Goethals Bridge “Rock Star” a Top 25 Newsmaker

By Neal Buccino, Media Relations Staff

After more than a decade leading the Goethals Bridge Replacement Program, Jim Blackmore is getting some well-deserved recognition.

Blackmore, the director of the Port Authority’s project to build a new Goethals Bridge and demolish its 88-year-old predecessor, was recently named by Engineering News Record (ENR), the premier industry publication, as one of its Top 25 Newsmakers of 2016. He joins an impressive nationwide group of architects, scientists and others who, in the magazine’s words, “have gone above and beyond to serve the interests of the construction industry and the public.”

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Jim Blackmore, Director of the Goethals Bridge Replacement Program, is one of ENR’s “Top 25 Newsmakers of 2016.”  PHOTO by Conrad Barclay, Port Authority

ENR commends Blackmore for his use of “engineering and business smarts” to help create and guide the innovative public-private partnership (PPP, or P3 in industry parlance) that governs the Goethals project, and for directing all aspects of the project including the private developer’s construction work.

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Aerial view of the Goethals Bridge construction site.  The two halves of the new eastbound span are nearly touching over the Arthur Kill.  The original bridge will eventually be demolished.  PHOTO courtesy of PDK Commercial Photographer LTD.

“While this is a great honor, I have to say the success of the Goethals Bridge replacement has relied and continues to rely on many more people at the Port Authority and beyond,” Blackmore said.  He cited numerous staff and leaders at the Port Authority, project consultants HTNB and AECOM, and the P3’s private developer, NYNJ Link LLC.

The Goethals P3 is especially noteworthy as the region’s first for a bridge construction project — and for ensuring the cost-effective delivery of the Port Authority’s first new bridge since 1931, and what may be the region’s first cable-stayed bridge.

The first of the bridge’s twin spans is nearing completion and is expected to open to traffic during the coming months.  Later, when both spans are finalized, drivers will enjoy a 21st century roadway with a total of six 12-foot lanes along with 12-foot outer shoulders, five-foot inner shoulders and a 10-foot shared-use path for bicycles and pedestrians.  That’s a significant improvement over the existing functionally obsolete bridge, which has four 10-foot lanes and no shoulders.

“Jim Blackmore is a PPP rock star,” Port Authority Executive Director Pat Foye said recently. “In his role as program director for the Goethals Bridge Replacement, he has led this project since inception. Today, construction is proceeding impressively under his dogged oversight.”

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Stay cables provide the muscle for the new Goethals Bridge.  PHOTO by Mike Dombromski, Port Authority

Back in the project’s early days, Blackmore led the project through a comprehensive, federally mandated environmental review. Then, when the P3 model was still a novelty at the Port Authority, Blackmore worked with Gerry Stoughton, the Port Authority’s now-retired Director of Financial analysis, and Brian Smith of the agency’s Law Department to advocate for its use to limit the public’s financial exposure, while ensuring the construction of a high-quality new bridge on a strict timetable.

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Half the new eastbound span stretches out from Elizabeth, NJ across the Arthur Kill.  PHOTO by Mike Dombrowski, Port Authority

That’s because the Goethals P3 requires the private developer to have what Blackmore calls “skin in the game,” and a very clear set of incentives.  The developer provided up-front financing for the project. Payments from the Port Authority will not begin until the bridge is delivered, according to the contract’s strict requirements, and will be made over a 35-year period. The developer also will be responsible for the bridge’s maintenance during the first 35 years.

After years of this type of preliminary work, the actual construction of the new bridge has made swift progress during the past two years.

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Installation of the stay cables on the new eastbound span is progressing rapidly.  PHOTO by Mike Dombrowski, Port Authority

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Another view of the stay cables supporting the roadway.  PHOTO by Mike Dombrowski, Port Authority

Blackmore’s unique background, merging the fields of engineering/construction with finance, guided both the preliminary and construction aspects of the project.

Before joining the Port Authority, he worked with Bechtel Power Corp. and Bechtel International Group, serving in management roles for the construction of New Jersey’s Salem/Hope Creek Nuclear Power Plant and for building part of the infrastructure of Jubail Industrial City in Saudi Arabia. He then earned an MBA at Columbia University, and worked in the real estate investment banking world before joining the Port Authority’s office of the Chief Financial Officer in 1995.

Luke Chenery, the CEO of NYNJ Link, said Blackmore helps keep the Goethals project moving forward by “insisting on a cooperative approach, reminding us all that we share the same project goals even during times of heated debates and disputes.”

Blackmore says he strives to resolve those inevitable conflicts by reminding everyone of the bigger picture. “Whatever we’re debating – whether it’s between Port Authority staff or with the developer or contractor – is always resolvable,” he said.

“I try to remind myself and everyone else to step back,” he said. “Look out the window at that tremendous bridge we’re building, and how far we’ve come. Compared with that, this small problem in front of us is like a gnat on an elephant. Let’s resolve it and get back to the bigger work.

James Blackmore - PANYNJ 2017

Blackmore at the new Goethals Bridge construction site.  The new bridge’s  twin pairs of Staten Island towers rise in the background.  The original cantilever bridge is visible on the left.  PHOTO by Conrad Barclay, Port Authority

 

 

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