Cumberland Times-News

June 23, 2013

LaVale native retiring after State Highway Administration career spanning almost 50 years

George Small had role in projects including I-68, Sideling Mountain cut

Jeffrey Alderton
Cumberland Times-News

— LAVALE — George Henry Small, the Maryland State Highway Administration’s senior traffic engineer, will retire at the end of this month, marking the end of a nearly half-century career with the state agency.

The son of the late George Robert Small and Anna (Danz) Small, he is a native of Baltimore where he graduated from Baltimore Polytechnic Institute.

Fresh out of high school in June 1965, Small was hired by the Maryland State Roads Commission as an engineer associate.

Beginning his 48-year career at the age of 17, Small spent nine years working at the SRC’s Bureau of Materials and Research.

“John Wiesner was my boss in the lab. He was the first to let you expand your horizons and he encouraged thinking out of the box. I developed his management style.

“He was one of my mentors along with Tom Hicks, the former SHA chief traffic engineer who retired last year. He taught me if you go by the book, you can’t go wrong. You will be applying good engineering principles.

“Also, if you are the person in charge at the scene, make a decision. Traffic engineering is all about lives, motorist and worker safety. If you see something wrong, do something about it,” said Small, who also studied for three years at Johns Hopkins University and at Northwestern University’s Transportation Institute.

In the early 1970s, the State Roads Commission began focusing on traffic safety. Small took a lateral transfer to the traffic department at the Jackson Tower in Baltimore. There, he worked for the regional traffic engineer for the western region that included Garrett, Allegany, Washington, Frederick, Carroll and Howard counties.

The job often brought Small to far Western Maryland for three-day assignments and motel stays.

“State Roads Administrator Slade Caltrider had the vision that our role was to have our finger on the pulse of all of the traffic matters in a district so that we could see and review them in real time.”

 Consequently, Small was transferred by the SRC to Allegany County, an area he was familiar with through involvement in the DeMolay organization as a state representative.

Small was involved in major projects over the years, including construction of U.S. Route 48 — now Interstate 68 — the Sideling Mountain cut, construction of the protective Moose curve barrier wall on eastbound I-68 at Johnson Street, and major safety improvements on steep Route 135 at Backbone Mountain — the scene of numerous fatal truck accidents at the base of the mountain in Bloomington.

The SHA official also was involved in installation of a fog warning system on Big Savage Mountain two years after the 85-vehicle Memorial Day weekend pileup of May 23, 2003, that killed two people.

“Projects like Sideling Hill start with design and then it goes to the review stage and then to construction where we are intimately involved in work zone safety and post construction. We go in, review the project and tweak it. You never get rid of it,” he said.

A member of the Institute of Transportation Engineers, Small also belongs to the Intelligent Information Systems of Maryland, the Maryland Traffic Engineers Council and the American Society of Highway Engineers.

“It’s been an honor to represent the State Highway Administration and the region at numerous conferences and to serve as the vice president of transportation for the 1989 World Whitewater Kayaking Championship competition at the Savage River in Bloomington,” he said.

Small emphasized his career-long reliance on a professional staff of co-workers, who he said “are among the best in the state.”

Small said his job as assistant district engineer for traffic for Allegany, Garrett and Washington counties is “a partnership” that relies on the cooperation of various individuals and agencies.

He said traffic advisory committees formed in those counties in the 1980s are proof of that.

“This is a whole group of people that can make decisions — Maryland State Police, sheriff’s departments and municipal police, board of education, county and city engineers, emergency medical response and other agencies involved in transportation.

“If an issue comes up, we can address it and make changes. This is also a great way of sharing vital information among agencies face to face. Customer service is really the hallmark of the SHA,” he said.

“I’ve thoroughly enjoyed my career. I will miss all the friends I’ve made and working with the public. I’ve always had fun doing my job but it is serious fun.

“Traffic safety is the name of the game. We all want to go home to mom at the end of the day. It takes the four E’s — engineering, enforcement, education and EMS (emergency medical services). They are all equal partners in the highway safety field,” he said. “And you just can’t look at one of them to solve the problem.”

When he ends his career in just a few days,  Small plans to travel and continue enjoying his hobby of photographing butterflies. He often shares that joy with presentations to garden clubs, civic groups and nursing homes.

George and wife Nancy will also have more time to spend with family — daughter Carie Montero, who works with the California Department of Transportation; son Christopher Small, who is employed with the Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Lab; and son Jimmy Small of Columbia, who is the director of APS Health Care.

Small said he and his wife will continue to reside in LaVale.

Jeffrey Alderton may be contacted at