Narrow bridges

I-5 span replacement chief Greg Johnson is used to building bridges

Johnson’s first boss, construction engineer Lee Kinney, was one of the most influential people in his life. Kinney took Johnson under his wing and mentored him, teaching him transportation policy — the most essential skill for Johnson’s current, mostly political job.

Kinney conducted Johnson’s final MDOT interview.

“He told me later (that) you just had that certain spark, that do-it attitude that he was interested in and said that needed to be nurtured,” Johnson said. “He was always encouraging. He never looked and said ‘you’re African American, you can’t do this or you’re young, you can’t do that.’ ”

At MDOT, some of the tasks were less than exciting.

One winter, Kinney assigned Johnson to traffic and security in Kalamazoo. One of his tasks was to meet the parents of recently deceased children. The parents would want change and Johnson was responsible for listening to them.

“You had to learn to say no to people when your heart and every fiber of your body wanted to say yes,” Johnson said. “Because if you put a signal there, it would make this intersection even more dangerous.”

Looking back, years later, the experience proved invaluable to him as someone who worked primarily in construction and design.