A Publication of WTVP

On a cold, blustery February weeknight, approximately 150 Bradley students and faculty heard a diverse panel present “A Behind-the-Scenes Look at the I-74 Reconstruction Project.” The speakers included Eric Therkildsen, Program Development Engineer for the Illinois Department of Transportation (IDOT); State Senator Dale Risinger; State Senator David Koehler; Dr. Amir Al-Khafaji, Chair, Department of Civil Engineering & Construction; and Dan Silverthorn, Director, West Central Building and Construction Trades Council. The purpose of the program was to give Bradley University engineering, political science and communication students a real-world perspective on the public relations and political challenges that had to be met in order to pull off this magnificent civil works project.

The recently completed I-74 reconstruction project was the largest project in downstate Illinois history, with a final price tag of $499 million. Eric Therkildsen, a Bradley University civil engineering alumnus, told the students that he had to learn a whole new set of skills not taught in his college textbooks to successfully oversee this enormous project.

Specifically, he needed to become an expert on conflict resolution, facilitation and public outreach. Over six years, IDOT held 108 stakeholder workshops with 40 entities representing local governments, state and federal agencies, property owners and neighborhood associations. Additionally, IDOT hired an outreach firm to help put together a communications strategy to alert the community of road closings and update everyone on the status of the project.

State Senator Dale Risinger, formerly the director of District 4 for IDOT, spoke about his 10-year involvement with the planning and design of the I-74 reconstruction project. Risinger joked about almost losing his job when the decision was made to close I-74 for six months in order to complete the amazing, first-time engineering feat of cutting off 180 feet from the 46-year-old Murray Baker Bridge and reconnecting the bridge to the newly-lengthened I-74 ramps. Risinger told the students that the main reason for the project was public safety, as the former I-74, with very short on-ramps, had an accident rate 10 times higher than the statewide average.

State Senator Dave Koehler spoke about the bipartisan effort that took place to ensure that the funding was in place to pull off this historic project. In particular, Koehler gave credit to Congressman Ray LaHood and former State Senator George Shadid for their bipartisan leadership at the federal and state levels to assemble the $499 million.

Dr. Amir Al-Khafaji discussed the significant involvement of Bradley University in holding 23 workshops for minority- and women-owned businesses to help them to be able to participate in this enormous project. For the I-74 project, Disadvantaged Business Enterprise (DBE) contractors received more than $17 million—more than 20 percent of the total—for just Stage 3 contracts. Finally, Dan Silverthorn talked about the dramatic impact that the I-74 project had on providing good jobs for nearly 500 local construction trade laborers during the three-year construction period. Silverthorn rightfully spoke with great pride on the outstanding work and final product accomplished by the building trades.

One of the goals of the Institute for Principled Leadership in Public Service at Bradley University is to give students the full picture of what it takes to successfully plan and complete projects in the public arena. Hopefully, this forum gave Bradley students an inside look and a new perspective on the challenges and opportunities they will face when they enter the workforce. Additionally, a thank-you goes to the College of Engineering and Technology Student Advisory Council, who helped co-sponsor and volunteered for this event. IBI