2020 40 Under 40: Heather Michelle Jones, P.E.

Aug. 18, 2020
Heather Michelle Jones, P.E., Rail-Signals Project Engineer, HNTB Corporation
  • One word to describe yourself: Bright (I asked colleagues and friends which resulted in positive, polite, humble, driven and ambitious; I feel as though “bright” sums it up)
  • Alma Mater: Alabama School of Mathematics and Science; Auburn University; Mercy College
  • Favorite hobby(s): Cooking/eating; volleyball; biking; travelling
  • Fun fact about yourself: I have been to 41/50 states.
  • Favorite station or stop that you have ever visited or frequent (and why): Professionally, I feel connected to the Long Island Rail Road (LIRR) Jamaica Station since I have been working on various improvement projects at the station since 2014. Personally, I must confess, I often complained about the NYC subway operations/maintenance/layout. However, once I moved away from New York, I can say that the NYC subway is one of the features I miss the most. Overall, it was seamless, convenient and effectively served the general public across neighborhoods and demographics. I loved touring the iconic Monastiraki Square Station in Athens, Greece. It was evident from the historic features, architectural elements, cleanliness and helpful staff that the city was very proud of the station and its role in the daily commute, as well as tourism. The station combines the history of the city with modern technology, and the sheer size and location supported public demand. 
  • Favorite route you have ever ridden or frequent (and why): The 7 train in NYC. I may be biased, but I love the connectivity of the vastly different neighborhoods along the 7 train. Also, the 7 train is a prime example of meeting the public needs and demands for commuting and tourism. Spanning from the Flushing Queens stop (historic “old” NY) to the newest Hudson Yards (innovative “new” NY), you can experience the evolution of the NYC subway with a single ride on the 7 train. Seeing how the design solutions were made to service the neighborhoods without imposing on the local shops and culture is an example of how public transportation is meant to better society and not railroad it.

Heather Jones started her career at the Alabama Department of Transportation (ALDOT) in the construction department, while completing her Bachelor of Science in Civil Engineering at Auburn University. She then moved to New York City to earn her MBA and continued her career as an engineer in HNTB’s civil department. Joining HNTB provided incredible opportunities for iconic projects, such as NYSDOT Kosciuszko Bridge, multiple PANYNJ Sandy Recovery projects, MTA – Bridges and Tunnels Open Road Tolling, NYCDOT Broadway Bridge, LIRR Jamaica Phase I and various airport projects for LGA, JFK and Stewart airports. She transitioned to HNTB’s Rail-Signal Department to further expand her expertise with railroad and signal design.

 In conjunction with her civil-site understanding, Jones enhances typical design packages with approaches that facilitate construction in real space. She continues to deliver on the LIRR Jamaica Capacity Improvements (JCI) Phase I and Phase II where she showcases the benefits of gaining field knowledge, applying it to design and looping back to construction support for complete delivery.

For example, her willingness to be trained to perform NYSDEC stormwater inspections on the LIRR JCI project helped her connect the design elements to the as-built environment and notified the team when the two did not match up, which helped with design resolution.

Jones has shown innovation in her understanding and presentation of phasing and staging rail systems and civil infrastructure. Her background in civil design coupled with railroad signal design makes her able to bridge the gap between engineers, contractors, railroad force account and clients to provide a comprehensive and innovative phasing and staging approach to the complex rail systems work.

Jones has lent her expertise as an organizer of the WTS Young Professional Future City Sim City model developed by 6th-8th graders, as well as WTS YP yearly outreach events. While the current pandemic has put a damper on active participation, Jones continues to help where she can.

Is there a specific experience that led you to where you are today?

Throughout my life, I have been privileged to have knowledgeable and caring individuals nurture my passions. The support of each person has been imperative to my career, from my Sunday school teacher (Mrs. Beverly Grooms), ALDOT mentors (Bohannon and Patterson), HNTB mentors to my teammates (Juzwin, Murillo and Pizzurro), family, professors and colleagues. Without each of their support and guidance at various stages throughout life, I would not be where I am today. Genuine support carries weight no matter the source and is a good reminder to be mindful of your words, actions and attitude with all interactions.

What do you enjoy most about your job?

I love the HNTB team. I really do feel it is an unparalleled team. This is not limited to the experienced staff at HNTB, but the subconsultants HNTB strategically partners with on projects, as well as the extended staff HNTB contracts for specific project roles. I have had the privilege to work and learn from these individuals both professionally and personally throughout my career.

What’s the most challenging part of your job?

My job requires a need for meticulous attention to detail so all elements of each discipline are effectively coordinated for a constructible design that mitigates change orders and protects our clients.

Accomplishment you’re most proud of and why?

As cliché as it sounds, I am proud of where I am at today while also knowing I have much more to learn and evolve.

Coming from a small town in Alabama with less than 1,000 residents, attending an elite academic boarding school, working for a highly competitive engineering firm in the Empire State Building and learning from incredibly talented and highly educated individuals designing iconic infrastructure throughout NYC ‒ it has been a rewarding journey thus far both professionally and personally.

Best advice/tip/best practice to share from your area of expertise?

We will never be experts; there is always something new and you learn from the younger engineers. Everybody has a different approach. Once you have mastered a task/methodology, teach someone else so both of you can advance and contribute more to the project, your team, our clients and society. – Cristhian Murillo, P.E., HNTB Rail-Signals Section Lead

Why do you like being a part of the public transit industry?

I grew up with my dad, Joseph Mann, pointing out buildings, neighborhoods and bridges in Alabama, showing how much our city had changed since he grew up when these areas where empty fields. He was so proud of the development, not only because he contributed to it, but he was simply able to witness it change. You could see the smile on his face widen with enthusiasm.

Public transit is bigger than a person, a team, a company or a government. It is physical, tangible and directly improves our communities. It is challenging to find transit solutions while minimizing impacts to the public’s commute, but it is the challenge that is exhilarating. Challenges spark innovation. When we are challenged, the best ideas are created that make our projects better for today and future scenarios. When my family visits NYC, I find myself pointing out different bridges, airports and subway stations that I served to design and build. It is an honor to contribute to something bigger than myself and beyond my lifetime.