Stanford’s Mike Steep

By Mark Holan, editorial director, ARTBA

Attendees at ARTBA’s 2018 National Convention and Dr. J. Don Brock TransOvation Workshop™ focused on the serious need to build and maintain smart and resilient U.S. transportation infrastructure.

Expert speakers from the transportation construction industry, technology sector, public agencies, and academia addressed the theme during the Sept. 30 – Oct. 3 meeting in New York City.

Mike Steep, executive director at Stanford University Global Projects Center’s Digital Cities & Emerging Technologies Program, gave a riveting overview of how “tip of the iceberg” technological innovations that sound like science fiction are already changing our lives faster than most of us realize.

“Technology is exploding across every category,” he said.

A few examples: includes solar-paneled, energy-generating “smart” roads; stretchable materials embedded with low-cost, networkable sensors that monitor built and biological matter; and visual modeling tools that anticipate the impact of natural disasters or terrorism.

Changing corporate culture to embrace the disruptions caused by this technology as an economic opportunity, he said, is usually a bigger hurdle than adapting to the technology itself. Successful companies will embrace new “outside-in” approaches to research and development, and operations, rather than their more traditional “inside-out” models.

Port Authority of New York and New Jersey Executive Director Rick Cotton, whose agency is overseeing the rebuilding of four airports, addressed attendees Oct. 2. He said, “community engagement is absolutely critical” when tackling such massive infrastructure projects. But politics remains a hurdle. Cotton noted there is still an impasse between the two states and the Trump administration over funding for the Gateway project, which would provide new rail access to Manhattan.

Ted Zoli, senior vice president at HNTB, guided Dr. Don Brock Transovation™ Workshop participants through developing a plan to sell the general public and elected officials on the importance of making transportation infrastructure resiliency component a priority funding issue at the federal level, including the next surface transportation reauthorization in 2020.

“If you can’t get resources into an area hit by a disaster in three or four days, then you really have a crisis,” he said, emphasizing the importance of roads and bridges.

Attendees agreed on the need to make strong economic and commercial arguments for resilience investments, including the National Highway Freight Network. That next Amazon package won’t get delivered if roads and bridges are knocked out.

Other Transovation™ speakers and panelists included Jennie Clinton, senior risk manager at Microsoft; Mike Flood, national resiliency lead at WSP USA; Josh DeFlorio, chief of resilience & sustainability at the Port Authority of New York & New Jersey; Ryan Prime, sustainability director at Skanska USA Civil; Eric Daleo, assistant executive director at Capital Planning & Programs, NJ Transit; Jon Carnegie, executive director of the Alan M. Voorhees Transportation Center at Rutgers University; and Niek Veraart and Sofia Berger, both executives at Louis Berger; John Hillman, technical director at Parsons Construction Group; and Ross Smith, director of engineering at Microsoft.