ARTBA Chairman Matt Cummings, Massachusetts Transportation Secretary Stephanie Pollack and Northeastern Region Vice Chairman David Harwood of Terracon.

By Allison Klein, vice president of member services, ARTBA

Rapidly developing technology and massive amounts of digital information are transforming city life, creating new challenges and opportunities for transportation design and construction professionals.

At ARTBA’s 7th Annual Dr. J. Don Brock “TransOvation™ Workshop” and Northeastern Regional Meeting, Nov. 8-9 in Boston, nearly 70 attendees discussed how big data and growing connectivity are changing the industry workforce and market opportunities. In fact, how tech is changing nearly every aspect of daily life.

Attendees heard an overview on “Smart Cities and Urban Mobility” from Carlo Ratti, director of MIT’s Senseable City Laboratory, and Jascha Franklin-Hodge, chief information officer for the City of Boston. Other industry professionals described how connectivity is reducing the need for parking garages while increasing the call for curbside space to accommodate the rise in ridesharing.

Another issue: as driverless vehicles become more common, there could be increased “risk taking” by pedestrians as they see smart cars will always stop for them, potentially leading to the need for more enforcement of human behavior. Also discussed was what happens when technology fails or gets short-circuited by disruptive weather events, an issue in snow-prone New England.

Other experts warned the transportation construction industry is facing a shortage of qualified new employees. As discussed last month at ARTBA’s Southern Regional meeting, they said a key to solving the problem is by engaging and encouraging millennials through efforts such as mentorship programs.

One of the meeting’s workshop groups focused on data ownership. The consensus view is that state, city and other local governments will become responsible for managing the data, which will drive infrastructure plans and other development decisions.

Massachusetts Transportation Secretary Stephanie Pollack discussed the agency’s “Transportation Investment Gameplan” in her keynote address. The Commonwealth has invested nearly $3 billion in the last two years: fixed 80 bridges; paved 2,000 miles of roadway; replaced 24 manual toll plazas with 16 electronic gantries; and other improvements.

“But we know that it’s not enough – our assets are not yet in good condition,” Pollack said.

She said MassDOT will continue to focus on fixing existing infrastructure in order to improve reliability for drivers and transit users alike. In keeping with the overall tech theme, Pollack also said data and innovation will have a big role in planning for the next generation of major new projects.