aerial photo of Niagara Falls James Cavanaugh
The Niagara Falls State Park Transformation Initiative was announced as the winner of the 2021 OCEA award.

The annual ASCE OPAL Gala held virtually Friday evening, Oct. 8, had a new look this year.

For one, it moved online for the first time, due to the COVID-19 pandemic. It also moved on the Society’s calendar, aligning this year with the ASCE 2021 Convention.

What wasn’t new, though, was the interest and suspense surrounding the announcement at the gala of the winner of this year’s Outstanding Civil Engineering Achievement award, ASCE’s preeminent project award.

And the winner? The Niagara Falls State Park Transformation Initiative earned the 2021 OCEA award, joining the honor’s legacy of more than 50 years of innovative civil engineering.

Now our work has been recognized by our peers as exemplary, which serves to confirm that not only did we assemble the right team but we did the right thing for one of America's most iconic landmarks, said Frank T. McCue, III, project manager and assistant deputy commissioner for capital, New York State Office of Parks, Recreation, and Historic Preservation, during the gala. I'm very shocked, I'm very happy, I'm very thrilled...  and my thanks to everyone and ASCE.

The Niagara Falls State Park Transformation Initiative restored a popular public space with new attractions and improved utilities. After years of disrepair, T.Y. Lin International and the New York State Office of Parks Recreation and Historic Preservation coordinated more than 16 interconnected projects across more than 400 acres to enhance the park. The groups improved behind-the-scenes utility, mechanical, and stormwater infrastructure in addition to public-facing attractions, buildings, lighting, and pedestrian/traffic routes. The park managed to stay open throughout the entire improvement process.

“State parks have a monumental impact on the economic stability, resilience, and health of our communities,” said 2021 ASCE President Jean-Louis Briaud, Ph.D., P.E., D.GE, Dist.M.ASCE. “Restoring a project of this magnitude is one of many ways that civil engineers can enhance the natural environment in addition to the built environment, all while creating a more attractive community for residents and tourists.”

Nine OCEA honor awards were announced in January and the winner and two runners-up were announced Friday night.

Boulder City, Nevada’s Lake Mead Intake No. 3 Low Lake Level Pumping Station and Discharge Aqueducts Project was the OCEA Silver winner. The decades-long drought in the Colorado River Basin has threatened Lake Mead, which now currently only holds 38% of its 26-million-acre-foot capacity. To avoid water service disruptions to the 2.2 million-person Southern Nevada community, the Southern Nevada Water Authority completed the Low Lake Level Pumping Station to improve accessibility and long-term reliability.

The Governor Mario M. Cuomo Bridge in New York City was awarded Bronze. The new 3.1-mile twin span bridges crossing the Hudson River between Rockland and Westchester counties replaces the old Tappan Zee Bridge. The new structure features extra-wide shoulders, emergency/bus lanes, and is prepared to support future commuter or light rail. The project is one of the largest single design-build transportation structures in the United States.

“These trophy winners demonstrate a level of ingenuity that inspires engineers to do their very best, while also providing essential services to their communities,” said Briaud. “Civil engineers have the power to solve problems, keep the public safe, and enhance livelihoods with their work. Congratulations to these three recipients for making their communities stronger.”

The gala also honored the 2021 winners of ASCE’s Outstanding Projects and Leaders leadership awards:

In construction, Jesus M. de la Garza, Ph.D., Dist.M.ASCE, NAC, professor and chair, Glenn Department of Civil Engineering, Clemson University – for innovation and excellence in construction of civil engineering projects and programs.

In design, James L. Barnard, Ph.D., P.E., BCEE, Dist.M.ASCE, global project and technology leader, Black and Veatch Consulting Engineers – for innovation and excellence in civil engineering design.

In education, Vijay P. Singh, D.Sc., P.E., Hon.D.AWRE, F.EWRI, Dist.M.ASCE, Distinguished Professor, Texas A&M University – for demonstrated excellence in furthering civil engineering education

In government, Sreenivas Alampalli, Ph.D., P.E., F.SEI, F.ASCE, recently retired as director, Structure Management Bureau, New York State Department of Transportation – for demonstrated leadership of public sector projects and programs.

In management, Terry F. Neimeyer, P.E., ENV SP, BCEE, F.ASCE, chairman of the board, KCI – for exceptional management skills in his professional career.