Robert S. Turner, longtime county engineer for Spokane County, Washington, whose novel programs to prevent water pollution, reduce drunken driving, and improve road maintenance elevated his profile in the community, has died. He was 95. He inspired a daughter and granddaughter to follow him into civil engineering.
When he retired in 1987, an article in Spokane’s Spokesman-Review praised him for “quietly shaped this community for the better” and “[t]hroughout the county is evidence of his skill – at building roads and bridges, yes … even more remarkably, at tapping the vast, community-transforming power of grass-root politics.”
Turner, P.E., M.ASCE, introduced three programs he would become acclaimed for. Protect the Aquifer was a campaign to raise awareness of and reduce pollution impacts on the Spokane aquifer, which is the source of drinking water for the area. And years before drunken driving became a hot issue, his CARTA (Citizens Against Alcohol-Related Traffic Accidents) campaign focused on prevention of driving while intoxicated. The program was kicked off by inviting reporters to drive through an obstacle course set up at the airport, first before, and then after enjoying several drinks.
Later, Turner introduced America Runs on Local Roads, which became national in scope and promoted the economic importance of well-designed and maintained local roads. His work on these programs extended to concept design for the logos and catchy mottos.
Turner was a life member of ASCE and highly active in the Inland Empire Section. After serving in the Army in Korea, he went to college on the GI bill, graduating from the South Dakota School of Mines with a bachelor’s in civil engineering.
With his wife, Darlene, Turner lived in Spokane and later Spokane Valley for over 65 years. They loved tennis, sailing, and summer vacations tent-camping with the entire family, who also sang together as a band. They also converted run-down houses into rentals and put what they made toward paying for their children’s college.
Turner’s eldest daughter Helen earned a civil engineering degree in 1978 and worked as a civil engineer at Puget Sound Energy until retiring in 2017. A granddaughter, Carlisle Turner, earned her civil engineering degree from Pitt and currently works on municipal roadway design projects at Kimley-Horn.
Turner also operated Sun Tree Books in downtown Spokane for many years and wrote poems.