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PENNDOT'S District Engineer For Northwest Pennsylvania Announces His Retirement

John L. Baker, P.E., District Engineer for PENNDOT District 1 for the past 14 years, recently retired from his position in Oil City, Pennsylvania.
Baker, 57, nationally recognized for his achievements, managed a district that consists of 4,000 miles of state highway in Crawford, Erie, Forest, Mercer, Venango, and Warren counties.

Baker started at PENNDOT in 1964 as a construction inspector on the new Interstate 80 project. He received his Professional Engineer license in 1974. In the early 1970's, Baker was named as one of the first Community Relations Coordinators in the state. He became the Crawford County Maintenance Manager in 1981 and held that position until he was promoted to Assistant District Engineer for Maintenance in 1983, where he served until 1987. In September 1987, he was named Acting District Engineer and was appointed to the District Engineer position early in 1988.

Baker has seen many changes at PENNDOT in his more than 37 years of service. One key change has been the increased focus on customer relations and public involvement in transportation projects. His philosophy of soliciting input from the people who ultimately pay the bills, i.e. the public has helped to make District 1 one of the most customer-oriented districts in the state.

The district's public consensus building on Erie County's East Side Access Connector is considered a worldwide model. Through focus groups, Community Advisory Committees and public meetings, the District kept the project on track and built a community consensus on how it was to be built. Delegations of transportation officials from Japan and Russia visited District 1 to study the process.

"Our employees are a key factor in our successes," Baker said. "Without their dedication to service and willingness to focus on quality, PENNDOT would not have been able to come as far as it has. District 1 and PENNDOT statewide have the customer service satisfaction numbers to back this up. PENNDOT has received valuable customer feedback that has translated into better customer service for the citizens of the Commonwealth."

Baker believes a strong focus on the "Maintenance First" philosophy pushed by Gov. Tom Ridge has enabled PENNDOT to maintain smooth and safe roads and to raise the level of the transportation system throughout the district.
Baker holds the maintenance workers in high esteem and considers them to be most vital to PENNDOT's positive image. He believes that basic maintenance is key to a smooth and viable transportation system.

"PENNDOT can design and build the best highways and bridges, but they must be properly maintained to keep the system functioning at high levels," Baker said.
In 2000, Baker received the highest honor given to a transportation official, the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials (AASHTO) Alfred E. Johnson Achievement Award. This award is given to the transportation professional who most displays career achievement. Baker's concentration on maintenance, stewardship of the environment, leadership and customer focus were all stated as justification for this coveted national award. In 2001, he was the recipient of a legislative citation sponsored by the Northwest Delegation. He is a member and past president of the American Society of Highway Engineers, Franklin Section.

Baker's on-going labor relations commitment has built a labor/management relationship that is second to none throughout the state. He attributes this success to listening and working together and building relationships. This two-way communication and trust building process has assisted District 1 in many of the state-of-the-art and cutting edge programs that have been piloted there.
Baker was a leader in PENNDOT's drive to embrace business quality techniques, such as the Malcolm Baldrige criteria. These high quality standards, named for the U.S. Commerce Secretary under President Ronald Reagan, help companies and government agencies develop strong customer focus, leadership, planning, and process control factors and a strong results orientation. In 2000, District 1 received the Lancaster Chamber of Commerce Performance Excellence Award, which recognizes organizations for achieving the Baldrige standards.

District 1 has been the pilot for many fine programs over the years. One of the stellar programs is Agility. Under the program, municipalities and PENNDOT enter into agreements to perform work for one another on a quid pro quo basis. This program has not only saved the taxpayers of Pennsylvania at least $7 million, but it has fostered relationships with municipalities throughout the Commonwealth. To date every county in Pennsylvania has Agility agreements in place.

Baker had a strong commitment to environmental and quality of life issues throughout his tenure as District Engineer. Recently, he participated in scuba diving excursions with the United States Fish and Wildlife Agency during the threatened and endangered species study for the Kennerdell Bridge project. Under Baker's direction, a group of environmentally conscious employees formed the District 1 PENNDOT Green Team. This group has participated in education and public awareness of sound environmental management at Earth Day functions and forged partnerships with local school districts to beautify PENNDOT facilities. The group was also instrumental in recycling and waste reduction projects.

Baker also promoted a recycled pavement process in which pavement millings are mixed with oil and applied on lower traffic count roads throughout the district. Mercer County leads the state in miles of recycled pavement.

Baker is an avid turkey hunter and golfer and plans to pursue these interests during his retirement. He resides in Oil City with his wife Susan and three children, Jon, Jessica and Justin.

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