FIU Business Now Magazine Spring 2024
Keeping All Elements in Harmony Makes the Tunnel Hum

Keeping All Elements in Harmony Makes the Tunnel Hum

By Karen-Janine Cohen

The first thing to know is that a tunnel is more than a covered thoroughfare. With many moving parts, it's more like a symphony: elements working in harmony. At Miami Tunnel, which links mainland Miami to the PortMiami seaport complex, keeping that equilibrium is the job of Wendy Conforme (MBA '19), its CEO.

"Everyone thinks the tunnel is a road," she said. But it's not. "It is a confined space, and we take you 120 feet below sea level." Electrical, mechanical and a host of other monitoring systems constantly read traffic, temperature and oxygen. The double tunnel underneath Government Cut was completed in 2014. Up to 16,000 vehicles use each 4,200-foot tunnel each weekday.

Conforme, who took the top spot at Miami Tunnel in June of 2023, has been involved in the $1.2 billion project since 2009. In the early 2000's, she was roadway design lead for the nascent enterprise at the Jacobs Engineering Group. In 2015, she joined Meridiam Infrastructure, the private part of the public-private partnership that runs the project, together with the state of Florida.

"It was amazing," she said of her experience helping to shepherd the project from blueprint to inauguration. The effort brought together global experts, from New York-based construction professionals to French tunnel specialists. She is also the first woman leading a major infrastructure asset for Meridiam Infrastructure.

The tunnel project was, and continues to be, a career highlight for Conforme, who was born in Ecuador and later immigrated to the U.S. with her family. She considered a medical career but changed plans when an engineering class revealed the profession's many opportunities. Civil engineering's bridge, road and infrastructure construction captured her imagination.

Soon after her 1999 graduation from New York University with her engineering degree, she settled in Miami, joining Parsons Brinckerhoff as a project engineer. There she worked on the Panama Canal expansion and PortMiami capital improvement and cargo area improvement projects. Meanwhile, Conforme enrolled in the FIU Business Executive MBA program, graduating in 2019, the same year she was named COO of Miami Tunnel.

As CEO, her role includes strategic planning, capital improvements and customer relations. The FIU Business program's leadership seminars, teambuilding and networking proved their value as she rose in the C-suite. Now, when she talks to engineering students, she underlines the importance of connections and professional relationships. When not at her job, she can be found at home with her two young children or persuading her husband to go dancing, a favorite leisuretime activity.

Conforme is committed to opening doors for more women in engineering, where they are underrepresented. "Overall, it has always been a male-dominated field," she said. "I know there are so many women qualified in our field, true gems and heroes of the profession."