Building New York Virtually
Aditi Patel M.Eng. ’10 has spent almost eight years of her career on the project of a lifetime: helping to connect the Long Island Railroad to New York’s iconic Grand Central Terminal. One of the largest infrastructure projects in the country, the $13 billion East Side Access project, which was completed in early 2023, includes 40 miles of new underground track, a gleaming new train terminal and greater access to Manhattan for more than 160,000 commuters. And some relief for an overcrowded Penn Station.
As vice president and director of Virtual Design Construction and Operations at The LiRo Group in New York, Patel leads a team that uses high-tech tools — including laser scanners, virtual reality and game engines — to create virtual models for their projects, informing everything from design to construction to budgets. Her leadership earned her a spot on City & State’s “2023 Above and Beyond: Women” list, which recognizes 50 remarkable women who are improving New York City.
“It’s underneath the heart of Manhattan, right under Park Avenue and Grand Central, about 150 feet below ground level, and it’s connecting Manhattan to Queens through tunnels under the East River,” she says of the massive rail project.
Exploring the 350,000-square-foot concourse with its soaring escalators and glass mosaics, walking the immaculate train platforms, watching a train roar into the station, “the feeling is so unreal,” she says. “You’ve seen all of this in the digital environment. But when you are actually there, in the physical built world, it’s very awe-inspiring and gratifying.”
Large-scale public infrastructure projects are a specialty for Patel, who started her career as an architect.
During the post-9/11 reconstruction of Lower Manhattan, she worked with the Manhattan Construction Command Center, tracking daily progress from the job sites and keeping the public informed of construction updates.
At LiRo, which she joined in 2014, her team has used cutting-edge technology to improve design, construction and overall project outcomes for a wide variety of projects for New York City’s bridges and tunnels, police and fire departments, colleges and hospitals. She was promoted to vice president in 2021.
A mother of two young girls, Patel says strong support at work and home is essential to pulling off this juggling act. It’s still difficult.
Her husband suggested that she write ongoing letters to their daughters — to be read when they’re older — reflecting on her accomplishments.
“Hopefully, it will inspire them to go out and do something meaningful and not take ‘no’ for an answer,” Patel says.
— Beth Kissinger