Born and raised on Chicago’s South Side, Anne Bigane Wilson has weathered more than her fair share of harsh winters, which wouldn’t be so bad except that she is an asphalt paving contractor.
“It gets cold here,” Wilson laughed. “It snows here every year and it gets cold. We’re located in a really unique portion of the country. Unlike our neighbors to the north – where when they get cold, it stays cold – we can have as many as 35 to 40 freeze-thaw cycles in a given season. It wreaks havoc on the paving.”
Wilson, P.E., CPC, M.ASCE, has devoted her career to that Chicago pavement as a fourth-generation family owner of Bigane Paving Co., one of the leading contracting companies in the country. For that work, ASCE has honored Wilson as the 2017 Outstanding Project And Leaders award winner in construction.
Bigane Paving has done a lot of work over the years for the city of Chicago. One project, in particular, maybe sums up both the unique weather challenges and Bigane’s innovative solutions: the North Avenue Bridge replacement.
Wilson’s team was tasked with paving the temporary bridge over the Chicago River, built to function while the new bridge was under construction. But sure enough, at the end of the project, the Chicago weather complicated matters.
With snow flurries altering the plans, Bigane Paving was called in at the last minute to seal the pavement on the permanent bridge replacement with asphalt rather than latex.
Wilson and company binded the road with a new asphalt, despite the freezing temperatures, using unique mix design provided by the City’s consultant. Ten years later, there’s not a single crack.
“It’s one of those jobs that was really interesting to do,” Wilson said. “There’s nothing in the textbook or specifications that says you should do what we did. And certainly, nothing that says it [the paving] should be still be OK 10 years later. But it is.”
Wilson earned bachelor’s and master’s degrees at Purdue University before starting her career at Rieth-Riley Construction in Goshen, IN. She returned home to Chicago in 1985 to work for her father at Bigane, where she computerized the estimating department. Less than three years later, her father’s sudden death pushed her into the role of CEO at 29.
“I was young and I wasn’t as prepared as I wanted to be,” Wilson said. “But you don’t always get to make choices in life. Sometimes life makes those choices for you. I feel very fortunate because I think my Purdue education prepared me as much as I could be prepared. My family, my husband, our employees – we kind of muddled on, and we started to grow from there.”
Wilson also serves as CEO of Ogden Avenue Materials and Reliable Ogden LLC, hot-mix asphalt production facilities. She is active in a variety of professional and community organizations as well, including the Federation of Women Contractors (past president), the American Subcontractors Association (past president), the Purdue Construction Engineering and Management Industry Advisory Council, and the March of Dimes.
And 28 years into her run as president of Bigane Paving, the company remains the kind of place that attracts dozens of former employees to the annual holiday party.
“If it hadn’t been a good place to work, I don’t think they would come back like that,” Wilson said. “I’m proud that as we’ve grown we’ve been able to maintain the sense of family with our employees.”
This year’s OPAL winners will be honored at the 2017 OPAL Gala, March 16, in Arlington, VA.