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History in the Making

Hanson Professional Services, Inc. took its first steps toward becoming an award-winning civil engineering firm over 50 years ago. Founder Walt Hanson, having taken an interest in bridge design and engineering at an early age, was directed toward an education in civil engineering by his high school math and physics teachers. After receiving his undergraduate degree from Kansas State University and completing graduate and professorial work at the University of Illinois, Hanson went on to open W.E. Hanson and Associates in Springfield in 1954. The firm completed its first major project—the design of 56 bridges and grade separations on the Kansas Turnpike—and was on its way to becoming a national success.

In 1965, Hanson chose Peoria as the location for its first regional office. Since its establishment in the River City, Hanson has been involved in many major projects. The firm has worked on the structural design for the new OSF Saint Francis helipad, the Peoria Civic Center expansion, skywalks at Caterpillar’s corporate headquarters, the Field House at Bradley University and the Peoria County Jail addition. Hanson has also served as a consultant in various capacities for the Greater Peoria Sanitary District, the Pekin Park District and the Peoria Riverfront Boundary and Easement Survey.

About 75 percent of Hanson’s operations involve transportation- related services. In keeping with Walt Hanson’s initial interest in bridge design and construction, Hanson Professional has completed a number of significant transportation-related projects in the Peoria area. Among them are designs for improvements to Forrest Hill Avenue between Sterling and University, the westbound span of the McCluggage Bridge, Phase I for Northmoor Road, the new Bob Michel Bridge and the most well-known project—the upgrade and improvement of Interstate 74 through Peoria.

Hanson has been honored with more than 60 awards for their project work. In 2007, the firm was recognized with an Honor Award by the American Council of Engineering Companies of Illinois for its work on the I-74 corridor. During this project, Hanson served as a consultant to Alfred Benesch & Company, planning and designing over 60 types of retaining walls, roadway pavement and storm and sanitary drainage items. The firm was also involved in the installation of traffic signals, as well as maintenance of traffic-plan development.

As the firm has prospered in the Peoria area, Hanson continues to flourish in other locations across the U.S. They have opened offices in Alaska, California, Florida, Indiana, Kentucky, Maryland, Missouri, New Jersey, Tennessee, Washington and Virginia. Hanson has 20 offices and employs over 450 people nationwide. Together, they serve seven markets—aviation, highways and tollways, energy and industry, government, local government, railroads and telecommunications.

Hanson’s far-reaching success has earned the firm placement among the nation’s best engineering companies. For the past two decades, Hanson has appeared on Engineering News-Record’s “Top 500 Design Firms” list, ranking 202nd in 2007. In 2001, it placed among the top 25 of CE News’ “Best Civil Engineering Firms to Work For.”

More recently, Hanson Professional Services was named to the 2007 Zweig Letter Hot Firm List as one of the top 200 fastest-growing architecture, engineering and environmental firms in the U.S. and Canada. Hanson came in at No. 197 on the list, with gross revenues increasing from $44 million in 2003 to nearly $61 million in 2006.

Hanson and the Evolution of Transportation

The United States’ transportation infrastructure is experiencing record-high levels of congestion. As a firm that works primarily in the transportation sector, the issue of traffic congestion is one Hanson must inevitably address. “As long as the economy continues to grow, it will be challenging to find a complete solution to the transportation system’s congestion,” said Amy Kay, Hanson’s public relations coordinator. Roadways are in constant need of widening, updating and building. Railroads also suffer capacity issues, and are usually in need of more tracks. Even the open airways suffer congestion as air travel continues to rise.

By 2015, the FAA predicts that more than one billion people will travel by air. Airports, in particular, suffer because of overbooked flights and lengthy construction periods. Because of environmental and other issues, it can take up to 20 years to construct a new runway. “To alleviate this congestion, Hanson tries to assist in the development of mass transit and multi-modal options,” Kay said. New and improved infrastructure is the primary solution to the nation’s congestion problem, but Kay suggests that communities also take steps to reduce local traffic issues, starting with optimizing traffic signals and and reduction techniques such as carpooling.

Statewide and interstate transportation can’t always benefit from carpooling, however. The U.S. Department of Transportation suggests industries should take advantage of the nation’s waterways to move goods and people. “The full scope of America’s maritime highway—a system that includes not only our coastal waters, but our inland waterway system and the Great Lakes, is enormous—and, if properly utilized and integrated, can help us expand our way out of the [congestion] crisis before us,” reported U.S. Department of Transportation Maritime Administrator Sean Connaughton.

Many people overlook waterway shipping, Kay said, because it is considered “the slow shipping option.” But because of its reliability and cost efficiency, barge transportation is a feasible option for many companies. Waterways are distinctly more fuel-efficient than land transport and produce little pollution. According to the American Waterway Operators, “the nation’s barge and towing industry is the most efficient mode of transportation, moving 16 percent of the nation’s freight for just two percent of the freight transportation cost, saving shippers and consumers more than $7 billion annually compared to alternate transportation methods.” One gallon of diesel fuel can transport one ton of freight 514 miles by barge, 202 miles by rail and 59 miles by truck. Mileage isn’t the only advantage—a single barge can carry the equivalent of 60 trucks of cargo. By choosing an industrial site with access to road, rail and water transport, companies can choose between the most affordable and efficient options for shipping.

Waterways are also promising because they are far from reaching their capacity. “Other transportation methods have already surpassed their intended capacity,” Kay said. “Expanding these transportation methods will take a great deal of funding and time.”

Products with a high ratio of volume to value, such as grain, coal, fuels and metals, are usually shipped by water. Overseas, companies have begun to ship higher-end goods through the waterways as well. Kay said many predict this will become a trend in the U.S. as well, especially because of developments in cargo storage. “Some higher-end goods, such as automotive parts and furniture, are already moving up the Mississippi River from the Gulf Coast, thanks to the containerized cargo option that safely protects these goods from the elements,” she said.

The Illinois River is an invaluable tool for companies who wish to take advantage of the benefits of waterway shipping. Because of its central location and proximity to the river, Peoria is a promising transportation center. With the development of TransPORT in 2003 and the port authority’s vast intermodal network, it is now recognized as one of the top transport hubs in the Midwest.

Hanson has partnered with numerous port authorities in their efforts to improve and maintain waterways. Locally, Hanson has worked to test soil pollution at a levee in East Peoria for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and conducted a boundary survey for an area of Peoria’s riverfront property in connection with their work on the Peoria Lock.

As Illinois legislators work to construct a new capital spending plan, Hanson addresses the need for increased transportation funding. Budget cuts have caused a reduction in highway and bridge repairs, creating a problematic situation in a state in which the number of roads in need of repair is predicted to increase significantly over the next few years. Hanson offers consulting services to state clients and municipalities to help identify transportation funding needs. Using figures from the Transportation for Illinois Coalition, the firm predicts that it will take more than $3 billion to maintain roads and bridges in the next five years, and another $3 billion to address congestion and economic development needs.

A Commitment to Community and the Environment

In the business of construction, Hanson realizes that its projects often affect natural environmental resources, both directly and indirectly. That’s why the staff at Hanson Professional includes biologists and other professionals to ensure projects meet local and state environmental standards. “This service continues to not only assist clients through the regulatory maze of permits and paperwork, but it also provides beneficial protection and restoration to the environment,” said Kay.

Local employees are actively engaged in community activities here in Peoria, according to Regional Vice President Cindy Loos. “We take a great deal of pride in making a difference—from engineering projects and activities with the Chamber of Commerce to coaching Little League teams and volunteering with professional societies,” she said. “Giving back is not only a corporate value, but a personal value for our employees.” Peoria-based Hanson employees involve themselves in volunteer activities for the Boy and Girl Scouts, the Heart of Illinois United Way, local churches and schools, parent-teacher associations and civic and professional organizations.

Hanson Professional Services has certainly made its mark of quality work and commitment in the River City, and the employee-owned engineering, architectural and management services firm plans to continue to prosper in its first regional location. “Employees at Hanson look forward to the next 50 years in Peoria,” Kay noted. IBI

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