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Johnson takes over as highway commissioner

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River Falls, 54022

River Falls Wisconsin 2815 Prairie Drive / P.O. Box 25 54022

Chad Johnson was very happy in his job as project manager for Hoffman Construction in Black River Falls.

However, when he heard Pierce County was looking for a new highway commissioner, he realized it wouldn't hurt to explore his options.

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"I felt this would be a real career opportunity for me," he said, adding positions like these don't come open too often.

The opportunity came through, as Johnson was approved by the county board last month. He started last week, succeeding Ross Christopherson, who retired last year after 15 years in the position.

"It hasn't been too bad," Johnson said after less than a week on the job. "The first couple of days have been a whirlwind. There is a lot of variety to the position."

Johnson, 35, grew up on a farm in Washington County (Minn.) and graduated from Hastings (Minn.) High School.

"Being a farm kid, I've always had the interest in working outside and with machinery," he said. "I guess that child-like interest never went away."

He attended Marquette University in Milwaukee and graduated in 1997 with a degree in Civil Engineering. Along the way, he spent four semesters in a cooperative program with the Department of Transportation (DOT), which he felt was very beneficial.

"When you're in college, you always wonder, 'Did I make the right choice?'" he explained. "And by working in the DOT, and specifically transportation construction, it confirmed my interest in civil engineering."

After college, Johnson joined Lunda Construction in Black River Falls, where he spent three years as project manager.

"I wanted to get back to this area of the state and Lunda was good experience for me," he said. "It just reached a point where I wanted to make a change."

He moved over to Hoffman in the spring of 2000, and was also a project manager there, spending most of his time on projects in Milwaukee or Minnesota.

His duties at Hoffman weren't limited to being project manager, as he was also in charge of subcontractors, worked in human resources and gained experience in other issues of the road.

"It was a really well-rounded experience there," he said.

As highway commissioner, Johnson will supervise a staff of nearly 60 and maintain up to 250 county highway miles.

"Coming from the contracting world, I'm going to be emphasizing safety," he explained. "We will be undergoing safety initiatives and offering rewards programs for those that have no lost time incidents."

He added that, in his four days on the job, he's already had plenty of discussions about winter maintenance.

"First off, we have plenty of enough salt," Johnson said. "Overall, it's gone well. We try to keep the roads as clear as we can. There has been a lot of hard work put into winter maintenance this year."

One thing he said he is working on is becoming more adapted on long-term planning.

"In the contracting world, it's all about short-term projects and what's next," he said. "I'm not yet used to dealing with paperwork that has 2013 on it."

There is one facet of the job that has surprised him.

"I didn't know what to expect, but the welcoming I got from county employees and here at the Highway Department has been a great way to start a job," he said. "They've been genuinely interested in meeting me and with the support of everyone around here, I feel at home already."

Johnson presently calls Eau Claire home, but plans on relocating to Pierce County. When asked about hobbies, he said he's a big hockey fan, specifically the Minnesota Wild. He declined to name a favorite football team.

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