The most important thing I've found at the Georgia DOT - Gena Abraham

In my first hundred days as Commissioner of the Georgia Department of Transportation, much has transpired and many headlines have been generated, more than a few unflattering.

I certainly have learned a great deal - about roads, bridges, transit, and what they cost. I've learned that bringing transportation structures and systems to our communities throughout the state is a worthy and well-intentioned goal.

However, in its well-intentioned desire to please everyone, the department has so over-extended itself that it now has many difficult decisions to make and many difficult days ahead. All of that has been well documented.

But perhaps the most important thing I have learned, something that unfortunately goes overlooked and is lost in the rhetoric and the headlines, is that the 5,755 men and women who proudly work for the Georgia DOT are the finest assemblage of talent and dedication I have ever witnessed in any workforce in either the public or private sector.

There are 63 Highway Emergency Response Operators (HEROs), for instance, who patrol metro Atlanta's freeways day and night. They do all the obvious things: clear incidents from our commutes; help change our tires, give us gas when we run out, and give us a push when we stall. But they also administer first aid to those injured in crashes; they comfort and calm dazed accident victims; they even deliver babies in traffic backups. And each time they step out of their trucks, they are risking their lives, for all of us.

There are the Department's 22 bridge inspectors. Yes, two former employees sullied that group's reputation earlier this year. But the remaining inspectors took it upon themselves to restore their profession's honor: They did their work and the work of the disgraced pair; they worked nights and weekends, and then more nights and more weekends; they crawled through filthy culverts; they, too, risked their lives suspended hundreds of feet above rivers and roadways. They made certain the bridges our children travel across,to and from school, are safe.

And there are thousands more - extraordinarily talented designers, planners and engineers dedicated to building a comprehensive transportation system to meet the needs of a growing Georgia. There are the dedicated environmental and archeological specialists committed to making certain our progress also protects the history, the waterways, and the many species that are the beauty of Georgia. There are the maintenance crews who unfailingly clear the snow and ice from our roads in the winter, plant the wildflowers we all enjoy, and pick up the litter we carelessly discard.

Yes, the department faces serious issues. But I am confident. I am confident primarily because what may be news to many of you isn't to me - Georgia DOT is a great organization.

I am confident because of these people, who I am proud to call my colleagues.

Gena Abraham is Commissioner of the Georgia Department of Transportation.