Murawski to retire after 32 years

At Thursday's Lycoming County Commissioners meeting, the planning department Mark Murawski's (center) 32 years of service.

After 32 years and numerous changes to the Lycoming County landscape, Mark Murawski, county transportation supervisor, will retire today.

Murawski earned his masters in public administration at Penn State University.

In his subsequent job search, he landed an interview with Jerry Walls, the former county planning director, who had an opening for a transportation planner.

“All I had to really offer, as far as transportation, was a drivers license — a valid one — and I could read a map,” he laughed. “But I guess he saw something in me, some potential for transportation work.”

So Murawski took the job, with the goal of getting a couple years’ experience and then moving to Harrisburg to work for the state. Clearly, that’s one plan he didn’t stick to.

“After about two years or so, I decided that I was going to stay here. I was given the opportunity to get directly involved with projects, with community initiatives,” Murawski said. “My biggest fear was, if I went to Harrisburg, even if it was kind of a promotion on paper, I might end up in a cubicle. I would be far from projects when I always wanted to be up close and personal with projects. I wanted to be right there in the trenches.”

One of Murawski’s first big projects was the modernization of Route 15. Then, it was a two-lane highway with an alarmingly high fatal crash rate.

He recalled some of the people he worked with on that project who made a lasting impression, including former Commissioner Dolly Wilt.

“She sent a rose every day to Gov. Casey, at the time, basically appealing to the governor that he should come up here,” he said. “She did it in a very polite but profound way that got his attention, and he and his administration got very involved. I was watching that as a young person and I realized it’s not enough to do a bunch of technical studies to justify a project, sometimes you need to be passionate about something and do some creative things to bring attention to a cause.”

After several decades, Route 15 has received more funding than most roads in the state – even New York officials were persuaded to contribute.

The reconditioning of local bridges will be another piece of Murawski’s legacy.

The county owns 15 bridges and about 11 of them were “in terrible condition” when Murawski joined the team, he said.

Now, 30 years later, county bridges “are in great shape” with the reopening of the last of the “bad bridges” having been celebrated with a ribbon cutting in November.

Befittingly, just before his retirement, the state approved a Pennsylvania Infrastructure Bank loan in the amount of $7 million to kick off the bridge bundling program that will see nearly 20 municipal bridges repaired or replaced starting next year.

Another bridge metaphorically bearing Murawski’s name is the Market Street bridge, replaced as part of the effort to revitalize Williamsport’s downtown starting in the late 1990s, he said.

Roads and bridges weren’t the only means of transportation that fell under his jurisdiction.

Among the many projects in which he had a hand, it’s no secret that the Susquehanna River Walk was his favorite.

“I’m very excited about the opportunities to extend the River Walk out to Susquehanna State Park,” he said, adding that, as an avid bicyclist and runner, he will continue to support local trails.

Other non-road projects he oversaw involved the Williamsport Regional Airport, for which he served as the authority chairman for 10 years and as a board member for about 12 years.

“I saw a lot of changes over that time period,” he said. “The seeds of the terminal building replacement were sowed at that point. I stayed involved in the project after I left the authority from a funding standpoint, trying to get the pieces of the funding puzzle finalized.”

During his career, Murawski has worked with nine boards of commissioners and two planning directors.

“Every board was very supportive of transportation,” he said. “Jerry Walls was a visionary. He instilled in his staff the notion that we needed to get away from our desks and actually be out there in the community. Then you’ve got Kurt Hausammann, who was very much a person who loved to empower our staff. The other thing Kurt always felt was that a plan was only as good as its ability to be implemented – his legacy also will be one of, ‘Don’t just plan, do.’ “

Murawski said other longtime county employees are expecting to retire in the next year or two, and their replacements are a relatively young staff.

“As long as they continue to be empowered — I think they will bring the planning department to a new level,” he said. “There’s plenty to do.”

Taking Murawski’s place will be John Lavelle III, who has been with the county planning department for several years.

“John has a real passion for transportation,” Murawski said. “He will do well.”

Lavelle is understandably apprehensive, but he’s looking forward to the challenge of filling Murawski’s shoes and completing many projects still in the works.

“It’s intimidating. He’s got a big personality, but an even bigger footprint on Lycoming County,” Lavelle said. “Maintaining everything that he has in motion is going to be a pretty big task, but I’m pretty excited to start working on these types of projects.”

Hausammann, the commissioners and many other county employees agreed that Murawski’s retirement is a “real loss to Lycoming County and its residents.”

His cheerfulness, preparedness, energy and “morning briefings on the state of the union” will be missed, they said.

“Arguably, the two most important professions could be a doctor and a planner, because doctors heal people and planners heal communities,” Murawski said. “The bottom line is I’ve had a wonderful career.”