The A.I. Interview: Chris Vincze, CEO and Chairman of TRC Companies, Inc.

Vincze discusses the importance of technology, long term planning and steady funding for infrastructure in 2019


American Infrastructure: What did you focus on in 2018 and what were some highlights from the past year?

Chris Vincze: A continuation of growth.

We’re seeing dramatic growth in most of our end markets, including the infrastructure markets, and had some major success on some big projects such as our ongoing Public-Private Partnership (P3) strategy and related projects in West Virginia and the Mid-Atlantic and Pennsylvania. Our expansions in the California and New York markets over the last year have been very successful. We are heavily involved with the LaGuardia Airport and a number of different agencies out in California.

We’ve acquired some businesses as well over the course of the last year and will continue to add strength through acquisition to support some gaps of services and/or geography in some of our markets.

We’ve seen some great growth in our company both organically and through acquisition. We’ve seen some great expansion of work in our various end markets which are power, oil, and gas, environmental, and infrastructure broadly speaking, but in particular transportation. All four areas of our business have seen very nice growth so far in our fiscal year, which is June-July rather than the calendar year. I think it is pretty consistent for the last 12 to 18 months of sequencing.

AI: Can you talk specifically about some highlights from your infrastructure transportation section of the company? What were some completed projects?

CV: We had a number of design-build projects in West Virginia that were completed. The I-70 was just recently awarded to us and had a slightly different procurement process than the other ones. We are in the middle of ending elements of design on a number of other interstates in West Virginia, which is one of our strong markets.

We’ve seen some very good successes in the West Coast; in particular with the LA Metro, the water district, the Department of Public Works, and a number of projects there.

We just started a huge project with the high-speed rail. It is a massive undertaking. Our involvement there is less of what we’ll call “pure transportation.” We’re the company working with the utility business and making sure we are moving power lines and activity outside of the rail corridor that is being built, and obviously sequencing well with true transportation side of it. So we are helping on a different side of that particular infrastructure project. That just kicked off this past summer.

AI: Do you focus on P3s in particular? Is that something that TRC focuses on project-wise?

CV: Between our technology solutions and the way we approach projects, we tend to be more successful partnering on P3 project than in a typical design-build-construct approach. We do participate in all levels of procurement, but we definitely view design-build strategies and P3s as a much better solution in some projects, especially the bigger projects across the country. We definitely focus on participating there as much as we can. P3s accelerate the whole procurement activity, and ultimately the execution. If you think of procurement in transportation, the 1950s/60s models weren’t effective. Permitting any of these projects could take three years, and the P3 allows things to move a lot smoother and bypass some of the hurdles that a typical project would have.

AI: Looking ahead into 2019, what are some of the biggest changes you see coming to infrastructure as a whole?

CV: To date, the funding continues to improve. Over the last handful of years, many of the state agencies and state policies increased the gas tax, increased the sales tax—bulking up on their transportation capital, which leads to seeing more spending locally.

At the same time, the last two federal programs have stabilized longer-term planning, so about the same amount of funding is coming out of the Feds, so many of the agencies can now plan ahead which we didn’t see for much of 2008 to 2014. Now it is really a vibrant market.

On top of that, you have about two trillion dollars of spending that has to happen to just keep a State of Good Repair. If you think of all the major cities in the country, people are moving into the cities or around the the cities, so transportation congestion, the roadways, and the infrastructure in general is decaying and deteriorating, so you have more need. The good news is, you have more money.

One thing that we’re hopefully going to see as a country is Washington now doubling down on infrastructure spending. It is very bipartisan, it is a job creator, it solves inefficiencies in society, and it makes life more tolerable for those people that have to commute everyday.

AI: What new technologies and approaches will be used in 2019 to make infrastructure more efficient and affordable?

CV: Across the board, you are seeing technology solutions, both in terms of smarter design that has  artificial intelligence, and improving potential failure points and strategy. You can do much better permitting with more data these days. If you want to permit it, and you have these 15 criteria that you have to get through, you can do the modeling of that without having to send field people out and do all sorts of work. You can get to 80 to 90 percent understanding and then go send the people out. You can do modeling in 48 hours instead of over months, or a year or two.

As you’re building there’s all sorts of new technologies. In fact we’ve created some that are currently being used in LaGuardia to help facilitate quality improvements. So understanding the materials that are being used and where they came from, if it is meeting spec, where it is being deployed, if it is being inspected, if it is understood to be the quality that they needed. If you can prevent 10-20 percent failure rates from happening, you can save a year and hundreds of millions of dollars on a project.

There’s all sorts of new technologies, solutions, and strategies that are getting better and we are seeing across the board. From planning, to design, to implementation and quality, all of which are rapidly being deployed across the globe and across the country.

AI: In terms of energy efficiency, what does the TRC hope to see from our government in 2019?

It’s been a continued growth in energy efficiency. Its been utilities that we’ve generally seen managing this but we are seeing a lot of quasi-agencies also participate. It is cheaper than new source energy. So if you create an efficient building, you are using less energy which is far more effective than spending money developing new energy. Energy efficiency is here to stay. There’s billions of dollars in savings to be had as you improve codes and standards evolve.

We are the ones figuring out film on glass to support heating and cooling issues. We helped work on strategies with light switches and different types of lighting in different types of communities and municipalities that help employees be more productive and help with the consumption of energy and the savings of energy. We believe there will be a continued expansion on this end.

There is a load of technology coming into that space to better understand data. We are heavily involved in helping doing systems integration work for many of the utilities. We are helping capture that data to then help them understand where places are that we can do more and get a better outcome versus just going across the board to do the same thing and piecemealing it. AI technology is really helping those kinds of solutions.

We see more strategy being embedded. The advent of battery storage and microgrid strategies is going to completely change how energy is being used. It is a dynamic process over the next decade.

Lastly related to this, in California in particular, is the EV cars. You are going to see an absolute boom of electric vehicles being used across the country and the need for power stations to support those cars which will make a difference in our global climate issues. We are heavily involved in figuring out the solutions for those different constituents involved.

I would say every year for the next five years will be doubling down. You are going to see, within three to five years, a power plant that used to be natural gas that is going to be a battery storage plant. They are going to take renewable energy and it is going to go into this power plant-looking facility, and It will be battery storage that will actually be able to store that power for days, weeks, and eventually years. It will completely changing the face of energy.

We have a number of pilot programs working on energy storage across the country. We are working with some heavyweights, some major industrials that are working on second generation battery storage, like the ion battery storage and lasts about six to eight hours. If you drive on a highway you’ll see little solar photovoltaics  in a box and those can last for six to eight hours of use. The next generation will double that and will come to market in the next six months. The big one that we’re all waiting for, and that we are actually involved in helping figure out, is in two to three years you’ll see these massive pilots of facility level storage. Most of these projects are in pilot form, they are all in different stages of development, as are microgrids.