Safety Career Pathways Spotlights
The Safety Career Pathways Spotlights showcase professionals in the transportation safety field to help students and prospective workers learn more about these careers. The Spotlights underscore the diversity of career paths that professionals take to become leaders in safety, share professionals’ recommendations to other safety practitioners or those considering working in the safety field, and describe strategies and initiatives implemented that have made meaningful impacts on safety outcomes and created job pride and satisfaction.
Ms. Marandino began with the South Jersey Transportation Planning Organization (SJTPO) in March of 2011, previously serving as Team Leader of Capital Programming and Safety, where she managed the region’s Local Safety Program as well as the $10 million Local Leads Program. Prior to her working at SJTPO, Ms. Marandino worked in the traffic and transportation engineering field for 10 years. She has a Bachelor of Science in Civil Engineering from The Pennsylvania State University and Master of Science in Transportation from New Jersey Institute of Technology. She is a member of the Institute of Transportation Engineers (ITE) and is a registered Professional Engineer in the State of New Jersey. Although her first job out of college was in the transportation field, it wasn’t until she began working at SJTPO in 2011 that safety became one of her passions. Jennifer reminisced that one of the first job tasks she was assigned at SJTPO was to utilize the Highway Safety Manual to support proposed signal improvements at a local intersection near the office. She remembers that “the Manual was only recently released and I needed to use the safety predictions to justify spending federal Highway Safety Improvement Program funding on the proposed improvement. It turns out that I made a few errors in my analysis, but the local jurisdiction received their federal funding and the intersection was upgraded with pedestrian enhancements next to a high school. I was intrigued that safety performance could be quantified in a way that had not previously existed and it could now be given more consideration against capacity and level of service.”
SJTPO is unique in its dual focus on safety–taking an active role in both the behavioral and infrastructure side of safety. SJTPO has had a long-standing commitment to traffic safety, as an early adopter of an award-winning Road Safety Audit Program, the first Metropolitan Planning Organization (MPO) in New Jersey to use the Highway Safety Manual (HMS) to determine the benefit of a safety improvement, and through the development of a robust Traffic Safety Outreach and Education Program, dating back to 1998. Most of all, Jennifer is proud to say that SJTPO has been flexible with their approach to safety. The MPO currently takes a very active role working with their subregional partners, beginning with project development through to authorization of safety dollars. Jennifer notes “we realized that our partners are unable to exclusively dedicate time and resources to safety, so we have administered technical studies or completed tasks in house to help with this effort; whether it be data collection, scope development, or safety benefit analysis. All our efforts are geared to moving a project through to implementation.” When asked for some insight on carrying the safety message forward, Jennifer provided us with the following sentiments: “Everyone has a role in safety, everyone must work together for us to achieve zero fatalities on our roadways. As an engineer, my role is to improve the safety of our roadways and intersections through improvements to our infrastructure. And those infrastructure improvements can be simply adding a low-cost countermeasure to a resurfacing project already planned. At the MPO we are working with our subregional partners to fund those improvements but also with the public to make sure they are aware of the small acts that they can do that might have an impact on improving safety.” Outside of her work in safety, Jennifer enjoys volunteering her time to the school her daughter attends and serves on the planning committee for her town’s community day. She is a 10-year veteran of the Susan G. Komen Breast Cancer 3-day, where she has raised over $25,000 and walked over 600 miles.
Timothy E. Barnett, P.E., PTOE, is the State Safety Operations Engineer for the Alabama Department of Transportation.
Even a quick glance at Tim’s background will illustrate his commitment to roadway safety. From an early age, he cultivated an interest in traffic engineering due to his involvement in a minor intersection crash at the age of twelve. Later that month, he was assigned a social studies project for school and chose “Improving Safety at an Intersection” as the topic. Tim developed an alternative design and operation for the intersection where the crash occurred, and his design led to several meetings with city and ALDOT officials. Subsequently, the city’s Transportation Director offered him a job when he turned 16. At that age, Tim took the city Transportation Director up on his employment offer and began a career with the City of Huntsville, Alabama while attending college. He ultimately became their Traffic Engineer. After twenty years with Huntsville, Tim joined the Alabama Department of Transportation as a Right-of-Way Engineer and later took a position as a Highway Design Engineer. About seven years ago, the ALDOT Chief Engineer asked him to lead the newly formed Office of Safety Operations, where he works to advance roadway safety on all roadways throughout Alabama, through planning, design, construction, maintenance, and operations of the roadway system.
Tim’s career focuses on traffic operations and traffic safety at the federal, state, and local levels. He holds a B.S. and M.S. in Civil Engineering from the University of Alabama in Huntsville. Tim maintains a professional engineer’s license in Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, and Mississippi and is a certified Professional Traffic Operations Engineer.
Since Tim’s career started at the local level, he understands the importance of providing assistance, training, and opportunities for local roadway safety workers. With the numerous demands on local agencies, roadway safety is often not given the same priority as other critical issues, such as bridges and road maintenance. To help advance safety at the local level, Tim identified the need to implement opportunities for local agencies to learn from state and national roadway safety experts. In addition to one-on-one consulting with local agencies, Tim hosts an annual Rural Road Safety Conference and Workshop. The conference location is a serene rural state park lodge with a spectacular view along the Tennessee River. Approximately 125 participants learn and discuss topics as varied as low-cost safety measures, rural roundabout design, and safety management legal aspects. The isolated location provides relaxed and positive opportunities for continuous networking and interaction during meals and the evening hours. The event’s target audience includes county and small city/town engineers; the conference agenda varies from year-to-year to keep the conference fresh. Speakers include federal professionals with expertise on safety countermeasures and state and local engineers and consultants who work in areas that effect roadway safety. The ALDOT Traffic & Safety Operations Section leads the successful Rural Road Safety Conference and Workshop, with Stuart Manson, P.E., Safety Systems Engineer from the Traffic & Safety Operations Section, heading up the agenda development. The event is coordinated with assistance from the Alabama LTAP at Auburn University.
In addition to response and resolution of highway safety concerns on the Alabama public roadway system, he is responsible for managing the implementation of the Highway Safety Manual, Highway Safety Improvement Program, and other safety activities for ALDOT. Tim is a Fellow of ITE, and a member of ASCE, ASEM, and IMSA.
Tim is a dedicated and respected professional with a reputation extending far beyond his home state. Consequently, he is often recruited to serve on AASHTO and TRB Committees, Panels, and Working Groups, speak at statewide and national conferences, and participate in peer exchanges. Among other things, he is making numerous contributions to road safety workforce development in a field where formal multidisciplinary, multimodal road safety training and education are nonexistent at present.
We asked Tim if he could share one sentiment with the safety community, what would that sentiment be? “In most states the majority of severe crashes occur on rural roads. These crashes have common typologies where simple safety countermeasures applications can effectively and efficiently reduce crash occurrence and severity. Generally, persons with local level road safety responsibility are deeply committed to community safety, and it is only a lack of knowledge that prevents safety countermeasure implementation. As Benjamin Franklin once said, “An investment in knowledge always pays the best interest.” To that end, I have always placed a high priority on knowledge advancement and transfer amongst my colleagues and friends.”
Marie B. Walsh is the Director of the Louisiana Local Technical Assistance Program at the Louisiana Transportation Research Center. Marie is a long time local road safety advocate.
Marie began her professional career in the environmental engineering field, and was involved with the environmental auditing and systems management field nationally before moving to the Louisiana Department of Environment Quality (LDEQ.) At the LDEQ she managed the Technical Services Program of the Air Quality Division. Performing a wide variety of tasks ranging from intensive emissions data collection and analysis, emissions inventory development, tracking compliance performance measures, outreach and training to industrial and governmental organizations, and coordination with other parts of the LDEQ and with the Environmental Protection Agency. Marie recalls maintaining the technical library for the department and began working on electronic information resources before the internet was popularized.
Looking back, Marie believes that now we would call the work of the Technical Services Program a “multi-disciplinary,” data driven approach to reducing toxic air emissions. “We worked to improve and expand federal, state and local data collection to ensure that critical data elements were available to allow better problem identification and mitigation strategies. Extensive outreach and education of industry and community groups was necessary. Providing technical, data-laden information in a usable form to diverse user groups was a constant challenge.” The parallels between that job and today’s safety initiatives have become more apparent over time. But to Marie, safety has remained more challenging, and certainly more interesting.
The challenges involved with improving the processes that supported the functions of the Technical Services Program led Marie back to LSU where she began a PhD program in Human Resource Education and Workforce Development; structuring her coursework so she could learn about business process re-engineering and improvement, performance management, organizational development, leadership training, and workforce development.
Marie’s link to the LTAP program evolved through her work with the East Baton Rouge (EBR) City Parish in the Quality and Employee Development Department. She was familiar with the LTAP Program through her work with the EBR Public Works, where they had often hosted LTAP classes in their training facility. Marie was fortunate enough to hear about the Director position and was hired at LTAP 2004.
Marie shares how she become involved in safety as it relates to the transportation field.
“I attended my first TRB meeting in January of 2004, five days after I started with LTAP. I went to every session that remotely related to local roads, low volume roads, safety and workforce development. The safety ones were the most interesting and compelling. I returned to Baton Rouge with questions as to why Louisiana did not have a local roads safety program and closer to home, why our Louisiana LTAP didn’t teach road safety classes or offer safety technical assistance. When hurricanes Katrina and Rita devastated Louisiana in 2005 the LA DOTD was working on the first comprehensive Strategic Highway Safety Plan (SHSP). LTAP represented the locals (who were swamped with disaster recovery efforts) at the SHSP meetings. When the Local Road Safety Program was proposed for inclusion in the SHSP, a leader was needed. Seeing the opportunity, I volunteered and committed.”
For more than two decades, Scott has worked with the Washington Department of Transportation and Local Technical Assistance Programs to provide training and support for local road safety plans. He has been instrumental in the development of the systemic safety approach to identifying road safety improvements in Washington. This activity has become a best practice model for other local governments, especially as Scott shares the experience of developing and administering local road safety plans with broader audiences around the country through webinars and workshops. Scott recommends that others create local road safety plans as the single most effective activity to improve safety. In this light, Scott has been a key part of the National Association of County Engineers (NACE) and Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) Local Road Safety Plan Pilot Program — a training program that culminates in a hands-on workshop for counties to develop actual local road safety plans.
Scott, who lives with his wife and two daughters in the Pacific Northwest, is the Traffic Engineering and Operations Manager for Thurston County in Washington. He became interested in safety partly due to his professional responsibilities as a county engineer, but his attention to safety was reinforced with the birth of his first daughter. Scott shares that “driving a small infant home for the first time made me reflect upon how I drive, the impact of my behavior on others, and most importantly, the health and welfare of my family. This reflection also led me to re-think priorities and focus at work and truly led me down a different and safer path.” For his work in promoting safety on rural roads, often utilizing a grassroots approach with small local and tribal agencies, Scott has been recognized with the David P. Brand Safety Award by the National Association of County Engineers (2018).
Impact of professional activities on society:
Scott led the design and delivery process for many safety upgrades in Thurston County, including warning signs, wide edge lines, rumble strips, new guardrails, intersection lane narrowing, pedestrian improvements, and traffic signal upgrades. He also was the Project Engineer for speed limit studies on more than 25 roads, traffic calming studies for 20 neighborhoods, and helped develop the county ADA transition plan. He also facilitated a partnership with the county prosecutor’s office and the Washington Traffic Safety Commission to procure and deploy radar speed signs at high priority locations. This involvement demonstrates Scott’s commitment to Thurston County, Washington State, the organizations he serves, and the safety community.
Byron Bluehorse is an Assistant Professor with the University of Alaska Fairbanks, Tribal Management Program.
Byron is also the manager of the Alaska Tribal Technical Assistance Program, whose mission is to help tribes become aware of the significance of tribal transportation issues through education and training, to help tribes define transportation systems that enhance community and economic development, promote desired land use, protect cultural resources, to orient and coordinate federal, state and local governments, and maximize efficient use of indigenous transportation resources.
Byron Bluehorse is an enrolled member of the Navajo Nation. He holds a bachelor’s degree in University Studies and a master’s degree in Community and Regional Planning from the University of New Mexico. From 1993-1997, Byron served in the U.S. Marine Corps, an experience which led him to Japan, Panama, and the Philippines. After receiving an honorable discharge, Byron returned home to New Mexico to pursue a higher education. While in graduate school, Byron served as an AmeriCorps volunteer where he helped to establish the University of New Mexico Tribal Service Corps. Byron’s past employment experience includes the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, U.S. Forest Service, Resource Center for Raza Planning and Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA). After moving to Alaska in 2005, Byron began working as a Contracts and Grants Specialist for the BIA. In this capacity, he provided technical assistance in the area of P.L. 93-638 Indian Self-Determination contracting to tribal entities in the Interior and Arctic Slope regions. Byron currently lives in Fairbanks and is a member of the American Planning Association.
Becoming involved in safety
While working for the Alaska Tribal Technical Assistance Program Center (AKTTAP), Byron met many Tribal planners who were passionate about shedding light on the need for more safety opportunities. Those mentors opened his eyes to the safety arena. AKTTAP eventually hosted a Regional Safety Summit, which many Tribal Governments participated in, to raise awareness of available opportunities and technology to improve and develop new programs. They also worked with several Tribes to develop safety plans. AKTTAP also held a peer-to-peer safety workshop session where they utilized Tribal input to create a safety website (tribalsafety.org) where Tribes can access numerous resources.
Byron shared an example of a safety activity that he has been involved with that he feels could be a best practice for others. He has participated in several Road Safety Audit (RSA) teams, one of which led to a report in which he served as lead author. Byron commented that being a part of these teams has opened his eyes to the history, process, and benefits of an RSA. He strongly encourages anyone interested in RSAs to take RSA training and participate in an RSA audit. Such opportunities provided him with a better understanding of the built environment and the movement of people. He also developed a greater appreciation for low-cost options such as roadway reconfiguration, also known as Road Diets.
One recommendation that Byron would like to share with the safety community is to listen to your clients and the community, as they have the local knowledge of the roads that they drive daily and can add valuable insight to safety concerns. Quantitative data can help, but gathering local knowledge and stories increases greater success to find and implementing counter measures that could be used.
Joe Marek has always had a love of transportation and it was only fitting that he became a transportation engineer after pursuing a bachelor’s and master’s degree in Civil Engineering from the University of Idaho. He enjoys all modes of transportation–walking, biking, motorcycling, even horseback riding! Using all of these different modes has certainly helped diversify his perspective as a designer. His career with Clackamas County began nearly 28 years ago after some time spent in consulting.
While Joe has always been interested in safety, his interest started to progressively increase after he assumed the role of Staff Liaison for the Clackamas County Traffic Safety Commission in the mid-1990s. This group helped sharpen his focus on safety. Joe says, “safety resonated with me due to a severe crash that my family was in when I was very young resulting in severe injuries to my parents.” One of his most important career achievements was leading the effort at Clackamas County to develop a Transportation Safety Action Plan in 2012.
The safety program has since grown, and the County now has a Traffic Safety Program with its own budget line as well as County-wide performance measures associated with fatalities that are reported quarterly. Joe shared that he has “an incredible team of professionals that help get all of the good work done.”
Impact of professional activities on society:
Joe suggests that leading the effort for a Transportation Safety Action Plan, participating in a road safety audit, and sharing traffic safety efforts and concerns at community meetings can really make a positive impact on local road safety. Joe provides this food for thought: “Traffic Safety starts with you! As I do my work, I believe that everyone deserves to get home safely to their family every night. I can set a good example by being a safe user of the transportation system regardless of my mode choice. Also, I believe it is very important not to be judgmental about people since we do not know their situation when a crash occurs. People do not wake up in the morning with the intention of being in a crash. When we look at our own transportation system, we need to think about it from the user’s perspective and, for a moment, cast aside our knowledge of standards to imagine what the road is not communicating to a driver that may be a contributing cause to a crash. Then we can better figure out what we can do to improve it. Lastly, sometimes what we do might not work and it’s ok to admit that and to make changes.”
Anthony is a Law Enforcement Liaison (LEL) working for the New York State Highway Safety Office – the Governor’s Traffic Safety Committee (GTSC). He is assigned there by the New York State Sheriffs’ Association (NYSSA). Anthony worked for the Rensselaer County Sheriff’s Office for 25 years prior to retiring in 2015 to accept the LEL position.
The law enforcement liaison position provides an excellent pathway for Anthony and others across the country to support highway safety initiatives. The LEL program, supported by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) and the Governor’s Highway Safety Association (GHSA), offers a framework for states to have individuals in their highway safety office that enhance communications with law enforcement agencies, ensure greater coordination of crash reduction activities statewide, and coordinate training to increase the knowledge and skills of other highway safety professionals.
Having seen the results of dangerous driving first-hand as an officer, Anthony welcomed his new role in highway safety eagerly with hopes to help make a difference. He remembers the notifications he made to families of crash victims and wants to see less of those visits occur.
Impact of professional activities on society:
One of Anthony’s goals at the GTSC is to make sure rural road safety is considered when highway safety plans are being made. Those plans may include the delivery of teen driver crash reduction educational materials to rural high schools or grant proposal training to Sheriff’s Offices and Police Departments that are outside of cities. In 2017, Anthony coordinated the first New York State Slow Moving Vehicle Symposium hosted by the NYSSA with grant funding from GTSC. The symposium was an enormous success. There were over 90 attendees from all walks of life: agriculture was represented by the New York Farm Bureau and individual farmers; law enforcement was represented by 20 police agencies; construction was represented by people from county highway departments and public works departments; there were even representatives from the Amish community present. The focus was on ways to reduce crashes involving slow moving vehicles and how to better spread the “Share the Road” message.
Anthony would like people to have a greater appreciation for the loss of life due to motor vehicle crashes. Can we do more to prevent crashes and save lives?
Chris Strong is the Transportation Division Manager for the city of Gresham, Oregon. Chris is a civil engineer with bachelor’s and master’s degrees from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute and the University of Texas at Austin, respectively. He has been in the transportation field for over 20 years spanning planning, engineering, research, and management. His previous positions include working for a metropolitan planning organization, a consulting firm, the Western Transportation Institute (WTI), and another municipal government. He is a registered professional engineer in both Oregon and Wisconsin.
Chris first became involved in safety during his time at WTI, where he led or supported various research projects related to how highway safety overlapped with severe weather and the role that technology solutions could play in reducing crash rates. He served as program manager for operations and safety, where they grappled with not only local safety issues, but the higher fatality rates that exist systematically in rural environments. At this time, Chris came to recognize that improving roadway design can help with safety outcomes, but that alone will not be sufficient to really move the needle on safety. After his tenure at WTI, Chris oversaw traffic engineering for two small cities, where each fatal or severe crash takes on a more personal meaning for the community.
We asked Chris to share an example of a safety activity that he has been involved with, or one that he feels could be a best practice for others. “In my municipal government experience, I have found it very helpful to collaborate with local law enforcement, especially in terms of two-way communication about issues that we are seeing with roadway safety. I benefit in learning from their field observations as well as in understanding the constraints and challenges of their jobs. I have also found it important to leverage the crash data we have, in order to better understand the crashes that are happening. Finally, I have found it helpful to look at the stories behind the individual crashes from more of a human interest level. I owe it to the victims of these crashes to understand what contributed to these crashes, and what if anything could be done to avoid replicating them.”
Chris believes that road safety is a profoundly personal issue for those who have suffered loss. He says that starting from a position of empathy helps all those involved in the safety community to identify ways we can work better together and embrace the outside-the-box thinking needed for improving rural road safety.
John P. Miller, P.E. is the Traffic Liaison Engineer in Highway Safety and Traffic for the Missouri Department of Transportation (MoDOT) and is their former Traffic Safety Engineer.
John shared his reasons for pursuing a career in transportation safety.
“Rural road safety is very important to me and is a critical part of our effort to drive down roadway fatalities. Growing up on a farm in rural Missouri allowed me to understand dedication, devotion, commitment, and community as well as the importance of a vast transportation system.
This transportation system allowed cousins, aunts, uncles, nieces, nephews, sisters, brothers, children, my spouse, and my parents to attend a very special occasion – my grandmother celebrated her 106th birthday. My family has always been very close and much of this is directly tied to our rural upbringing. This transportation system has also involved a fatality of a cousin on a rural Missouri road. It has also changed the life of another due to a drinking involved crash. Rural roadway safety is very important, and everyone plays a role.”
He also shared how he become involved in safety as a career.
“While I have been directly linked to roadway safety due to personal situations, I have to say it was mostly due to my work in the Traffic Division of MoDOT that led me down this career path. My first experience in safety was related to the reviewing of traffic crash reports and determining corrective action. I found the work to be very interesting and even rewarding knowing you were making a positive difference with safety projects you are implementing.
Eventually I was given an opportunity to manage the traffic and safety areas of our Transportation Management Systems (TMS). TMS is a data system that ties our crash, roadway, bridge, roadsides, and other data elements by a common referencing system. This system has allowed us to make decisions based on what the data is telling us, and it has allowed me to have a better understanding of safety. I believe it is a vital element in any safety professional’s career to have a data background.
Prior to my current position, I served as the state’s Traffic Safety Engineer. This leadership position involved a great deal of public involvement and speaking opportunities at both the state and national level. It involved moving numerous safety initiatives forward using systemic safety analysis to determine opportunity locations for implementation. It involved being a team player while serving on numerous teams including as “Data Driven Safety Analysis” member for FHWA, Missouri LTAP Advisory Committee, AASHTO Subcommittee on Safety Management, and various NCHRP research initiatives. The position also involved implementation of the Highway Safety Manual (HSM) within MoDOT.
My current position involves management of the safety section (includes the Traffic Safety Engineer position) as well as signing, marking, access and other various areas in the office of Highway Safety and Traffic. I am also involved with behavioral safety issues working closely with the Highway Safety Director – changing traffic safety culture is vital to bringing down roadway fatalities.
I also want to add that I am very fortunate to have a safety mentor to help me stay the path – Dr. Tom Welch (former State Safety Engineer from Iowa DOT). Tom has always been very helpful and has provided positive guidance over the years, especially when I first began my role as the Traffic Safety Engineer. He always said the State Safety Engineer position at the DOT is the best position to have and he is correct – very rewarding to put in place so many safety initiatives that make a difference.”
John shared an example of a safety activity that he was involved with and one that he feels could be a best practice for others.
“I want to continue to promote systemic safety analysis and project implementation. I really believe that much of the success we have had in our state relates to our analysis methods and ultimately treatment of “like” situations and locations. For instance, much of our traffic crash issues relate to roadway departure. We used our data to identify a system of roads that share characteristics and treat them all with a safety countermeasure. The easiest example of how we used systemic safety analysis relates to cross-median type crashes and installation of median guard cable. We evaluated our divided roadways and learned early on that spot treatments would not eliminate this devastating crash type. If the situation was similar just down the road, then why not treat it as well. That method has since translated into other safety initiatives and thousands of miles of safety countermeasures installed.
I also want to share a data area best practice. Since 2002, the Missouri State Highway Patrol has “shared” the same crash data system with MoDOT. We are very fortunate that we were able to make this work as it has eliminated any duplication of effort. It has also allowed us to improve our data quality over time since we work closely on data issues. I highly recommend other states emulate this successful effort.”
For the safety community, he shared the following sentiment.
“At a conference to describe our roadway visibility improvements in Missouri, I said we want our roads to look like runways to motorists. In other words, we want to provide visibility features like bright stripes and reflective tabs to assist drivers in all driving conditions, especially when it may be dark and rainy where is becomes very difficult for drivers. These are some of the lowest cost safety countermeasures we can do, but they may make the difference.
Ultimately, it will take every one of us to get to zero fatalities. You cannot do this alone, so reach out to your peers and share your ideas and countermeasures that are working. And finally, live safety by changing your own culture. If you speed, slow down. If you talk on the phone, stop (even using Bluetooth). If you aren’t using a seatbelt, well I’ll just stop there…”