Where the Rubber Meets the Road

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By Frank Radosevich II
April 11, 2012

Bringing together scholars, policymakers, engineers and business executives, Bradley’s Center for Emerging Technologies in Infrastructure and the Department of Civil Engineering and Construction hosted the 25th annual Innovations Conference on Asphalt and Transportation.

The two-day conference featured speakers from across the country and three breakout sessions: transportation, asphalt, and snow and ice removal. Additionally, seven VIP session were held during the conference including the by invitation only Executive Summit attended U.S. secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood, Illinois Senate President Cullerton, CEOs of major companies, and a member of the Iraqi Coalition.

The focus of the 50-plus gathering was Public-Private-Partnerships and the U.S. Highway Re-Authorization Bill. Two additional events included Illinois Secretary of Transportation Ann Schneider who met with prime contractors and consultants from across the state of Illinois to discuss problems and challenges facing their industries. She also met with women owned and disadvantaged businesses to address their concerns. CGN and Associates, a management consulting firm in Peoria, facilitated these three VIP events.

Bradley students attending the event had the opportunity to network with industry leaders and learn about concrete issues facing those in the infrastructure industry.

“You get a feel for the industry and see the wide mix of people in it,” said Kyle Blaise, a senior in construction management from Frankfurt. He said he was fascinated by the presentation on the design and construction of the Dubai-based Burj Khalifa skyscraper which, at 2,716.5 feet, is the world’s tallest building.

Dr. Amir Al-Khafaji, chair of the Department of Civil Engineering and Construction and conference founder, underscored the wealth of information presented by engineers and politicians alike.

“Students have national and international business leaders here, the opportunity to find a job and really learn about the industry,” said Dr. Al-Khafaji. “The conference can really open their eyes to what’s out there.”

Speakers included U.S. Secretary of Transportation and Bradley alumnus Ray LaHood ’71, Illinois Governor Pat Quinn, Illinois Senate President John Cullerton, Illinois Secretary of Transportation Ann Schneider and Douglas Oberhelman, chairman and CEO of Caterpillar Inc. and honorary chair of the conference.

“He is a true gem and Bradley’s should be proud to have him,” Secretary Schneider said of Dr. Al-Khafaji. “He adds an international flavor to the conference.”

Aside from Illinois and Washington, D.C. experts, ICAT hosted speakers and guests from countries like Lebanon, Saudi Arabia, Iraq and India.

Secretary LaHood spoke on the importance of passing a new transportation bill in the U.S. House of Representatives, stressing how new infrastructure projects spur economic growth and benefit future generations. He also urged those present to think of improving the nation’s infrastructure as part of their legacy.

“Transportation has always been a bi-partisan issue,” he told the audience. “What are we going to leave to the next generation? I believe it is passenger rail. But we have to make the investments.”

Senior civil engineering major Bill Miller said he appreciated a session focused on the public-private partnerships in the infrastructure industry. He said learning about the financial side of construction projects helped him understand some of the common challenges that come with development.

“I was very impressed and there were tons of influential people,” the Metamora native said of the conference. “It really shows you the current topics that the workplace is dealing with.”