Collaborative and proactive are words that best describe the efforts of Michael Simmons, the state Department of Transportation's new Beaver County maintenance manager.
Mr. Simmons, of Raccoon, started in his new position Sept. 1 with much verve that he said has translated into new ideas aimed at increasing efficiency and maintaining a high level of service within the department.
As manager, Mr. Simmons oversees 111 county employees responsible for the maintenance of 604 state roadway miles and 336 state-owned bridges.
"It's going to be a new challenge for me," he said. "I hope to improve some things out there, and I think I can bring some good changes to the county. I'm looking forward to that."
Mr. Simmons has been with PennDOT since 1992 and has held numerous positions: civil engineer, transportation; senior civil engineer supervisor in the design division, project development unit; senior civil engineer supervisor, maintenance division; and his most recent position, District 11's maintenance programs engineer.
He said one of his many goals is to encourage more collaboration with Beaver County municipalities. He cited limited funding as his motivation to reach out to them and said it makes sense to share resources.
"We do some work for the municipalities, and they turn around and do some work for us," he said. "Whereas we excel in one area, maybe they can help us in another area where maybe we don't have the manpower to take care of it."
Cycle maintenance is one goal that Mr. Simmons said he hopes to see come to fruition.
The proactive approach ensures that all roadways are maintained on a cyclical basis with resources concentrated in one area at a time. The approach is cost-saving and efficient, which Mr. Simmons said is important with funding looking pretty bleak.
The top of his to-do list is something that soon will be on the minds of most Western Pennsylvania residents -- snow.
"That's something where you can't drop the ball," he said.
"We want to be efficient, we want to use our equipment the best we can and manpower the best we can."
Mr. Simmons said he would like to see more municipalities participate in PennDOT's municipal snow-removal agreement program through which they agree to plow snow and ice from state highways within their boundaries.
PennDOT began preparations for the upcoming winter season in August with setting up schedules and snow routes. Throughout the summer, Mr. Simmons said, crews worked on plows and spreaders and are now concentrating on bringing in the trucks for winter maintenance.
Last year's mild temperatures left a surplus of salt, he said, leaving sheds stockpiled and ready to go.
With winter always a challenge, Mr. Simmons said this year he hopes to improve the department's response time to unexpected weather events and take a proactive approach to snowfall by pre-treating roadways and having staff on hand in case of emergency call-outs.
He hopes that increased efficiency, proactivity and collaboration with municipalities will achieve another goal that he has for his tenure -- improving PennDOT's image.
"We've taken some blows to the chin before because there are things that we could've done better," he said. "Sometimes people don't understand the struggles that we face with funding and with different things that can constrain how we operate.
"That's something I'd like to get out and explain and be more vocal with the municipalities and community as to what we're doing and why we're doing it."
His motivation to maintain quality service is driven, he said, by his personal stake in Beaver County, where he has lived for more than 43 years.
"To me, it's like coming home," he said. "It's exciting for me. I'm familiar with the roads, I know the people here. It's my family, it's my neighbors. It's very personal for me."
Shannon M. Nass, freelance writer: email@example.com