Benz Honored for Lifetime of Technical Excellence

When Greg Benz arrived at Parsons Brinckerhoff—now WSP USA—in 1981 as a project manager for the planning and architecture department, he was joining a modestly sized firm of about 800 employees with 22 offices in the U.S. and nine in countries overseas.

“At that time, Pittsburgh was known as our Midwest headquarters,” said Benz.

Since that time, Benz, who today serves as a senior vice president and senior technical manager, has experienced the firm’s growth into one of the world's leading engineering and professional services firms. The firm today has more than 7,000 people in 100 offices across the U.S. and 43,000 employees in 550 offices in 40 countries, with a significant presence in the transportation, buildings, energy, water and environment, and advisory markets.

“The biggest change I’ve seen over the past four decades is the growth of the firm’s global presence and the number of people working here who bring such an incredible breadth and depth of experience,” Benz said. “What has stayed the same? Our commitment to ethics, serving client needs, and technical excellence.”

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©2018 WSP USA

Greg Kelly (right), WSP USA CEO, presents the Lifetime Achievement Award to Greg Benz at the firm’s recent 2018 awards ceremony in New York City.

Lifetime Achievement

In recognition of his service and achievements, Benz was recognized by WSP with its Lifetime Achievement Award at the firm’s recent 2018 awards ceremony in New York City.

“Our successes are not only built upon what we ourselves accomplish, but the number of people we are able to help along the way,” said Greg Kelly, CEO of WSP USA, during his recognition of Benz. “Greg has spent his career helping hundreds of people. His ethics, calm demeanor, humor, persistence, thoughtfulness and respect represent what is great about WSP.”

Benz was grateful for the honor, but said that it is not an individual achievement.

“Being awarded such an honor causes one to reflect on all of those people who had an influence on your career,” Benz said. “The Lifetime Achievement honor is classified as an individual award; but the reality is, it’s a team award. You don’t achieve much of anything by yourself.

“Throughout my career, any achievement was the result of opportunities, advice, support and know-how provided by managers, company executives, mentors, colleagues, team members, clients and especially my family,” he continued. “This award is an acknowledgement of all of their contributions.”

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©1998 DAVID SAILORS

Greg Benz served as the project manager for Atlanta’s MARTA North Line Extension.

Looking Back

His first project after arriving at the New York office was the Newark City Subway rehabilitation project, where he was responsible for the maintenance of the service plan throughout construction, as well as station planning.

Since then, Benz has been involved with the planning and design of major transit projects and systems that are now in use or under construction.

“Many of these projects had very challenging political, institutional and community controversies that required going beyond just the technical issues, where we had to employ strategic management to help guide stakeholders in their decision-making,” Benz said. “The opportunity to lead these types of projects is what made my career so exciting and fulfilling.”

Some of Benz's projects include:
• Baltimore Northeast Metro Extension. Deputy project manager for the subway line that terminates at the Johns Hopkins Medical Center;
• Baltimore Central Light Rail Line. Project director for three light rail extensions, including one to Baltimore-Washington International Airport;
• Atlanta’s MARTA North Line Extension. Project manager for an extension to the GA 400 corridor;
• Houston Light Rail Starter Line. Project manager for the planning and conceptual design;
• Charlotte Transit System. Program advisor for the development and implementation planning for a $3.6 billion transit system;
• New Jersey Hudson River Waterfront Transportation Plan, project manager for the planning and conceptual design for what is now the Hudson-Bergen Light Rail Line; and
• Maryland Purple Line, consultant team project manager and program manager from the planning to the award of the public-private partnership (P3) contract for the light rail line.

“I semi-retired from project work once the Maryland Purple Line Light Rail Transit Project started construction as only the second transit P3 project in the U.S.,” Benz said. Having worked out of the Baltimore office for much of his career, he has spent the past three years as part of the Elliot, Maine office, near his residence in Mount Desert Island, Maine.

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©1985 WSP USA

Greg Benz was the winner of the first William Barclay Parsons Fellowship Award in 1985. Pictured (from left to right) are Paul H. Gilbert, Dr. Sigurd Grava, Benz and Dr. Jerome Lutin.

First Fellowship

In 1984, Benz received the first William Barclay Parsons Fellowship, an in-house research award that was the precursor to the Research & Innovation Fellowships awarded today.

“I furthered the development of the pedestrian time-space concept for the planning and design of transportation stations and terminals, which I originally co-created with Dr. John Fruin for analyzing crosswalks and sidewalks,” Benz said of the research he developed through the Fellowship.

The results from that research are still part of the practice for analyzing and planning complex transit station, transportation terminal and passenger intermodal facilities. Its use has also been expanded to crowd management for non-transportation facilities, such as museums, sports venues and visitor facilities.

The pedestrian time-space concept has been applied to iconic projects around the globe, including Grand Central Terminal and Penn Station in New York City, rail systems in London, Sydney and Hong Kong, Olympic Games venues, and the U.S. National Capitol Visitors Center in Washington, D.C.

Under his direction, WSP’s Technical Leadership Program and the Research and Innovation Fellowship Program continue to thrive. Benz encourages employees to publish papers and research innovative technical approaches to better serve our clients and build the WSP brand.

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©MTA

Greg Benz served as consultant team project manager and program manager for the Maryland Purple Line, which will provide commuters with faster, more direct and more reliable east-west transit service.
 

Functional Pursuits

Born and raised in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, Benz earned a bachelor’s degree in architecture from the University of Notre Dame, and a master’s degree in urban planning from Princeton University.

“My interest in transportation was stimulated by a college architecture studio project for the redevelopment of Chicago’s Near North End, which had as its centerpiece the downtown terminal of a proposed express train to O'Hare Airport,” Benz said. “Now, some 45 years later, WSP's Chicago office is involved in advancing that very project.”

While the upperclassmen on his team chose to design what they viewed as the “more glamourous vertical building elements” of the project, he was assigned the planning and design of the underground transportation terminal and the connections to the nearby subway and aerial rail transit stations.

“I found dealing with the functional requirements, scale of these facilities, and the effects they would have on tens of thousands of people per day exciting,” Benz said. “This exposure stimulated taking classes in transportation planning and engineering and pursuing a master's degree and research assistantship in the transportation program at Princeton.”

Even with his hectic schedule, Benz found time to give back to his community by volunteering for environmental, educational and humanitarian causes, including:
• Instituting an annual service event with Catholic Relief Services’ Helping Hands that funded and delivered over 66,000 meals for those suffering food shortages in Burkina Faso in West Africa, during his tenure as president of the Notre Dame Club of Maryland;
• Donating over 135 pints of blood and platelets to the American Red Cross over the past two decades;
• Fundraising and construction of a school expansion and church restoration for Sacred Heart Catholic Church in Glyndon, Maryland; and
• Volunteering in various maintenance activities for Acadia National Park through the nonprofit, conservation organization, Friends of Acadia, in Bar Harbor, Maine.

Benz looks back fondly on his 37 years with WSP.

“I have enjoyed working with smart, talented and committed people who share the values of this organization,” Benz said. “It has been a very rewarding career.”

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