By TOM LAVENTURE
AAP staff writer
ST. PAUL (Dec. 11, 2009) – The work to build the Central Corridor Light Rail Transit gets a lot of attention particularly when it means breaking ground along some of the busiest streets in the metro area. One engineer explains that the underground design work will help ensure it will be done right the first time and with a long term environmental benefit.
Hugh Zeng is the Principal Engineer of HZ United, LLC, a Civil Engineering firm based in Plymouth that he created in 2005. It is also a Disadvantage Business Enterprise in the State of Minnesota and will soon operated under the Federal 8(A) DBE program.
As a qualified and registered DBE, HZ United now works as a subcontractor with AECOM (formerly DMJM), an Ashland, Kentucky based technical and management support firm that is the prime contractor for the Prime contractor for Central Corridor consulting design work during this phase of the planning and construction.
“HZ has been in the front of the subsurface design challenges of the Central Corridor Light Rail Construction,” said Zeng.
The job requires a lot of research on existing subsurface structures and geology, along with site investigations to produce data to make their models.
Zheng said the urban corridor has a complex underground system of city electric, gas, phone and sewer systems that reach over 100 feet below. These are all factors to be worked into the hydrology design that is a far sighted approach to reusing runoff and avoiding flooding.
The design incorporates new thinking on environmental compliance and urban contamination issues that are taken more seriously today than in the past when contamination was acceptable when it was not visible.
“We want to make sure that water collected on the streets will be harvested into self-sustained systems,” said Zheng, noting that landscaping design including trees will allow water to help the ground leach and decompose, offering environmental benefits, improved water quality and a reduction of potential damage from flooding around the tracks.
“The challenge is trying to balance what we can offer as best product versus the cost constraint,” he said. Also we are trying to fit the most advanced systems out there and incorporated that into our project.”
Just three years ago Zeng said his small firm saw the opportunities with Central Corridor LRT and sought out ways to subcontract a portion of the subsurface and hydrological design work that AECOM would need to accomplish in their overall engineering work.
Zeng said he began attending Metro Council meetings regarding LRT and actively sought information on where his firm could fulfill needs to write project bids. When AECOM was awarded the contract he learned more about their part of the project and the other project partners to fit in with the team of about 100 engineers – about two dozen staff and the rest consultants like HZ.
Zheng won his big by showing a track record of success. His HZ projects include heavy freight rail, the Hiawatha light rail line, design work on urban freeway and bridge systems in St. Louis.
“I worked in Missouri on urban development in a condensed constraints corridor,” he said. “There were a lot of stakeholders and a lot of potential impact with construction.
His local work included freeway and ramp design in Chaska and Plymouth. He consults in the private sector including the Mai Village Restaurant construction in St. Paul.
Prior to running his own firm, Zheng worked as a senior engineer for the Parsons firm, and as a project engineer for LLC, URS / BRW, and Fishback, Thompson, Carr & Huber, Inc.
He completed his masters in Environmental Hydraulics at the University of Minnesota-Twin Cities in 1997. He completed his bachelors degree in Structural Hydraulics at Michigan Technological University in 1989.
The HZ LRT contract is up in March 2010. He may have more work as a specialist and he is always lining up bids for other jobs. There are days when Zheng said it would be good to be an employee with a big firm. But most days, he would rather be out there on own and using the drive and initiative that led him to set up his own shop.
“You own more challenges and a lot more work,” he said. “We work long hours.”
Zheng was born in Beijing. His father is now a retired professor of Agriculture still living in China, who attended the University of Minnesota in the 1940s. That connection sparked interest in the American Midwest, and after his freshman year in college in Beijing, Zheng said he got a scholarship to attend Michigan Tech.
He has been an American for 15 years now and says he likes to raise his child with his spouse in Minnesota – his home.