July 2017

Stakeholder Spotlight on Marie B. Walsh, PhD

This issue of the Safety Sidekick introduces you to Marie B. Walsh, Director of the Louisiana Local Technical Assistance Program at the Louisiana Transportation Research Center. Marie has been a member of the Stakeholder Team since the inception of the National Center for Rural Road Safety and a long time local road safety advocate.

Marie began her professional career in the environmental engineering field, and was involved with the environmental auditing and systems management field nationally before moving to the Louisiana Department of Environment Quality (LDEQ.)  At the LDEQ she managed the Technical Services Program of the Air Quality Division. Performing a wide variety of tasks ranging from intensive emissions data collection and analysis, emissions inventory development, tracking compliance performance measures, outreach and training to industrial and governmental organizations, and coordination with other parts of the LDEQ and with the Environmental Protection Agency. Marie recalls maintaining the technical library for the department and began working on electronic information resources before the internet was popularized.

Looking back, Marie believes that now we would call the work of the Technical Services Program a "multi-disciplinary," data driven approach to reducing toxic air emissions. We worked to improve and expand federal, state and local data collection to ensure that critical data elements were available to allow better problem identification and mitigation strategies.  Extensive outreach and education of industry and community groups was necessary. Providing technical, data-laden information in a usable form to diverse user groups was a constant challenge.  The parallels between that job and today's safety initiatives have become more apparent over time.  But to Marie, safety has remained more challenging, and certainly more interesting.

The challenges involved with improving the processes that supported the functions of the Technical Services Program led Marie back to LSU where she began a PhD program in Human Resource Education and Work Force Development; structuring her coursework so she could learn about business process re-engineering and improvement, performance management, organizational development, leadership training, and workforce development. 

Marie's link to the LTAP program evolved through her work with the East Baton Rouge (EBR) City Parish in the Quality and Employee Development Department. She was familiar with the LTAP Program through her work with the EBR Public Works, where they had often hosted LTAP classes in their training facility. Marie was fortunate enough to hear about the Director position and was hired at LTAP 2004.

Marie shares how she become involved in safety as it relates to the transportation field.

"I attended my first TRB meeting in January of 2004, five days after I started with LTAP.  I went to every session that remotely related to local roads, low volume roads, safety and workforce development. The safety ones were the most interesting and compelling. I returned to Baton Rouge with questions as to why Louisiana did not have a local roads safety program and closer to home, why our Louisiana LTAP didn't teach road safety classes or offer safety technical assistance.

When hurricanes Katrina and Rita devastated Louisiana in 2005 the LA DOTD was working on the first comprehensive Strategic Highway Safety Plan (SHSP).  LTAP represented the locals (who were swamped with disaster recovery efforts) at the SHSP meetings. When the Local Road Safety Program was proposed for inclusion in the SHSP a leader was needed. Seeing the opportunity I volunteered and committed LTAP resources as well. My safety focus really began here. Through the following years I shamelessly advocated for inclusion of the local roads in Louisiana's safety programs and over times the Local Road Safety Program has moved closer to being integrated with the other state and local safety efforts."

"My work with our DOT safety office led to my participation in TRB and AASHTO Safety Committees and I am currently a member of the TRB ANB10 Transportation Safety Management Committee and chair its Towards Zero Death Subcommittee. I've participated in the national TZD Steering Committee as the NLTAPA Representative and also been the NLTAPA liaison to the AASHTO Safety Committees. When I was elected President of NLTAPA I promoted increased participation by all LTAPs in safety and made it a central focus of my leadership efforts."

We've asked Marie to share an example of a safety activity that she has been involved with that may be a best practice for others.

The Louisiana Local Road Safety Program in partnership with the DOT Safety Office has implemented processes to improve the quantity, quality and accessibility of local road crash, roadway characteristic and volume data. While not finished, excellent crash data is available in almost every part of the state and they are working on the other components. Using the data that is available they have prepared Crash Data Profiles for all 64 parishes.

Concentrating on the top twenty (out of 64) parishes, where the vast majority of serious and fatal road crashes occur, they conducted training with the locals on the use of the parish profiles to identify priorities and develop road safety projects for application for funding or local implementation. These profiles are the basis for local road safety plans and are consistent with the process to select projects in the HSIP which is important for sustainability.

Marie leaves us with some practical thoughts- "Do what you can, where you are, with what you have.  It's amazing what you can do in safety if you just get started.  Each of these simple steps will lead local practitioners to a higher level of safety involvement and access to resources.  Local and rural road safety has come a long way in the last 12 years. There are more people willing to help you and more resources than ever available. While money may be in short supply, it's often not the lack of finances that limit the success of beginning or even established safety programs. It's just as likely to be a lack of interest, understanding or commitment that impedes progress."

Reprinted from the Safety Sidekick Newsletter, July issue.


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