Watertown, Mass. (September 22, 2005) - Robert Albee, former Boston city engineer and Central Artery/Tunnel construction director, now a manager of massive underground Boston utility projects for Vanasse Hangen Brustlin, Inc. (VHB) in Watertown, Mass., was recently honored with the very select American Public Works Association (APWA) Presidential Leadership Award. Click here to view the announcement card (PDF).
The seldom-awarded honor, to be conferred at APWA's annual conference in Minneapolis this month, recognizes Albee's contributions to the public works field and his colorful career from drafting Boston infrastructure on Irish linen to threading the most challenging utilities and infrastructure underneath Boston at its busiest. Most recently, that includes installing 128 fiber-optic cables under 20 miles of Boston and its neighboring cities-the world's largest installation of its kind to date-as well as 16 miles of underground power line for NSTAR, the power utility's most ambitious project. "I guess you could say I'm proficient at digging big holes in cities," Albee says.
APWA President Tom Trice, who chose Albee for this honor, says, "Bob represents the true public works professional. He's tireless, just keeps on working for public works."
Albee's career spans one of the most significant eras of Boston's development history. After earning an engineering degree at Lowell Tech, he worked as a draftsman for Boston's Public Works Department. By the 1980s, he was the department's chief engineer. He stayed there for 23 years throughout a phenomenal building boom. "Nearly everything you see on the skyline of Boston today was built during my time there," he says. "I like to think that I played just a small part in all of it as the city's infrastructure rushed to keep up."
In 1985, he left to serve as the state's Director of Engineering and Design for the Central Artery Tunnel Project, later dubbed "The Big Dig." The highly visible project-perhaps the biggest public works project in the world-exploded in scope, as it roller-coastered in the public's regard, met a volley of new environmental laws, and grappled with geological surprises, ballooning land costs, and surgically digging up a city without stopping its heartbeat.
From 1997 to 1998, he served as APWA president while still with the Big Dig, a culmination of two decades of APWA involvement, during which he represented the public works profession before Congress, advocating for legislation on transportation funding, water infrastructure investment, and emergency preparedness.
A top professional navigating under cities with minimal disruption, Albee has appeared on numerous documentaries on PBS, The History Channel, and The Discovery Channel.
Today, as Managing Director of Telecommunications Engineering, he directs mega-utility projects for VHB, an engineering, land planning and environmental services firm with private and public clients.
In more than 40 years, Albee has seen much change in public works, from numerous new environmental regulations to new computer technologies, such as CAD, which fast-forwards public works planning. What has stayed the same, he says, is the root challenge of public works: lack of funding.
Also unchanged is his passion for public works. What he loves most is "how it gets done. There are three components: social, political and engineering. I love them all," he says. "And I've worked on the federal, state and municipal levels. I love the whole process, from beginning to end. Government does work."
A Boston native, Albee and his wife Ann have lived in Foxboro for 35 years.
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