- Associated Press - Saturday, May 7, 2016

DECATUR, Ill. (AP) - It’s not uncommon for employees to think they can help make a greater impact on the community through their work.

But few have the chance to shape the present and the future of the Decatur area quite like Macon County Highway Engineer Bruce Bird.

Since he began that role in fall of 1999, Bird has been the man responsible for 234 miles of county road and 245 structures throughout the county. Those structures range from the picturesque bridges that one typically envisions, to the smaller bridges or structures just over 20 feet long that go over small creeks in the rural areas.

With a department of 24 full-time staffers and an operating budget of roughly $3 million, Bird works to coordinate which roads and bridges are in need of repair or replacement, as well as how roads will be salted and plowed during the winter season.

Aside from the challenge of it all, Bird paints an artistic ideal of what makes the work so satisfactory to him.

“You’re able to put your hands on your work,” he said. “You can point to something and say, ‘This is something I had a part in creating.’”

One project he has yet to be able to put his hands on just yet is the long-discussed Macon County Beltway project, an estimated $150 million undertaking by federal and local agencies that seeks to construct 22 miles of road to connect Interstate 72 and U.S. 51 around the south and east sides of Decatur.

It is something that Bird has played a part in for more than a decade, going through countless studies, grant proposals and hearings on all facets of the project.

But with construction set to begin later this year on early portions of the project, such as a bridge replacement to accommodate the beltway on County Highway 60, Bird hardly can contain his excitement as he discusses the future of the project.

“It’s a special feeling when you can be involved in something that large and can have such an impact on the future of the community,” he said.

That ambition for transformational projects is just part of what excited those such as Kevin Meachum when Bird started at the Highway Department.

Meachum, a longtime member of the Macon County Board and former chairman of its transportation committee, said it seemed like Bird would be the kind of candidate who could lead the department into the future.

“(Bird is) always looking for innovative ways to improve the roads here,” Meachum said. “Bruce has been a big part of why the vision and future of our infrastructure is so bright. He’s been a beacon for this county across the state.”

The love of transportation and engineering for Bird started years ago with one of the most common toys for young boys: Tonka, a toy brand most known for its wide collection of vehicles.

But while they were just fun toys for many; for Bird, they were a sign of things to come.

“As I kid I always liked building stuff,” he said. “I always found it fascinating, that and the transportation aspect of it.”

After graduating from the University of Illinois and spending several years at the Illinois Department of Transportation, Bird’s desire to work with local municipalities led him to the city of Urbana.

It was there that his personality and knowledge came to the attention of Rick Marley, who worked at the time with the city of Champaign.

Now the director of Public Works at the city of Decatur, Marley said it was that complete package that made Bird stand out.

“A lot of engineers are. not as personable as you may see in other professions,” Marley said. “Bruce does not have that though; he’s always friendly, outgoing and someone who can share his thoughts clearly.”

That quality can come especially in handy when it comes to Bird presenting his plans monthly in front of the county’s seven-member transportation committee and occasionally in front of the full 21-member board. A consistent message to deliver to those in charge has helped keep long-term projects such as the beltway afloat, Marley said.

Aside from the beltway, Bird’s department continues to deal with the evolving world of highway engineering. Whether it is through use of drones to evaluate bridge and road upkeep, to uncertain budgetary situations and the rising cost of construction materials, Bird said he and his staff are open to what is in store.

“If you like a challenge and helping people, then this is the perfect line of work,” he said.


Source: (Decatur) Herald & Review, https://bit.ly/1r14Fnk


Information from: Herald & Review, https://www.herald-review.com



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