By the time Senior Civil Engineer Andrea Podraza (P.E.,CFM) reached high school, she knew her interests fit in the math and science category. She was also drawn to subjects such as architecture out of native curiosity toward how things fit together.
To research her course and career options, she attended an academic fair at the University of Illinois where a cousin attended college. There she visited an engineering open house to consider choices in engineering fields.
She chose civil engineering and enrolled at Purdue University. “The first year in engineering can be very difficult,” she relates “It tests you as a student and a person.”
She is one of three civil engineers who work for the City of Batavia and has taken the lead role in projects such as the Deerpath Road realignment and bridge reconstruction.
“That project required us to conform to current design standards and work closely with residents to meet local needs. That included working with residents to establish the safest routes in and out of neighborhoods. There were no sidewalks or bike paths for the old bridge, which was narrow and not pedestrian friendly for anyone to cross. After the project was completed, safety was improved immensely, and traffic flows much more smoothly."
Deerpath project planning
A project such as the Deerpath road realignment requires years of planning to implement. “The bridge was federally funded using Bridge Replacement and Rehabilitation Program (BRRP), money also known as the Surface Transportation Program (STP). Therefore the City had to follow the Illinois Department of Transportation’s (IDOT) process. Following the IDOT process took eight years to get all necessary clearances and permits including the design of the bridge and construction. What the public sees in terms of actual work is a very narrow slice of everything that takes place over time.”
With the bridge complete, Andrea's attention is focused on the intersection of Deerpath and Main Street, which is targeted for a signal installation. “Or course, that takes planning too,” she observes. “Projects like that really qualify as regional improvements. So there are a lot of parties involved from a transportation perspective.” The City also received STP funds for this project with the City and Kane County Division of Transportation partnering together.
Podraza is also helping to oversee major changes in how stormwater is gathered and treated in Batavia. “On the south side of town,” she relates, “stormwater and wastewater mix into the same system feeding into the wastewater treatment plant. That creates higher volume than is necessary for treatment. It can also result in backups if volume exceeds capacity in the systems that carry that water. We’re making plans to separate the two types of water. But much of the below-ground infrastructure dates from back in the early 1900s. It’s made of brick in some cases. That means it's really quite beautiful as a structure, but it isn’t designed for the water it now receives. I also report and organize our NPDES MS4 permit (National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System, Municipal Separate Storm Sewer System."
The flow of water through and above ground is of keen concern to civil engineers such as Andrea Podraza. But conventional thinking is not where many civil engineers dwell these days. “Many municipalities have begun to recognize the importance of natural features in containing and distributing stormwater,” she notes. Even with features such as water retention ponds built in key points throughout the city, water flow can wind up damaging culverts if not properly managed. Furthermore, it needs a place to soak in or slowly distribute once it reaches a retention zone.
“When retention ponds are not properly maintained,” she notes, “they can become compromised over time. We’re also concerned with the quality and function of the wetlands we do have, because they function best in holding and filtering stormwater. But when aggressive or invasive plants such as cattails take over and clog those systems, they don’t work like they should.”
That’s where the mind of a civil engineer really has to go to work calculating water volume and impacts of natural versus invasive plant species .
But the tasks aren’t all organic. “I do a number of other functions as well,” Podraza relates. “Accounting, budgeting, estimating. We have to manage what we set aside for every project and the timing of it. We deal with a lot of numbers, cost estimates. Then we need to communicate all that to our partners, contractors and the community.”
Podraza notes that the City of Batavia website is a key portal for people seeking information on civil engineering projects throughout town. “We update the website ourselves,” she shares.
One of the challenges in transparency of information about city projects is found in the fact that engineering plans are often copyrighted by the engineering firms. “That means we can’t automatically share that information with the general public, even with a FOIA (Freedom of Information Act) request, but people are more than welcome to come into Public Works to view the plans for areas or projects of concern.”
She also notes that there are times when people contacting the department are surprised that she is one of the city’s engineers, not an administrative assistant or some other support function. “I know it’s a profession where there are more men than women,” she admits. “But it can be interesting when people assume that a woman can’t be doing this job.”
All corners of Batavia
Her work takes her to all parts of the city. Recently she worked with a contractor, Applied Ecological Services, to burn Braeburn Marsh, while another contractor, Encap, manages the channel leading west from Randall Road to the corporate limits. The Braeburn Marsh retention pond and bird sanctuary is managed by the Kane County Forest Preserve District and the City works together with them to coordinate management efforts to make the system work the most efficiently. Together with its consultants, the city is looking at ways to keep aggressive cattail communities and phragmites (giant bulrushes) under check. Otherwise the flow of water may be impeded, resulting in blockages or possible flooding.
It all hearkens back to that native desire to help make things fit together. The City of Batavia has a problem solver on its side in the person of Andrea Podraza, senior civil engineer.