When a snowfall is measured in feet of accumulation or a thunderstorm blows in at 90 mph, the anxiety of a highway superintendent can be measured in consecutive sleepless nights. Yet Superintendent Daniel P. Losquadro says he never has wished he were somewhere else on snowy or windy nights other than in the superintendent’s hot seat.
“You know, this is by far the hardest job I have ever had and the most gratifying,” said the Brookhaven superintendent of highways.
After two and a half years overseeing New York State’s third-largest highway department (after NYC and the state DOT), Losquadro said his personal reward is watching a job get done.
“Seeing the tangible results of your work, whether it is a cleanup after a storm, or a massive snow removal, or the repaving of roads, I get to see tangible results and it is very gratifying.”
A superintendent’s job is full of tangibles. There are the usual storm images and sounds — snow, ice, salt, rushing water, downed branches and uprooted trees, steel blades scraping and bumping along concrete, whining blowers moving frozen water and beep-beeping trucks reversing and clanking away to spread more sand. But everyday nonemergency highway department labor also is rife with work you can see and touch, ranging from hot rolled asphalt and fresh road surface paints to newly poured and broomed sidewalks and free-flowing stormwater and drainage systems.
Losquadro has plenty of opportunity to get his hands dirty if he wants — and he frequently does.
“It’s funny,” he said. “People used to see me in a suit and tie and were surprised when I ran for the superintendent of highways. But people who really knew me were not surprised at all. The job fit my background and people who really knew me knew my background.”
A Superintendent’s Background
Losquadro is a Brookhaven native, growing up in Wading River and still living in the Shoreham-Wading River community about three miles from his childhood home. Because his father operated an automotive body shop, he learned one end of a wrench from the other and apparently got some oil mixed in his blood.
“The machinery side is part of the job I really enjoy. I probably spend more time in the mechanic shop than most superintendents do. My mechanics know that during a snowstorm, I will visit the yards and I always make time to stop in my mechanical shop.”
He calls the mechanical shop staff “the lifeblood” of the department.
“We have a very talented team of mechanics, welders, and fabricators. They never cease to amaze me, how they can get equipment back on the road. I know how valuable they are.”
The department’s maintenance facility, which is charged with maintaining all of the town’s vehicular equipment, has separate lubrication and tire shops, as well as a welding and fabrication shop that lets the department repair and modify equipment inhouse.
While enrolled at Stony Brook University where he earned a degree in history, Losquadro worked in construction as a member of Local 66 of the New York State Laborers Union. He had grown up around people in construction so it was a familiar work option and let him broaden his experience as an equipment operator.
“I would laugh when someone would say he was going to Panama City or somewhere for Spring Break, and I would say, ‘I got night differential!’ [for higher-paying night work].”
Looking back, said Losquadro, the union labor “really taught me a work ethic.”
After college, Losquadro became a senior property claims estimator for State Farm Insurance. He became thoroughly acquainted with the propensity of some people to defraud whoever has the money, in this case an insurance company. He was instrumental in the conviction of several people for making fraudulent claims. It was good training for a future manager of multi-million-dollar township budgets.
Elected to Office
In 2003, Losquadro took his blue-collar labor and white-collar investigator credentials onto the ballot as a candidate for Suffolk County’s 6th District legislative seat. He won and for the next seven years was chairman of the Environment, Planning and Agriculture Committee and the Veterans & Seniors Committee. Three years later, Losquadro was elected by his peers as the county legislature’s Republican Conference Leader, a position he held for the remainder of his time in the legislature. He served on every major budget working group, holding the line on country general fund taxes every year he was in office.
In 2010, the then-38-year-old Suffolk County legislator won election to the NY State Assembly representing the 1st District (now the 2nd District). Losquadro’s legislative agenda for the next two years focused on tax issues. He helped pass revenue measures that spurred small businesses to create jobs, capped property tax growth for home owners, repealed the MTA payroll tax on small businesses, and increased state aid to local schools. During his tenure, the Assembly lowered the middle-class tax rate to its lowest level in 58 years, passed consecutive on-time budgets and closed a $13.5 billion deficit without raising taxes.
Then things really blew his way in 2012 in the form of Superstorm Sandy and, in February 2013, a massive blizzard that struck during his campaign for highway superintendent. The seat had been vacated when the former superintendent became a judge; Losquadro was encouraged to run to fill the position. He did and was elected in a mid-cycle election in March 2013 and again in a regular election in November of that year. That balloting culminated a rigorous political schedule for Losquadro that totaled eight elections in 12 years and three elections in 12 months.
“When the Pope visits, my wife is up for canonization,” Losquadro quipped in acknowledging the electioneering stress.
Overhauling a Department
Losquadro is a believer in the old adage that you are only as good as the people you surround yourself with.
“I need people who can complement my abilities, who will either make up for my weaknesses or complement my strengths.”
To that end, the new superintendent plucked some capable people from other positions to strengthen his administration.
To tackle evident administrative challenges in the department, Losquadro pulled into his administration as his chief deputy the township’s emergency management director and public safety commissioner, Anthony J. Gallino. Gallino is a former NYC police officer and a fire district commissioner for 17 years. He currently is first vice president of the Association of Fire Districts for the State of New York. Losquadro leans on his chief deputy’s broad emergency services experience in formulating and implementing crisis plans.
To supervise budgetary issues in his office, Losquadro named Steve Tricarico his deputy superintendent. Tricario had directed the coordination of major post-storm efforts between the Long Island Power Authority and Brookhaven.
“Steve is one of the best budget people I have ever worked with,” Losquadro said, “and I worked with Ways and Means in Albany. He is only 31, has master degrees in public policy and business administration, and is a part-time college professor. I don’t know where he finds the time. He and I handle the budget ourselves and any time we sit down to run those budget numbers, he’s on top of it.”
The budget is a monster by New York town highway superintendent standards. Brookhaven’s department operating budget this fiscal year is more than $80 million, its capital budget $40 million. Large, yes, but commensurate with the size of the town: Brookhaven contains 531 square miles and is geographically the largest town in the state, bigger than the entire neighboring county of Nassau.
Almost a half million people call Brookhaven home. To keep all 500,000 residents happy, the department employs about 280 people and operates more than 200 pieces of heavy equipment. The department’s work is divided into major categories besides administration, including highways and bridge maintenance, traffic safety and streetlighting, vehicle and equipment maintenance, signage, and engineering. It is a sprawling enterprise.
“That’s why I work very closely with Mr. Gallino,” Losquadro said, the two executives being the lodestar for all the supervisory work going on beneath them. “We strive to know what the maximum effective supervisory capacity is of each individual supervisor. Then we have to delegate them authority, and trust that they are overseeing the employees in their areas of responsibility. Finally, we have to give them the tools to do the job.”
The superintendent said he found when he started work in the department that it had been run for years as if it were a much smaller organization. Some standards had been relaxed, some essential procedures outgrown.
“When I came into the job,” he recalled, “I found that some people in work areas had not been issued hard hats and safety equipment. When I worked as a laborer with Local 66, if I showed up for work and I didn’t have a hard hat, I got sent home and that’s all there was to it. The lack of safety equipment was one of the first things I rectified, not only to be in compliance with OSHA but for the employees’ safety.”
The department also was IT deficient, relying on paper-passing systems reminiscent of 1980s workplaces. A service request was put in a mail slot for a foreman who then forwarded it to a local crew foreman who would check out the situation and send the paper back up the chain of command where a work order was generated and sent back down the chain. This was way too slow for a former insurance claims man who worked for a company that went paperless 17 years before.
“I saw no reason why the department couldn’t do the same,” Losquadro said. “The lack of a timely response in constituent service was a frustration for me, so I essentially started considering constituent complaints as insurance claims. As a county and then state government representative, I could only talk about implementing private sector technologies in government offices. In my capacity now as a department executive, I could actually implement those technologies.”
And he did. Instead of passing notes, general foremen were given i-Pads to receive complaints, then go out in the field and photograph and otherwise document situations and, finally, electronically forward their conclusions for action. Eventually, area foremen were assigned the iPads as well — partly because they were clamoring for them!
“Some people thought there would be resistance, but soon the other foremen were asking for their own iPads and it was an easy transition.”
The bottom line is that the use of technology trimmed five days off the work order system, according to Losquadro. The electronic pathway to greater efficiency was introduced and both employees and constituents saw the difference.
As a county legislator, Losquadro saw how adoption of an 800 MHz radio system improved some Suffolk County operations. The radio system blends two-way radio technology and computer-controlled transmitters for expanded coverage and greater reliability. Brookhaven has hilly areas on the north shore and in the middle of the island, so line-of-sight radio broadcasts had dead spots. Losquadro and Gallino decided that an 800 MHz system was the solution and had the system installed. Severe weather subsequently tested the system and didn’t find it wanting.
Losquadro acknowledged that selling constituents on radios and iPads can be harder than rolling out shiny new trucks that taxpayers can see working the roads. Yet Losquadro found the sale to be relatively easy because residents soon recognized the difference the strategic investments were making in shortening response times. While storms and urgent constituent service challenge highway officials, they also give a department the chance to demonstrate how IT equipment speeds the work.
No. 1 Job: Highways
Highways are the principal focus of the highway department, of course. Brookhaven contains 2,200 linear miles of roadway. They translate into 3,350 lane miles, which is how the state DOT considers the trafficways in allocating Consolidated Local Street and Highway Improvement Program (CHIPS) funding. Roadways in the town range from one-lane paths in Long Island Sound hamlets like Sound Beach and Rocky Point to the Long Island Expressway.
“These are very different, obviously, in terms of how to maintain them, with some being cleared of snow in a single pass and others requiring several passes. That’s how DOT looks at the roads in its CHIPS funding,” Losquadro said.
Not all the pavement in Brookhaven is the department’s responsibility, with principal arteries in commercial areas and the main east-west highways mostly maintained by state DOT equipment. The Suffolk County highway department tends the larger north-south arteries.
“Other than those main corridors, everything else is mine,” said the superintendent. “I have some town roads with very high traffic counts, mostly in urban or suburban areas, and lesser traveled roads in more rural areas. We have a lot of open space in Brookhaven and are very fortunate to have it.”
Brookhaven and some other towns entered into agreements with Suffolk County more than 60 years ago when the county didn’t operate a full highway department. The upshot is that the town still maintains some roadways belonging to the county, including paving and removing snow from them.
Since taking office, Losquadro has overseen more than $50 million in paving work, all of which was contracted out. By letting private contractors complete major resurfacing projects, the department can focus on being a service-oriented department.
“I have a crew doing sidewalks and other maintenance. They work all day every day, but they generally are responding to complaints for service, to reports of damaged curbing, collapsed sidewalks, or drainage issues. We divide work into what we can do in-house and what we can contract out.”
Losquadro also budgets time and resources to managing the town’s water resources — “we have a tremendous focus on drainage and stormwater,” he said. After all, more than half of Brookhaven’s 531 square miles are covered by water. The town contains large lakes and extends from the Atlantic Ocean and the Great South Bay inside Fire Island, which borders on flood-prone low-lying properties, all the way across the island to Long Island Sound to the north. The town is finalizing a contract with an outside firm to map the town’s storm drains so GPS technology can more effectively manage the system.
Relatively unexciting work such as highway signage and traffic safety is not ignored. Honking horns and dented fenders would result if it were. As parts of Brookhaven evolve from places of summer residences to full-time residency, Losquadro has responded with significant upgrades in turn lanes and traffic easements. Studies are under way to determine how to alleviate congestion and employ GIS technology to build a data base on traffic flow.
“And our sign shop is very important,” said the superintendent. “When a sign is down, replacing it in a timely way is important. It is a quality of life thing.”
Equipment for the Job
The machines a highway department needs don’t come cheap. In the next few weeks, Losquadro will take delivery of four 10-wheel Mack dump trucks. Total price tag: $900,000. This is the latest tab in an ongoing investment in the department’s fleet. The Brookhaven town logo already emblazons two dozen new Freightliner six-wheel dump trucks, more than a dozen heavy-duty dual-wheel Ford trucks, 30 pickups, a vacuum truck and a variety of heavy construction equipment.
Still on Losquadro’s wish list are three more vacuum trucks so that the drainage and stormwater work in each of the town’s four work quadrants will have a unit designated for it. The trucks cost $385,000 apiece, so Losquadro must acquire them one at a time. Also needing to be replaced are aging wheel loaders, street sweepers, and yet more dump trucks.
“When I took over, the equipment fleet was not set up properly,” Losquadro said. “When I bought the four 10-wheelers, I doubled the department’s inventory of the machines. Having that kind of capacity inhouse is very important, which was borne out when the August storm moved through on the north shore. Thousands of trees were downed in a small area. The damage
actually was worse than in Superstorm Sandy.”
After the August storm, the department collected more than 30,000 cubic yards of vegetative debris. At the peak of clean-up, trucks each day were hauling to a mulching center more than 1,000 cubic yards of debris.
“Having the resources to flood into a stricken area and clear streets of vegetative debris is a good start in recovering from a storm,” said Losquadro.
So the superintendent has focused on rehabilitating the fleet, a task he realizes is going to take some time.
“It’s not going to happen overnight. In the next budget year, we are looking to replace more equipment. The department budget accounts for 45 to 48 percent of the town budget, so what I do has significant impact on town finances. My job is to stretch those dollars as far as possible.”
One of the more unusual pieces of equipment on the superintendent’s list is replacement of the department’s military surplus landing craft. Think Iwo Jima or D-Day landings on the Normandy coast, with open flat-bottomed boats reaching a beach area and lowering their entire front panels to disgorge GI’s and jeeps. For a town to maintain and operate that sort of craft might seem frivolous, but it turns out the landing craft is a staple of the department’s equipment. It is used to supply material and machines across the Great South Bay to Fire Island, much of which lies within Brookhaven’s town limits. Some towns contract for barges, but Brookhaven’s regular offshore work makes the landing craft the more practical option.
“I really need to replace that boat,” the superintendent said.
Under New York State highway regulations, Fire Island’s boardwalks and concrete crossovers for vehicular traffic are the responsibility of a jurisdiction’s highway department. So the landing craft will be used to support contracted repair work on Fire Island resulting from Hurricane Sandy. More significantly, the craft is vital for the department’s regular maintenance of boardwalks.
“My crews stationed on Fire island do the routine maintenance work every day, year round, so that landing craft is an essential piece of equipment,” said Losquadro. “The boat is being kept afloat with bubblegum and baling wire. I have talented people in my welding and fabrication shop and if it were not for them, that boat would be at the bottom of the bay.”
The plan is to buy a new military surplus landing craft, rid it of the triple-redundancy systems that are vital to military maneuvers but tend to wear out easily, otherwise refurbish the boat, and replace the craft’s diesel engines with new John Deere units. The department already is deep into researching where it can pick up a replacement military landing craft for its civilian work.
Less unusual pieces of equipment are procured through more usual channels. However, procurement by New York State government entities through the statewide contract system has been problematic in recent years. Losquadro said he shops freely until he finds the best deal. The department has bought pickup trucks off the state contract, solicited and awarded local bidders in other purchases, and bought equipment through the National Joint Purchase Alliance.
“We are not married to any one channel. Whatever route works best for me in terms of costs and delivery in timely fashion is the method we use.”
Ups and Downs of Storms
The whole idea of emergency management is being ready for an event that may or may not come and, if it does come, will arrive fairly quickly. It is all about being prepared for any eventuality. In the past two winters, more than 50 individual storms hit parts of Brookhaven, and last winter, monthly records for cold were set last January and February. Part of Losquadro’s preemptive response to emergencies is to have the equipment he might need ready to go and to situate it in places it might be needed.
To that end, the department operates 12 equipment yards and materials centers situated around the town. Because Brookhaven has diverse terrain and conditions, matching machinery to the needs of the surrounding area is carefully calibrated.
“Placing the appropriate equipment in each area sometimes is as important as having more equipment,” Losquadro said.
Snow-handling equipment is readied for winter beginning at summer’s end. Smaller equipment on shelves is maintained so that when it is loaded up in an emergency it can be expected to start.
Once a storm hits, Losquadro wants to minimize recovery time. One way he does this is by avoiding handling of storm debris more than once. He has arranged for the department to use the waste management department’s $800,000 grinder that normally is stationed at the town landfill. When a storm strikes and branches and trees litter roadways, the department moves the grinder to a central receiving location and all downed materials are trucked to it for mulching.
“It worked exceptionally well after the August thunderstorm. If we don’t do that, cleanup work will impact operations longer than the storm did.”
The struggle to recover from damaging events is another downside of storms, of course. The aftermath of Sandy perfectly illustrates the problem. Working with FEMA authorities was, in Losquadro’s words, “slow and arduous.”
Brookhaven engineered and submitted reconstruction and mitigation plans to FEMA, appointing a point person to the task, yet the process dragged on interminably. However, a new director of the FEMA region has been appointed and the process seems to be moving forward again, according to Losquadro.
The upside of storms is that they sometimes expose an unknown weakness in a town’s highway or drainage system. Those can be opportunities for improving infrastructure and systems. Losquadro said that’s what happened in yet another August storm — “Steve and I kiddingly say we are going to put a line item in the budget called ‘August Weather Events.’”
The August 2014 thunderstorm set a single-day record for New York state, dumping 13 inches of rainfall in four hours.
The downpour exposed the inability of the town’s recharge basins, of which the town has more than a thousand, to deal with that much runoff. The basins are supposed to handle up to eight inches of rain, containing it until the rainwater can percolate back into the ground. However, the basins were way overwhelmed because they had been neglected. Compacted sediment had reduced percolation and roots of trees and bushes clogged the soil. Said Losquadro: “Many of them looked like nature preserves. We’re now devegetating them and removing sediment. It is going to take several years, but the storm exposed the problem and gave us the opportunity to fix it.”
The first-term Brookhaven highway superintendent seems to be succeeding in his executive role. Part of the success surely must be attributed to his ability to cultivate and maintain productive relationships at various governing levels. As a former recent member of the state assembly, Losquadro has floor access in both chambers during assembly sessions where he can quietly lobby for highway support. This also gives him additional credibility in his work with the Suffolk County and New York State Highway Superintendents Associations.
“I understand the challenges the county and state governments face and I think that gives me a clear advantage in being able to navigate the corridors to make our case,” he said.
In addition, two sitting town council members worked for and with Losquadro prior to their election to council, which at the least gives them valuable insight into his thinking and in all likelihood makes them sympathetic to his long-term goals for the department.
When Losquadro decided to meet with utility companies to talk about mitigating street disruptions for utility work, he was accompanied by Tricarico. His deputy superintendent’s presence lent immediate credibility to the superintendent because of Tricarico’s success with the Long Island Power Authority. Consequently, a moratorium of one year was placed on new pavement.
“Any kind of repair is a compromised roadway, and coordinating projects is in the best interests of the taxpayer and the infrastructure itself,” the superintendent said of the agreement established with utility engineers. “This way, the utility companies don’t have to pay the costs of restoring the roadway and traffic isn’t disrupted.
The superintendent has a good relationship with the Brookhaven council, which largely has bought into his belief that maintaining infrastructure is a transcendent good.
“When my department is successful, it makes the entire town look good,” he explained. “People don’t differentiate: If their street doesn’t get plowed, they blame the whole town government. My department provides a fundamental service. It’s where the rubber hits the road, no pun intended.”
Still, Losquadro is anything but satisfied with how much money the department has to spend on equipment and services. He estimates that he has $120 million in outstanding road work, yet is allocated only $17 million annually from the town and state CHIPS fund. He ends up moving money around to get ahead of constituent requests to remove trees and to replace concrete pavement that has been heaved and broken by freeze-thaw cycles.
“I have to look at this like a business. I have 3-, 5- and 10-year business plans and it is going to take that long,” he said. “We want to get to the point where we are doing regular maintenance. Right now it is a matter of worst first.”
Other relationships maintained by Losquadro are with some of the nine incorporated villages in the town limits. Brookhaven is responsible for snow removal, striping, pothole repair and other basic highway maintenance work in those villages. Also, when major storms strike the town, the department augments its 200 to 250 pieces of equipment with up to 500 pieces of equipment from contractors.
Losquadro maintains a “substantial” list of contractors ready to respond in an emergency.
One of the more curious facets of the highway superintendent’s job is its maintenance of the Brookhaven Ecology Site, Park, and Animal Preserve. The facility is essentially a zoo. One of Losquadro’s predecessors in the highway department started it on a former landfill with the idea that it could supply town-grown flowers for landscape projects. Then it became a home to abandoned or injured wild animals and today is a communal flower-growing haven, a compost-pickup spot, a walking trail, and a petting zoo for such animals as a buffalo and a pair of bears — Honey and Poo.
“It really is incredible and unique,” said Losquadro. “My employees run the whole facility. Brookhaven is the only highway department in the state with the category of ‘Animal Caretaker’ in its budget. I went there as a kid and my kids go there.”
The zoo-park is another part of a town that Losquadro clearly loves. He described Brookhaven as a series of closely-knit communities, most of them identifying with a local school district. It is a place where the superintendent, his wife Lynn, and their young children Joseph and Meghan, are happily rooted. All in all, Brookhaven is a constituency as a whole that Losquadro is committed to representing.
“Brookhaven is a very diverse town demographically and socioeconomically,” he said. Census figures peg the town at 70 percent white and 25 percent African-American. About 8 percent of residents identify themselves as Hispanic or Latino.
“For me, in representing the entire town, I made a commitment that I would break funding equally among the six council districts, rich and poor. I represent half a million people and it is very important that I represent them all.”
As a practical matter, added Losquadro, who is back on the ballot this fall, if he is successful in working for the entire town, people in each area will see progress near their homes and be more apt to wait for the rest.
“They will have more understanding of the problems of my budget and be more patient.”
Brookhaven is situated about 50 miles from Manhattan and is the largest of the state’s 932 towns. It dates from 1655, with the town of Brookhaven officially coming into being in 1686. The name is an anglicized rendering of the town’s first settlement, Setauket.
The land was formed by glacial movement, with its hills the consequence of a glacial moraine and its lakes glacial kettleholes that filled with water. Lake Ronkonkoma is Suffolk County’s largest lake. Tall timber cover areas near areas near north and south shores and the town relies solely on Long Island’s aquifer for potable water. Barrier beaches form the town’s southern edge.
Stony Brook University is the town’s largest employer, employing four times more people than the second largest employer, the IRS. Three small airports serve the community and ferries connect the town to Fire Island and across Long Island Sound to Bridgeport, Conn. Estimated median household income in 2013 was about $80,000.
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