A man who served as the driving force behind mass transit in Berks County for the past three decades has died.
Dennis Louwerse, longtime executive director of the Berks Area Regional Transportation Authority, passed away with his family by his side in a hospital Thursday night, said Ryan Furgerson, BARTA's deputy executive director.
Louwerse became executive director of the then-10-year-old transit agency in May 1983, said Mickey Roeberg, a member of BARTA's board of directors and its former chairman.
Without Louwerse, many say BARTA would not have the routes or terminals to move more than 10,000 passengers each day.
"Dennis will be a great loss to the community," said Roeberg.
In his more than 30 years on the job, Louwerse was recognized as an innovator and visionary and credited with helping to shape the debate on the future of transportation in Berks County and beyond. Friends and colleagues said he had a passion for transportation.
"Anytime you talked to Dennis about the bus company or transportation issues, he was like a live wire. You could see it in his eyes," said Pa. Rep. Tom Caltagirone, D- Berks Co.
Louwerse's accomplishments include obtaining federal money in 1993 to remove the pedestrian mall on Penn Street and reopen the road to traffic; opening the BARTA Transportation Center at South 7th and Cherry streets in 2002; and building the 350-space park and transit garage at South 7th & Franklin streets in 2005.
Louwerse also helped BARTA become one of the first transit agencies to run buses powered by compressed natural gas.
"He always was innovative, looking for bigger and better things to do. If it was not for Dennis, that Franklin Street station would not have been renovated to its beautiful luster that it is today," said Commissioner Kevin Barnhardt, D-Berks Co.
The Franklin Street station, one of Louwerse's most recent achievements, was rededicated with much fanfare in May.
The station's initial purpose will be to serve as a bus depot, but trains between Reading and Philadelphia, another of Louwerse's longtime goals, could one day return to the station.
The first buses are due to operate out of the station on Monday as part of a new route between Reading and Lebanon.
But making all of the improvements came with a price tag, and Louwerse's colleagues said he knew his way around Washington and Harrisburg to get the funding for those upgrades.
"I think congressmen and senators and state legislators feared him when they knew he was coming to town looking for a change in legislation, a change in law and looking for money, but he delivered," said Barnhardt.
PennDOT recognized Louwerse with a lifetime achievement award in 2011 for his innovation, dedication and commitment to public transportation in Berks County and throughout the state.
"A lot of innovations that he has made, they will live for a long time to come, and that is all part of his legacy," said Caltagirone.