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IDOT announces 2021 engineer, engineering technician of the year

IDOT 2021 Engineer of the Year Gary Sims (left) with Director of Highways and Project Implementation Stephen Travia.

IDOT 2021 Engineering Technician of the Year Kayla Friederich (left) with Director of Highways and Project Implementation Stephen Travia.

IDOT honored its Engineer and Engineering Technician of the Year during the annual Transportation and Highway Engineering Conference on March 2. The awards recognize engineers and engineering technicians for outstanding work demonstrating skill, statewide impact or innovative solutions.

Statewide Engineer of the Year: District 5 Traffic Operations Engineer Gary Sims

Gary Sims has been with the department for more than 16 years, serving as Traffic Operations Engineer for District 5 since 2014. He’s served on several statewide committees and technical review panels, and he currently teaches Traffic Incident Management classes.

In 2021, Sims agreed to act as interim Operations Field Engineer while continuing his normal duties as Traffic Operations Engineer. Although this was expected to last just a few months, Sims ended up covering both positions for the rest of the year. In taking on the second role, he went from supervising a staff of 12 to one of 81 without skipping a beat. Employees regularly comment that he is responsive to their needs, thoroughly evaluates every situation and works with them to develop solutions that benefit everyone.

In June 2021, Sims stepped up as point person for District 5 emergency response after a significant rain event south of Bloomington resulted in flooding on Interstate 55, with significant damage to roads north and west of Heyworth. The response required extensive coordination with the Illinois State Police, the McLean County Sheriff’s Department and IDOT staff to divert traffic, orchestrate short-term repairs and conduct bridge inspections. His actions helped ensure the safety of both staff and the public while working to reopen the roads as quickly as possible.

Statewide Engineering Technician of the Year: District 6 Documentation Compliance Reviewer Kayla Friederich

Kayla Friederich first joined IDOT in 2012 and took on her current role as District 6 Local Roads and Streets Documentation Compliance Reviewer in 2016. The position involves end-of-year motor fuel tax expenditure reviews for more than 600 local agencies throughout the district. What’s more, it came with a 12-year backlog.

By 2018, she had made significant progress in eliminating this backlog when legislation regarding transparency and accountability for use of state funds mandated additional requirements. As a result, the Bureau of Investigation and Compliance began working with Local Roads staff in District 6 on various reviews and audits of local agencies. Friederich worked with both BIC and local agencies to ensure compliance with the findings. Her efforts saved one municipality approximately $2 million.

Throughout 2021, Friederich not only continued to provide excellent customer service and assistance to local agencies, but also trained a new documentation reviewer and transformed an existing MFT accounting package used by county highway departments to enable its use by municipalities. This package was shared with Central Office’s Bureau of Local Roads, which then worked with Friederich to make small adjustments that allowed it to be promoted for municipal use statewide. She continues to work with the Central Office in the development and presentation of training sessions on its use.