Dunaway is always prepared

-A A +A

Career path for chief district engineer paved from high school

By Robert Villanueva

As winter gets into full swing, the threat of icy driving conditions might cross the minds of many, but none likely think about it as much as Patty Dunaway.


Dunaway, Kentucky Transportation Cabinet chief engineer for District 4, has the job of doing everything she can to make sure state roadways in Hardin County are safe this winter and all year round. District 4 consists of 11 counties, including Hardin.

“We have 2,900 miles of state roads to take care of,” Dunaway said of her office.

Maintenance, repair and signage are just a few of her responsibilities for the state thoroughfares. About two or three days a week Dunaway is in her Elizabethtown office, but other days she might be attending meetings in Frankfort or other in districts.

“I try to get out and look at ongoing projects,” she said.

During the winter, she and her co-workers try to make sure roads are clear of snow and ice, which means planning in advance. The staff, Dunaway said, considers Nov. 1 to April 1 snow and ice season.

“In October, we typically start with our snow and ice preparations,” she said.

Making sure the district has a stock of salt, calcium chloride and brine to pre-treat and treat roads is part of that preparation. Generally, Dunaway said, they shoot to be ready for winter by Nov. 1.

One of the biggest challenges when it comes to winter preparation is staffing, she said.

“We try to have two drivers with each truck,” Dunaway said, explaining sometimes staff numbers drop because of employees moving to other jobs.

She said it is beneficial when staff is from the area.

“They want the roads to be in good shape because their families and friends are from here,” she said.

Dunaway lives in Grayson County, where she graduated from Grayson County High School with a transportation scholarship at the University of Kentucky.

“I liked math and science,” she said.

For about the past 19 years — since she was 17 — Dunaway has been in the transportation field. She worked in several departments within the Kentucky Transportation Cabinet before taking her current position in 2006.

“It was overwhelming the first few months,” she said.

Her background working in departments such planning and construction made the transition easier once she took the reins as chief district engineer. Some of that had to do with her co-workers.

“A lot of us grew up together,” Dunaway said.

She praised the staff, describing them as often going above and beyond their duties, taking time to clear debris from roadways even when they are not at work.

During the 2009 ice storm, employees went to work, even though there was no power at the offices. They helped by clearing roads, she said.

Cases such as the ice storm might by trying, but they also help the office.

“We really did learn a lot,” Dunaway said, adding her office can do only so much in a case like that.

Other projects, such as those which developed as Fort Knox experienced the effects of its last base realignment and closure plan, present unique opportunities, she said. The BRAC projects allowed the state to partner with Fort Knox and Radcliff.

Dunaway said area residents generally are unaware of her duties and sometimes not even the roads for which her office is responsible. Regardless, she addresses all issues and works in coordination with other county offices and community representatives when she needs to.

When it comes to keeping ahead of the potentially hazardous conditions winter can bring, Dunaway takes her role to heart.

“We tell our people to be prepared,” she said. “And the same thing for the public.”

Robert Villanueva can be reached at (270) 505-1743 or rvillanueva@thenewsenterprise.com.


Town of birth: Elizabethtown.

Town of residence: Leitchfield.

Family: Husband, Jerry, and two daughters.

Favorite music: Pop.

Favorite movie: “Sweet Home Alabama.”

Favorite TV shows: “The Voice;” “The Big Bang Theory;” “NCIS.”

Hobbies: Sports, “anything outdoors.”