Bertram D. Tallamy


Bertram D. Tallamy

Civil Engineer – Administrator – Planner – Builder Highways – Public Works – Construction – Dams – Water and Sewage Treatment Plants Twenty-second National Honor Member Nominated by the Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute Chapter

In 1958, when the Fraternity was thirty-six years old, it had elevated only twenty-one of its members to the exalted grade of National Honor member. Bertram D. Tallamy was the twenty-second member so elevated. He was born in Plainfield, New Jersey, on December 1, 1901, graduated from Plainfield High School in 1921, and graduated from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in June, 1925, with the degree of civil engineer (CE).

Both his father and his grandfather were general contractors, and Bert Tallamy immediately obtained employment in the construction field after graduation. As field engineer on projects involving several million dollars’ worth of waterworks, sewage treatment plants, roads, and bridges in western New York State, he became a specialist in sanitary and municipal engineering. Four years after graduation, he helped organize the private firm of Sheehan, Fretts and Tallamy, which subsequently became Fretts, Tallamy and Senior – all in the years 1929 to 1945. In that time, he served concurrently as deputy chief engineer and chief engineer of Niagara Frontier Planning Board, the official regional planning agency of western New York State. Under his direction, all of Niagara and Erie counties were mapped, and the first library of volumes was set up which accurately described the origin and technical descriptions of all roads in this region.

In 1940, the firm of Fretts, Tallamy and Senior became Fretts, Tallamy, Senior and Forestel, consultants to many public agencies specializing in municipal water systems, dams, sewage treatment plants, sub-divisions, housing, highway and street construction, and general municipal engineering.

In January, 1945, Mr. Tallamy resigned as chief engineer of the Niagara Frontier Planning Board, and withdrew from his private engineering firm to accept appointment as deputy superintendent of public works for the State of New York. The post of deputy superintendent was created to coordinate the state’s multi-million dollar post-war construction program. He sponsored the creation of the Bureau of Arterial Route Planning, which was placed under his direction. He also established the basic principles and personally guided the development of the preparation of state arterial route plans for about one-half of the cities of the state. The idea of a public relations bureau in the Department of Public Works was sponsored by him, and he was placed in charge of that agency.

The state’s first comprehensive analysis of highway conditions and future needs was handled by Mr. Tallamy as deputy superintendent. This study, which subsequently became a continuing program, formed the basis for a ten-year, $2.8 billion highway program sponsored by the public works department. On July 1, 1947, Tallamy became chief engineer of the department, and one of his first projects was a review of the standards of design for all expressways, particularly the proposed New York State Thruway (later named the Governor Thomas E Dewey Thruway). Under his direction, the state’s arterial route program began to take form in terms of actual projects placed under contract.

On October 1, 1948, Governor Thomas E. Dewey appointed Mr. Tallamy as superintendent of public works. The new superintendent began at once to enlarge the department’s bureau of research, which was given the task of preparing the detailed survey to determine the all-inclusive highway needs of the state. Mr. Tallamy was also in direct charge of an unprecedented program for the construction of state buildings, the reconstruction of large sections of the highway network, and vital work on the cross-state canal system.

In addition to his regular duties, he was selected by Governor Dewey as the state administration’s “trouble-shooter” in the critical soft coal shortages of 1949-50. He served as state fuel administrator and allocated scarce fuel supplies to the areas where the need was most urgent. After his appointment as superintendent in 1948, the state’s overall construction program was expanded until by the end of 1954, it reached the peak total of more than $928,500,000.

In 1949, it became apparent that the completion of the cross-state thruway would be delayed indefinitely if the state continued its policy of financing it only out of funds that could be allocated from the regular highway budget. Governor Dewey and various state officials began searching for some method by which the project could be expedited. Accordingly, Mr. Tallamy drafted the idea of financing the huge project independently of the state budget through the creation of a public authority with power to proceed with immediate construction of the entire expressway system. He also proposed that the work be financed through a modified toll system, under which special annual permits for the privilege of using the new facility were issued. This financing plan for the New York Thruway was approved in November, 1951.

The New York Thruway Authority itself was created in March of 1950. The governor immediately appointed Mr. Tallamy as a member of the three-member Thruway Authority and designated him chairman for a term that would have continued until January 1, 1960. Close supervision of thruway design and construction was only one of Mr. Tallamy’s responsibilities in the expressway project. Other pressing duties were the establishment of the organization to maintain and operate the system, including patron services, traffic rules, and regulations that have the effect of law, police, communications, the design of new-type signs along the cross-state route, and scores of associated problems.

In 1956, President Dwight D. Eisenhower nominated, and the United States Senate confirmed the appointment of Bertram D. Tallamy to the important post of Federal Highway Administrator, and Mr. Tallamy began his new work on January 1, 1957. He thus became head of the U.S. Bureau of Public Roads, with direct responsibility for the administration of the federal-aid highway program enacted into law by the President on June 29, 1956. Included in the program is a 41,000-mile national system of interstate and defense highways, as well as the construction or reconstruction of hundreds of thousands of miles of primary, secondary, and urban routes. Commenting on Mr. Tallamy’s appointment, Secretary of Commerce Sinclair Weeks stated: “The President, in selecting Mr. Tallamy, has chosen one of the world’s greatest builders of roads to fill the position of Federal Highway Administrator. This assures the nation that history’s biggest public works project, involving billions of dollars, will be constructed with outstanding skill, speed, vision, and integrity.”

Upon leaving his position as Federal Highway Administrator in 1961, Mr. Tallamy established an office in Washington, D.C., where he was the senior partner. The firm had been involved in a variety of consulting services covering engineering design, research, long-range planning, feasibility studies, forecasts of maintenance requirements, and administrative studies. They have been responsible for the engineering surveys and feasibility studies of a bridge across Long Island Sound connecting Long Island, New York, and Connecticut freeways; the design of some twenty miles of express highways in New York and some sixty miles of express highway location planning; the design of several highway bridges in the State of Wisconsin; nationwide bridges and interstate highway maintenance studies for the Highway Research Board, National Academy of Sciences; bridge and other highway condition and maintenance studies for the State of Illinois; and the design of several sewage plants for the New York State Thruway System. From 1965 until June, 1968, however, the Long Island office was transferred to Albany, New York.

Bertram D. Tallamy was very active in the affairs of the American Association of State Highway Officials. He was elected a member of its executive committee in 1949; was named first vice-president in 1950; and on October 26, 1951, was elected the groups 39th president. From October, 1948, to December 31, 1954, when he was Superintendent of Public Works, he was a member of the Water Pollution Control Board, the Water Power and Control Commission, the New York State Civil Defense Commission, the Land Office Board of Commissioners of the New York Department of State, the Temporary Highway Finance Planning Commission, and the Emergency Housing Joint Board.

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