For the first time since 2019, PennDOT was delighted to host an in-person Innovation Awards Ceremony at its headquarters building in Harrisburg on Nov. 30.
PennDOT Secretary Yassmin Gramian, P.E., presided over the event, which honored 91 employees for their time- and money-saving innovations.
"We really missed this human connection," Secretary Gramian said.
"We all work so hard throughout the year, day in and day out, at PennDOT doing all the right things serving the public," she added. "From the bottom of my heart, I really thank everyone for everything you did over the past few years during the COVID-19 pandemic and carrying on with the business and being so flexible and adjusting to everyday changes and the innovations you put into place and carried on with our business."
Also assisting with the awards were Acting Executive Deputy Secretary Melissa J. Batula, P.E., and Acting Deputy Secretary for Highway Administration, Michael Keiser, P.E.
Since 2011, thousands of innovative ideas have been generated through PennDOT's employee-driven IdeaLink system. In addition, more than 230 smart practices have been published in PennDOT's WorkSmart employee engagement system, where employees have the ability to share and learn about more efficient ways they are doing and can do their jobs each day.
"The innovations we celebrate today are a testament to the passion of our employees and their desire to demonstrate to our customers that we are committed to efficient and effective operations," Secretary Gramian said.
"PennDOT is a remarkable agency, driven by the exceptional employees who come to work everyday intent on doing their very best," Deputy Secretary Batula said.
The winner of the 2022 George W. McAuley Jr., P.E. Innovation Award was the Emergency Bridge Repair Team in PennDOT's District 12, based in Uniontown. The team had to respond quickly in December 2021 when an over-height truck traveling on Interstate 70 hit and damaged the Route 51 bridge over the interstate. A large section of girder was damage and had to be replaced. The 69-member team determined that the bridge could remain open with restrictions, and they deployed an innovative work order and a novel Design-Build-like approach that allowed the contractor to move more quickly and efficiently on the project. The repairs were completed in roughly five weeks.
Accepting the award on behalf of the team were District 12 Executive William Kovach, P.E.; Assistant District Executive for Design Rachel Duda, P.E.; Senior Civil Engineer Manager Jeremy Hughes, Civil Engineer Manager Brian Walker and Senior Highway Maintenance Manager Dave Forkey.
The runner-up McAuley Award winner was the Bulk Diesel Exhaust Fluid (DEF) Cube Team in PennDOT's District 3 based in Lycoming County. DEF is required to help meet federal near-zero emission requirements. The district wanted a more efficient way to buy and store the fuel. The team coordinated the permitting, purchasing and construction of bulk DEF tanks. Accepting the award were Neil Dietrich, transportation facility administrator, and Mark Grose, county equipment manager. Jimmy Adams, highway equipment manager, another key contributor on the project, was unable to attend the ceremony.
This award honors the late George W. McAuley Jr. During his career at PennDOT, he served as a district executive, deputy secretary for highway administration and executive deputy secretary.
"George was passionate about innovation, and truly believed it would guide PennDOT on its path to success,'' Secretary Gramian said.
Innovation Awards went to:
- William Gipe, materials and services manager in the Bureau of Office Services, for working to implement a process improvement for purchasing and paying for highway equipment repairs. Through this improved process, vendors are paid more quickly, which saves PennDOT an estimated $500,000 in replacement equipment rental charges.
- Anne Jo Horosky, tourist information supervisor at the Interstate 95 Northbound Welcome Center in Delaware County. As a result of her idea, a white painted crosswalk and a fluorescent yellow and green pedestrian crossing sign were added to the Welcome Center parking lot. The new additions are helping to slow cars and improve safety for pedestrians and staff at the center.
- Stephen Gault, P.E., Transportation Systems Management and Operations Arterials and Planning chief in the Bureau of Operations. He developed a streamlined agreement format that made the process more efficient for municipalities applying for traffic signal permits.
- Samuel J. Moehler, civil engineer in PennDOT's District 1 based in northwest Pennsylvania. At his suggestion, PennDOT is allowing the use of old railroad flat cars to serve as temporary or permanent bridge replacements on low-volume local roads. The concept means potential savings for municipalities facing costly bridge repairs and replacements.
- PennDOT's Crawford County garage staff for their smart practice to use parts off of no-longer-usable crew cabs to fix still functioning crew cabs. Their system to source parts statewide from PennDOT's equipment fleet saves time and money by reducing the need for new vehicles. District 1 Executive Brian McNulty accepted the award on behalf of the team: Jeffrey Hershelman, automotive mechanic supervisor; Anthony Matola, maintenance repairman; Kody Kantz, diesel and construction equipment mechanic; Garret Boylan, automotive mechanic; Bradley Piper, transportation equipment operator B; and Matthew Semian, highway equipment manager 2.
- Daniel Benson, transportation equipment operator B; and David A. Schwartz Jr., welder in PennDOT's Warren County in District 1, for their upgraded version of a PVC chute added to salt spreaders. It directs material off the roadway to fill low spots on the road shoulders.
- Mike Rogato, highway maintenance coordinator; Cody Conklin, highway Equipment manager; and Bruce Muthler, maintenance repairman 2, all in District 2's county maintenance organizations. Eric Thompson, Clinton County highway maintenance manager, accepted the award on their behalf.
- Rogato, from Elk County, developed the smart practice to paint measuring marks in salt storage areas to help better manage salt inventory.
- Conklin, from Clearfield County, developed the idea to design and fabricate folding forks on backhoes. The forks make it easier for crews to move large items such as pallets or pipe sections. The smart practice reduces the risk for injury to employees who otherwise would have to lift heavy objects.
- Muthler, from Clinton County, developed the smart practice to refabricate snowplow blades to reduce snow coming over the plow and building up on the driver's side windshield.
- Summer Koziel, senior civil engineer supervisor in PennDOT's District 4 in northeastern Pennsylvania. She created a Liaison Project Manager reference manual that provides an all-encompassing "how- to" document to support project managers.
- John Serian, senior county maintenance manager in PennDOT's District 10, based in Indiana County, developed the concept of modifying an old grader blade that can break ice bonded to roadways into smaller pieces which can then be plowed off the roadway more easily. He led an Indiana County PennDOT team that created the new blade. Accepting the award during the ceremony were team members Rex Lichtenfels, welder, Heath Clark, maintenance repairman 2, and Chris Long, highway equipment manager 2.
- Noah Forbeck, civil engineer in PennDOT's District 11 in the Pittsburgh region. Forbeck developed the idea for an over-the-shoulder strap that can be attached to PennDOT-issued iPad cases. The innovation helps prevent field staff from accidentally dropping and damaging their iPads.
- Dennis Myers, highway maintenance coordinator for PennDOT's District 12 based in Uniontown. He developed an electronic Accident Notification Live Form that can be filled out in three minutes. This means district leadership can be apprised more quickly of incidents through emailed reports instead of having to wait hours or days.
"Our dedicated work force of approximately 12,000 employees is committed to delivering the very best transportation services to our neighbors, our families, and our customers across Pennsylvania," Deputy Secretary Keiser said in closing remarks.
"We hope that our clear message today is we value and appreciate each of you," he added. "Our success depends on how each of us approaches our daily work. and how diligent we are at actively seeking ways to do those tasks better. Any operation depends on its individual components performing exceptionally well. We are fortunate at PennDOT to have a great network of employees who do just that."