Transporting GEORGIA GDOT’s new Chief Engineer is already breaking new ground for Georgia With Atlanta traffic congesting commutes daily, it’s hardly surprising that when it comes to investing in transportation, Georgia ranks as one of the five lowest-spending states. But that’s not to say the state is lacking in progressive vision; in fact, quite the opposite. And thanks to a recovering national economy, expansive plans for transforming the metro region’s – and Georgia’s transportation infrastructure – are once again on the front burner. Which means the newly appointed Chief Engineer for the Georgia Department of Transportation (GDOT) has her hands full - and she’s already making history. On January 1, 2015, Margaret “Meg” Pirkle succeeded Russell McMurry in the position as GDOT’s Chief Engineer, shortly after he was appointed the Department’s Planning Director by Governor Deal. Pirkle became the first woman in GDOT history to hold the position of Chief Engineer, joining only a handful of females holding that title across the entire country. In addition, Pirkle is tasked with delivering one of the largest roadway projects in Georgia’s history, with the rebuilding of the GA 400/I-285 interchange touted as the state’s most critical highway project. With funding secured and a commuter corridor that’s eager for relief, Pirkle faces the challenge with confidence. “Many of our typical challenges have been mitigated through the collaboration of state and local leaders,” she explains. “With the support of Governor Deal, staff from GDOT and GRTA, and local stakeholders, we have seen this project move forward more quickly with secured funding. And while accelerated schedule and intermittent traffic interruption are typical for a project of this magnitude, I have no doubt that the spirit of progress and cooperation that has gotten us this far will continue as we work to alleviate congestion, create jobs and grow businesses.” Her confidence reflects over 26 years of growing through the GDOT ranks. Pirkle earned her Vanderbilt bachelor’s degree in civil engineering in 1989 and went to work for GDOT’s planning department the same year, later earning her master’s in civil engineering from Georgia Tech. Since then, she has worked as a Transportation Engineer, Planning Engineer, State Scheduling Engineer, Assistant Preconstruction Division Director, Division Director of Administration, Assistant to the Chief Engineer and most recently as Director of GDOT’s Permits and Operations Division. Her impressive resume includes the enormous role of managing daily operations of the federal stimulus program and successfully guiding the Department’s implementation of the $930 million initiative, meeting every national deadline and criteria. She also implemented task force recommendations after the January 2014 Atlanta “Snowpocalypse” that stranded thousands of commuters for eight hours or more on iced-over interstates. As Chief Engineer, Pirkle is responsible for management of GDOT’s preconstruction, engineering, programming, intermodal activities and operations. Moving forward, she sees the GA 400/I-285 Interchange Project as just one of the important projects that lie ahead. Pirkle will have an intimate involvement in Georgia’s Statewide Transportation Implementation Program (STIP), a program that allocates federal funds for use in construction of the state’s highestpriority transportation projects. “GDOT’s Director of Planning sets the priorities and assigns fiscal years for each specific project,” explains Pirkle. “As Chief Engineer, my responsibility is for the delivery of the projects that are set through STIP. Essentially, the money lined up in the STIP has to match the corresponding project schedule to authorize the project.” Despite being somewhat of a pioneer for women in engineering, Pirkle says she never felt anomalous at GDOT. “I always felt there was a lot of support, and I’ve had really great mentors who have been so supportive,” Pirkle said. “I might be the first woman to become chief engineer, but there are many fabulous female engineers here, and I know I won’t be the last. I look at some of the young women we are hiring, and they are so impressive.” According to Pirkle, the number of women in engineering has dramatically increased since her college days, when she was one of only two female civil engineering grads at Vanderbilt. Today, she sees universities actively recruiting women to join their programs, and a growing number of successful female engineers encouraging others to explore the field and its exciting opportunities. “I focused on civil engineering because I liked the fact that it impacts everybody,” said Pirkle. “I feel like the work I do makes a difference, because everyone uses transportation and everyone uses infrastructure. I like interacting with citizens and elected officials. Whether it is civil, chemical, electrical, mechanical, or a different engineering field, there is a niche for everyone.” She encourages young engineers to set their goals high, and is a shining example of how women can advance the field. “As with any career, I encourage women studying engineering to find their passion,” adds Pirkle. “Determine where you want to make the biggest difference and then set goals to achieve greatness.”
Published by American Council of Engineering Companies of Georgia. View All Articles.
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