A Conversation with John Hooks, TSP2 Bridge Preservation
By Lorella Angelini, Angelini Consulting Services, LLC
John Hooks is a key part of the TSP2 Bridge Preservation team. He combines depth of engineering knowledge and technical competence about bridges with great people skills, the ability to listen and to build strong personal relationships. I had a chance to ask John a few questions at the recent TSP2 Midwest Bridge Preservation Partnership (MWBPP) meeting that took place in Bismarck, ND.
Could you outline the pivotal points of your career as bridge engineer and speak of your professional experience with FHWA?
I joined the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) in 1967 after receiving a BSCE and an MSCE in Structural Engineering at Clarkson University in Potsdam, NY. After rotating through several short assignments on a training program, I served as the Assistant Division Bridge Engineer in FHWA’s New York Division office. In 1975 I transferred to the FHWA Office of Research & Development in the Washington, DC area. This transfer helped define the remainder of my career with FHWA as a specialist in bridge engineering. I spent 23 years developing programs to implement the results of research done by FHWA as well as certain research done by state DOTs and the Strategic Highway Research Program (SHRP).
The main focal points of my work were bridge inspection, bridge management and bridge preservation. Two of the most notable results were: the 1990 Bridge Inspector’s Training Manual and the associated training courses; and the original DOS version of the bridge management system, Pontis – the basis of the current AASHTO BrM.
The final several years of my FHWA career, I served in the Research section of FHWA Office of R&D where I was the Director of Structures Research. I retired from FHWA at the end of 2004.
How did you get in contact with the TSP2 team? When did you join TSP2 Bridge Preservation?
In 2006, I joined an engineering firm, ENCINC in Virginia. One of my early projects with ENCINC was an FHWA study to develop a Transportation System Preservation (TSP) Research, Development, and Implementation Roadmap which FHWA published in 2008. The TSP2 team at the National Center for Pavement Preservation was a subcontractor to ENCINC for this project and I came to know the TSP2 team well.
Two other projects followed where I served as a consultant to NCPP. I first learned about the TSP2 Bridge Preservation program when I gave a presentation at the 2010 WBPP meeting. In 2012, I became a regular member of the NCPP TSP2 team and have been involved with the Bridge Preservation program and all its activities since then.
What are your main responsibilities at TSP2?
At TSP2, I have multiple responsibilities. The main one is working closely with all four of the Regional Partnerships and assisting with the development, organization and conduct of the annual regional meetings and the national meetings that take place every four years.
Each meeting attracts from 180 to 200 attendees, including industry representatives from 45 to 50 companies who exhibit.
I participate in all of the regular monthly calls and work closely with the eight TSP2 national Working Groups, such as the Bridge Management Systems Working Group for which I am recording secretary.
As a staff member at NCPP, I also work on research projects that the Center undertakes under contract with clients such as FHWA, NCHRP and Michigan DOT.
What do you enjoy of these responsibilities? On the other hand, what do you find most challenging?
Many aspects of my responsibilities are enjoyable. Meeting and collaborating with bridge preservation experts across the nation is satisfying as well as highly educational. There are always new things to learn about bridges and bridge preservation.
Working closely with the many attendees and with the members of the national Working Groups is rewarding, especially in that these volunteer groups develop products that have a significant impact on the practice of bridge preservation.
Of course, travel to the various meeting sites is almost always a pleasure. Partly because of my position at NCPP I have been in all 50 states, Puerto Rico, the District of Columbia and several foreign nations.
Two of the most challenging aspects of the position are the breadth of preservation technology that I need to be aware of and understand plus the difficulty in measuring the impact of the TSP2 activities on the bridge infrastructure. In many cases, the scope of the impact cannot be determined until many years have passed.
How does your bridge preservation experience at TSP2 differs from FHWA?
The main difference is that with FHWA my efforts were in pursuit of new technology for inspection, management and preservation of bridges. With TSP2, the main thrust of my efforts is to connect with a wide audience of bridge preservation practitioners and assist them in identifying, assessing and ultimately adopting new practices that improve their ability to preserve bridges.
What is your vision for TSP2 Bridge Preservation? What works? What would you like to improve?
The TSP2 program maintains contact with a wide audience of bridge preservation practitioners in state DOTs, local agencies, FHWA, academia and the private sector. The TSP2 staff has several avenues for maintaining a dialogue with those people: through management of the annual regional meetings and the quadrennial national meeting; through participation with the national bridge preservation Working Groups, the FHWA BPETG, and relevant TRB committees; and by providing technical services to the partnerships and individual agencies. This constant communication is the backbone of a collaboration that works quite well. Additionally, over the years, NCPP has amassed an unparalleled library of technical information on a broad range of bridge preservation topics.
What I would like to see happen is that to a greater degree than now, the TSP2 program be recognized as the first stop for bridge preservation information. The other thing I would like to see is a strengthening of current efforts to involve and deliver that information to local bridge owning agencies.
Would you like to share something about your personal life? Are you a morning or an evening person? What do you do like to do in your free time? What is your favorite book?
Sure thing. I am married, and my wife Linda and I have six children and a dozen grandchildren. In addition to enjoying all of them, Linda and I love to travel overseas and experience different cultures, languages and environments.
Most of my life I have been a morning person and for my entire adult life I have been a “fitness buff” and a runner for over 55 years. I do play a little golf (poorly) but my main passion for my free time is reading, mysteries and historical non-fiction being my favorite genres. My favorite book of all time is John Barry’s masterpiece “Rising Tide: The Great Mississippi Flood of 1927”, a fantastic book about Mother Nature, human nature and the engineering of civil works.