Taking the Helm at the Port Authority
Anyone who has ever flown into New York City, driven from Manhattan to New Jersey or taken the PATH train has benefited from the work of Peter Zipf ’79, chief engineer at the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey (PANYNJ). Zipf oversees a team of more than 1,000 employees and engineering consultants who ensure the structural integrity and construction management of the Port Authority’s design, bridges and tunnels, rail, ports and aviation projects.
Zipf, a long-time veteran of the PANYNJ who began his career as a project manager with the agency in 1985, was appointed chief engineer last November when his predecessor, Frank Lombardi, retired. Lombardi, who was the Commencement speaker and honorary degree recipient at the College’s 2007 Spring Commencement, has served as a consultant to the civil engineering department, and was recently a recipient of the Distinguished Mentor Award for his work with the College’s mentor program.
“One of my key roles is the overall delivery of design and construction for a significant portion of the capital and operating programs at the Port Authority,” Zipf says. “We typically oversee about $700 million of construction work a year.”
The Port Authority is the nation’s largest infrastructure agency, overseeing an area of approximately 1,500 square miles surrounding New York Harbor. The agency conceives, builds, operates and maintains infrastructure critical to the New York/New Jersey region, where more than 17 million people live. Facilities under PANYNJ’s jurisdiction include America’s busiest airport system, marine terminals and ports, the PATH rail transit system, six tunnels and bridges between New York and New Jersey, the Port Authority Bus Terminal and the World Trade Center.
Among the long-term projects Zipf and his team are currently working on is the raising of the Bayonne Bridge, which will raise the bridge deck up 65 feet to accommodate the future larger container ships. He is also working on the replacement of the Goethals Bridge, the rebuilding of the roadways entering the Lincoln Tunnel from the New Jersey side, the planning of rebuilding the Central Terminal at LaGuardia Airport, and the planning for the rebuilding of Terminal A at Newark Liberty International Airport.
During the course of his 25 years with the Port Authority, Zipf has worked on numerous projects, but the redevelopment of Newark Liberty International Airport in the 1980s stands out as particularly noteworthy. This project included the construction of parking structures, a monorail system and roadway network.
“It was a challenging planning, design and construction program that I got involved with at the very beginning,” he says. “So it was great experience to see the vast array of what it means to be an engineer.”
In addition to his instrumental role at PANYNJ, Zipf is also doing his part to lead the next generation of engineers. He’s been a part of Manhattan’s mentor program and also mentors students at Polytechnic Institute of New York, where he earned his master’s degree.
He has long been ingrained in the Manhattan College community. Zipf hails from a Jasper family — his father is a class of 1940 engineering alumnus and his brother graduated in 1970 from the education school. In 2007, Zipf was inducted into the College’s Athletic Hall of Fame as a member of the championship 1978 swim team. He currently holds the Manhattan diving record for the 1-meter and 3-meter dives, a record previously held by his brother.
Zipf was an outstanding student at Manhattan, graduating first in his civil engineering class with a G.P.A. of 3.96. His ascension in his career is a testament to his talent and work ethic, but he also praises Manhattan for the strong foundation he received at the College.
“Manhattan College is known for its pragmatic approach to engineering, and it clearly stands out,” Zipf says. “But what I liked about Manhattan is that it gives you the broader sense of the person, too. Taking theology classes and other non-technical classes that you don’t get at a pure technical institute really balances you, which is important for engineers today.”
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