving advice on day to day planning work. As Kavita mentioned, “students learn so much when they start to work,” and Camila has her sights set on gaining more experience in transportation planning.
Kavita’s other mentee is Jason Cheng from Hong Kong, also a Master of Planning student at USC’s Sol Price School of Public Policy. Kavita has helped Jason significantly, including making introductions for him with contacts in her network. In March 2018, Jason starts an internship in Los Angeles Mayor Garcetti’s office as part of the Innovations Team working to provide digital access for all communities, especially disadvantaged areas.
Kavita has been mentoring planning students through USC’s Price Mentor Program since 2005 and pointed out, “through this mentorship program, I am gaining as much as I am giving.” Her work with high-speed rail began in 2006, initially managing environmental documentation in Southern California as a regional consultant, and then joining the Program Team in 2015.
Kavita’s love and fascination for trains started in her childhood as her father, a marine engineer, loved travelling by train when not sailing. She has fond memories travelling by train throughout India with her family. “Stopping at different stations had its own excitement,” she remembers. “You got a peak into a town’s history, local delicacies, and art and crafts, by just spending a few minutes at a station. You don’t get that with air travel as you just go from point A to B.”
2/26/2018 - Expanding an educational outreach program and reaching out to students can be challenging in a huge area like Southern California. Fortunately, ITEP - International Trade Education Programs, a non-profit organization - connects high school students with industry professionals and educators to directly interact with students, motivating them with support for career pathways and positive role models. ITEP coordinates with teachers to bring professionals into the classroom, helping students to prepare for careers in high-wage and high-growth job sectors through career exploration activities and industry mentoring.
Ana Cortez, Program Manager at the Los Angeles River School, Sotomayor Campus, engages with students on a daily basis, and coordinates monthly coaching sessions. California High-Speed Rail Authority (Authority) staff participate in activities like student workshops that include goal setting, time management, interview coaching and a job shadow day.
Ana noted, “ITEP serves as a bridge to connect students and industry. Our partnership with the Authority brings interaction with STEM professionals into the classroom for a view of different careers and opportunities, and their staff mentors our students to help prepare them with skills they will need to succeed.”
Authority staff participating in ITEP’s activities during the school year include Southern California Regional Director Michelle Boehm, Project Manager Melissa de la Peña, Statewide Engineer Noopur Jain, Engineer Mark Chang and Information Officer Rachel Kesting.
Michelle Boehm says of the experience, “It is significant at this moment in time to help encourage and inspire students to pursue studies and careers in science, engineering and public policy. Passing on the ‘Think Big!’ message to the next generation is definitely one of the most rewarding aspects of my job.”
2/22/2018 - For Rachael Wong, engineering is the closest thing to being a superhero. As part of the Capital Contracts Procurement Unit, she helps develop contract language used to procure and administer the design-build construction packages and manages the procurement process.
From a young age, Rachael was interested in math, science and problem solving. This curiosity led her to engineering, where she uses her strengths in math and science while helping to connect people, an asset being put to great work on the nation’s first high-speed rail.
“I am in the public sector and I love knowing that my work will provide an efficient and environmentally sustainable transportation option for future generations,” Rachael explained. “Every day I come to work I can help achieve this goal.”
As part of high-speed rail, Rachael noted how the project is bringing engineering to life, and shows the impact engineering can make on both a global and individual level. She sees the new system improving the daily lives of Californians, while also inspiring future generations through the engineering feat that it represents.
“This will be the first high-speed rail in the nation, but it will not be the last,” said Rachael. “This will serve as a model for the entire nation. Who wouldn’t want to be part of that?”
Rachael encourages anyone who is interested in becoming an engineer to pursue their passion, regardless of gender. “Back when I went to engineering school, less than five percent of my classmates were women, but that did not hold me back.” she shared. “Not only should young individuals study science and math, but they should also get out there and build things.”
2/7/2018 - Rail projects will bring dynamic changes to the 21st Century in Southern California, and about 200 members of the Women’s Transportation Seminar, Los Angeles (WTS-LA), attending a lunch meeting in 19th-Century elegance at the Los Angeles Biltmore Hotel on February 6th, heard about rail transformation from leaders of state and regional rail projects.
The monthly luncheon speaker panel, which happened to be all women, gave updates on their projects and spoke about being unique in their field. The California High-Speed Rail Authority (Authority) was represented by panelist Michelle Boehm, Southern California Regional Director, and moderator Noopur Jain, Statewide Engineering Manager. They held the rapt attention of WTS-LA members with topics ranging from engaging stakeholders, safety technology, and latest project milestones, to promoting interest in rail among future generations. Other panelists included Jeanet Owens, Senior Executive Officer of Program Management and Regional Rail from the Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority (Metro) and Kimberly Yu, Deputy Chief Operating Officer of Planning Project & Delivery from the Southern California Regional Rail Authority (Metrolink).
In addition to their positions with the Authority, Boehm serves as Director at Large for WTS-LA, while Jain is a member of the Board of Directors and Vice President of Recognition and Student Outreach.
Not surprisingly the high-speed rail program held the most fascination for scope and future promise among all panelists. Metro provided a short animation showing the proposed expansion of Los Angeles Union Station to support increased mobility from multi-modal projects.
Noting the jobs produced by the CHSRA project, Boehm asked anyone working on high-speed rail or regional rail projects with funding from the Authority to stand. More than half of WTS-LA luncheon guests stood up!
Click here to read more about the event.
1/24/2018 - Over the roughly two and a half years the California high-speed rail project has been underway, about 1,600 workers have been employed in various capacities, from equipment operators to concrete and ironworkers, to carpenters and laborers.
One worker still around from the earliest days of the project is carpenter Jason Clark. Currently working on the San Joaquin River Viaduct, Clark was also involved in the construction of the Tuolumne Street Bridge in downtown Fresno, as well as the Cottonwood Creek Bridge in Madera County.
The 31-year old carpenter foreman oversees a crew of 12 and has been involved in setting every concrete girder on the project. That includes all the bridge girders for the Tuolumne Street Bridge, the Cottonwood Creek Bridge in Madera County, and all 198 girders that make up the pergola for the San Joaquin River Viaduct.
Though he points out the project progress, Clark also notes that as a design-build project the work is done differently compared to typical construction, which can create challenges.
“There isn’t one set of plans that shows how everything is going to be done,” Clark said. “There is from an engineering stand point, they’ll say ‘this is what we want’, but then I have to figure out what I need to turn a set of plans into reality.”
Clark says that to be part of a job as big as high-speed rail is exciting and challenging, but well worth it.
“It’s my first job as a foreman, and it’s a lot of responsibility,” Clark said. “There are a lot of moving parts, but we’re getting it done. I love my job.”
1/16/2018 - You never know when something you read can change your life. “I read California had passed a $50 billion dollar school bond that required a new prevailing wage and labor compliance program,” said Mark Douglas, CEO of LCPtracker. “Well, that software didn’t exist yet. So software developer Luis Ventura, my business partner Loren Doll and I launched LCPtracker to meet that need. Each of us worked 50 to 70-hour work weeks until we could hire more people.”
Since 2003, LCPtracker has offered software solutions that allow government agencies to track wages, demographics, worker locations, and skill levels. As each project unfolds, the data also identifies shortfalls in hiring goals.
The company has a $36,000 subcontract with Dragados/Flatiron for payroll and construction compliance for Construction Package 2-3. Douglas said hundreds of contractors will be able to send in certified payroll reports for thousands of workers every week. Instead of generating hundreds of paper reports, LCPtracker electronically validates the information and reduces administrative work by 80 percent. It also reduces audits by making sure workers receive the correct pay and allows Dragados/Flatiron to tell if it’s meeting goals for hiring disadvantaged workers. “For many years, we knew what we did,” explained Douglas, “but it was only recently that we realized our purpose is to empower people to build better communities.”
Currently, LCPtracker employs 67 people in Orange, California and a branch sales office in Holly, Michigan. Other staff members, who work from home, are strategically located in six other states.
Today, with 15,000 active projects, LCPtracker, a certified Microbusiness, manages the Los Angeles Community College District, L.A. Metro and all of it rail projects, the new L.A. Rams Stadium, Los Angeles County, the Cities of Sacramento and Oakland, and all of the University of California campuses.
What the software does is complicated, but Douglas pointed out contractors can learn how to use it in one hour. “Twenty percent of all contractors nationwide now use LCPtracker weekly,” said Douglas. “I feel blessed to have this opportunity to serve America this way.”
Read more about LCPtracker in the Small Business Newsletter.
12/27/2017 - When universities want rock, high-speed rail is ready to rumble. A representative from the California High-Speed Rail Authority met with university students this September to observe and sample rock core collected from the Palmdale to Burbank Project section. These samples were from geotech investigation work done in the San Gabriel Mountains in the Angeles National Forest (see video here).
Seulgi Moon and Jessica Lin from the University of California, Los Angeles and Caroline Studnicky from Utah State University are studying in the field of rock deformation. They work in geotechnical labs studying rock formations and their relationship to attributes of fault zones. Studies of these zones in the upper range of 1000 to 2000 feet of rock has implications for how seismic energy gets radiated to the surface.
The high-speed rail project sampling and laboratory testing was completed in 2016 as part of the necessary geotechnical studies to help determine the potential high-speed rail alignment between Palmdale and Burbank and planned for long term storage. Juan Carlos Velasquez, Project Manager for the Palmdale to Burbank Section, invited the researchers from UCLA and Utah State University to review rock core and collect samples for analysis.
At UCLA’s Department of Earth, Planetary, and Space Sciences, Assistant Professor Seulgi Moon supervises a pair of graduate students working on the influences of bedrock strengths on the geomorphology of the fault zone. Another student is using the geophysical measurements from the cores to understand the bedrock weathering in the San Gabriel Mountains. The students’ goals are to publish a scientific paper which will benefit current academic understanding about how bedrock differences in the fault zone can influence the mechanical strength of surface and groundwater flow.
“Thanks to our research of these core samples, we are able to obtain an understanding of rock characteristics and strength,” explained Seulgi, “which are important controls for natural hazards like earthquake shaking, landslides and debris flow that will be beneficial to public policy.”
12/19/2017 - This holiday season, team members working on Construction Package 4 (CP 4) of the high-speed rail project are volunteering their time and giving back to the community of Wasco in the Central Valley.
Design-builder California Rail Builders (CRB) and staff from the Project Construction Management team joined the Salvation Army to collect donations in front of Tropicana Supermarket and Rite Aid. Gina Torres with CRB says they chose this volunteer opportunity because all donations will stay in Wasco. “It’s important that we give back to the community we are impacting,” says Torres, “so that we can grow stronger relationships with the residents and let them know we’re here to address their questions or concerns regarding construction.”
CRB is in charge of building the 22-mile segment of high-speed rail between one-mile north of the Tulare/Kern County line and Poplar Avenue, just north of Shafter. A majority of the CP 4 alignment is within the city of Wasco. CRB’s office is located at F Street and State Route 46, not too far from downtown.
Not only has the team volunteered with the Salvation Army, they are also collecting toys for the Wasco Toys for Tigers, which provides Christmas toys to 750 Wasco children. So far, the office has collected a few dozen toys to donate. Torres says their team is very fortunate to work in such a welcoming community. “We’re always looking for ways to get involved and give back!”
12/5/2017 - The environmental technical documents produced for the California high-speed rail program are created to inform decision-makers and the public of significant environmental effects and possible ways to minimize those effects. These reports can be challenging for laypersons to understand. That’s why Westervelt Ecological Services sought the support of Laura Garwood, a professional writer and editor, to decipher tech-heavy documents and make them easier to understand.
Westervelt provides the program with environmental mitigation and habitat services and creates mitigation banks - wetlands, streams, or aquatic areas that are created, preserved, enhanced or restored to compensate for possible adverse effects on nearby ecosystems. Garwood deciphers environmental reports and documents produced by the Westervelt Ecological Services team.
“I make sure everything makes sense,” explained Garwood, “which can be important when people who have a lot of scientific know-how are writing something that’s shared among different agencies and people who have different areas of expertise and knowledge.”
Garwood – the lone principal of Laura Garwood Editing and Writing Services, a certified small business that she operates out of her Sacramento home – has been doing just that for Westervelt since June 2016.
Garwood’s firm provides services to Sacramento State University, as well as other organizations. Since launching her company 11 years ago, she’s been involved in a number of book-related projects and finds time to produce a humorous parenting blog and write articles for a variety of local and national publications.
Not long ago, Garwood learned that Westervelt Ecological Services had a contract to work on high-speed rail. “When I first started hearing about the whole thing, I had no inkling I’d be involved in this at all,” Garwood said. “It was a nice surprise when I got an email saying we have this huge project, and we’re excited. Can you edit some reports?”
“That’s one of my specialties,” Garwood said. “Not being a subject matter expert helps me. If I don’t understand it, then someone else with similar intellectual abilities will not understand it either.”
“I can be the reader’s advocate. My whole job revolves around what people are trying to say and then helping them say it.”
Read more about Laura Garwood Editing and Writing Services in the Small Business Newsletter.
11/21/2017 - “High-speed rail is one of the top five largest projects we’ve ever worked on,” said Adam Holt, Chief Financial Officer for Blair, Church & Flynn Consulting Engineers, Inc. (BC&F). In February 2014, the Clovis-based Native American-owned company landed a design contract for utility relocation engineering on Construction Package 1 with design-builder Tutor Perini/Zachry/Parsons. Since then, the amount of work has grown for the firm, which is certified as a Disadvantaged Business Enterprise (DBE).
Holt said the business will do more than $2 million worth of design work for Fresno area utility relocations. “The design and coordination for engineering work on high-speed rail are complex,” he said. BC&F works with local utility providers, special districts and public agencies to design solutions to conflicts between existing sewer, water, irrigation or drainage systems and the high-speed rail alignment.
Blair, Church & Flynn also has a land services support contract worth about $100,000 with right-of-way consultant, Mark Thomas & Company. BC&F researches and assembles property information, boundaries, easements, ownership and public right-of-ways along the alignment. Documents and maps dating back many years can be hand written, hard to read or difficult to understand the original intent. “Sometimes buildings, roads, parcels, structures and legal monuments described in the documents no longer exist,” Holt said. “In many places, high-speed rail will run beside an existing railroad corridor that is a hundred years old.” Over time, some easements have been handed over to cities and counties, while more roadways and utilities were added.
Holt sits on the Authority’s Business Advisory Council where he represents the American Indian Chamber of Commerce. He said, “It does a wonderful job of supporting businesses, advocating for opportunities and giving back to the community through a variety of programs that benefit Native American youth with mentoring, scholarships and education.”
Read more about Blair, Church & Flynn in the Small Business Newsletter.
11/13/2017 - Samantha Ihle and Brianna Tramontano are college students looking to make a new life for residents in Downtown Bakersfield. As part of an architectural student project at California Polytechnic State University, San Luis Obispo, these two students were given the task of designing a project that would help revitalize Downtown Bakersfield within the Bakersfield High-Speed Rail Station area.
Their project, Vitae: Move to Live, includes in-fill housing, as well as a place where Bakersfield residents can exercise in a clean and safe environment. With Vitae housing, residents may bike to and from their homes to the Bakersfield High-Speed Rail Station using a future, bike-friendly Chester Avenue that will lead up to the station.
“This project can be a catalyst for change,” explained Ihle. “We wanted to retain the agricultural identity of Bakersfield while having a plan for urban growth.”
Projects like Vitae show how ease of use and accessibility can help revitalize a downtown area, like that of Bakersfield, while helping residents maintain a healthy lifestyle. “The proximity and ease of access of the high-speed rail and bicycling to and from Vitae will promote clean transportation,” said Tramontano, “as well as the promotion of exercise and walkability of the area.”
The Vitae project was judged best in class by all students working on the high-speed rail station area Cal Poly Studio project. Inspired by the city’s vision plan, Making Downtown Bakersfield, the project would fit within the new vision by helping redefine Chester Avenue, one of the main streets in the city, and creates more infill housing near the station. By creating more housing and exercise options at a high-speed rail station area, Ihle and Tramontano hope to see Downtown Bakersfield turn into a destination where residents can live and thrive.
Student projects are separate from City of Bakersfield Station Area Plan (SAP), yet are inspired by the SAP in Downtown Bakersfield. Students did their own research and made their own assumptions. None of these projects have gone through official review nor have been approved by the City of Bakersfield. Students were provided no official guidance; they were free to go with their own imaginations and ideals.
11/13/2017 - High-speed rail is fast moving, and in the age of technology and information at our fingertips, future generations aren’t slowing down. Living in the Central Valley and working in the Silicon Valley is becoming a reality, and the excitement is building. After experiencing high-speed rail firsthand in Japan with a delegation from California, one person who is looking forward to the project being completed is Christian Gonzales, president of the Fresno State chapter of #Iwillride. #Iwillride is a student-run organization working to see high-speed rail, mass transit, and transit-oriented districts become culturally commonplace.
Gonzales feels like he is a part of this monumental, historic shift in California. As an engineering student at Fresno State, he has been involved with the #Iwillride chapter for a little more than two years.
“I am excited about how convenient transportation will be throughout California and the engineering and learning opportunities involved with a project of this magnitude. The program has given me access to a lot of information about the project by talking to prominent leaders in addition to its great networking opportunities,” said Gonzales.
Through his participation with #Iwillride, Gonzales traveled to Japan with a delegation from California. They had the opportunity to tour the Kawasaki train factory, as well as the Japan Rail heavy maintenance facility and operation center. While overseas, he was able to ride a high-speed train for the first time from Tokyo to Osaka and then Osaka to Kobe, Japan.
As president of the #Iwillride chapter, Gonzales has been a dynamic supporter of the project and has participated in public hearings in Fresno regarding high-speed rail and also at the state capitol in Sacramento. “Every event I have been to be a part of has proven to be a great networking and learning opportunity,” stated Gonzales.
After graduating, he plans to become a full-time civil engineer at Precision Civil Engineering, where he is currently an intern. He looks forward to finishing school and continuing to make an impact in the Central Valley by working on local infrastructure projects.
“I take great pride in the Central Valley, and becoming an engineer locally is how I intend to give back to my community,” explained Gonzales. “Fresno is growing at a rapid rate, and with Fresno being the central hub for high-speed rail, it is only going to grow faster!”
11/9/2017 - Long before the high-speed rail project begins to carry passengers between San Francisco and Los Angeles, it is already creating hundreds of well-paying jobs for workers throughout the Central Valley. One such worker is Fernando Madrigal, Jr.
Madrigal left the Marine Corps after 12 years of service where he worked in communications for an artillery support unit. After working a few security guard jobs, he signed up for a 10-week training program sponsored by PG&E that introduces workers to the various construction trades including ironwork, electrical, plumbing and sheet metal work. After considering his options, Madrigal decided that being an electrician was the career path he preferred, and he is now working as a third-year apprentice union electrician with Local 100 of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW).
Madrigal is employed by AC Electric Company and has been involved in the high-speed rail project for about nine months. Previously, he helped construct a new administration building and a school bus refueling station for the Reedley school district. He’s currently working with a crew near the site of the new Clinton Avenue bridge, which is being rebuilt as part of the realignment of State Route 99. Madrigal’s crew is identifying underground utility locations and setting up power connections for new traffic signals at the intersection of Clinton and Weber Avenues.
“We set up the intersection, rewiring the lights for the new traffic patterns,” Madrigal said. “We’re also doing a lot of the underground work for new traffic signals and relocating all the electrical for the new bridge.”
Work on the Clinton Avenue bridge is currently on schedule, and despite the usual headaches of doing construction in such a busy intersection Madrigal says there haven’t been any major setbacks.
“It’s going good. We are supposed to have the bridge opened in November,” Madrigal said. “And once that is finished we’ll start the demo of the Ashlan Avenue bridge and start it all over again.”
11/9/2017 - “We’re working all along the high-speed rail alignment in the Central Valley,” declared Dan Rossovich, co-owner of USC Supply, Inc. The Disabled Veteran Business Enterprise, based in Auburn, joined the project in January 2016 after attending several outreach events. “At first, we thought we might be wasting our time,” Rossovich admitted. “But persistence paid off and now we have multiple contracts on high-speed rail.” Two contracts with Construction Package 1 design-builder Tutor Perini/Zachry/Parsons are worth over $1.8 million and one contract with Construction Package 2-3 design-builder Dragados/Flatiron is worth about $30,000.
Rossovich said his firm is providing joint seals for construction of every bridge and viaduct currently underway. The firm is also supplying bearings, building materials, pipes and geofabric – the black woven material laid under dirt and train tracks.
Rossovich launched USC Supply in 2011 with his older brother, Ed, who was medically discharged from the military after being injured by a roadside bomb in Iraq.
The company went from $375,000 in the first year to $6.5 million in the second year. Since then, they’ve worked on the Oroville Dam, Folsom Dam, Sacramento’s Golden 1 Center and the Chase Center in San Francisco, the Golden State Warriors’ new home.
The firm employs eight people and has several locations. Rossovich believes high-speed rail work will allow for more growth. “We’re in negotiations for new contracts. Whatever we get, we’ll plow back into the business and buy a couple of new delivery trucks.”
At age 47, Rossovich also spends time thinking of ways he and his 53-year old brother can retire. “We would like to have another disabled vet come work with us, learn the business and take over,” he said. “Integrity will have to be their guiding force. If they do that, they’ll have a successful business they can enjoy.”
11/9/2017 - For three and a half years, Edgar Velasquez was in the U.S. Army, where he served as an M1 Armor Crewman. He worked aboard a tank handling target detection and loading and firing the tank’s guns.
Following a military tour to Africa, Velasquez returned home to Los Banos, where he had difficulty finding steady work. Then he heard about Helmets to Hardhats, a national program that helps veterans transition from military to civilian life. According to Western Regional Representative Nick Weathers, “Helmets to Hardhats connects National Guard, Reserve, retired and transitioning active-duty military service members to a nine-week program which includes free pre-apprenticeship courses in building and construction trades. Participants take classes such as construction math, financial management and welding.” While working, some participants use the Montgomery G.I. Bill or the Post-9/11 G.I. Bill to collect benefits for housing.
Velasquez, 24, enrolled in Helmets to Hardhats in Fresno. “I was accepted on-the-spot and started going to carpenter classes immediately,” he said.
Six months later, after passing a test and joining the carpenters’ union, Velasquez was an apprentice working on the Fresno River Viaduct, a high-speed rail structure outside Madera. The job paid $25 per hour. “It’s really hot, but it’s worth it,” Velasquez declared. “It makes me feel a lot better to have some money in my pocket.”
Velasquez is among 25,000 veterans who have successfully transitioned into apprenticeships and other careers in the construction industry through Helmets to Hardhats. Weathers added, “We want to expand our registrations for the military and spread the word about Helmets to Hardhats’ pathway to valuable construction careers.”
9/20/2017 - At first sight, Xica Sarai is indistinguishable from her art. The side of her striking face is painted with elegant blue designs, and long feather earrings, cranberry-red beaded necklace and sculpted hair make a statement about who she is and how she thinks.
Xica is a cultural artist in Downtown Los Angeles whose philosophical journey to Mexiko, the Aztec word for Mexico, is displayed in her art. Toltec wisdom and Mayan creation theory are illuminated like stained glass in Xica’s layered, bright geometric designs. Mayan gods and symbolism drenched in bold colors dominate her riveting paintings and murals.
“Thunder and rain, the energy of the flow – speaks to me. I see it and work with it. People are amazed and happy watching me create a mural. The outline comes first then I fill it in with color like a puzzle and it feels good to make people happy.”
Xica enjoyed puzzles as a child and realized her calling as an artist when her father bought her art supplies, and her artwork won awards throughout elementary school. Later, she was drawn toward cultural art after being mesmerized by Aztec dancers and drumming.
After her father’s death in 2014, Xica dove into the study of Aztec beliefs and language to allay her grief. Her quest steered her to study Nahuatl, the Aztec language of Mexiko, and choose a Nahuatl name, Ilhuicacihuatl, or ‘sky woman’.
Xica’s art has been recognized by the City of Los Angeles and Echo Park, and is exhibited in galleries across Los Angeles, previously at CityWalk and Graph Lab, and in private collections.
As a frequent rail passenger in Los Angeles, she has carried her artwork many miles on the train. “When I first came to Los Angeles four years ago, I started taking the train. It took me from one end of town to the other. With high-speed rail, I could take my artwork from Los Angeles to San Francisco and share it with people there.”
9/1/2017 - Sean Reed, owner and operator of DAVE Trucking and Sweeping (DAVE stands for “Disabled American Veteran Enterprises), has only been involved with high-speed rail since October 2016, but he has already seen his company grow as a result.
Reed, who has spent most of his career in the construction industry, has Native American heritage and is a military veteran who was injured while on active duty. He knew there were business opportunities to be had as a Disabled Veteran Owned Company and Disadvantaged Business. Those two programs are usually included in large, federally funded construction projects, including the high-speed rail program, and help small businesses get started.
Three years ago, Reed started DAVE Trucking and Sweeping and began bidding on work for Caltrans and other large construction projects. “I bought a used street sweeper and two older water trucks,” Reed said. “Then things happened fast. I hired some guys and we have a little job trailer that we work out of, but mostly I work out of my truck. I’m so busy I’m only in my office a couple days a week.”
From his start doing sweeping and driving a water truck (used on construction sites to spray water on dirt to reduce dust), Reed relied on his contacts in the construction industry to branch out into trucking when he acquired some dump trucks. Combining forces with several other independent operators, he began to take on high-speed rail work.
“We didn’t want companies coming from Los Angeles and getting the work when we’re right here,” Reed said. “We’ve been hauling all the fill dirt for Avenue 8, Avenue 12 and all the other worksites between Madera and Fresno.”
Reed says his company has grown 150 percent in the past year, growing to 21 full and part-time employees. Thanks to the business he’s received from high-speed rail, Reed has leased five more trucks and hired drivers to operate them.
“It’s about putting out a good product. I don’t want to go out on a limb, trying to get bigger and then not be able to perform,” Reed said. “These companies know me and know my work ethic.”
8/31/2017 - If persistence is the key to success in most every small business endeavor, then Bernard Johnson is a case study on how dogged perseverance eventually pays off.
Johnson is President and CEO of The Bernard Johnson Group, Inc. – a San Diego-based firm that specializes in real estate acquisition, right-of-way services, relocation assistance and various other real estate services. Five years ago, he remembers seeing the California High-Speed Rail Program as the perfect opportunity for his firm.
Securing work on the project took a lot of effort for Johnson. After submitting several bids to work on the project as a prime contractor, he shifted his strategy. Johnson certified his firm as a Disadvantaged Business Enterprise (DBE) and was selected to provide land-acquisition support services in the Central Valley as a subcontractor to Universal Field Services. His firm was already performing land and easement acquisition in the area as a contractor for PG&E.
“That’s my bailiwick. I’m a land guy,” Johnson said of his desire to support the largest infrastructure project in the nation. “I’m in the real estate business. I’ve been doing it for over 30 years.
“I am happy to be where I am, to be legitimately making money on the project.”
Johnson’s firm is tasked with supporting easement acquisition in the Madera to Fresno area. Johnson said his firm is also providing real estate agents acquiring property in the Bakersfield to Fresno region.
“Whether it’s a house, business, cemetery, grocery store or rail property, it’s our job to negotiate in good faith and make sure the owner receives fair market value for their land,” Johnson said.
Depending on the scope of work, Johnson said he has had as many as 10 members of his team working on the program. However, he presently has two employees dispatched to the project and is looking forward to increasing staffing levels as work picks up.
“Certainly, I’m looking forward to getting more people on the project.”
8/30/2017 - Fresno native Tim Williamson started Central Valley Environmental and CVE Demolition in 2007 to be able to perform two important tasks needed on large construction projects including high-speed rail.
Traditionally, demolition crews would knock down a building and haul away the debris, then new construction would start. Today, buildings must be surveyed and tested for hazardous materials prior to demolition. Materials found in older structures, such as asbestos, lead, and mold, require special handling and specially trained workers to safely remove and dispose of them.
Williamson started CVE Demolition to tear down buildings, and created Central Valley Environmental soon after to remove and dispose of hazardous materials from properties targeted for demolition, a process known as abatement.
“We were taking down buildings and subcontracting out the abatement,” Williamson said. “It made more sense for us to handle both sides of it so we can control the quality of work and the schedule for our clients.”
A graduate of Fresno State and 12-year veteran of the California Air National Guard, Williamson has seen his company grow quickly, even though he started it during one of the worst economic downturns the country has ever seen. “Everybody thought I was crazy starting a business then, but when you’re starting out you keep things extremely lean,” Williamson said. “We actually grew during a time when everything was crashing. A lot of larger companies with more overhead had a hard time managing. It wasn’t easy.”
Starting with just a handful of employees, the company has grown to as many as 25 on the heavy demolition side, with up to 70 in the more labor-intensive environmental division, with both branches working on Construction Package 4.
Business has been so good that Williamson has expanded to four locations in California, with much of its current demolition work occurring in the Bay Area. With the high-speed rail project continuing in the Central Valley, he looks forward to being a part of a project that’s so important to the place where he grew up.
8/29/2017 - When it comes to building the nation’s first high-speed rail system, the California High-Speed Rail Authority’s design-build contractors must make sure that they do not significantly impact or interrupt the everyday business of California while they make history. JMA Civil, an engineering, design and consulting firm, is designing temporary routes known as shooflies, so major freight railroads adjacent to high-speed rail can continue carrying their trains on time and without service disruptions.
“Anywhere a new grade separation needs to go in, we design the plans to divert that freight traffic while the structures are under construction,” said Jon Marshall, JMA Civil’s Principal Engineer and CEO. “Our primary goal is to make sure freight and passenger trains keep rolling throughout the entire project.”
The work represents a major stepping stone for the certified Microbusiness, which signed onto the high-speed rail project in 2014. Based out of Benicia and with a smaller office in Pleasanton, the company is led by Jon Marshall and his husband Ethan Hartsell, President of JMA Civil.
The pair first crossed paths in 2004 when they worked in the same building. Eventually, they agreed to go into business together, and in 2011, they launched JMA Civil. Marshall had worked for a national transportation firm for more than a decade on large scale projects and had experience managing teams of 10 or more as a project manager. Hartsell had worked for several high-tech manufacturing companies and had a background in accounting and operations.
Marshall and Hartsell believe high-speed rail will have a positive impact on California. “It has helped our business diversify and grow,” said Marshall. “I’m proud that our company’s technical drawings are going to be part of the historical record of the nation’s first high-speed rail program.”
“I have a nephew who lives in Bakersfield and I would love to be able to go visit him and have him come visit us in the Bay Area without the tedious drive down Interstate 5,” said Hartsell. “High-speed rail will make that happen.”
8/2/2017 - Transportation and parking has been an integral part of Abraham Boche’s life starting at Ontario Airport, near his hometown, where he worked as a parking attendant. At one point, starting a rickshaw company sounded like a good idea. This was followed by a stint managing reggae artist, Jah Faith, then briefly working for a mortuary service taking deceased persons from home to their last destination. Abraham talks about his past jobs with amusement, but this Project Manager of Parking and Janitorial at Los Angeles Union Station, who is a stand-up comic on his off hours, is not laughing at the idea of riding high-speed rail from club to club across California.
Prior to his current position at Los Angeles Union Station, he was a key parking manager at the newly opened Anaheim Regional Transportation Intermodal Center (ARTIC), the location of a future California high-speed rail station. At ARTIC, he managed parking and enjoyed giving station tours to dignitaries, officials and the public. Abraham can currently be seen traversing the LA Union Station as Project Manager of Parking and Janitorial, making sure every detail is in place, from ropes that guide pedestrians to staff leading school tours and handling janitorial details. “Parking services at rail stations requires a combination of safety awareness, logistics and customer service,” says Boche. “I really enjoy the people I work with and meeting the public.”
It’s no surprise that a high point for Abraham was meeting comedian Eddie Murphy while managing parking services for a Black Entertainment Awards reception at LA Union Station. He credits his drama achievements in high school for receiving the Bill Clinton Lifetime Achievement Award and his interest in comedy. He says, “Give me a mic and I’m ready!” Audiences enjoy his social commentary and edgy style at clubs in Fresno, Madera, Modesto and San Francisco. Getting to the clubs requires an arduous drive from Southern California to the Central Valley. Abraham states, “We comedians have a long drive that puts miles on our vehicles. High-speed rail will be a dream come true for me and other entertainers.”
7/25/2017 - When it comes to supporting the California high-speed rail project, it is no mystery where John Hernandez stands. As Director of the High-Speed Rail Support Group (HSRSG), Hernandez has taken on the role of being one of the project’s biggest boosters in the Central Valley. His organization highlights the widespread economic benefits high-speed rail will bring to the area and has positioned itself as a resource to the small business community.
Founded in 2015, the HSRSG is made up of dozens of active members who support the construction of high-speed rail in California. The group regularly works with the Fresno Economic Development Corporation and the City of Fresno and holds monthly luncheons to provide networking opportunities for businesses interested in working on the project.
“We’ve had the Small Business Administration, Board of Equalization and other government agencies, as well as local officials who support the project,” explained Hernandez. “We also focus on getting prime contractors to explain the processes of getting qualified and help people connect with businesses that are already involved so attendees can learn the process.”
Hernandez said that while people may see cranes and infrastructure popping up around Fresno, many don’t realize that high-speed rail is happening, especially outside the Central Valley. HSRSG members go up and down the state meeting with chambers of commerce and similar organizations, focusing on spreading the word about the positive aspects of high-speed rail.
“We bring companies to the table and help them get into the system,” Hernandez said. “You can’t win the race if your horse isn’t in it.”
For more information about upcoming meetings, contact John Hernandez at 559-721-7097 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
7/10/2017 - With more than 600 state-owned high-speed rail properties in Fresno County alone, making sure each site is safe and secure is all in a day’s work for the California Highway Patrol’s (CHP) Safety Services Program officers (SSP). We sat down with Sgt. David Salcido and Officer John Makel with the CHP’s SSP unit in the Central Division to talk about their role on the project.
The unit is responsible for investigating crimes and suspicious activity at state properties – ensuring state employees and facilities are protected, including those of the California High-Speed Rail Authority. Each SSP officer works with local security to patrol and respond to calls of trespassing or breaking and entering on high-speed rail properties. The officers then ensure the property is under control and safe for both the public and state employees throughout the alignment in Fresno County.
After a property is purchased for high-speed rail, the building is boarded up while utilities are disconnected. The structure is then abated for hazardous materials before being demolished. This process may take 6-12 months. During that time, Sgt. Salcido says the public needs to pay attention and heed signs because several of these buildings are in states of disrepair.
“The hazards of walking around or being inside vacant property are high, and we can’t predict what’s going to happen,” said Salcido. “So if they heed the warnings to stay away from these areas, it would do us a huge amount of help.”
However, monitoring property is not the only thing the unit focuses on. Officer Makel says their unit wears many hats. In addition to patrolling and monitoring state properties, SSP officers are also responsible for providing protective service detail for elected officials, giving safety presentations and trainings, examining traffic collisions, and the list goes on.
6/27/2017 - Urban and environmental planners and engineers in the Southern California Regional Office are not only working to build the nation’s first high-speed rail system, they’re educating students throughout the region. From Fall 2016 to Summer 2017, Southern California staff participated in 23 events, directly engaging 4,000 students and reaching more than 11,000 students in total.
Nearly 400 students heard from Southern California staff who participated in Engineer Week presentations in February, sponsored by the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE). Staff presented to students at the Los Angeles Zoo, Los Angeles City Hall, Metro Board Room and Carson STEM High School. In March, they spoke to more than 2,000 students, then reached about 550 more students in April at various classrooms and career fairs throughout Southern California.
Southern California Regional Director Michelle Boehm is excited to see the educational program continue to grow in 2017. “We have a commitment to engage students in Southern California about mobility opportunities and future decisions,” said Boehm. “The transportation landscape continues to evolve here, and high-speed rail will be one of many public transportation options that help students increase their productivity in school and later at work.”
In 2016, more than 5,000 students attended events at eight schools hosting high-speed rail staff at STEM classroom presentations and International Trade Education Programs (ITEP) and university career workshops and events. This includes about 500 university, high school and middle school students who directly engaged with Southern California staff to hear about high-speed rail project activities and careers on large infrastructure projects. Schools visited included the Girls Academic Leadership STEM Academy in Los Angeles, USC, UCLA, Cal Poly, and California State Universities at Fullerton and Dominguez.
6/20/2017 - California High-Speed Rail may be in its early stages, but it is already making a difference in the lives of people in the Central Valley. Chuck Riojas, Executive Secretary and Treasurer of the Building and Construction Trades Council of Fresno, Madera, Kings and Tulare Counties, oversees a pre-apprenticeship training program created with the Fresno Workforce Investment Board using over a million dollars they received in state grants.
Working with local unions through the Building and Construction Trades Council of Fresno, Madera, Kings & Tulare Counties, the program identifies and trains workers for careers in construction. The goal is to enable them to work on the high-speed rail project as carpenters, equipment operators, cement masons, laborers and all the other jobs the project will need.
The program focuses on 12 targeted groups, identified in the high-speed rail project’s Community Benefits Policy, including people either lacking basic requirements for employment like a driver’s license or high school diploma, as well as those with bigger issues such as a criminal history. “They all have barriers to employment,” Riojas said. “It might be extreme or might not be, but they’re all seeking jobs.”
The six-week program offers a core curriculum of construction basics like reading a tape measure and math using fractions and decimals. Students also learn how to become more easily employable by learning to create a resume and how to interview.
Classroom work takes up the first two weeks, followed by “hands-on” training for the various occupations that give students their first experience in construction activities. Students then choose a profession to pursue and can apply for the various unions’ formal apprenticeship programs.
For more information on the pre-apprenticeship program go to HSRjobs.com.
6/12/2017 - A 40-member delegation from the Seattle Metropolitan Chamber of Commerce received an overview of California’s High-Speed Rail program as part of its 2017 Intercity Study Mission to San Francisco. Northern Regional Director Ben Tripousis gave advice on best practices in implementing the program.
Chamber leadership selected San Francisco for the three-day trip for the similar opportunities and challenges the cities are attempting to confront. The trip was designed to strengthen ties between the cities, explore best practices being employed to address regional issues and help develop sustainable solutions to Seattle’s most pressing issues and concerns.
“We must continue to connect with and learn from others if we are to ensure the future sustainable prosperity and global competitiveness of our region,” said Mindi Linquist, Vice President of External Relations for the Seattle Metropolitan Chamber of Commerce.
Members of the chamber met Tripousis at the San Francisco International Airport. They received a presentation on the California High-Speed Rail program and how the project has evolved over the past 20 years.
Officials in the state of Washington – with significant interest from leaders in the high-tech sector – are conducting a feasibility study for a high-speed rail line that would stretch from Vancouver, British Columbia to Portland, with potential stops throughout Washington.
Tripousis urged members of the delegation to “engage the public” early in the planning stages, adding that it’s important that communities have a voice in the ultimate vision of the program and its potential impacts.
“As elected leaders explore the potential for high-speed rail service in Washington State, it is important that we learn from those who are already implementing it here in California,” Linquist said. “Ben’s remarks emphasize the economic importance of establishing strong connections between our major metropolitan regions, and the need for thoughtful and inclusive engagement from the business community on this topic
6/8/2017 - It’s been nearly three decades since civil engineer Tim Coffey launched his firm in Inglewood. Certified as a Disadvantaged Business Enterprise (DBE) and owned by an African-American, the company features two divisions, TEC Management Consultants and TEC Constructors and Engineers. Together, they offer engineering, construction, project management and utility relocation and design services. The company’s list of clients includes Southern California Gas, Walt Disney, Major League Baseball, LA Metro and Caltrans. According to Coffey, “From the outside it may look easy, but I can tell you, it requires a lot of hard work which means long days and nights.”
In 2015, three years after he and his staff attended California High-Speed Rail Authority outreach events, Coffey became a subcontractor to WSP USA, the Rail Delivery Partner (RDP) for high-speed rail.
In the Central Valley, TEC negotiates deals with cities, counties, water and irrigation districts and communications and power companies who sign third-party agreements to relocate fiber-optic cables and other major utilities such as phone, water, gas and electricity. The company also handles right-of-way land acquisitions and provides contract management.
To date, the company has earned over $700,000 for its work on high-speed rail. It has contributed to company growth. “When we joined high-speed rail, we didn’t have any employees working on the project,” Coffey said. “Now, we have nine employees assigned to it and may soon hire a 10th person.”
Read more about TEC Management Consultants in our Small Business Newsletter.
6/7/2017 - As they crouch on their hands and knees with their faces inches from the ground, Geraldine Aron and Paleo Solutions employees hunt for historical clues. They sift gingerly through the dirt looking for items that will tell them more about properties that may be impacted by high-speed rail.
Since 2015, Paleo Solutions, a certified Disadvantaged Business Enterprise (DBE) based in Monrovia, has worked on three sections of high-speed rail – Palmdale to Burbank in Southern California and San Jose to Merced and San Francisco to San Jose in Northern California. “We find things that bolster or change what we already know about certain areas. They help us fill in historical gaps,” Aron said.
Along with archaeologists and mapping experts, crews look for who and what lived in the area. “Potentially, we’ll find some fossils in the San Jose to Merced section,” Aron explained. “Mammoths have been discovered on other transportation projects in the Central Valley.”
As work crews analyze data and prepare maps and surveys indicating the presence or absence of fossils, they identify areas that need to be monitored during construction. Aron looks at them under a microscope. Microfossils, the remains of bacteria, fungi, animals and plants, are invisible to the naked eye. The largest discoveries include fossils of dinosaurs and other giant beasts. They’re processed and identified before being moved to a museum for future research or educational purposes.
“The projects we work on allow us to make significant contributions to the sciences, while making cool discoveries,” Aron observed. “If it weren’t for projects like high-speed rail, we wouldn’t make these important findings.”
Read more about Paleo Solutions in our Small Business Newsletter.
6/6/2017 - Before submitting a Draft Environmental Impact Report/Environmental Impact Statement (EIR/EIS) for review, the California High-Speed Rail Authority wants to know what the high-speed rail project will look like and what impact it will have. Square One Productions, a four-person firm based in San Francisco, is producing visual simulations and photomontages that will accurately represent a before-and-after view of high-speed rail in two project sections from San Francisco to San Jose and San Jose to Merced.
“The goal with the environmental document is to be able to compare and contrast,” said Square One owner Angela Lin. She is a subcontractor for HTNB Corporation, which is providing preliminary engineering and environmental services between the Bay Area and the Central Valley.
Lin and her three-member team read engineering drawings to build models for the visual simulation. The simulations are paired with written environmental analysis to produce a 3-D model of structures and the train, which are then inserted into the photo to better illustrate the design, scale and impact of the project.
Lin said her firm has done the same type of work for the Santa Clara Valley Transit Authority, the Bay Area Rapid Transit System and the Palmdale-Burbank section of the high-speed rail program. “It’s so hard to explain visual things in words,” Lin said. “And that’s part of the value of what we do.”
Read more about Square One Productions in our Small Business Newsletter.
6/5/2017 - “I love my job!” Virginia Villa declared. Villa owns West Pacific Electric Company (WPEC), a small business, based in Lemoore, which is relocating utilities to make way for high-speed rail.
WPEC has a contract with design-builder Dragados/Flatiron to work on Construction Package 2-3 in the Central Valley installing underground AT&T duct banks, conduits (pipes) packed with wires or fibers enclosed in protective concrete or metal cases. Villa said getting on the project was a major achievement. “Over the last two to three years, I must have gone to more than 20 events concerning high-speed rail,” she said.
Last November, she was awarded a $685,000 contract to relocate underground utilities. To complete the job, Villa will hire 10 to 12 workers to help her core group of 8 to 10 employees. It’s hard work for this married mother of six, who was studying speech pathology at Fresno State when she went to work for her husband Lee’s electrical contracting company. In 2008, they launched WPEC with Villa as the primary owner. Today, a son and daughter are among their employees.
Villa believes the high-speed rail contract will mean more opportunities. “We’ve gotten great reviews and AT&T asked us to become one of their official vendors,” she explained. “It’s the result of working on high-speed rail—one million percent.”
Read more about West Pacific Electric Company in our Small Business Newsletter.
5/30/2017 - Southern California staff couldn’t resist a fun biking excursion after Regional Administrator Claudia Joaquin sent out a notice about Los Angeles Metro’s free Bike Share during Bike Month. Michelle Boehm, the Southern California Regional Director, sounded the call to action saying “Let’s go ride a bike!” The nearby Los Angeles State Historic Park quickly became the destination for a beautiful lunch hour ride.
The adventurous group, consisting of Cullen Davis, Olivia Kress, Adrian Alvarez, Sean Calvin, Todd Nguyen, Kevin Alvarado, Mayra Ramos and Karl Fielding, set out on a sunny day, riding a mile north to the 32 acre park. Located in historic Chinatown, between the Los Angeles River to the east and the 110 Freeway on the west, Los Angeles State Historic Park was the site of a train station that brought easterners to Los Angeles at the turn of the 19th century, earning it the nickname of “the Ellis Island of Los Angeles”.
Claudia Joaquin and Jennifer Thommen enjoyed a leisurely walk along Alameda Avenue as the bikers whizzed by and waved, then caught up with them at the park. Thommen, Administrative Assistant to the CEO visiting the LA office, was surprised by the number of riders and bikes enjoying the bike share experience. “It’s so easy to find a bike station in downtown Los Angeles,” she exclaimed.
Back at the office Michelle symbolically honored Cullen Davis with a gold star for wearing a helmet. Olivia Kress, exhilarated by the outing, proposed a monthly high-speed rail bike riders club to explore the many historic areas of downtown Los Angeles.
5/22/2017 - May is National Bike Month, sponsored by the League of American Bicyclists and celebrated in communities throughout California. Employees working on California High-Speed Rail are excited to be a part of the fun and work biking into their daily train commute.
Leading up to May is Bike Month, the California High-Speed Rail Authority offices in Sacramento held a free one-hour bike clinic presented by Eric Navarro of Sacramento City Bicycle Works. Staff learned about traffic safety skills when riding, the proper way to navigate one way streets on your bike, keeping your bike road-ready, and tips and tricks for what to have with you on the road. He answered questions covering everything from the best type of bike pump to the cost of a traffic ticket for running a stop sign on a bike (more than $300!).
Senior Graphic Designer Cullen Davis is happy to incorporate biking into his commute, where he bikes to his local train station. “Biking is practical transportation—it just makes sense,“ said Davis. “I encourage everyone to see if cycling can fit into their commute.”
For Davis, conditions in LA have become increasingly favorable in recent decades. Air pollution controls have led to cleaner air, and there is an increase in dedicated bike lanes and bike-friendly transit. “Southern California weather makes biking comfortable for almost the whole year, and most of the city is flat, easy-riding terrain,” he explained.
The Metro parking lot in North Hollywood fills up every day before 8:00 a.m., but Davis finds plenty of space for his bike. He owns a roadster that he enjoys driving, but no car is fun in heavy traffic or hunting for parking. “Riding a bike doesn’t add much time to my commute,” he said. “I get extra exercise, sun and fresh air.”
5/8/2017 - In large infrastructure projects, it is important to figure out what is right for the environment while moving the project forward. Soar Environmental works as a subcontractor on the high-speed rail project, overseeing environmental strategy for Tutor Perini Zachry Parsons (TPZP), the company building from north of Madera to south of Fresno. Soar makes sure all environmental mitigation measures and permit conditions are adhered to.
"Soar Environmental acts as a go-between to make sure the contractor is implementing policies that are legal and consist of best management practices," said founder and CEO Michael Murphy. "We make sure they are careful to conserve the environment and protect assets like water, animal and plant species and Native American artifacts."
"Soar's challenge is figuring out what's right for the environment while being able to keep the project going. For example, there are only 17 acres of Hairy Orcutt Grass in the world, and some is in the project alignment." Soar worked with California environmental permitting agencies, as well as local farmers, to set up places to relocate the grass out of the corridor so it can continue to grow.
"It's been quite rewarding having people who work for me employed on a contract that will be going on for quite some time," Murphy stated. "Knowing that my employees, their spouses and their children have a future provides real peace of mind."
4/26/2017 - James Campbell has dedicated his career to transportation projects in California, and it has all lead up to his work on the California high-speed rail program. In addition to award-winning accomplishments working on high-speed rail, he serves as Vice-President of the San Bernardino Railroad Historical Society (SBRHS) where he shares his love of one of the first high-speed locomotives from the 1920s at the Fullerton Railroad Museum.
James' transportation career began in college as a bus driver in San Diego, after a summer job in high school shipping pickles on his cousin's farm. His career in transportation continued after college, as he worked in various roles with agencies along the Los Angeles to San Diego corridor, moving to WSP|Parsons Brinckerhoff (PB) in 2006 to work in Rail Operations on projects with Amtrak, Caltrain and others nationwide. James was the Deputy Project Manager with the Orange County Transportation Authority, after which he was promoted to Manager of Business Development for Rail in Southern California which included the high-speed rail program.
Currently, James is a Technical Specialist working on the high-speed rail program on the Burbank to Los Angeles and Los Angeles to Anaheim project sections. Last year he was named one of the 'Top 40 Under 40' by Mass Transit Magazine for his accomplishments in transportation. This year, James was acknowledged with an award from PB in the Project Management under $3 million category.
4/3/2017 - Ah’nesha Worshim and Darrell Patterson are friends concerned about global warming. Like many in Southern California, their concern fuels sustainable decisions in their lifestyle, transportation and work lives.
After becoming aware of devastating pollution in China caused by fabric processing, Ah’nesha decided to start an eco-fabrics business. Her studies in Fashion Merchandising at Cal State Long Beach take her to Downtown Los Angeles where she looks for fabrics made from natural sources like cotton, hemp and bamboo.
Ah’nesha plans to move to Los Angeles “to start using public transportation and get away from auto traffic congestion.” After a recent visit to New York City she noted, “Nothing is more than 25 minutes away using public transportation—it's a great experience.” She looks forward to a one-trip fare in California that includes high-speed rail.
Darrell Patterson brings a passion for sustainable transportation to his work with the Southern California Association of Governments, and believes “we are all trying to find a way to live a sustainable life.” He is adamant that high-speed rail is key to inter-regional travel and looks forward to leaving long car trips behind and taking high-speed rail weekend trips to San Francisco.
Darrell observed, “People from all cultures with innovative ideas, coming together in stations like Union Station in Los Angeles that will include high-speed rail, are part of the future connecting all of us.”