Twenty four years ago the meetings of the Jefferson County commissioners routinely were filled with residents complaining about the condition of county roads.
That slowly changed after James Branagan became the county engineer in 1989.
Branagan began five-year plans and goals for making county roads and bridges better and safer. Being a true engineer, he knew the value of setting and meeting goals.
Move forward to today and there aren't many county residents coming to the commissioners' meetings complaining about the condition of county roads.
The county engineer's office was flush with employees in 1989. There were 51 field workers, three security guards and five office workers. Today, there are 28 field workers; a deputy sheriff and an assistant, who have a mobile scale for overweight vehicles; and seven office workers.
Branagan knew the only way to make roads better was to rebuild roads from the base up. He came into office more than two decades ago with a county road system that had deteriorated. He slowly began rebuilding the paved roads and kept up with the chip-and-seal roads. He bought equipment to fix roads. And he reduced the work force at the same time.
Branagan is in charge of one of the few county departments that publishes an annual report showing the work done and the goals that were achieved.
The engineer's department in 2013 repaved 11 miles of county roads, 41 miles were chipped and sealed, two bridges were replaced and five bridges were repaired, five slips were fixed and county crews spread more than 6,500 tons of salt.
County Commissioner David Maple, who has experience in the business world, always has complemented Branagan for running his department like a business. The biggest complaint about government in general is that is isn't run like a business.
Branagan has been aided in the past several years through road use maintenance agreements with the oil and gas industry. He pushed for the agreements when other county engineers in the region were worried about what would happen to township and county roads with heavy equipment going to and from well sites. The road-use maintenance agreements call for the gas and oil companies to rebuild roads in sections that are designated as haul routes for well sites. The agreements resulted in more than 8 miles of county roads being rebuilt in 2013, all at the expense of the gas and oil companies.
The road use maintenance agreements have become a standard now across the state.
Branagan has dedicated his career in engineering and public service to improving the roads. The lack of complaints about county roads is a testament to his work.