Tim Bray knew he wanted to work in the Brainerd area long before he had a job here.
"I just kind of fell in love with this area," Bray said, recalling visits to his grandparents here and boyhood trips to Mills Fleet Farm. A fishing and outdoors enthusiast, the lakes area made an early impression on Bray.
The 38-year-old has been on the job as Crow Wing County's highway engineer for about a month. He grew up in the small town of Hazen, N.D., northwest of Bismarck. Now Bray lives with his wife and two young sons, ages 3 and 7, near Crosslake.
Not sure of a career direction as a teenager, Bray joined the Navy as a way to see the world. A Navy lieutenant, Bray served on active duty and in the Reserve with the civil engineer corps. He was deployed to Al Anbar Province in Iraq in 2006. Bray served on the Navy's first Aegis cruiser, the USS Ticonderoga.
Tim Bray, newly hired Crow Wing County highway engineer, said he's been fortunate to be surrounded by talented people during his nine years with the Minnesota Department of Transportation and now at the county highway department. Brainerd Dispatch/Steve Kohls
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After six years with the Navy, Bray earned his bachelor's degree at North Dakota State University. He was a civil engineer intern with the DNR in Brainerd. Following his NDSU graduation, Bray picked the Minnesota Department of Transportation in part because of the broad training and experience he would receive. He spent nine years with MnDOT, starting in the Twin Cities office and working in Morris and Detroit Lakes before a spot opened up in District 3 in the Brainerd area.
A mentor came from Curt Eastland, MnDOT district project development engineer. Eastland's skills in working with the public and as a problem-solver stood out for Bray.
"I always wanted to be a project manager," Bray said.
One of Bray's primary projects was the four-lane Highway 371 project from Nisswa to Pine River.
"I would not even be qualified for this job if I had not been associated with that project," Bray said from his office at the county highway department by the Brainerd Lakes Regional Airport.
The idea of being a county engineer first appealed as a goal when Bray was in college. When the county's highway engineer's post first opened after longtime engineer Duane Blanck retired, Bray had just returned from his Iraq deployment. When Lyndon Robjent resigned, Bray considered the Crow Wing County job but he credits Robjent with urging him to put his hat in the ring.
Both at MnDOT and now at the county highway department, Bray said he's been fortunate to be surrounded by a lot of talented people. The sense of responsibility with the top engineer's job and the opportunity to directly help people were things that attracted Bray to the work.
One of his first projects was the final segment on Riverside Drive around Ahrens Hill. The project is poised to move toward bids this winter and for construction in the spring. Planning the nine metal staircases, which provide landowners an ability to access their property and the water, while not creating a gleaming metal eyesore was a chief concern raised by residents. Plans are to cover the metal in an earth-tone paint. Other projects on the table include the Highway 18 realignment in Nisswa and the micropolitan transportation study with Crow Wing and southern Cass counties.
In addition to carrying the ball on projects in the works, Bray plans to focus on efficient use of resources - time, money and people. Collaborating with adjacent governmental units is part of that, such as sharing a MnDOT pool of snowplow drivers if needed and exploring other options for partnerships.
But Bray may get the most satisfaction from helping residents solve problems whether it involves a plugged culvert, a mailbox support or a road issue.
"I like working with the public," he said. "I look forward to helping them out."
RENEE RICHARDSON may be reached at email@example.com or 855-5852.
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