A newsmaker you should know: His ideal job combines engineering and planning

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Clearly, Andrew Blenko enjoys multitasking.

Hired by North Huntingdon in 2006 to serve as both its planning director and engineer, he said he finds both jobs a perfect match.

"When I was hired, the commissioners were concerned about the cost of outside engineering firms and decided to hire their own in-house engineer," he said. "At the same time, the planning director left for another job, and the commissioners asked me if I'd be willing to take both positions."

Mr. Blenko, 57, has an engineering degree plus he had planning experience, including a stint as chairman of the Wilkins planning commission. He said he splits his time roughly in half for each job.

"Many times, I look at the same issues but see them from two different points of view," he said. "As planning director, I try to head off problems before they happen. As an engineer, I try to fix problems that arise. Each viewpoint helps me do my job better."

When he first took the jobs in North Huntingdon, he said, the community's biggest issues were traffic congestion and stormwater management and drainage. They are still big areas of concern, he said.

"A lot of our traffic problems come from our state roads, especially Route 30," he said. "While there's little we can do about it, we have made some progress."

Two years ago, the township completed an upgrade of its traffic signals, which Mr. Blenko said was very successful. In the planning stage are intersection improvements and better access to certain sites in the township.

"The biggest bottleneck is Route 30 around the turnpike," he said. "If the state widens Route 30 to three lanes from the turnpike to the Arona Road intersection, that would help alleviate some congestion. We're meeting with the turnpike commission this month to discuss the matter."

As for stormwater management and drainage issues, he said that every time someone cuts down a tree, paves a driveway or grades a yard, it changes the water drainage pattern and ultimately impacts others.

"It's a constant battle to see that new development or property changes don't have a negative impact on properties downhill from them," he said.

After graduating from Penn State University in 1979 with a degree in civil engineering, he worked for Allegheny County and what is now the state Department of Environmental Protection as a consulting engineer. At that time, he also attended Duquesne University Law School at night, the same career pattern established by his father and grandfather before him.

From 1989 to 1994, he worked in two Pittsburgh law firms in construction litigation and insurance defense work. However, he said, he found litigation to be an inefficient way to settle disputes because the cases almost always ended with no one being happy with the result.

"I went to a career counselor and took a number of standardized tests and found that I was an engineer to the core," he said. "I felt I could solve more problems as an engineer than as a lawyer and decided to get back in the field."

For the dozen years before he took the township position, he worked for two engineering consulting firms and ran his own consulting firm.

He also is actively involved in Blenko Glass, a company his great-grandfather, William Blenko, started in 1893 in Milton, W.Va. Six years ago, when the company was floundering, partly because of the economy, his father, Walter Blenko, stepped in as president and helped turn the business around.

Each August, Blenko Glass stages a popular two-day festival, and Mr. Blenko and family go to Milton to lend a hand.

"I've come to realize how important it is to have the family involved with the company," said Mr. Blenko, a father of three.

In March 2012, Iowa Public Television made a documentary about the glass company. It has been picked up by other PBS stations across the nation, including Pittsburgh's WQED.

"Since the documentary aired, I can't believe how many people have come up to me to say they've seen me in the film," Mr. Blenko said.

neigh_east - neigh_westmoreland

Dave Zuchowski, freelance writer: suburbanliving@post-gazette.com.


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