Even for a company often cited for its roadwork expertise, The Walsh Group took pause in considering whether to pursue a potentially pivotal job 16 years ago. It became a defining moment for Matthew Walsh.
“There was a day back in 2001 when we all wondered if the Dan Ryan Expressway reconstruction was the right job for Walsh to bid,” says Daniel Walsh, the firm’s co-chairman with brother Matthew. “But Matt stood up and challenged everyone to think big, to take Walsh to another level in the industry with by far our largest program at the time. Everyone could sense the energy, focus and confidence to follow his lead, and the rest is history.”
Completed in 2007, the $724-million Dan Ryan project included 10 miles of bridge and pavement removal and replacement in high-traffic Chicago. By guiding the successful completion, Walsh had transformed the strong but local company into a muscular, flexible competitor, capable of constructing the largest and most sophisticated civil and building projects. Today, that legacy continues with the near completion of the $2.3-billion Louisville-Southern Indiana Ohio River Bridges Project.
The Chicago-based 119-year old company provides design, build, financing, operation and activation services across North America. With approximately 10,000 employees, The Walsh Group annually manages approximately $5 billion in work, making it the 11th-largest contractor in the U.S. and the country’s largest bridge builder, according to ENR. The firm operates in 19 offices as Walsh Construction, Archer Western and Walsh Canada.
A graduate of Notre Dame and the University of Loyola Law School, Matthew Walsh started in the family business in 1968 when the company was a respected Midwest general contractor. The small business grew comfortably from its 1898 roots when his grandfather, an Irish immigrant carpenter, began commercial building construction in Chicago.
“We were determined to grow the company into a larger business, and we saw the need for highway contractors in the Illinois area at the time,” says Matthew, who has served the company for 49 years.
“With a keen awareness that both growth and a more diversified business model were necessary, Matt seized the initiative in branching out into the local market for roads and bridges, water, wastewater, hydroelectric, transit, marine, tunneling, drilled shafts and other related work,” Daniel says, noting that heavy civil business is now two thirds of company annual volume.
With the company’s extended success throughout the U.S. and Canada, Matthew remains grounded in his hometown where he and his family are magnanimous benefactors of the community. In the 1980s, he helped found the Walsh Foundation, which provides grants to educational, church and civic charities.
In addition, the Walsh family also sponsors internships for inner-city minority high school students to learn about the construction industry. He and his wife are chairs at the University of Notre Dame Architecture School, where the new Matthew and Joyce Walsh Family Hall of Architecture will be named in their honor and is scheduled for completion in 2018.
His leadership skills include innovative scheduling, adaptability and communications savvy.
For the Dan Ryan project, Walsh deftly phased live traffic on one of the busiest roads in the country. “Because of the amount of traffic and the tens and thousands of truckloads we needed to move, we were able to create temporary ramps for just our trucks, which greatly reduced travel time and congestion,” Matthew says.
Currently, that leadership continues at the Ohio River Bridges Project, which comprises two joint procurements for roadways and interstate bridges spanning the Ohio River. Both are substantially complete, with punch-list items finishing up in spring 2017.
“As he did in 2001, Matt showed the same vision and determination in 2012 when the opportunity for not one but two major infrastructure projects were being proposed across the Ohio River in the Louisville area,” Daniel recalls.
The $763-million East End Crossing, a P3 led by the state of Indiana, includes 8.5 miles of new roadway connecting the eastern edge of suburban Louisville and an area just east of Jeffersonville, Ind., by way of the centerpiece 2,500-ft cable-stay Lewis and Clark Bridge. The project was the first civil P3 for The Walsh Group.
The second, the design-build, $860-million Downtown Crossing in Kentucky, includes more than 60 new ramps and overpasses, nearly 50 miles of roadway on both sides of the river, the new cable-stay Abraham Lincoln Bridge carrying six lanes of I-65 North traffic and the improved 1963 Kennedy Bridge handling the six I-65 South traffic lanes.
“Building upon the expertise and personnel developed from the Dan Ryan program and similar projects thereafter gave Matt the resources, capital and confidence to address the evolving P3 market,” Daniel says. “The need to adapt to the marketplace, coupled with the willingness to constantly encourage the organization to evolve with the marketplace, are hallmarks of Matt’s leadership.”
Just as importantly, Walsh partners with respected builders and professionals.
Andy Barber, deputy state highway engineer for the Kentucky Transportation Cabinet, credits Matthew’s “innovation and preparedness” in managing traffic through Louisville’s high-volume Kennedy Interchange—the “Spaghetti Junction” where I-64, I-65 and I-71 converge—and with adjusting scheduling for high-water days and maintaining an elevated level of public relations.
“Walsh’s role for communications was essential, through Twitter, Facebook and regular interviews with the media about when and why things are happening,” Barber says. “The public engagement was outstanding.”
Similarly, for the East End Crossing, Matthew exemplified innovation, professionalism and communication, says Jim Stark, deputy commissioner for innovative project delivery at the Indiana Finance Authority.
“Anytime we had major or even minor concerns, the Walsh leadership was responsive and took responsibility,” he says. “Matt’s leadership ensured this. Being able to receive a response right from the top, and quickly, was a key element to our success.”