An engineering pioneer in Marana retires - Tucson Local Media: News

An engineering pioneer in Marana retires

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Barbara Johnson

Posted: Wednesday, July 11, 2012 4:00 am | Updated: 11:27 am, Wed Aug 29, 2012.

Marana General Manager of Public Services Barbara Johnso retired on July 1, ending a 45-year career. For more than five years, Johnson has been responsible for making large and small projects a reality in Marana.

“My philosophy over the past 45 years, 10 in the public sector, is to build those things that are necessary for people to do what they want to do with their lives,” said Johnson. “The roads that I build, the structures like the water system, all of the different processes that we manage are designed so that people in the community have maximum freedom of choice to do what they wish to with their lives.”

For Johnson that means building roadways that allow people to live where ever they want and get to work or to play with as little problem as possible. Her approach to her job has been to create a toolbox for Town project managers and contractors that offer solutions to problems that both may encounter on the job.

Over the last five years with the Town, Johnson has worked on wrapping up the Cortaro roadway project east of Interstate 10, and worked on the Thornydale expansion project that made the road three lanes from Ina to Orange Grove.

“That job had been started and stopped a number of times,” said Johnson. “The goal was to do the job and have it finished before the holiday shopping season. The reason the project was stopped was because no one could come up with a protocol to get the work completed.”

To make the job work, she created a plan that would emphasize the timing required for completion and offered the contractor incentives to complete the job on time or earlier than called for. At the same time, if a contractor was late they lost money on the job. This became the standard way of doing things for Marana.

Creating simple but effective methods of building roads from Tangerine to Twin Peaks and Silverbell Road along with Crossroads at Silverbell Park made Johnson an effective force in construction in Marana, according to Marana Town Manager Gilbert Davidson.

“She will really be missed,” said Davidson.

Another legacy Johnson will leave behind is the Pavement Preservation Program. Johnson set up a team that used GPS to chart every road in Marana. The information is catalogued with dates of construction and projected replacement dates. 

“Through a computerized system, we’re able to look at where the break-even points are for when you have to build a new road or maintain it and if you maintain it at a certain level you could prolong its life and make it work,” said Johnson. “ The bottom line is that if we invest about $600,000 a year, we save about $7.2 million over the life of the road.”

Johnson wasn’t always engineering oriented. She started out in Medical School in Texas. Along the way, she came to the realization that she could work in research and she didn’t appreciate what researchers did to animals, or she would be working closely with patients. She learned quickly how personally she took cases she was working on and she didn’t think the constant emotion would do her any good, so it was engineering that finally caught here eye.

“I had a fun career,” Johnson said. “Early on I worked at the Red Rock pumping plant because I’m a power engineer. I had the opportunity to go to the Nevada (Nuclear) Test Site and that was very exciting to me. I got to see several older sites, and I actually participated in several nuclear tests. They were not weapons because they weren’t ‘weapon zed.’ They were physics packages that were nuclear. All of this was before the testing bans with the Soviet Union. We had really neat toys and there were really big holes that you dig in the ground.”

After the test treaties were signed, Johnson found herself in the Pacific learning from past experiments and doing what was still allowed. Johnson was later stationed at Johnson atoll, which is the site of several major above ground nuclear tests in the 1960’s. 

“We did a plutonium clean up program on the atoll, then it was north to the Marshall Islands,” said Johnson. “We were doing environmental remediation and monitoring of the population. It was a nice way of saying we were taking care of those that we had exposed. We were supporting the National Laboratories, Livermore, Los Alamos, Brookhaven and other labs that were run by the department of energy.”

Johnson ended up as the head of the Pacific programs. Johnson remembers that there has always  been something going on and always fun projects to do.

One of the most memorable projects was to observe and prepare Bikini Atoll for a return of its population. Bikini was the site of the first above ground test of the hydrogen bomb, which was in 1952. The people who lived on Bikini were moved from the islands and told that someday they could return.

Johnson monitored the nuclear particles that were left over from the test. The people of the Atoll did return, but there were problems, and their health is still being monitored.

It was an exciting and challenging time. 

“We blew up whole islands, and sometimes we made promises that we just could not keep,” said Johnson. “So we had some things that we had to do out there. It was my honor to be able to participate in making those things happen.”

In retirement, Johnson said she and her husband will continue homeschooling their grandchildren.

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