Mary Hurley is an associate director and Chartered civil engineer at Arup. She has worked on a broad range of civil and structural projects from pre-planning to the design and construction phases.
In recent years, Hurley has worked extensively in the areas of stakeholder engagement, environmental co-ordination and project management. She embraces new technologies and brings this expertise to all her projects.
Some of her key projects include the N24 Cahir to Limerick Junction, N6 Galway City Ring Road, Greenwire, the M7 Osberstown Interchange and R407 Sallins Bypass Scheme and the M20 Cork to Limerick Motorway Scheme.
In 2022, she was awarded Engineer of the Year by Engineers Ireland.
1) When did you first become interested in engineering?
I first became interested in engineering during sixth year in school when I was looking at various college course options. Growing up, I never really knew what I wanted to be. In school, I was drawn to the sciences and maths. I loved solving puzzles and trying to figure things out – always questioning the why and the how. I also wanted to help people and try to make things better.
Current congestion in Tipperary town.
My big brother was studying civil engineering and I liked what I saw – there were so many different directions my career could take with an engineering degree, as it is such a broad field. I wanted variety, a mix of indoors and outdoors, an opportunity to travel. Engineering seemed like the logical choice – no two days are ever the same!
2) Who were the mentors who helped you on your way?
My parents were my first mentors – always encouraging me to be my best and to take every opportunity I was given, while dusting me off when things didn’t go as planned.
In school, I was fortunate to have great teachers who saw my potential and gently guided me along my path. Similarly, in college and, of course, my classmates – my peers who brought out my best.
Since I joined Arup as a graduate, I have had many great mentors. I have worked and continue to work with great people who embrace their work and help me to see the exciting directions my career can go.
3) What is the most important trend in engineering right now, and can you describe in detail some of the transport projects you have worked on and that have involved human-centred, sustainable transport solutions?
Right now, I think the most important trend in engineering is how we address the climate crisis. This is also our biggest challenge. For example, it is important that we rethink how we progress our transport projects.
Rather than focusing only on building new roads, ensure it is part of an integrated holistic transport solution. Stop and consider the best way to get people and goods moving with an emphasis on walking, cycling and public transport.
The transport solution we are progressing on my current project, N24 Cahir to Limerick Junction, will enable placemaking within the towns and villages which currently experience significant social, economic and environmental impacts due to the lack of proper infrastructure.
To address the transport issues along the section of the N24 corridor between Cahir in Co Tipperary and Oola in Co Limerick, the preferred transport solution includes an active travel component, demand management component, public transport improvements component and, as the last piece of the jigsaw, a road component, which was only considered as part of serving the over-arching objective of ‘human-centred transport solutions’.
Four components of the proposed transport solution.
4) Looking back over your career, is there any project, or particular time in your life, that stands out?
There are so many projects that I have worked on over the last 20 years, but the one that stands out the most is the N6 Galway City Ring Road. This project is part of the overarching Galway Transport Strategy and will leave a positive legacy for the city of Galway and its people.
It provides a new crossing over the River Corrib, moving traffic out of the city centre that does not need to be there so that the streets within the city can be reallocated to improved walking and cycling facilities. This will make the city a more attractive and safer place within which to move, live and work.
Visualisation of Galway Transport Strategy.
This was a complex project with many challenges, but I learnt so much. For example, I worked with the biodiversity team as we developed plans to compensate for the loss of protected Annex I habitats and impacts on Annex II species within and outside the Lough Corrib Special Area of Conservation (SAC) through biodiversity gain – a very new concept here in Ireland.
While working with the geotechnical and structural engineers, hydrogeologists and hydrologists to design a tunnel beneath this SAC, I had another great learning opportunity when we uncovered a paleo landscape. These are just a couple of examples of my learnings on this project and I’m bringing all this knowledge to my current project.
5) Can you tell us about when you have had to face a particular challenge or manage a project outside of your experience range. How did you tackle it and what was the outcome?
One particular challenge we faced on the N6 Galway City Ring Road was to identify a route for a new river crossing and road infrastructure that would not impact on the site integrity of the Lough Corrib SAC. This SAC spanned the full width of the study area and there was no way of connecting the east and west of the city across the River Corrib without crossing the SAC.
We designed a tunnel to pass beneath the SAC and its qualifying interests, namely limestone pavement, in such a way that it would not impact the limestone pavement at the surface or damage it during construction.
We undertook ground investigations which confirmed that the tunnel could be constructed without impacting the groundwater flow to the water dependent Annex I habitats to the south of the tunnel at Coolagh Lakes which are also part of the SAC. Through these investigations, we identified a paleo landscape which for me was really exciting – uncovering a legacy from our past which went on to become a research project for a PhD student at NUI Galway.
Designing a tunnel to preserve the integrity of the Lough Corrib SAC.
6) You won the recent award in recognition of the impact and contribution of your work on communities throughout Ireland – what is your approach to stakeholder engagement on these projects?
Communication is key. I think one of the most important things we need to do as engineers is listen and communicate. I like to put people at the heart of the project, walk in their shoes so to speak, and fully understand their pains. I meet with them, listen and try to work collaboratively with them.
Be it a building for a client or a transport solution for a city – it is important that we listen to the user before developing a solution. It is only when we understand the problem fully that we can identify the correct solution.
Equally, it is really important to meet with and listen to people whose lands or home might be part of a compulsory purchase. They will be the people living with the project once it is operational, so we need to truly understand their needs in order to minimise any negative impacts on people’s lives.
I have a strong interest in stakeholder engagement and environmental co-ordination. My approach when developing an understanding of the various aspects of a project is to be mindful of the receiving environment, listen to the community and leave a legacy from which they will benefit.
7) What is the one piece of advice you would give to somebody starting out in the profession?
Listen and learn from your senior colleagues and don’t be afraid to admit that you do not know the answer – we all started out knowing very little, so when you are willing to admit that, you can learn so much. There are endless opportunities with an engineering qualification, so it’s important to take each one as they present themselves to you.
8) Is there any one engineer you wish was better known?
I would really love to have a conversation with Ove Arup. From his philosophical nature to pushing the boundaries of design, I have read about his work and think he was very forward thinking for his time.
9) What is the best piece of advice that you have ever received?
Make your decisions on the facts you have today and stop thinking about the ‘what ifs’ and ‘maybes’, as they may never happen.
10) What do you do to relax?
I love to swim in the sea all year round. No matter how I feel getting into the water, I always come out with a smile on my face and a quieter mind. I just love it and am lucky to have a great bunch of friends to swim with and share chats and cake with afterwards.