Chambers County engineer praises internship program

Published 10:03 am Friday, June 30, 2023

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VALLEY — Chambers County Highway Engineer Josh Harvill was the guest speaker at Monday’s meeting of the Valley Lions Club. He talked about how beneficial a student intern program has been for the department and introduced the current intern, Auburn student Tanna Norris.

Harvill also talked about his own learning experiences in the county highway department. “I started in this department when I was a sophomore in high school,” he said. “Henry Hawkins was the engineer at the time, and I did such tasks as shoveling asphalt around signs and picking up rocks off construction sites. I pretty much did what the construction crews wanted me to do.”

Working in an engineering department was a great asset for Harvill when he went to Auburn University and majored in civil engineering.

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The proximity of Chambers County to Auburn is a huge asset as well. Past interns include his current assistant, Daniel Lundy, and Daniel’s brother, who is the current engineer in Baldwin County. Several others who are now working in county highway departments all over the state interned in Chambers County when they were Auburn students.

Highway engineers work on projects for highways, streets, bridges, drainage structures, roadway lighting, airports, and commuter trains.

Tanna is from Elba, Alabama and grew up on a farm. She’s a triplet, having been born at the same time as her brother Aaron and sister Brooklyn.

She told Lions Club members that being in Chambers County has been a good experience for her and that she has learned a lot while working on the Phillips Road intersection project.

Harvill rates the Phillips Road project and the recent construction of a bridge over the Norfolk Southern railroad near Waverly as two of the most challenging projects he has been part of.

The most frequent question he gets these days is, “When will y’all be through at Phillips Road?”

The project to put in new traffic lights and turn lanes at Phillips and Huguley roads intersection started with a $300,000 grant in 2014. There have been some ups and downs along the way with this project, especially with the weather. Outside work is hard during rainy weather, and it’s been especially difficult in 2023. Some January tornadoes and a March flood have made things really difficult for the department.

The department has a maintenance crew normally does routine road work, such as patching holes and installing pipes. Since January, they’ve done nothing but storm-related work and will keep doing it at least through July.

“We have spent a lot of money on pipes this year,” Harvill said. “We didn’t expect that at the start of the year, but you have to do that when you have tornadoes and floods.”

Harvill said he would like to finish the Phillips Road project by the end of summer but that predicting a completion date is impossible. There are just too many weather variables.

Tanna has gotten some experience in inspecting bridges. This involves looking for cracks in the concrete or places where it’s flaking. She often gets dirty doing her job but doesn’t mind it. “I grew up on a farm,” she said. “When you inspect a bridge, the most important thing is to make sure it is safe. You don’t want to see cracks or crumbling concrete.”

The hardest thing for her is sitting behind a computer – she wants to do the outdoor work.

Tanna has done a lot of traveling since high school. She joined the Air Force Reserves at 17 and has been in over 20 countries. She has been interested in being a highway engineer since she met the one in her home county when she was working at Mcdonald’s in Elba. She said that she’s always liked outdoor work and wants to take on the challenge of solving problems utilizing math and science. Being a highway engineer often involves being near moving traffic, under bridges, and wading swampy areas.

“Being with the Chambers County Highway Department has been a good experience for me,” she said. “Coming here was one of the best decisions I have ever made. I appreciate the opportunity to be here.”

When the Phillips Road project is complete, the department will focus on improving the road leading to the Lanett airport. There’s some work going on this summer along the airport’s taxiway and apron. The work on the airport road may be delayed while this is taking place. It will be a tricky project once it commences. “Flooding is a frequent problem there,” Harvill explained.

It may be necessary to raise the road level some.

“We are glad to have Tanna. She’s doing a great job for us,” Harvill said. “The student internship program has been a huge asset for us. It’s a valuable learning experience for them, and we get some much needed help.”

Harvill invites anyone interested in an engineering career and who would consider getting some practical experience in road work to call him at his office in LaFayette. He can be reached at (334) 864-4377.