Obituary 08 Aug 2019

James Monsees Died 5 August 2019

Renowned civil engineer James Monsees of the USA, died on Monday evening, 5 August 2019. Known as Jim to his colleagues, Monsees was recognised internationally as an expert in the design and construction of underground structures, and in the sciences of soil and rock mechanics.

Monsees worked for civil engineering practice Parsons Brinckerhoff in its One Penn Plaza headquarters in Manhattan, New York, rising to Senior Vice President and Technical Director for Underground Structures. During a career of more than 50 years, he played key roles on Parsons Brinckerhoff projects for transit, water, hydro, highways, and nuclear waste disposal projects, as well as in the fields of geotechnical studies, protective structures, and on location and laboratory testing of soil and rock.

James Monsees
James Monsees

He served as Chief Tunnel Engineer for the first segment of the Los Angeles Metro Red Line during the 1990s, responsible for the design of all underground facilities for the heavy rail transit system. He then served as a senior advisor for technical review of the Eastside Extension of the Los Angeles Metro Gold Line, which was completed in November 2009. In 2010, he was selected by the Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority to lead the development of seismic design criteria for all tunneling projects to be undertaken by the agency as part of its capital investment program.

Other projects to which Monsees contributed his expertise included the Central Link light rail system in Seattle; the extension of the No 7 Line subway in New York City; the West Side and East Side CSO projects in Portland, Oregon; the East Side Access railway project in New York City; and the DTSS sewerage project in Singapore and the Mexico City subway in Mexico.

Monsees earned BS and MS degrees in Civil Engineering from the University of Missouri and held a PhD in Civil Engineering (Soil and Rock Mechanics) from the University of Illinois. He was a registered professional engineer in seven states of the USA and the District of Columbia. He was elected to the US National Academy of Engineering in 1991 and was active in many industry associations including the American Society of Civil Engineers; Underground Construction Association of the USA; the National Academy of Science, Underground Technical Research Council; American Rock Mechanics Association; The Beavers; and The Moles.

In the early 2000s, he was part of a steering committee tasked with preparing an update of the US Better Contracting for Underground Construction manual of 1974. Standard contract provisions had become increasingly restrictive, pushing many US contractors out of the business, either because of project losses or because anticipated profits failed to justify the risks, and were considered as possibly suppressing the development of innovative technologies. The new version, entitled Recommended Contract Practices for Underground Construction was intended to provide owner agencies and their engineers with a set of best contracting practices to improve the development of contract documents and the administration of underground construction contracts to make projects more cost-effective for owners and more profitable for contractors, while contributing to the growth and advancement of the underground industry.

Monsees was also a principal author of the Technical Manual for the Design and Construction of Road Tunnels prepared by Parsons Brinckerhoff and published in 2009 by the US Federal Highway Administration. Following the 9 September 2001 terrorist attack on the World Trade Center in Lower Manhattan, he was appointed, on behalf of a US Federal Government agency, to a team of engineers and professionals charged with developing guidelines for securing underground facilities against potential terror attacks.

In 2014, the Parsons Brinckerhoff practice was acquired by WSP and is now fully integrated into the WSP company. In responding to a call by TunnelTalk, Greg Kelly President and CEO of WSP said: “Jim brought vision, skill and deep experience to our organization and to our clients for thirty years. He was a valued colleague and friend to all and will be deeply missed by the entire WSP family.”

Many engineers around the world will have cause to remember Jim Monsees for having raised the profile of underground space engineering, for having supported and mentored their careers in the industry, and for collaborating on so many projects during his career.

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