A recent Illinois Department of Transportation blog post provided an inside look at how the agency manages roadside vegetation along state roads and rest areas – work that is the specialty of Andy Star (above), who joined the agency in 2020 after nearly two decades in the private sector.

[Above photo by the Illinois DOT]

Stahr – a roadside management specialist serving Illinois DOT District 3 – is responsible for managing all the off-road, or “roadside,” conditions, in the counties of Dekalb, Kendall, LaSalle, Bureau, Grundy, Livingston, Kankakee, Iroquois, and Ford.

“This typically includes working with the district maintenance yards and deploying our Landscape Section highway maintainers in the management of roadside vegetation as well as man­agement of the rest area facilities and grounds,” he explained in the blog post. “District 3 has approximately 12,000 acres of vegetation to manage and is responsible for eight interstate rest area buildings.”

Stahr said vegetation management tasks include overseeing the implementation of mowing policy; the agency’s herbicide spraying program; and the installation of new turf, pollinator plantings or landscape plantings.

“An argument could be made that the most important impact of the work I do, in the big picture anyway, is the creation, enhancement and preservation of pollinator and prairie habitats along Illinois DOT rights of way,” he said.

“However, the most important and direct impact of my work to the traveling public is more likely keeping the rest areas open and functioning properly,” Stahr noted.

“Doing so provides a safe space for travelers to stop and rest. These facilities also provide shelter to travelers in times of severe weather. The buildings have provided a safe place for drivers during tornado-like conditions,” he explained. “We’ve also heard from truck drivers that the rest areas have literally saved their lives by providing a warm place to shelter when their truck broke down in the dead of winter and nobody can get to them due to bad road conditions.”

Sthar is a U.S. Army veteran and University of Illinois graduate with a bachelor’s in landscape architecture. While in college, he was selected as one of 17 students on a project team to travel to Agra, India, for a site visit. “We spent two and a half weeks in India and spent the semester designing a tourism corridor around the Taj Mahal,” he noted.

Following school, Stahr worked for a multidisciplinary engineering and architecture firm in multiple professional design disciplines – work experience he said “opened my eyes” to the complex nature of development projects.

“Whether it’s a new retail store or a roadway project, it takes a team of professionals to successfully complete these projects,” he said. “In the years before I joined Illinois DOT, I worked for an ecological restoration firm. That experience prepared me for vegetation management and gave me a thorough understanding of how to design, install, and maintain native plantings and pollinator sites successfully.”