Perini Corporation is one of the most successful construction firms in the country, offering diversified general contracting, construction management and design-build services to private clients and public agencies throughout the world. David Soyka reports on developments in Perini’s Civil Construction Division, a cornerstone of its business since the company’s founding over a century ago.
Throughout its history, America has been the land of opportunity for successive waves of immigrants seeking better lives for their families, which in turn led to better lives for everyone else. Perini Corporation had built on this heritage by building public infrastructure that makes life in America more convenient, safe and enjoyable.
Bonfiglio Perini immigrated to the Unites States in 1885 and made a living initially as a stone mason in New York City. In 1894, he formed Perini and Sons as a public works contractor and performed some of the first federally funded highway and bridge construction projects beginning in 1916. The company was incorporated in 1918 with headquarters in Massachusetts, and has since grown to become one of the nation’s largest contractors – ranked ninth by Engineering News Record (ENR) in its 2008 Top 400 Contractors listing.
In New York alone, Perini has built or rehabilitated significant elements of the state’s road and bridge network, dating back to the construction of a segment of the Grand Central Parkway in 1932. It has long since extended its reach across the country and today maintains three operating units – building operations, management services and civil construction. The latter has added capabilities and resources resulting in a merger completed in 2008 with Tutor-Saliba Corporation.
According to James Laing, president of the civil division operating throughout the eastern seaboard with offices in Peekskill, N.Y. and Framingham, Mass., “There had been a longstanding, over-30 year relationship in joint ventures between Perini and Tutor-Saliba, which itself was focused primarily on civil engineering and building construction projects on the West Coast. Perini and Tutor-Saliba have proven a synergistic team successfully constructing some of the nation’s most complex transportation projects – more than 14 separate contracts valued at nearly $1 billion on the LA Metro; the $380 million, 280,000-square-foot AirTrain Terminal at Jamaica Station; the Lexington Avenue Line Rehabilitation, and complex highway/bridge projects throughout the New York metropolitan area. The merger combines our respective capabilities to grow and diversify the talent and market potential of the two companies into a single seamless and focused organization.”
The civil construction group now comprises Tutor-Saliba Corporation and Perini Civil Construction, as well as Cherry Hill Construction, Inc., which specializes in heavy construction focused on projects in the Washington, D.C., Delaware, Maryland, West Virginia, Virginia and Florida regions. “Because of their strong brand recognition, for now we’re maintaining the separate company identities under the umbrella of the Perini Civil Construction group,” Laing says.
He adds, “We focus on infrastructure repair and construction projects such as highways and bridges, water mains and drainage facilities, wastewater treatment facilities, mass transit and intermodal transportation systems, and transportation storage facilities in the $55 to $75 million range. Historically, Perini has been most active in the Northeast, but we’re especially looking now to expand in the mid-Atlantic region. Under the new organization we have the capabilities to not only expand regionally, but consider larger projects in the $300 to $500 million range; in fact, our goal is to compete at the $700 million level.”
In addition to its record of achievement and significant bonding capacity in design, build operate and maintain (DBOM) projects, Perini’s senior managers and experienced superintendents and field engineers offer the experience as well as technical knowledge to address challenges specific to conducting sophisticated civil work projects in congested urban environments. “Our goal is to identify and resolve problems during the planning process to complete work on schedule and within project budgets,” Laing says.
“In terms of capabilities, resources, experience and expertise, we’re on par with any of the largest contracting companies in the country,” he adds, while conceding that “where we might be at something of a competitive disadvantage is in situations where we’re bidding for smaller projects against local contractors with long-term crews who might be better known to the local government authorities. That said, there are certainly opportunities for us to team with a local contractor on projects in the $75 million range where we can help fill some needs for certain competencies.”
Of course, bottom-line in most cases is who can do the job for the lowest cost. “There was an effort a few years ago to redefine the rules so that you could consider certain value adds other than cost,” Laing says, “and sometimes that happens to be the case. But, you know, everyone in this business at this level has comparable records in safety and quality of work and capabilities. So, most of the time, cost is always the deciding factor in who is awarded the bid. The objective is to deliver on-schedule with the highest quality and service at the best possible cost.”
Laing emphasizes that Perini’s ability to manage and execute complex projects is directly attributable to “our people. Good people are always the key. At Perini, we offer a work environment that offers people stability along with continuing challenges that provide for long term growth. We want our people to feel that this is the place for them to excel in their particular discipline.” Overall, Perini employs about 4,000 people; the civil construction group accounts for about 600 total.
Notable Perini projects include the replacement of the exiting deck with orthotropic steel deck panels at the Bronx Whitestone Bridge at a project cost of $137 million; a $64 million reconstruction of the Passaic River Bridge on the New Jersey Turnpike; and the $125 million Brooklyn-Queens Expressway Reconstruction that involved 1.4 miles of roadway, seven bridges, new retaining walls and reconfiguration of the Broadway/37th Avenue intersection. Perini also completed a major design-build project for Hudson-Bergen Light Rail in New Jersey that involved 16 miles of civil works for corridor under a $345 million contract.
Perini is also noted for a number of landmark projects, including its role as the lead contractor and manager of foundation work construction for the 28-acre Riverbank State Park on the roof of the North River Treatment Plant in 1973. Valued at $280 million, it was the largest contract in New York at the time. Under a separate contract, Perini also constructed two bridges providing service vehicle and pedestrian access to the park from Riverside Drive at 14th and 138th Streets. The bridge work required rehabilitation of two landmark granite arches to support the increased traffic load.
Current projects include reconstruction of about a mile of Route 9 in Peekskill, N.Y., which entails replacement of three composite girder bridges, replacement of the Route 6 bridge (composite girder) and abatement, demolition and disposal of three buildings, as well as 50,000 cubic yards of rock blasting and eight retaining walls to support the rebuilt roadway. Another is the expansion of the existing LIRR (Long Island Railroad)/Amtrak right-of-way to accommodate the East Side Access extension of LIRR service to Manhattan. Work includes building retaining walls and track bridge, foundation for a new substation, two new track bridges, micro-tunnels for duct banks below mainline tracks and utility relocations.
Laing cites a $150 million bridge deck replacement of the main crossing between Westchester and Rockland counties on the Tappan Zee Bridge in New York state as an example of Perini’s innovation and cost-consciousness. “We’re replacing about 2 ½ miles of decking going in one direction. In an undertaking like this, one of the big concerns is to minimize traffic problems resulting from having to block off the lane that’s being redecked in an area that even under normal conditions is subject to heavy congestion volumes. We decided to replace it in segments, using 1,092 precast concrete panes. The panels are fabricated off-site and fit-up to assure paired panels match with pre-fabricated guard rails preinstalled on the panel. The complete panels are then trucked to the bridge where they are installed during overnight work hours. Not only does this minimize traffic impact, it has greatly accelerated the project completion schedule.”
He adds, “We’ve been so successful at exceeding expectations on this project that I’m confident we are the likely candidate to win the contract on the bid to redeck the bridge going in the opposite direction.”
While the economy has dampened the pace of civil construction, Laing believes, “We’re beginning to see signs that the market is getting out of the doldrums. Today, we’re well positioned to take on not only the projects we’ve historically done, but to expand into new markets, both in terms of regional presence and project size. Combining with Tutor-Saliba accelerated our growth potential in ways that Perini would not achieve alone. We expect to grow.”