ANGEL OF THE ASPHALT
Topanga Canyon flagger winning hearts and minds for Caltrans.
Kim Dungee comforts the occupants of each car waiting in the lane closure queue like a nurse on the battlefield. “It’s going to be about five minutes,” she tells them, stopping to chat with some of her regulars. A mom in a mini-van tells Dungee that her toddler just woke up and is so happy to see the flagger. “You made her day,” the mom says. “She loves you!”
The feeling is mutual. “I just love people,” Dungee says when asked how she maintains her friendly disposition and great attitude standing out on the highway all day, dealing with impatient motorists. She says she has seen some rough roads herself and is happy to share some of her recent blessings (this job, for one), with others. “And they give back.”
Dungee has been on the Topanga Canyon Boulevard (State Route 27) project working for sub-contractor Sudhakar Company International since July, when the project started. The $5.5 million project involves repaving 11 miles on SR 27 from Pacific Coast Highway to Mulholland Drive, replacing existing pavement with Rubberized Asphalt Concrete (RAC), restriping, installing new metal beam guardrails, and widening roadway shoulders at a limited number of locations. Completion is expected summer 2007.
Project benefits include enhanced safety as a result of the guardrails and wider roadway shoulders. Rehabilitating the pavement will reduce maintenance needs, saving resources, easing roadway congestion and improving operations while providing a smoother roadway surface.
With the memory of recent storm-related road closures fresh in their minds, the Topanga Canyon community did not welcome more. At the beginning of the project they were not very happy, to say the least, about waiting in long lines of traffic. “It’s calmed down a lot since the beginning,” Dungee says. “People are more patient now, except for the ones who are new.”
It’s likely Dungee herself has played a large role in soothing their psyches. “They love her out here,” says Victor Negrete, lead car driver for the sub-contractor. “They give her flowers, gift certificates, letters—if more people were like her, the world would be a better place.”
Caltrans staff also has fallen under Dungee’s spell. Resident Engineer Sixto Ramin called her a “Jewel in the Jam” and said his inspectors also have high praise for the way she does her job.
Dungee has become something of a local celebrity. “Everyone in Topanga wants to meet her and take her to lunch,” adds Sudhakar foreman Rick Medina. She has even come to the attention of Topanga Chamber of Commerce President M. David Green, who took the time to mention her in an email. Although he didn’t know her name, he called her a “bright light” and wrote that “she always has a smile, a thank you and a pleasing manner that makes the frustration easier to handle.”
Even though Dungee is not a Caltrans employee, she represents the Department to the public, and the goodwill she inspires reflects positively on us. For that, Caltrans is deeply appreciative. Kim Dungee, long may you wave!