Inside Seven
Current Issue: September 2014
Employee Spotlight

Gary Gram
by  Maria Raptis
Issue Date: 09/2010

Nearly 50 years on the job and still kickin’ like a ’66 Mustang

[Click on photos to read captions.]

Gary Gram is a team leader and equipment coordinator for the Traffic Management Team (TMT), a dedicated group of 21 employees who have made a commitment to be available 24/7 for traffic incident response.

As a first line leader, Gram takes all calls - at all hours - from the Los Angeles Regional Transportation Management Center (LARTMC) staff alerting him of an incident. Gram considers and evaluates several issues before making a determination to “roll” the team: what kind of incident has occurred, the number of closed lanes on which freeway or highway and the approximate duration of the closure.

An employee of Caltrans District 7 for 49 years, Gram is an associate transportation engineer, although he laughs when he calls himself a dinosaur. Hopefully, dedicated staff such as Gram do not become extinct -- especially those with loud alarm clocks and perpetually charged cell phones.

Within 30 minutes or less of an incident on the freeway, TMT members closest to the scene arrive to manage traffic movement and lane closures, queue monitoring, detour routing and to alert motorists of an unexpected incident on the system and to maximize safety and minimize secondary impacts. Then, from the incident scene, staff provides the LARTMC with real time traffic data and pertinent incident information.

Gram joined Caltrans in 1961, the year of the disastrous Bel Air-Brentwood brush fires that leaped across Mulholland Drive and declared the worst fire in Southern California history at that time. It was also the year that the Mulholland Bridge was under construction.

“I recall that bridge being built; I never thought I would live to see the day it would come down,” he said, referring to the ongoing construction of the northbound I-405 carpool lane in the Sepulveda Pass where the bridge is scheduled to come down later this year.

Following two years of college, Gram began a summer job at Caltrans, then known as the Department of Highways. Now, 49 years later, he’s contemplating making his 50-year Golden (employment) Anniversary a combined retirement celebration as well (but that’s not official).

His work at Caltrans includes 15 years with construction surveys, two years in survey mapping, seven years in traffic investigations, and five years in the Tort Liability Unit within the Office of Traffic Investigations, which liaisons with the Caltrans Legal Division.

After his first 29 years on the job, Gram’s second 20-year career began in 1990 as part of the TMT. His most memorable time was an eight-month assignment on the Olympics Planning Task Force to help develop a traffic management plan for the 1984 Summer Olympic Games held in Los Angeles. The effort was a complete success in planning and executing a transportation plan to circulate 1.2 million visitors, 6 million spectators and 25,000 athletes on the regional transportation system.

“The Olympic team cycling event took place on about 11 miles of the 91 freeway, between Route 110 and Route 605 ,” he recalls. “Not only did we close ramps, but they were blockaded by personnel and vehicles. That was an exciting two weeks on the Los Angeles freeway system.”

The TMT responds to about 25 incidents per month, or approximately 300 calls per year. Of those, Gram is personally involved in about 30 to 50 incident responses annually, as calls are assigned according to geographic areas that correspond to where team members reside.

“The TMT operates with the purest definition of teamwork and Gary’s commitment to the team and his knowledge of traffic operations is invaluable,” said Sam Esquenazi, senior transportation engineer, supervisor of TMT operations.

“I recall a Thanksgiving dinner when I had to leave my house full of family and friends to respond to an incident,” said Gram. “I believe 100% in what Caltrans does for emergency response and to relieve congestion for the traveling public. The value of this work makes it easy to accept the disruption it sometimes inflicts on home life. It’s a small sacrifice as I’ve seen some families involved in incidents that don’t make it home for the holidays.”

Gram says that there is no better stress relief from late-night incident management than a bowling alley. He’s been a bowler since age 19 with a high score of 290 – one strike short of a perfect 300 game.

“Now, Father Time has taken over and my average is 190-plus,” he said. “But it’s a good Bridge game that keeps my mind in shape.”

His first retirement hobby will be to roll out his dream car from the garage, his precious 1966 Ford Mustang Fastback.

“I’m a rabid fan of classic Mustangs. Mine needs TLC but I haven’t had the time,” he says. “It’s been sitting idle with less than 100,000 miles and the engine needs work. I can’t wait to get it back on the road.”

Once that ’66 Mustang is back in shape and ready for a spin, on which freeway will Gram gets his kicks? Would that be Route 66, Gary?

“Yes, back in 1966, that was my fantasy.”

The department has truly benefited from this dinosaur. So, here’s to making a dinosaur’s fantasy of driving a ’66 Mustang a reality. May they never become extinct.