Celebrating Public Works and Transportation

Leonardtown, MD – Beginning May 19, the nation started this year’s celebration of their local Departments of Public Works. The 59th National Public Works Week runs through May 25 and the St. Mary’s County Commissioners held a proclamation during their Tuesday meeting, recognizing the department.

“Public works is the most obvious evidence of what the people get for their tax money,” said John Deatrick, Director of Public Works and Transportation(DPW&T) for the county, “Every time you drive on a road or walk into a government building to get something done, it’s all public works.”

The national week of recognition has the 2019 theme, “It Starts Here,” affirming the impact public works has on their communities. From paving roads to building buildings, public works has its hands in just about every aspect of the county. Beginning in 1960, the American Public Works Association (APWA) brought attention to this fact on a national scale. Their website explains the reach of National Public Works Week since then, spreading to over 30,000 members across both the U.S. and Canada.

After a record-breaking, rainy, 2018 the department has “learned a lot” and begun to bounce back according to Deatrick. Projects like the Garvey Senior Center and Leonardtown Library hybrid building and FDR Boulevard were brought to a stand-still or heavily delayed. In addition to the existing projects, Deatrick explained that the rain exposed an “aging” drainage system in the county, something the department is working on. To help him accomplish this task, the DPW&T increased their budget request over last year and created a project called “Neighborhood Drainage.”

Public Works week immediately followed National Transportation Week which offered county residents benefits for riding during the week (May 13-19) and capped off with a food donation event coined “Stuff the Bus” on Saturday, May 18.

With the two departments intertwined, both weeks serve a similar purpose, and the weeks recognize some of the same people. Recently, ridership on the St. Mary’s Transit System (STS) spiked, with “over 1,000 passenger trips” in March alone according to Jacqueline Fournier, who is the Transportation Manager at the DPW&T. “The last two months have been going up, which is great news for us,” explained Fournier who also stated the department “isn’t sure” about the cause of the increase. Both Fournier and Deatrick hope that some of the studies they are working on will shed some light on the rise of demand so suddenly.

Some of these studies include a mobility and bus stop study, hoping to expand the buses’ accessibility and make clear that “STS buses are for everyone.” With potential for an express lane in the Great Mills/California area, new bus stops, and other potential changes to the way residents get around, Fournier is hopeful that “people take advantage of the buses,” but both her and Deatrick recognize that “everything, of course, depends on funding.”

Infrastructure is a hot button issue, not only in St. Mary’s but throughout the country. The public servants working in both Public Works and Transportation are rarely excluded from a commissioner’s meeting or public hearing. Whether it be new projects like the District 4 Sheriff’s Office or old like FDR Boulevard, both departments are involved in citizens’ daily lives here in Southern Maryland and across the rest of the state.

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