Amazing Builds – Thompson Engineering brings in the dirt

Thompson Engineering imported 574,000 cubic yards of fill and poured 1.7 million square feet of asphalt in building the AutoMobile International Processing Center.

Finn Roden, chief commercial officer of the $60 million AutoMobile International Processing Center at the Port of Mobile. Photos by Dan Anderson

Note: This is one of three “amazing builds” highlighted in the September 2021 issue of Business Alabama magazine.

The $60 million AutoMobile International Processing Center that opened at the Port of Mobile earlier this year could be “transformative,” not only for the port but for Alabama trade in general, says Finn Roden, chief commercial officer at AutoMobile.

“We’re seeing a growth in the Southeast and Gulf, both the consumer market and manufacturing market, and for the state, for the Mobile area, it provides another option,” he says. “I think this puts the Port of Mobile firmly in the RO-RO business.”

RO-RO (or roll-on, roll-off capability) is nothing new to the port, but the new facility kicks it up a lot of notches, with storage for up to 7,000 vehicles and an annual throughput capability of 150,000 vehicles.

There are comparable and bigger facilities in ports in Florida, Georgia and Maryland, but the facility in Mobile brings with it rail connectivity and vehicle processing capability that the others don’t have, Roden says.

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For AutoMobile to raise the level of RO-RO service at the port, Thompson Engineering literally had to raise the level of the ground the facility now sits on.

“We raised the site anywhere from 4 to 6 feet from its pre-development elevation so that we got the parking area out of the flood zone,” says Jay Morgan, principal project manager at Thompson. “We took a fairly dirty site and cleaned it up and elevated it to get out of the flood plain.”

Thompson Engineering poured a staggering 1.7 million square feet of asphalt — enough to store 7,000 vehicles at one time.

That meant a lot of asphalt pavement and, especially, a lot of fill.

“We imported 574,000 cubic yards of fill,” Morgan says. “It’s rare that a typical job would exceed importing maybe more than 10,000 cubic yards.”

Thompson Engineering has done a lot of water and marine work, especially along the wharf. It’s the amount of fill that made this project a bit different.

“If products are stored on the staging areas out there and should a storm come by and the river rises, it doesn’t flood the vehicles if everything is elevated,” Morgan says. “The building being built would also have to be built above the flood zone.”

That resulted in some staggering numbers as Thompson did
the bulk of its work from November 2019 to October 2020:

  • 1.7 million square feet of asphalt.
  • About 25,000 dump truck loads of imported fill.
  • 65-70 trucks a day entering the port with fill for the project.

Much of the fill came from the Corps of Engineers.

“We took almost 200,000 cubic yards of material from the Corps of Engineers and the dredge-disposal areas and brought it to the site,” Morgan says. “It helped the Corps of Engineers by cleaning out. They could dredge and put more in there. So, we got creative with how we brought the fill in.”

For the Mobile-based engineering firm, the project brought a sense of pride to those working for Thompson Engineering.

In addition, Thompson put drone technology to good use, using the technology to fly the site monthly to document progress.

“That’s becoming much more prevalent in construction and engineering,” Morgan says.

For Morgan and others at Thompson Engineering, working on a major project at the port brings a special sense of pride.

“We’ve been here 60-plus years and we plan on being here another 60,” he says. “Anything we can do to improve the future prospects of Mobile and make it stronger from an economic standpoint is great. We all try hard to make sure we’re representing well and doing everything we can to leave behind a positive imprint when we’re done.”


For more Amazing Builds from the September issue, click here.

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