C+S March 2020 Vol. 6 Issue 3 (web)

Urban Underground business news HNTB’s Sanja Zlatanic: a Happy Mole By Richard Massey

There’s no doubt about it. Sanja Zlatanic, Senior Vice President and Chair of the HNTB National Tunnel Practice, loves mega-projects. Confronting epic problems and managing the associated risk is what she does best. Existing constraints, the concerns of communities and stakeholders, multi-billion-dollar price tags, and meticulous team building are all part of the package when you’re boring tunnels under cities or bodies of water. NewYork, Baltimore, Los Angeles, San Fran- cisco, Seattle, and Istanbul – Zlatanic has made her name working on the industry’s premier tunneling projects over the last three decades. But if you want to get a true measure of her ability to handle whatever is in front of her, you might as well go back to the early years, when the University of Belgrade graduate was just starting out. She was in Iraq on a government contract in 1990 when Saddam Hussein invaded Kuwait. She and the team were not allowed to leave until their proj- ect was done, so they went into overdrive, closing out a four-month job in just 21 days. Zlatanic returned to Belgrade, but at that time the former Yugoslavia was disintegrating into war. She and her husband Jusuf fled, obtaining their visas in Budapest, Hungary before heading to the United States. Once in New York City, Zlatanic hunkered down in a small apartment for three months, consuming language tapes, books, and TV shows to learn enough English to get through a job interview. It worked. In 1992 she was hired by Parsons Brinkerhoff and was there for nearly 20 years, mastering the tunneling trade, before joining HNTB in 2011. With an office on the 58th floor of the Empire State Building, Zlatanic has a nice view of the Freedom Tower and the Statue of Liberty, fitting reminders that she’s living her American and engineering dreams. For dreams to come true, however, they must be chased, which is what Zlatanic did when, as the borders of her home- land closed, she made her great escape. “There is no event on the job that can stress me any more than that,” she said. “I was prepared later in life for anything.” A Conversation with Sanja Zlatanic Civil + Structural Engineer: Your resume speaks for itself. You have been associated with some of the biggest and most important tunneling projects in the United States for the last 30 years. What draws you to these mega-projects? Sanja Zlatanic: Primarily, it’s the ability to work with architects and planners to create a practical project configuration that can be material- ized and constructed within the constraints of actual subsurface condi- tions, often in a dense urban environment. It is a real thrill to conceptualize large and complex underground undertakings while working with existing project constraints; either

On the job site, Istanbul Strait Crossing, Asia portal. Photo: HNTB

overlying buildings and facilities that need to remain fully operational all the time, or adjacent rail or road operations that must be in full service at 5 a.m. every morning. Also, it can be a challenge finding ways to explain the project to impacted businesses and communities at every step, incrementally, demonstrating that safety would never be compromised at any point during construction and that impacts are measured, sensitive to everyday life of the communities, and of a temporary nature. A notable example of a “grand” underground concept is the East Side Access project that extends the Long Island Rail Road from its main line in Queens into a new station under Grand Central Terminal on Manhattan's East Side. In the beginning, the project was envisioned as a ‘shallow’ option directly connecting to the lower level of Metro North Railroad. We realized early on that such a concept would have significant impacts on several high-rise buildings along Park Avenue, some of those historical, and worked with the project owner to make it an underground project while reducing impacts. We envisioned the project in a form of two parallel ‘twin’ caverns housing four platforms each and a mezzanine in-between. Cross-passages and escalator-ways connecting these two large facilities were placed directly below the streets minimizing effects to the overlying buildings. I recall long ses- sions our team held with the lead architect to plan these gigantic un- derground spaces. They needed to meet operational, safety, and main-


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