USC Viterbi Engineer Builds Bridge from San Diego to Tijuana

| July 8, 2020

Viry Martino, a USC Viterbi alumna and civil engineer, played a critical role in the construction of the Cross Border Xpress

Martino

Martino played a critical role in the construction of the Cross Border Xpress, which links San Diego, California to Tijuana, Mexico. Photo Courtesy of Viry Martino

When Viry Martino was in high school, she dreamed about becoming an engineer and one day “building a bridge.”

Martino, B.S. CE ’10, M.S. CEM ’11, made her dreams a reality when between 2013 and 2015 she worked as a project engineer on the construction of a bridge that links the United States and Mexico.

The Cross Border Xpress, or CBX, opened to the public on Dec. 9, 2015, connecting the Tijuana International Airport with a terminal in San Diego. In the process, it became the first bridge to connect the United States to a foreign airport terminal. Built by Turner Construction, the 390-foot pedestrian bridge serves millions of travelers by streamlining the process of crossing the border. Before its construction, pedestrians had to wait in long lines at San Ysidro or Otay Mesa ports of entry, busy land border crossings between San Diego and Tijuana. CBX now allows passengers to avoid these delays and cross the border in as little as 15 to 20 minutes.

“The successful completion of the CBX project greatly reinforced the binational partnership between the U.S. and Mexico and has served as an exemplary model that collaboration is the key to success,” said Martino, a CBX project engineer who played a major role in the project. “Serving as a liaison in this effort is one of my biggest prides, and I know this helped lead both teams to efficiency and comradery.”

Because of her positive relationship with the CBX client group, Martino was selected as the very first person to cross the bridge when it opened to the public in 2015.

The project was unique because construction began on U.S. soil and was completed on Mexican soil, requiring careful collaboration between American and Mexican contractors. Martino has been a part of project teams in the construction of developments like the CBX bridge and facilities ranging in healthcare, education, aviation, hospitality, and more. Martino’s unique skills, experiences and education made her role in this project critical. As a project engineer, Martino’s job was to build the project “on paper.” She managed the product submittals for materials that would be installed on the job, reviewed shop drawings to verify dimensions of the structure, and managed field coordination between subcontractors.

In addition to her engineering expertise, Martino, who was born and raised in Tijuana, Mexico, took on the responsibility of helping to translate communications between English and Spanish-speaking workers.

“I assisted not only with building a physical bridge, but also with building a cultural one, bridging the gap during multiple coordination efforts with several U.S. and Mexican agencies, designers and contractors,” Martino said.

Martino holding a field coordination meeting with a Mexican architect, with the international fence as a barrier between them. Photo Courtesy of Viry Martino

She worked as both a project estimator and later a project engineer for the construction of CBX. As a project estimator, she spent over a year in preconstruction to help secure a contract for the project. She took on the role of project engineer when construction began in 2013, managing, she said, “more than $17 million in structural trades, interior construction, and architectural finishes.”

“There is something so special about seeing something physically built,” Martino said. “I’ve slowly left a bit of my legacy in the projects I have been a part of, and it’s an immense pride to know that I’ve played my part in the growth and development of our cities.”

Martino began working full time for Turner Construction in 2009. But her relationship with her future employer began a couple of years earlier when the company hosted a tailgate recruiting event at Trojan football game.

“I eagerly showed up, resume in hand, prior to heading out to the Coliseum,” Martino remembered. “Making the connection there eventually led to my first summer internship at Turner, and fast forward over a decade and I’m still loving my career with them.”

Today, she works as a senior estimator responsible for developing project cost estimates for tenant improvement projects and commercial developments based on either conceptual renderings or fully developed design documents. “I love that by working with Turner, one of the largest contractors in the country, I get to be part of major projects that change American cities,” Martino said.

Growing up in Tijuana, Martino spoke Spanish as her first language, and formally began learning English in middle school. She moved to the United States in 2005 to attend Southwestern Community College in Chula Vista, California. Two years later, Martino transferred to USC, where she excelled academically and served as an officer for both the Construction Management Association of America and the Associated General Contractors USC student clubs. Martino has dual U.S.-Mexican citizenship.

Martino believes that a successful engineer not only has excellent technical skills, but also knows how to build and foster relationships. “In my industry, I constantly have to switch hats from working with prominent clients to coordinating work with construction tradesmen, oftentimes in Spanish,” she said.

In 2019, Martino gave birth to a son with her husband, Sergio Perez. As a woman in a male-dominated field, becoming a mother came with challenges that Martino faced with strength and resilience. “I’d like to think that I am paving a path to advance what it means to be a woman and an emerging leader in the construction industry,” she said.

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