By JAVIER ROJAS
City civil engineer Julie Allen is no stranger to high-profile and complicated projects. She was involved in the rehabilitation of Echo Park Lake and Machado Lake. Now, she’s in charge of her biggest project yet — the $482 million replacement of the Sixth Street Viaduct connecting Boyle Heights and Downtown LA.
Allen is only the second woman to serve at the highest level of project management in the city’s Bureau of Engineering. When Allen was named project manager, she was the only female engineer on the city’s Sixth Street Viaduct team. Since then her team has become more diverse, including the addition of several other women in lead roles.
In a Q&A with The Eastsider, Allen, who was raised in Modesto and graduated from UCLA, described the challenges of working on the largest bridge project in city history, the significance of having a women leading the project and her nerdy fascination with square rebar.
Tell us a bit about yourself for people who might not be familiar with you?
I’m a Principal Civil Engineer with the City’s Bureau of Engineering and project lead for the Sixth Street Viaduct Replacement Project. I’ve been with the City for 26 years and have worked on the viaduct for the past three years. Although women are under represented in the field of transportation engineering and construction overall, I am proud that my team of eight people has six outstanding women on it.
What were your initial thoughts when you realized you’d be taking on this project?
Although I knew this would be the most challenging project I’d ever worked on, I was excited to use my previous experience to deliver such an iconic project and something that generations of Angelenos will be able to enjoy for years to come.
What’s been the most challenging aspect of this project so far?
Traditionally, bridges are built to cross either a river or other singular obstacles. The Sixth Street Viaduct, however, crosses not only the LA River, but also the 101 Freeway, 18 railroad tracks owned by multiple different companies, streets, and utility lines. That means that a key part of my job is coordinating our construction schedule with multiple agencies, owners and authorities, something that is extremely challenging at times.
When is the bridge scheduled to be completed?
It is scheduled to be completed at the end of 2020.
The Sixth Street Viaduct has so much history attached to it. What has been the most interesting thing you’ve found out about it since the project began?
The old bridge was built in 1932 and although this might sound nerdy, one of the most interesting things we encountered early on was that it was built with square rebar, not round. I had never seen that in person before. Also, our entire team was overwhelmed by the heartfelt emotion of the community when we demolished the old bridge. It was amazing to hear people share stories about the bridge and how much they loved and enjoyed it. I have a piece of the old square rebar on my desk and it serves as a reminder of the history of the original viaduct and how important it is to build something new that people will love just as much.
What does it mean as a woman to be leading this project in a field where sometimes woman aren’t well represented?
I’m proud that I have been able to build a team with highly competent women and men, to demonstrate that women can be just as effective in a field that is predominantly male.
What do you want people to think when they see the new Sixth Street bridge?
Of course I want people to think it’s beautiful and exciting and a great addition to our city. And although they won’t know it by looking at it, I also want them to know that it will be built to last 100 years or more, even if the “big one” hits. That is because it is designed to withstand a one in 1,000-year seismic event, using the specialty base isolation system that allows the bridge columns to move up to 30 inches in any direction during an earthquake.
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