Covington’s newest transportation director has built interstates and worked on the busiest stretches of highway in Atlanta, and he’s looking forward to a chance of pace.
Ken Swain, a 30-year veteran of the Georgia Department of Transportation (GDOT) who retired earlier this year, took over as Covington’s transportation director May 19; so far, he’s spent most of his time re-learning the city and memorizing co-workers’ names.
Swain and his wife, Vicki, lived in Covington’s Pinecrest neighborhood from 1989 to 1994 and loved the city, but moved to Loganville to find a bigger house and a more child-filled neighborhood for their son. His wife, who grew up in the area, still has family around.
“I love the old town, small town, even though population wise, I guess you might not consider it small anymore. It still has that feel,” Swain said Friday, ending his second full week on the new job. “I guess, getting old, growing up in the 60s, watching The Andy Griffith Show, it comes around full bore sometimes. You get tired of standing on I-85, jumping out of the way for traffic. (I thought) maybe Covington has something to offer.”
Swain retired as a construction project engineer in GDOT’s Metro Atlanta district, which Swain described as massive and crazy. He worked on the addition of HOV lanes to I-85, and back in the late 80s, he oversaw the building of I-675.
“That’s the biggest job I ever worked on. We let it. A 10-mile long project, right across pasture. It had 27 bridges; it was a massive project. We don’t let them like that anymore. New construction is going the way of the dodo bird,” Swain said.
First of all, there’s not much room left in Atlanta to build a major, brand new interstate. Second of all, a project that big would be broken up into multiple smaller projects today and handled by several different companies.
Swain was also around when Atlanta was preparing for the Olympics and worked on turning State Route 138 in Conyers from a small, two-lane highway to a full, divided-lane highway capable of handling the massive traffic expected at the Georgia International Horse Park.
Despite all that, Swain said it’s actually a little intimidating to be in a small town.
“It’s a little intimidating to be in this position to represent people that you know versus faceless people of the DOT and state; people just driving through. It’s kind of intriguing; I like challenges, and it’s a different challenge,” he said.
“The first time I was at the council meeting, one of the council ladies came up to me. I used to never have to deal with (that situation). I’m glad to now.”
Swain is excited about working with co-workers and residents who are “just fine folks. How would you not take the job?”
Coming from GDOT, Swain said he wasn’t sure how a smaller town like Covington would compare. He was pleasantly surprised.
“Sometimes you get the mindthink that they may not be up to spend, but in some ways they’re more up to speed in some areas,” Swain said. “Then you realize, you don’t have quite the bureaucracy to get things done. If you have good ideas and approach the people who are there to listen to you and are in a position to get things done, then it’s simple and you can get it done.”
Swain said he’s looking forward to working on more localized projects and working directly with those in the community.
Unfortunately, for those hoping the state has something up its sleeve to improve the monster traffic jams that permeate commuter trips into Atlanta, Swain said he doesn’t know of any magic fixes.
“Sometimes you just realize it doesn’t matter how many lanes you put in, because if you make more lanes, more people are going to use it. We’re going to designs of HOV and pay-per-lanes, and I guess those might work,” said Swain, who many times made the kind of commute that causes you to question your current life choices.
“You at like it like, Georgia was graced with the climate and potential that we have here, and that’s why all these people are coming. You can’t blame the people; you just wish some of them wouldn’t come in as much as they do.”
Working in Covington, Swain is making sure there’s one less commuter clogging up the interstate.
To reach Swain, email him at firstname.lastname@example.org or call him at his office at 770-385-2189.