Walking down Monroe Street, any visitor would notice the vibrant businesses, murals and life. However, when Traffic Engineering Engineer Gretchen Avilés Piñeiro steps down the sidewalks, she notices everything necessary for the culture on Monroe Street to thrive and move safely: the traffic lights, signs, signals, crosswalks and so much more.

“This street [Monroe Street] was reconstructed a couple years ago, and for this project, I was in charge of designing the street lighting and the traffic signals,” Avilés Piñeiro said.

Avilés Piñeiro was hired at the City of Madison in 2015 and soon after started working on a historic artery of the City, Monroe Street. However, vibrant beginnings didn’t start in Madison, Wis., for Avilés Piñeiro. Her dreams of designing infrastructure started roughly two thousand miles away in her home country of Puerto Rico.
 “Since I can remember, I’ve always like watching construction,” Avilés Piñeiro said. “So if we were driving, my mom was driving, and I was little, and I would look out, and I would see construction, whether it was in a street, building a house, I was interested.”

From looking through the glass window to breaking it, Avilés Piñeiro said her mother was instrumental in helping guide and support her passion for civil engineering.

“When it comes time in high school when you have to decide, what are you going to do with your life? My mom told me, ‘So, this is everything the University of Puerto Rico has to offer, read and let me know what you want to do with the rest of life.’,” Avilés Piñeiro said.

A big decision for a young woman, but not too big to keep Avilés Piñeiro from excelling and earning her Civil Engineering degree from the University of Puerto Rico in Mayagüez, even if she was in a field typically dominated by men.

“Since I was growing up, my parents never told me, ‘you can’t do this because that was for boys,’ or, ‘you have to do this because this is for girls.’ I chose what I liked,” Avilés Piñeiro said. “My parents were very supportive, and that’s how I got to where I am. It’s very easy to know what you like, but you have to have the confidence to see it through and just continue to do what you like, and you’ll be good at it, and people will notice that it doesn’t matter who you are.”

Finding what you want to be when you grow up isn’t always the easiest decision, especially at an early age, but after earning her degree, Avilés Piñeiro knew her next step: find a place she could thrive as a new civil engineer.

“I was looking for a specific job, not for a specific state or city I wanted to be in,” Avilés Piñeiro said. “I found this position in the City of Madison to be an engineer for the Traffic Engineering Division. I applied, and I got the job!”

Her job proves to be an essential form of impact for anyone traveling in the City of Madison.

“Everyone has to get from point ‘A’ to point ‘B’—and we [Traffic Engineering Division]  make sure that everyone can do that, no matter what mode of transportation they’re using,” Avilés Piñeiro said. “Whether you’re driving, biking, walking taking the bus, we make sure that it’s done efficiently and safely. Everyone has to do it every day, so it’s something that impacts everyone’s lives, and it’s just fun to be a part of it.”

From a vibrant culture in Puerto Rico, to a thriving community in Madison, Wis., Avilés Piñeiro is proud to work for the City of Madison Traffic Engineering Division, and hopes other young women can follow their careers to a place they enjoy for the rest of their lives, too.

“Doesn’t matter what career you choose, just make sure you enjoy what you do, because you’re going to do it every day, so as long as you know what you like, and you know you’re going to enjoy it every single day doing it, doesn’t matter if it’s male predominate, just do what you like.”

So the next time you take a walk down Monroe Street, and you’re part of the energy and buzzing of busy people traveling in and out of shops, enjoying the community, notice this: the feeling you have in a special part of the City is because you feel safe and are able to enjoy worry free thanks to someone like Avilés Piñeiro making sure the things you don’t notice are done correctly.

The City of Madison is highlighting the work of five women during National Women in Construction Week March 5-11,2023.