TRP Chair Spotlight: Matt Mueller

Matt Mueller Spotlight PhotoTechnical Review Panels (TRPs) oversee and guide the research projects that are part of the partnership between the Illinois Center for Transportation (ICT) and the Illinois Department of Transportation (IDOT). The panels work closely with researchers to provide technical guidance and ensure that the work remains on time and on budget. Members consist of subject-matter experts from IDOT, industry, and local and national agencies. Each TRP is led by a chair who is chosen based on his or her expertise.

Matt Mueller, who retired from his position as Engineer of Tests for IDOT’s Bureau of Materials and Physical Research (BMPR) in December 2015, served as TRP chair on three ICT/IDOT projects:

He also participated as a member on more than a dozen other TRPs and served on IDOT’s Pavement Design, Management, and Materials Technical Advisory Group.

Mueller says he learned a great deal from every research project for which he participated as a TRP member or chair.

“But one that sticks out is the nighttime construction project [Nighttime Construction: Evaluation of Lighting Glare for Highway Construction in Illinois, R27-002]. Numerous efforts had failed to provide guidance on nighttime lighting in construction projects, and the result was a dangerous situation for workers and motorists alike. The successful results from this project immediately spread across the state and country, and I have personally enjoyed the benefits as a worker and a motorist.”Microsoft Word - quote 1

Another noteworthy project for Mueller was Testing Protocols to Ensure Performance of High Asphalt Binder Replacement Mixes Using RAP and RAS (R27-128). It required developing a new tool to measure the effects of various materials and processes on the performance of hot-mix asphalt pavements.

“It had become clear that volumetric design, while very important in successful pavement performance, was not a guarantee of performance. Pavements were prematurely falling apart. The research team overcame existing test limitations, expanded our knowledge about the problem, and developed a validated test method that has garnered national and international interest.”

But all research projects, he adds, provide value and benefits: “Every time we found an answer that could help a materials supplier, an industry, a fellow employee, or IDOT in its goal to deliver the most cost-effective product, I felt there was value.”

Mueller graduated from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign in 1985. He earned a B.S. in civil engineering with a focus in transportation facilities. He began his career at IDOT while a junior in college as a summer help technician in Design at District 1 (Schaumburg). After graduation, Mueller began full-time employment with IDOT in District 6 in Springfield as a CE I [Civil Engineer I] in planning.

“In my early years, I had the opportunity to rotate to other bureaus in the district, including Design, Construction, and Materials. While it was frustrating to leave projects behind, I learned many processes and met many people who would be key in my later career.”

Mueller was soon promoted to his first research position, a CE III with BMPR. He later accepted a CE IV position in District 6 and says he “hit the jackpot” two years later when he accepted a CE V position back at BMPR in Products Evaluation, where for the following five years he reviewed diverse new materials and products, including railroad crossing surfaces, erosion control fabrics, bridge paint systems, and noise walls, for possible incorporation into the specifications.

“When IDOT transitioned to QA/QC from method specifications for hot-mix asphalt and Portland cement concrete, I was transferred to Materials. With the Concrete Lab at my disposal, I uncovered a new form of concrete distress, unknown in Illinois or in the textbooks. Although alkali silica reaction was known to occur in western states with volcanic coarse aggregate, Illinois and most of the other states in the Midwest discovered that this distress could also occur from siliceous sands.”

Mueller then moved in a different direction as the CE VI Surface Properties Engineer. In that capacity, he helped coordinate and operate pavement data collection equipment, including video vans, friction trailers, the falling weight deflectometer, and the first lightweight International Roughness Index (IRI) vehicle. He also began investigating various types of pavement and bridge element failures to determine the root causes. Work on several task forces and process reviews led to numerous specification and policy changes for designs, materials, products, and construction practices.

“I also participated in several management programs—the most recent was IDOT’s Executive Leadership Development Series—that brought me into the circle of many future leaders of IDOT districts and central offices. Answers to previously unanswerable questions were found in just a single phone call to these newfound resources.”

Mueller says his career abruptly veered in a different direction with the creation of the Bureau of Safety Engineering in early 2005.

“For the next two years, my focus was identifying and implementing—as quickly as possible—measures to reduce fatalities on Illinois roadways. Visits with state and local police, hospital officials, and private advocacy groups helped shape the issue. Identifying and mainstreaming motorist risk in our decisions about project selection, design, traffic control, and materials and construction practices led to dramatic reductions in fatalities and life-altering injuries.”

After that, Mueller returned to BMPR as the CE VIII Section Lead of Materials, with ten labs and a staff of more than fifty. Over the following nine and a half years, he met with many industry groups vying for market share, and he traveled the state and country to participate in conferences and working groups focused on improving material performance in the face of what Mueller describes as “massive industry changes and dwindling resources.”

Among Mueller’s other achievements were being selected as IDOT’s Central Office Engineer of the Year in 1997 and 2014 and receiving the Illinois Bituminous Paving Conference’s Leadership in Bituminous Engineering Award in 2015.

ICT’s director, Imad Al-Qadi, who worked with Mueller on many projects, says, “Matt’s commitment and professionalism were evident in each task I worked with him on. He combined technical knowledge with a wealth of field experience to provide sound leadership on many ICT/IDOT projects. His constructive comments in the recent development of the Illinois Flexibility Index Test (I-FIT) by ICT and moving it into the specifications is one of the numerous contributions he made in helping build better roads in Illinois.”