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Infrastructure Technology Institute

Boots on the Ground: Students Visit Chicago Infrastructure Projects


Students in the Infrastructure Facilities and Systems course tour Chicago’s O’Hare Airport Modernization Project.

ITI Director Professor Joseph Schofer teamed with Civil Engineering Professor Charles Dowding to teach the ITI-developed Infrastructure Facilities and Systems course in the spring of 2008. This course continues to serve as the capstone design experience in Northwestern’s Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering, but enrollment includes seniors from other fields, particularly those pursuing an undergraduate minor in Transportation and Logistics.

Among the weekly field trips this year are visits to the $15 billion O’Hare Airport Modernization Project, the classification yard and shops of the Belt Railway of Chicago, and the Illinois State Toll Highway Authority widening project on I-294.

The O’Hare project involves the addition of 4 parallel runways, the removal of two existing runways, construction of a new, western terminal and access roads, and a rail transit link under the airport.
The class toured the active airfield and observed runway extensions and new construction projects.

The toll road project includes addition of two lanes in each direction, built under service. Creative traffic management schemes and the use of advanced paving materials and concepts are special features of this project. Students observed installation of bridges and retaining walls, preparations for slip-form paving, and removal of existing pavements.

The Belt Railway visit is always a favorite of the course. This largely automated yard relies on robotic locomotive operations and computer-based management of inbound and outbound freight cars.

In the design portion of the course, two multidisciplinary student teams are designing a green municipal service building to be constructed on top of a land fill near Northwestern’s Evanston campus.