Countywide : Caltrans Engineer Wins Major Award

A veteran Orange County-based state highway engineer has received a prestigious award for his efforts to launch a new county traffic operations center, start a free towing service for stranded motorists and initiate a public awareness campaign during the Santa Ana Freeway widening project.

Joseph Hecker, Orange County traffic management chief for the California Department of Transportation, was presented the inaugural Karl Moskowitz Award by the nonprofit California Transportation Foundation for his accomplishments during 28 years as a highway engineer.

"To be selected is an absolute honor," Hecker said after learning of the award this week. "I was just honored that my name was put in the hat to be looked at."

In particular, Hecker said, he was pleased to be associated with an award named after the late Moskowitz, an internationally acclaimed Caltrans engineer known for many innovations in the field of traffic management.

During the early 1970s, Hecker helped develop the first statewide traffic operations center in Los Angeles to keep better tabs on freeway traffic. He supervised the Los Angeles freeway command post during the 1984 Olympics and helped create the first "major-incident response teams," special units that quickly mop up after major traffic accidents to get the freeways moving.

Last year, Hecker guided the development of the Orange County traffic operations center, which monitors freeways to more quickly pick out trouble spots and dispatch the California Highway Patrol or work crews.

He launched the Orange Angels, a free towing service available during construction work along the Santa Ana and Costa Mesa freeways. Hecker also formed a unit that keeps residents informed about freeway widening work through mass-mailed brochures and a telephone hot line.

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