Robyn Briggs, safety press officer in PennDOT District 6, conducted the interview with Mr. McGowen.
June 17, 1966 was the first day of Bernard McGowen's longtime career with PennDOT. He started as summer help between college years, then decided to stick around for a while – more than 5 decades to be exact.
Bernard B. McGowen is a Transportation Construction Manager in PennDOT's District 6, based in the greater Philadelphia area.
"My title is Transportation Construction Manager 3. Currently, I am managing the new ADA ramp projects within District 6," McGowen said. "Plus, I manage the federal assistance to municipality projects within the City of Philadelphia."
The Pennsylvania Department of Transportation was created in 1970. Starting his career in 1966 with the PA Department of Highways, McGowen has been with us since the very beginning. So, why did he stay all these years?
"It was interesting work," he said. "It always kept me interested and put food on the table, so I stayed."
Over the years, McGowen has worked primarily in construction, but he was also on a maintenance crew for 3 years as an assistant county manager. Additionally, he worked in municipal services, starting in Chester County and ending in Bucks County.
His current position is the one he's enjoyed most, noting that most of his career in the construction unit has been leading up to this.
Over the years, McGowen has witnessed many changes at PennDOT. Going from paper to computer is one of the most obvious ways PennDOT's operations has changed, and he also noted that he's progressively gained more responsibility over the years while climbing his way up the ladder.
"Outside of that, it's pretty much the same," he added. "The details change, but the programs and overall way you work have not changed very much."
McGowen enjoys having new things to do every day – new projects to take on and new responsibilities to manage.
His most memorable project was on Route 536 around Lake Nockamixon in Bucks County. The working conditions were unique compared to other projects he was involved with. The outside work was the same as any other place, but working in this specific location had perks.
"As our field office, we had a house which is now the Park Visitor Center," he reminisced. "In the wintertime, we had free firewood from the park and we had the fire roaring all the time, and we had a kitchen there to make coffee or whatever."
McGowen mentioned that he's well beyond retirement age at this point, but he's still with PennDOT because he's having fun! When he retires, he'll miss being busy and having technical challenges to deal with.
As someone with nearly 55 years of experience with the department, McGowen is in a unique position to offer his perspective on PennDOT's future.
"I'd like to see the young engineers look to and learn from the past and stop trying to reinvent the wheel," he said. "I think there are a lot of old processes that worked very well, sometimes better than what we're doing now, and we've discarded them because they're old."
While McGowen can appreciate innovation and improvement in the construction industry, he's urging future generations to recognize that "new" doesn't always mean "better." As an example, he noted that some old materials have stood the test of time better than newer materials.
Whenever Bernard McGowen decides to hang up his hard hat and retire, his expertise and wealth of knowledge will be sorely missed. He concluded his interview with a note to the public about PennDOT workers:
"Majority of people are here to do a good job and they're serious about their work. They care about their job and they want to make roads and bridges that last – it's not a boondoggle for them."
Learn more about PennDOT's 50-year history at www.penndot.gov/50years.