October 2017

Illinois Association of County Engineers 103rd Annual Fall Meeting

A Camaraderie of Professionals

By Jeff Blue, PE
      Champaign County, Illinois


The Illinois Association of County Engineers (IACE) held our 103rd Annual Fall Meeting October 4-6 in Moline, Illinois.

On the agenda were topics typical to our conferences, including: Developing Bridge Technologies, Short Span Steel Bridges, Thin Lift Hot Mix Asphalts, and Transportation Funding.

NACE President Brian Keierleber gave an informative, fun-filled Developing Bridge Technologies presentation on the different ways to construct and rehab bridges on rural roadways. Some of interest included the use of recycled train cars, ultra-high performance concrete and galvanizing steel piling and beams. Brian is an industry leader in “thinking outside the box” when it comes to rural bridges.

The Short Span Steel Bridge Alliance presented on the topic of press-brake-formed tub girder, which can be used to span 60-80 feet at costs less than your typical I-beam bridge. The cost effectiveness of these bridges can be realized by bundling projects together so that steel manufacturers can make multiple tub girders in one set up at their plant. Utilizing tub girders can accelerate construction and reduce traffic interruptions as well because of its modular nature.

The Illinois Asphalt Paving Association informed us of why thin-lift hot mix overlays are gaining popularity in pavement preservation applications. “Thinlays” can be used on pavements that show surface distress, but have good structural integrity below the pavement layer. Pavement surfaces are typically milled to achieve the proper cross slope and remove the surface variations. The mix is designed with a 4.75 mm aggregate and conventional paving techniques are used.

Warm mix technology can also be employed with these types of mixes, making it a more environmentally conscience choice as well. When used on the right road at the right time, this application can give you up to 10 more years of life in your pavement preservation cycle.

So, that was the good news at the IACE meeting. The bad news for Illinois transportation funding is that we haven't had an increase in Motor Fuel Tax in 27 years. Our buying power has been severely compromised over that time and there wasn’t any good news for FY 2018.

Illinois finally passed a budget for the first time in 3 years (seemingly good news), but there were gremlins lurking in that budget that we were not aware of when it was passed. Somewhere in the fine print there was a transfer of $300 million dollars from the road budget to fund debt service on highway bonds ($50M) and fund transit ($250M), which were historically paid for out of the state’s general fund.

The local units of government have taken a $50 million cut from our programs to help carry some of the weight in this $300 million dollar statewide reduction. In Champaign County that results in a 7% reduction. In some more rural counties, it has totally devastated their budgets and counties are now looking at turning all-weather roads back into gravel. It’s our understanding that these are not short-term cuts either, but rather possibly permanent reductions in our allocation of motor fuel tax. The bottom line is without predictable, sustainable funding in the very near future the roads and bridges in Illinois do not have a fighting chance.

As government engineers with scarce resources we have to continue to find new, less expensive, longer lasting products and procedures to construct and maintain our transportation system. Given the challenges ahead and the history behind our industry, I believe NACE plays a vital role in helping exchange technologies and ideas between our members.

We need to attend technical conferences to hear about emerging technologies and then use our time after the meetings, during dinner, receptions and “nights out on the town,” to share these technologies with each other and help everyone do their job more efficiently. Working together, we can make a difference in these times when we are all expected to do more with less.

I like to think of NACE as a camaraderie of dedicated professionals working together to achieve a common goal – keeping our commerce moving and our nation safe and healthy. Therefore, NACE comrades I urge you to attend these conferences, make new acquaintances anytime you have the chance and keep sharing those ideas.

As I have always said, it’s not necessarily our job to know all the answers but rather to know the people who know the answers. That is the strength of NACE.


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