California Department of Transportation

2015 Outstanding Management and Engineering in Transportation Award Winners

The Outstanding Management and Engineering in Transportation Awards, also, known as the Moskowitz, Purcell, Rhyner and Roberts awards recognize valued contributions to the field of transportation by Caltrans registered engineers, engineering managers and non-engineering managers.



Debra Larson

Debra Larson, Senior Transportation Engineer
District 5, Division of Traffic Safety

As a Traffic Safety Engineer, Debra has been dedicated to improving traffic safety along roadways throughout District 5. Her many positions and various aspects of traffic safety include; investigations, nonstandard special provisions approvals, project initiation, project reviews, implementing innovative traffic safety improvements, and representing Caltrans in various public meetings as the District 5 Traffic Safety Engineer.

Debra has supported and encouraged using progressive safety approaches and tools. Her attention to detail and focus on safety has resulted in her involvement in projects addressing curve realignments, wet weather improvements, crash cushion and end treatment upgrades, sight distance improvements, and signal installations.

Debra has been actively involved in many task forces and represented Caltrans on the Strategic Highway Safety Plan committee.  She advocated for motorcycle safety considerations with the SHSP and worked closely with local agencies, California Highway Patrol, police departments and the general public to address safety concerns along our State Highways.  As the District 5 Traffic Safety Engineer, Debra defends Caltrans in multiple cases each year.

Debra's dedication to traffic safety has resulted in improving roadway safety in District 5.

The Karl Moskowitz Award annually recognizes contributions by Caltrans registered engineers to the field of transportation engineering.  Mr. Moskowitz served as a Caltrans traffic engineer for 27 years.  Much of his work in freeway design and traffic flow appeared at the outset of the Interstate highway program and was used extensively by planners and engineers nationwide, thus becoming the national standard. 



Elmer "Skip" Sowko Photo

Elmer "Skip" Sowko, Principal Transportation Engineer
District 4, Division of Design

Skip is an outstanding engineer and an exemplary leader who has been at the helm for some of District 4's most notable projects, including the Doyle Drive Replacement Project and the San Mateo US-101 Ramp Metering Project. Although Skip's contributions have been many, his accomplishments are best illustrated by his work on the Devil's Slide Tunnels and his leadership in alternative delivery methods.

Skip has been a passionate advocate for the Devil's Slide tunnels since the beginning, and developed a strong, lasting partnership with local stakeholders. He achieved this through consistent communication with the myriad of agencies and groups involved with the project and attending hundreds of meetings with the local community and local boards. The Devil's Slide tunnels were constructed in a beautiful, scenic and rugged coastal zone, and mandated a context sensitive design, as well as community support.  The community wanted a design that blended in with surrounding terrain. Skip worked tirelessly to integrate the desired aesthetics, which resulted in stunning architectural tunnels.

Skip brings skills that include not only managing the complex technical aspects of building world-class projects, but also outstanding management skills to orchestrate many stakeholder voices and interests into one unified project.  He builds consensus amongst project partners, is held in high regard by both internal and external team members, and works tirelessly on projects. He is respected, hard-working, optimistic, and carries this attitude with him in managing complex, highly visible transportation projects in Caltrans District 4.

The Charles H. Purcell Award recognizes valued contributions by Caltrans engineering managers to the field of transportation engineering and transportation program management.  Mr. Purcell served as California's State Highway Engineer from 1928 to 1943 and as Director of Public Works until 1951.  He established California's extraordinary record of leadership and integrity in transportation engineering and guided the construction of the San Francisco – Oakland Bay Bridge and the State Highway System.



Sylvia Vega

Sylvia Vega, Deputy District Director
District 12, Division of Environmental Planning

Sylvia is a California native who grew up appreciating the beauty and precious resources of our Golden State. Part of that appreciation comes from her Native American Heritage. 

As the Deputy District Director of Environmental Planning in District 12, Sylvia led the implementation of all compliance requirements as they relate to the California Environmental Quality Act and also for the National Environmental Protection Act (NEPA).  She was responsible for oversight of biology, cultural studies, water quality/National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System, hazardous waste, air quality, energy and noise. In 2007, California received delegation to oversee NEPA compliance as a pilot program.  Sylvia was the driving force in setting and implementing the District 12 program when Caltrans formally received delegation of federal NEPA responsibilities with the implementation of MAP-21 on October 1, 2012.

Sylvia's vast knowledge of the southern California geographical area, its valuable cultural and coastal history, and its ancient archeological locations has been instrumental throughout her Caltrans career. Her accomplishments are many, including spearheading the creation of a priceless land bridge between the Tecate Cypress Reserve, Cleveland National Forest and Gypsum Canyon Preserve. This corridor allows animals a safe crossing from one wildlife area to another area below the freeway, a rarity in the rapidly shrinking southern California ecosystem.  Former Governor Gray Davis stated, "This project showcases the sensitivity of Caltrans to environmental preservation, while developing and maintaining the freeway system to satisfy customer needs."

For more than 30 years, Sylvia has been dedicated to preserving California's natural resources.  Her actions in support of the environment have gained the attention and respect of Caltrans' partners and stakeholders.

The Emerson Rhyner Award annually recognizes contributions to the field of transportation by non-engineering Caltrans managers.  Emerson Rhyner was Deputy Chief of the Division of Right of Way and the Legal Division for California's highway program in the early 1960s.  He represented the Department in Legislative Affairs, acting as a liaison to the Legislature and representing the State's transportation interests in Washington, D.C.  His efforts helped define the relationship between state and national interests and established the roles of state and local governments in the early days of freeway system development.



Murugesu "Vinacs" Vinayagamoorthy, Senior Load Rating Bridge Engineer
Division of Maintenance, Structure Maintenance and Investigations

Vinacs, a nationally recognized engineering expert in structural analysis, has been a crucial player for the past two decades in responding to high-profile emergencies. He determined the safety of structures such as the MacArthur Maze in Oakland that was damaged by a tanker crash and fire in 2007 and the structural analysis of the cracked eye bar element and repair of the San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge, and he evaluated gusset plates on California's truss bridges after the I-35 collapse in Minnesota.

Vinacs led in the development of California's process to rapidly evaluate state highway bridges to facilitate the safe movement of extremely heavy permit vehicles weighing 500,000 to more than 1million pounds.  Due to his efforts, California safely moved a variety of items including large manufactured products, power generation and large construction equipment, radioactive steam turbines from the San Onofre Nuclear Plant, a giant rock, and the Space Shuttle Endeavour.

In 2011, Vinacs spearheaded a six-year program to measure bridge load capacity on more than 11,000 state and locally owned bridges. Through his intensive training program and ingenious spreadsheet processes, load rating for some bridges was completed in one day, a production rate unmatched in the nation.

The James E. Roberts Award annually recognizes outstanding contributions by Caltrans registered engineers to the field of transportation structures.  Mr. Roberts served as a structural engineer and manager for more than half a century, including 15 years as California's State Bridge Engineer.  He spearheaded Caltrans' $4.5 billion seismic retrofit program and oversaw nearly $50 million in seismic research projects.  He was named to the National Academy of Engineering in 1996, the only state-employed engineer to be so honored.  Mr. Roberts retired in 2001 as Chief Deputy Director.