For new Deputy Director of Operations Diana Gomez, one of the biggest challenges of her job is getting used to the sheer size and scope of District 7.
“There are so many people that work for me that it’s difficult to see all of them,” she said. One of her goals is to meet all the employees in the Operations Division, but that could take a while given their numbers.
A Caltrans employee for more than 23 years, Gomez was last Chief, Office of System Management Operations, Headquarters Division of Traffic Operations, for more than four years before coming to this district in January.
“Being in the districts, as opposed to Headquarters, is different because this is where the work actually is being done,” she said. “It’s exciting to be in District 7 because it’s always been known as a place where special kinds of projects debut, for being a pioneer and I seek to encourage more of that.”
Her previous experience also includes nine years as Senior Traffic Engineer with the District 6 Division of Traffic Operations. Additionally, she served as National President of the Society of Hispanic Professional Engineers from 2003 to 2009.
Gomez has received two Caltrans Superior Accomplishment Awards (2000 and 2008) and two Excellence in Transportation Awards (1995 and 1997). She received her electrical engineering degree from Cal State Fresno in 1988 and her Professional Engineer license in 1999.
Her achievements also include being recognized as one of the 100 Most Influential Hispanics by Hispanic Business and as one of the top 100 Hispanics in the technical field by Hispanic Engineer.
Her vision for Operations is to increase efficiency, effectiveness, and response times. “I really want us to be looking at what we can do differently to make a positive impact on the motoring public.”
Recently, it was not just the motoring public but also the walking and wheeling who benefitted from a Caltrans signal project at the intersection of Topanga Canyon Boulevard and Marylee Street in Canoga Park, where Gomez participated in an installation ceremony for a new traffic light.
The nearly $1 million project also improved signal timing at three other Topanga Canyon intersections. But Marylee Street was especially significant because it was accomplished at the behest of residents aided by elected officials State Senator Fran Pavley and Los Angeles City Councilmember Dennis Zine.
Residents were very grateful, particularly those who were elderly and handicapped and therefore had difficulty crossing the street at a convenient location. Gomez told the group that the safety project was easily justified, even in this time of scant resources.
“Thank you to Senator Pavley for her dedication to public safety and to Councilmember Zine for his commitment to the residents of this area. Finally, thank you to all the community members who fought for this signal and everything it represents: safe pedestrian access; community activism; and a better place to live and work,” she said.
In addition to improving system management and organization, Gomez is taking a look at innovations in specific sections of bottlenecks and areas where Caltrans can tailor solutions to fit special circumstances.
As an example, she cited the Dynamic Lane on the on the Arroyo Seco Parkway (SR-110) at the northbound Golden State Freeway (I-5) connector, completed in January 2010. The project uses a series of Extinguishable Message Signs and lighted pavement markers to make the Number 2 lane function as an optional second connector lane during peak traffic hours.
Two years in, it has reduced travel time on the route from 20 minutes to two and accidents by 60 percent, Gomez said. She recently spoke about the project to the Institute of Traffic Engineers, where she was one of only four speakers that also included representatives from Washington, Wisconsin and Canada.
Gomez recognizes that the real challenges lie ahead in the form of funding – for example, Traffic Operations in Headquarters is going to zero-based budgeting, which will require that all operations expenses be justified. Also, with the (eventually) improving economy, traffic congestion will increase, she said. “Managing the systems will continue to get more difficult but challenges lead to exciting and innovative solutions.”
On the personal side, challenges include exploring all of the attractions Los Angeles has to offer, from Malibu’s hiking trails to cultural venues. Unlike various sports celebrities, she doesn’t necessarily plan on going to Disneyland but “I really want to go to Disney Hall,” she said.