NAUGATUCK — The project includes removing concrete piers underneath the on-ramp leading commuters from the Franklin Delano Roosevelt Bridge to the Brooklyn Bridge in New York City and then replacing them with new steel piers.
The ramp remains open throughout construction.
No problem, says Vincent Siefert, a Naugatuck-based professional engineer whose firm is currently working on that project.
“It will be supported by temporary supports that we design that are independent of the existing footings for a period of a few months, and the traveling public won’t know any different,” he said. “They will just be driving over the bridge and what used to support the bridge will be gone for a while.”
The project is one of dozens of examples of major construction projects Siefert and his firm, Siefert Associates at 180 Church St., have been involved with over the past 16 years. The company, which will be tapped to work on the renovations of the Whittemore Memorial Bridge on Maple Street here, is widely considered one of the leading bridge construction engineering firms in the country, as evidenced by its body of work.
The growing firm has been involved with work on some of the most iconic structures in the United States, including the Tappan Zee Bridge, the Brooklyn Bridge, the Manhattan Bridge, the Williamsburg Bridge, the Triborough Bridge, numerous projects at the rebuilding of the World Trade Center and a Columbia University expansion.
Currently, Siefert is preparing to bid on work that is being planned to place suicide prevention nets along the 1.7-mile Golden Gate Bridge, where there have been more than 1,600 suicides since it opened in 1937. Officials in California have allocated at least $76 million for that project.
Competing for work on a national level at some of the most recognizable landmarks in the world is a dream come true for Siefert, a 54-year-old married father of four girls who lives in Naugatuck.
Siefert, a Monroe native who moved out of state for several years after graduating from Villanova University, had experience in construction oversight and engineering when he returned to Connecticut in the late 1980s for a chance to work on a major repair project of the Mixmaster in Waterbury. He planned to be here just a couple of years.
But as life goes, he ended up staying for the long haul. He said he hasn’t regretted it since. In 2000, he was working from home with his former dog, Hydro, when he decided they needed to find a new office location so as to not interrupt the rest of the family. Siefert and his wife, Eva, an art teacher in Naugatuck Public Schools, drove to downtown Naugatuck where they saw a sign for office space. Within an hour, Siefert decided where to set up shop.
At the time, attorney N. Warren “Pete” Hess, who is now the borough’s mayor, was renovating the historic Hopson Building at 180 Church St. and was leasing space. Within a week, Vincent and Hydro Siefert became Hess’ first tenants.
Within a couple years, Siefert landed several high-profile jobs, including engineering work for a temporary Port Authority station, a new transportation hub, a vehicle security center, office towers one, three and four and the Fulton Street transportation hub at the World Trade Center reconstruction project.
He started hiring more engineers, draftsmen and office staff, and the business has grown to 25 employees currently.
“One of the most rewarding experiences has been assembling a team of honest, hardworking professionals, each with unique skills and personalities, yet all of us have something in common — an adventurous spirit and caring attitude, both at work and home,” he said.
On top of the Brooklyn Bridge project, the company is currently involved in several others, including the Interstate 84 project in Waterbury. The firm has provided drafting services for bridge demolition and erection plans, support of excavation for underground utilities and designs for a temporary bridge.
Among the more interesting jobs Siefert Associates completed includes the “hardening” of the Brooklyn Bridge to protect against a terrorist attack.
“To a casual observer, you might not notice it,” he said. “But the next time you go over the bridge, look at the vertical suspenders. There is a pipe, maybe 6 or 8 inches in diameter, that has been placed around all of them. Those are to prevent someone from walking up to the vertical suspenders with a plastic explosive and dropping the bridge. We worked on a technique to actually get the pipe erected into place.”
Hess, who is still the landlord of the Hopson Building where Siefert’s firm now takes up more than an entire floor, said he thinks hard work is the biggest reason why Siefert has been so successful.
For example, Siefert doesn’t simply sit in his office and design plans: He goes into the field and talks to people doing the work to get their perspective on just about every project he touches.
“He has grown his business tremendously during the worst economic period since the Great Depression, and I think it’s due to his abilities and the fact that his customers, who are mostly owners and construction people, all realize that he provides incredible value engineering and makes their projects more successful,” Hess said.
“I think a lot of people would be surprised to learn of the massive and high-profile projects he is working on here in Naugatuck and that we have one of the best bridge construction engineers in the United States right here.”