On the right track: Matt Willey

Matt Willey, P.E., S.E., loves a challenge, whether on rail projects or a paddleboard. As a structural engineer working at Hanson’s Springfield, Illinois, headquarters, he has worked on bridges across the United States since he joined the company in 2001.

Matt earned bachelor’s and master’s degrees in civil engineering from Bradley University and from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, respectively. He is a licensed professional engineer in Alabama, Illinois, Kentucky, Mississippi and North Carolina, a licensed structural engineer in Illinois and a member of the American Railway Engineering and Maintenance-of-Way Association and the Illinois Society of Professional Engineers.

How I became interested in engineering: The first time I can recall considering the profession of engineering was through the influence of my grandparents. My grandfather, who was a professional land surveyor, said I would probably make a good engineer one day because of my detail-oriented nature. My favorite pastime as a child was free-building with Legos. 

What I do on a typical day on the job: On a typical day, I design or prepare plans for railway bridges, foundations and retaining walls. Increasingly, I have become involved in assisting project managers and leveraging our experience on past projects to overcome new obstacles.

Matt Willey wears a safety hat, goggles and harness with a bridge truss behind him and trees and a parking lot with covered b
Matt Willey’s view from a man lift on top of a 305-foot-long truss while inspecting the Torrence Avenue Bridge over the Calumet River in Chicago in 2009 for the Illinois Department of Transportation District 1.

My favorite part of my job: The most rewarding aspect of structural engineering to me is being a part of a team on challenging projects and building structures that will benefit future generations. My family has worked in the construction field for the last three generations as tile setters, masons, electricians and construction managers. We take a great deal of pride in showing our children the work of our parents and grandparents.

The biggest challenge I have faced on the job: My biggest challenge in engineering is probably resisting the urge to further refine a design or search for an elegant solution, when an acceptable result has already been achieved. 

Interesting projects I have worked on at Hanson and innovations or efficiencies that were used on those projects: The Fifth Street and Sixth Street bridge replacements on the Springfield Rail Improvements Project has been a challenging and interesting project to be involved in. The four double-track, through-plate girder bridges carry the Norfolk Southern and Union Pacific lines over the roadway at a 30-degree skew. Each railroad and location had substantially different design requirements, including one bridge that required a bolted bottom flange. To meet the accelerated project schedule, we were able to lean on our experience and catalog of past through-plate girder bridges to design all four bridges in parallel instead of designing each one individually. The bridges were especially rewarding because they are located blocks away from the Hanson headquarters, and many of us drive under them every day.

What I like to do when I’m not working: When I am not working, I am the Cubmaster for my son’s Cub Scouts pack. I also enjoy bodybuilding, and graphic/web design and have recently taken to stand-up paddleboarding.

Matt Willey, wearing a wetsuit, gives a “peace” hand sign and stands on a paddleboard in the waters of Monterey Bay while hol
Matt stand-up paddleboarding in Santa Cruz, California.

Hanson’s rail team visits Denver for AREMA

About 15 members of Hanson’s rail team attended the American Railway Engineering and Maintenance-of-Way Association’s annual conference last week in Denver.

Hanson had a booth at the event, which was held Aug. 28–31 and offered dozens of technical presentations.

Four people stand behind a table in Hanson’s booth, with four banners behind them.
From left, Hanson’s Matt Riechers, Greg Nichelson, Mike Buckley and Jennifer Sunley pose in Hanson’s booth Aug. 29 at the American Railway Engineering and Maintenance-of-Way Association’s annual conference in Denver.

Mangieri joins Hanson as structural designer

Portrait of Rachael Mangieri, standing and smiling at camera, arms crossedRachael Mangieri, structural designer, recently joined Hanson’s Peoria, Illinois, office. She will work on bridge projects for railroad clients.

Rachael serves the U.S. Navy as a builder. She received an associate degree from Carl Sandburg College, where she was a member of Phi Theta Kappa honor society, and a bachelor’s degree in civil engineering from Bradley University, where she was a member of Chi Epsilon, a civil engineering honor society.

Consider these challenges when reusing bridge foundations

Sometimes, a bridge span has reached the end of its service life before its foundations have. In cases like this, it can be cost-effective to replace only the span, leaving the existing piers or abutments. This has been done successfully many times, but there are a few points to be wary of during planning.

Reducing cost is one of the main reasons existing bridge foundations are reused. The money saved from the reduced demolition and rebuilding of two abutments and a pier or two can allow another project to be completed with the same yearly budget. Not having to change a bridge’s length saves even more when you consider that site grading or embankment work will not be needed. Bridge length changes can result from constructing new abutments behind existing abutments or hydraulic permitting headaches can be introduced by reducing the waterway opening when constructing in front of existing abutments. Both of these options have construction staging and track outage constraints in addition to cost considerations.

There are key conditions on a reused substructure to look for during inspection. Any cracking or deterioration should be repaired. Superficial cracking or spalling is typical in old stone or concrete structures, but deep cracks can be a symptom of settling. Any rotation of the piers or abutments or noticeable elevation changes at the bridge seats are signs that there could be foundation problems that need to be fixed with the new construction. However, limited bridge seat or backwall deterioration do not immediately rule out reusing the substructure.

If the only foundation problems are in the bridge seats of the piers or abutment, or if the problems are found only in the abutment backwalls, these areas can be addressed when the superstructure is replaced. Once the spans are removed, the bridge seats or backwalls can be replaced with precast concrete pieces. Dowels are installed during the changeout window and held in place with fast-curing epoxy or grout. This ensures that the new components have a positive load path in the new condition.

A final possible concern is the extra dead load that will be placed on the existing foundations. Going from an open deck to a ballasted deck structure greatly increases the dead load. Precast, prestressed concrete spans are also much heavier than the steel spans they are likely replacing. This is a bigger concern with weak soils or timber piles. Spread foundations that rest directly on rock can typically support the additional load without concern. This is where inspecting for signs of settlement or tilting is important. It is easy to make a foundation problem worse with the extra load.

If you have questions about replacing bridge superstructures on existing foundations, please contact Travis Painter, an associate project manager, at tpainter@hanson-inc.com.

Visit Hanson at AREMA’s conference

Members of Hanson’s rail team will be on hand at the AREMA 2022 Annual Conference and Expo next month in Denver.

Hanson will be in Booth 741 during the conference, which is being held Aug. 28–31. For more information about the event, visit AREMA’s conference website.

Bat roosting habitats can be encountered in summer

Summer will soon be officially here, and gone are the long, chilly nights of winter. With the warmer weather, you may find yourself spending more time outdoors, enjoying a relaxing day by the pool or heading to an exciting new destination for a vacation. But humans aren’t the only species that becomes more active when the weather warms up. Across the country, many members of the animal kingdom have ended their winter slumbers to resume their warm weather activities — and the habits of two federally protected species in particular may have implications for your rail project.

A map of the United States with a highlighted area that covers 37 states from the northwest to southeast regions.
This map indicates states where the Indiana bat or northern long-eared bat could be found.

The Indiana bat (federally endangered) and the northern long-eared bat (federally threatened) hibernate in caves in the wintertime but roost in trees during the warmer months. The populations of both species have declined, with a major threat found in white-nose syndrome, a fungal disease. The reproductive females of these species rely on spaces underneath peeling tree bark, as well as the cavities and crevices of live and dead trees, for roosting habitat. To help ensure these winged moms-to-be have a place to rear their young, many regulatory agencies have established windows of time when cutting down potential bat trees is prohibited.

A tree marked with an “X” in spray paint in a wooded area.
This tree was marked as a potential bat habitat.

Avoiding the summertime roosting habitat of an endangered bat species is common in the rail industry. Suitable roosting habitats are often found alongside railroad tracks. The Indiana bat may be found in 22 states, while the northern long-eared bat has a range of 37 states.

Unexpected project delays related to bat trees can grind a rail project to a halt and be costly, but setbacks can be avoided with careful planning. If you have questions about tree clearing or suspect your rail project may affect bats, please contact railroad permitting specialists Nate Badgett at nbadgett@hanson-inc.com or Jennifer Sunley at jsunley@hanson-inc.com.

Fish-friendly bridge project underway in Washington

An estuary restoration project’s rail bridge that Hanson is working on is in progress in Washington state.

Pile driving has started at Snohomish County’s Meadowdale Beach Park as part of the restoration of the 1.3-acre area that will deliver a rearing habitat between Lunds Gulch Creek and Puget Sound for chinook, chum and coho salmon and cutthroat trout. The Puget Sound chinook is a threatened species under the U.S. Endangered Species Act. A 6-foot-wide culvert and 128 linear feet of railroad embankment will be replaced with a five-span rail bridge with a 100-foot opening, giving juvenile salmon access to a pocket estuary where they can grow.

Four workers use a pile driving hammer on a double-track rail bridge; a beach and waterway is behind them

A crew conducts pile driving May 18 for the Meadowdale Beach Park estuary restoration project in Snohomish County, Washington.

The site north of Lynnwood was last an estuary in the late 1800s, before the railroad was constructed.

Hanson is providing bridge design and construction management services for this project, which will cost an estimated $16 million.

One for all: Consolidation of design process documents can be worth the effort

In January, I highlighted how to improve internal operations through a case study on streamlining construction paperwork. There’s another way to improve internal operations: consolidating documents.

As we prepare plans for improved and expanded rail service, our design process generally follows these steps:

  • Design and prepare plan sheets in accordance with client-provided and industry standards.
  • Document key design decisions.
  • Perform a quality control (QC) review.
  • Prepare a design report that captures the key design criteria, key decisions and approved variances (if any) as appropriate, based on client and project complexity.

To facilitate the above, we rely on:

  • A folder of client standards (typically dozens of PDFs from a variety of client sources)
  • Meeting notes of key design decisions
  • An internal design QC checklist
  • A Word document design report template

This process and the use of documents and templates are very reasonable, but with the volume of projects we were trying to progress, we realized there was a potential benefit to having fewer documents that we need to reference, update and maintain. What if we could bring all of them together in one place?

Enter the consolidated design criteria, decisions and QC document. The intent was to create one document that captured almost everything related to our design process. It would help our newest staff members get up to speed, help designers working with clients they hadn’t worked with in the past and streamline things for our more experienced team members.

Although creating a document like this takes time, we decided it was worth the investment. The result was an Excel spreadsheet that contains key client design criteria, the source of the criteria (document name and revision date), QC checklist items and space for notes about these items (design decisions, variances, etc.)

Although the time investment to do something like this likely doesn’t pay off for one project (or even two or three, in our case), we are starting to see the benefits over time. In addition to the expected benefits I mentioned above, we realized it gives us an easy way to confirm that we have the most recent client design standards and serves as a great resource for getting our new client contacts up to speed when there are client staff changes.

a photo of lauren schroedter

If you have ideas for document consolidation in your role, weigh the time investment against the benefits (tangible and intangible) and decide accordingly. I can’t say all document consolidation efforts will be worth it, but I am happy to report this effort was!

Lauren Schroedter is an assistant vice president and Hanson’s railway discipline manager. She can be reached at lschroedter@hanson-inc.com.

Fletcher a guest on AREMA’s Platform Chats podcast

headshot of mat fletcherHanson’s Mat Fletcher, P.E., S.E., a senior vice president and the railway market principal, was a guest on the American Railway Engineering and Maintenance-of-Way Association’s Platform Chats podcast.

Mat, who works at the Peoria, Illinois, office, joined the podcast to discuss Hanson’s 2020 win of the Dr. William W. Hay Award for Excellence for the emergency repair of Norfolk Southern Corporation’s partially collapsed bridge over the Grand River near Brunswick, Missouri.

You can listen to the complete April 25 episode on the podcast’s website.

Cunningham discusses Idaho rail project at conference


Jason Cunningham, P.E., S.E., a structural engineer at Hanson’s office in Peoria, Illinois, talked about BNSF Railway Co.’s Sandpoint Junction Connector project during the Illinois Structural Engineering Conference.

The April 6 event was held at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign and was hosted by the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering. The Sandpoint project will provide additional bridges to relieve rail traffic congestion in Sandpoint, Idaho, and includes a 4,800-foot-plus bridge over Lake Pend Oreille.

Jason Cunningham stands behind a lectern next to a projected presentation slide in front of rows of spectators
Jason Cunningham, P.E., S.E., discusses BNSF Railway Co.’s Sandpoint Junction Connector project during the Illinois Structural Engineering Conference.