Allen Smith 5 Q
Joey Heger, PE, SE, is a structural engineer in CMT’s Aurora, IL office, with over 14 years of dedicated experience within the transportation industry. Certified as a National Bridge Inspection Standards (NBIS) Program Manager, he brings a wealth of expertise in the design and inspection of bridge structures. Joey brings value to projects by crafting innovative, cost-effective solutions that prioritize safety, efficiency, and longevity. His comprehensive understanding of structural systems and hands-on inspection experience enable him to identify potential risks and proactively consult on bridge system integrity. Joey holds bachelor’s and master’s degrees in civil engineering from Southern Illinois University Edwardsville.

What first drew you to structural engineering, and what are some of the elements of the profession you appreciate most at this stage of your career?

I grew up in a big family that went on a lot of road trips. Whenever we drove across the Daniel Boone Bridge near St. Louis, MO, where I’m from, I liked to look out the window at the intricacies of the big trusses and watch all the steel zigzagging as we passed through. Then, in high school, I was good at science and math, and my school advisor introduced me to the engineering profession. Engineering – specifically, building bridges – sounded interesting to me. Since then, I have never looked back.

Today, one of the aspects of structural engineering that I value most is the fieldwork – getting my hands on bridges in person, as opposed to only drawing pictures of them or running calculations. It helps to see the work in person. You get to see the different environments that the bridge lives in. You get a better understanding of how people interact with the structure. And you get to see the elements of the bridge up close.

Heger conducting fieldwork atop a railroad truss bridge over the Mississippi River

Heger conducting fieldwork atop a railroad truss bridge over the Mississippi River

What is your approach to the project data-collection process?

I’m a big nerd for canoeing and kayaking, and I’m a big nerd for bridges, and they happen to go hand-in-hand. To get the full picture of a bridge over water, I like to drop a kayak into the water to get a closer look at things during inspections. I’ve brought a stand-up paddleboard along during inspections for the same purpose. I am also a licensed drone pilot, and I like to capture various angles of the bridge whenever I can. I think it is helpful to use these techniques so I can see bridges from multiple vantage points.

Heger’s drone footage of a railroad truss bridge

Heger’s drone footage of a railroad truss bridge

As a part of this process, I also consider the perspectives of people who interact with the structure – those moving over the bridge and also those beneath and adjacent to it. I think about maintenance: Who is going to take care of the bridge in the future and maintain the site itself? I think about embankment and the person who will be cutting the grass. When I’m looking at a bridge, I consider the owner’s perspective: How do they maintain the structure, today and in the future, and what are their best options for investing in upkeep in the immediate and long term? I guess ultimately, I like to consider as many perspectives as possible before getting too deep into a solution, which hopefully sets me up to provide the best value to the structure’s owner.

What are some standout projects you’ve worked on, and what made those projects unique?

I would say that I have two classifications of projects – the ones that I have gotten to climb on or inspect and the ones I’ve had the chance to design. So, in my nearly 15-year career, I have had the opportunity to inspect some really big and intricate structures. The biggest standout to me was my work on the historic Eads Bridge over the Mississippi River in St. Louis, MO. I climbed around on it like a jungle gym, and not a lot of people get that point of view of the bridge.

I have also had the opportunity to get on and climb the Bill Emerson Memorial Bridge – a cable-stayed bridge over the Mississippi River – in Cape Girardeau, MO. We were out there for three weeks in March, rappelling down the cables, and it snowed one of the days. It was a cool experience to see the snow from 300 feet above the river.

I also got to inspect a radio telescope out in Green Bank, WV. It was a two- to four-hundred-foot tall 3-D truss telescope that I also got to climb around on for a week.

Green Bank Telescope

Green Bank Telescope in in Green Bank, WV

From a design perspective, I had the opportunity to conduct the load rating on the historic MacArthur Bridge in St. Louis. I performed the analysis when an abandoned section of road was finally removed to confirm the additional load capacity gained by removing the dead load. It was a fun and detailed analysis for a thru-truss that not a lot of engineers get the opportunity to really dig into as designers.

In addition, the second set of plans I sealed with my structural engineer’s license was a 1,500-foot curved plate girder bridge in Champaign, IL. The bridge is one of two in the I-57 and I-74 interchange and is a curved steel bridge. I had always wanted to work on one of those since getting a small taste on another project earlier in my career. As a typical user, you do not really notice how different it is from other bridges, but the analysis that goes into designing curved steel beams is notably more than you would do for a typical straight bridge.

What excites you about the future of structural engineering at CMT?

I am particularly excited about CMT’s potential for growth in emerging service areas, like our increasing work on pedestrian bridges and the active growth we’re seeing when it comes to serving clients’ rail needs from a structural perspective. For example, CMT recently managed a project that included a taxiway bridge that carries airplanes at MidAmerica St. Louis Airport. It is exciting to see CMT getting such high-level, interesting work that spans so many of our services. The range of services and scope of work we can offer for bridges is truly remarkable.

Something else that excites me is continuing to teach and mentor team members in my group and across CMT. I like to help guide individuals at varying career stages to grow in their professional development. Looking beyond my immediate reach, I see the ongoing growth within the structural group, and I’m eager to see its trajectory evolve down the line.

What are your favorite aspects of CMT’s company culture?

My favorite aspect of CMT’s culture is the emphasis on collaboration. I have actively worked with colleagues in each of our service areas, from management to interns, and it’s encouraging how supportive everyone is. This makes it easy to get excited about coming to work.

Whether I reach out to someone I only occasionally collaborate with or seek insights from different parts of the business, I am always met with responsiveness and inclusivity. The idea of interfacing with colleagues as “internal clients” adds a layer of accountability, as well, reinforcing the idea that we are all in this together. Ultimately, I think that the way our firm celebrates each other’s success is a really great part of CMT’s culture.

CMT’s supportive culture also extends to facilitating connections between individuals who can serve as valuable resources and expert advisors to one another. Whether it’s getting advice on a project or knowledge-sharing, the collaborative environment makes it easy for team members to find the guidance they need to grow.

Heger performing depth checks at a bridge in Lemont, IL

Heger performing depth checks at a bridge in Lemont, IL