MSEA-SEIU Member Jonathan French displays the 2019 Kitty Breskin Project Award. He accepted it in May on behalf of MaineDOT. The Maine Section of the American Society of Civil Engineers presented the award to MaineDOT for the Orono roundabout project Jonathan designed at the intersection of Rangeley Road and Route 2. It opened last summer.
Jonathan French knows the importance of innovation in public service. A member of our union and a Transportation Engineer II for the Maine Department of Transportation’s Highway Program in the Bureau of Project Development, he designs complex intersection and highway projects to help keep everyone safe. He also mentors less-experienced designers at MaineDOT.
“My job is to design projects to improve the lives of the traveling public and the safety and mobility of Maine’s highways,” Jonathan said at MaineDOT headquarters on Child Street in Augusta, where he works. “Innovation is important because, by finding better methods and materials, we can potentially save taxpayer money and get the most out of our investments in infrastructure with improved safety and durability. It is vital in our mission to deliver quality services to the public.”
One DOT project for which Jonathan served as lead designer is the Orono roundabout at the intersection of Rangeley Road and Route 2 – the Route 2 entrance to the University of Maine. He began designing it in earnest in late 2014; it opened in the summer of 2018.
Before the roundabout’s construction, the intersection was considered a high-crash location by the department. “There were some serious crashes with injuries,” Jonathan said, “and a lot of development and student-housing traffic made for congestion. The intersection was also not very accommodating for bicycles or pedestrians.”
Since its opening, however, the amount of injury crashes and congestion in that part of Orono has fallen, and the roundabout also has improved accommodation for bicycles and pedestrians, leading a civil-engineering group to recognize MaineDOT with a special award for Jonathan’s roundabout design.
In May, the Maine Section of the American Society of Civil Engineers presented MaineDOT with its Kitty Breskin Project Award for 2019, named after the late MSEA-SEIU member and DOT engineer Kitty Breskin. The group created the Kitty Breskin Project Award following Kitty’s death in 2015. Kitty had served as president of the Maine Section.
This photo taken by a drone shows the Orono roundabout that MSEA-SEIU Member Jonathan French designed at the intersection of Rangeley Road and Route 2. Photo credit: Gardner Construction Enterprises
“They decided to create this award in her honor,” said Jonathan, who accepted the award on behalf of MaineDOT. “Kitty pushed for Maine to have one of the first roundabouts, in Gorham, in the late 1990s. She was a trailblazer within the department. There were no guides, no peer review (for roundabouts back then). She designed it and it’s still functioning today. This award honors projects that showed the same spirit for innovation. It’s a great honor, to especially receive an award named after a former colleague I worked with, and given the fact that she was a pioneer of roundabouts in Maine, it’s extra special.”
The late MSEA-SEIU member Kitty Breskin, who worked as an engineer for MaineDOT, is shown marching at our 2011 Valentine’s Day rally for a fair contract. The Maine Section of the American Society of Civil Engineers created the Kitty Breskin Project Award in recognition of Kitty’s innovative work for MaineDOT.
Jonathan has developed into a department expert on roundabouts. He designed Orono’s first roundabout, at Stillwater and Forest avenues, built in 2013. He also designed the West Gardiner Service Plaza roundabout, which was built in 2015. Before the roundabout was built at the intersection of the Service Plaza and Route 9/126 in West Gardiner, there were 13 crashes, four with reported injuries in a three-year period. In the following three years after it was built, there were only five crashes at the roundabout with no reported injuries. “That’s a major success story,” Jonathan said.
Another project on which Jonathan was a leader at MaineDOT was the design of the department’s website for the Highway Program. The website puts all of the department’s highway design and construction policies, information and forms in one place. The department rolled it out in January. It was three years in the making, Jonathan said, and reflected a real collaborative effort among his colleagues.
Jonathan is a highly engaged member of our union. He advocates regularly on issues important to working families, often testifying as a union member before legislative committees on legislation relating to transportation or student-debt relief. He founded and now is in an advisory role for our MSEA Rising group. He serves as an elected delegate and treasurer of our Transportation Chapter. He is the labor co-chair of the State Employee Health Commission. He serves on the statewide DOT Labor-Management Committee and our Organizational Review Committee. He served on the MSEA-SEIU Board of Directors representing Area II from 2010 to 2015.
Jonathan said having a strong union, with a negotiated contract spelling out his wages, benefits and working conditions, empowers him in his work for MaineDOT. “We have a contract that supports us, and that gives us comfort to innovate,” he said. “The key with innovation is you can’t be afraid to fail. By setting work rules, our contract provides us with the security, confidence and support we need to do our jobs. Our contract empowers us to innovate.”
Jonathan started working for the DOT as a construction inspector in the summer of 2001. Before that, he worked as a chemist assistant for the Maine Department of Health and Human Services during summers and college breaks while a student at the University of Maine, where he earned his bachelor of science degree in civil engineering in 2002. He joined MaineDOT full-time in July 2002 as an Assistant Engineer.
In December 2012, he secured his professional engineer’s license; the following month he became a Civil Engineer II, which was recently reclassified to a Transportation Engineer II by the department.
Right now he’s the lead designer for the I-395/Route 9 Connector project from Brewer to Eddington. It’s six miles of new construction that the DOT will design entirely in-house and then put out to bid. “It’s in the design phase,” Jonathan said. “It’s the first time we’ve done such a high-profile project in-house in a number of years. The Bridge Program is designing the bridges for the project and the Highway Program is designing the highway portion of the project. As part of that highway design work, I am also redesigning the whole interchange where I-395 meets Route 1A. It’s a huge project with a lot of coordination required.”
He said the plan is for the DOT to advertise the I-395/Route 9 Connector project in 2021, and have it completed in 2024.
Jonathan comes from a family of public servants. His mother, Joan French, is a retired math teacher for the Augusta Public Schools. His father, MSEA-SEIU Member Richard French, is the quality assurance officer for the Health and Environmental Testing Laboratory for the Maine Centers for Disease Control within Maine DHHS, where he has worked for over 50 years.