Robert Ingram, of the Tonto National Forest, has been selected as the Forest Service Engineering Technician of the Year for fiscal year 2008. Ingram, works as the forest’s Arizona Department of Transportation (ADOT) forest highway liaison.
Ingram has served more than 34 years with the U.S. Forest Service, 25 of those years with the Tonto National Forest. He has worked for 12 years as ADOT forest highway liaison. Ingram currently is evaluating $200 million in highway projects which run through Tonto National Forest lands.
Ingram was responsible for ensuring that ADOT built numerous elk/wildlife crossings to protect the wildlife and people in the State Route 260 corridor construction efforts.
Because of his efforts, ADOT is now sponsoring a statewide study of key wildlife travel routes in coordination with state highway work.
Ingram also helped the forest earn the Excellence in Partnering Award for the Christopher Creek project on State Route 260.
“Rob has done an outstanding job as a forest highway liaison for several years now,” said Ed Armenta, Payson District Ranger.
“As you may know, we have one of the most extensive highway construction programs on any forest in the nation. Rob has done an excellent job in protecting the natural resources, while collaborating with ADOT and others in getting award-winning sections of highway completed.”
ADOT’s plans for State Route 260 included a major realignment of the highway, constructing huge cuts and fills and widening the road from two to four lanes. ADOT cost shares some of the work with the Forest Service. Funding includes planning, construction, monitoring and coordination required by federal law. Distinct challenges include landscaping to match the forest background, coloring and more.
From planning and design on through to implementation, the forest is involved in the construction process.
“Originally there were going to be three or four wildlife underpasses,” Armenta recalls. “But Rob, working closely with Arizona Game and Fish, insisted many more were needed.”
Because of Ingram’s input, ADOT agreed to install an additional 17 pairs of bridges for wildlife crossing areas along State Route 260. Conflict avoidance systems include an electronic fence to shuttle the animals through to infrared alerts that trigger an electronic warning system when animals are on the road.
The warning system alerts drivers to animals in the vicinity with flashing lights and a warning to slow down. “These early warning alerts are lifesavers, not just for the animals, but for people too,” stressed Armenta.
The work in the Payson Ranger District is far from complete. ADOT has another 50 miles of highway to widen in the coming years. State Highway 260 from Payson to Heber is being worked on at the rate of four to five miles with a construction price tag of $30 million or more per section being worked.
“Rob is great to work with and is especially responsive when it comes to working with our contractors,” said Tom Goodman of ADOT’s Payson office.
“When you’re talking about $10 million per mile of road worked, time is definitely money.”
State Highway 87 between Payson and Strawberry is also in need of work. Further collision avoidance systems are being recommended including bridges, overpasses and electronic alerting systems.
Ingram is quick to say that this is in no way an individual award. “This is a team thing,” he says. “We are all involved in this together. We have a landscape architect, an archaeologist and three other forest highway liaisons working on these projects daily.”
In addition to this most current award, Ingram and his team earned the National Environ-mental Excellence Award for Environmental Stewardship in 2008 for developing the elk crossings on the state highway 260 project. “I really feel like the coach of a small team,” he insists. “Everyone has their distinct role to play. No one can slip up because it affects the rest of us. We depend on one another’s expertise.”
In his role, Ingram helps new team members to understand the issues and how to best work alongside ADOT and the on-the-ground contractors. “The most difficult chore we have is to help ADOT and the contractors to understand that building a road isn’t about just concrete and steel,” the liaison said. “Road construction is the most disruptive project anyone could propose in the life of an ecosystem as delicate as our forest.”
During the Christopher Creek project completed in 2008, ADOT and the contractors clear cut 175 acres of ponderosa pine forest and removed 1.5 million cubic