By John Schneidawind, vice president of public affairs, ARTBA

New technology is driving rapid change in the transportation design and construction industry, often eclipsing the ability of government policymakers to deal with it. At ARTBA’s Southern Regional Meeting and Dr. J. Don Brock TransOvation® Workshop, Oct. 28-29 in Miami, the association’s 2020 Chairman Steve McGough urged attendees to “keep the pressure on elected officials at all levels to make the right choices for our transportation network.”

TransOvation® featured presentations on the “Top 5 Disruptors” transportation industry leaders face in servicing their customers and meeting their firms’ business plans. Below are the five key areas and some of the top recommendations for new approaches ARTBA should evaluate when developing policy in each area.

  • Project Determination, with Jason Davis, deputy director for engineering & operations at the Utah Department of Transportation; Ted Zoli, senior vice president at HNTB; and Nick Goldstein, ARTBA’s vice president of legal & regulatory issues, tackled the challenges contractors and government transportation officials have in deciding what projects to plan for and propose, and how much risk to take.  Recommendation: Find new ways to utilize data to improve their decision making.
  • Project Funding and Financial Models, with Tom Layfield, executive director of the Alabama Road Builders Association; Amna Cameron, deputy director of strategic initiatives at the North Carolina Department of Transportation; and Steven D. DeWitt, senior vice president for business development at ACS Infrastructure Development, Inc., explored new ways to fund and finance transportation projects.  Recommendation: Develop an alternative to the gas tax that preserves the user fee connection but captures more value – such as a Vehicle Miles Driven (VMT) fee; privatize highway rest areas, and adopt congestion pricing.
  • Workforce of the Future, with Nick DiBartolo, vice president at Rogers Group; Jessica Josselyn, associate planner at Kittelson & Associates, Inc.; Ben Lehr, vice president at RS&H; and moderator Ananth Prasad, president of the Florida Transportation Builders Association, discussed chronic labor shortages and workplace safety. Recommendations: close highway routes that are under construction to minimize accidents and reduce costs; tie infrastructure legislation to immigration reform to increase the labor supply; and emphasize vocational, skills-based education as an alternative to a college degree.
  • Artificial Intelligence & Automation, with Ross Smith, director of Skype for Good (Microsoft) and Suzanne J. Murtha, national lead for connected and automated technologies at AECOM, considered multiple issues dealing with artificial intelligence and autonomous vehicles.  Recommendation: ARTBA should determine whether autonomous vehicles on transportation construction sites are safer than manned vehicles.
  • Integration of Technologies, with Derricke Gray, industry strategy group manager at Bentley Systems, and Ryan Burley, solutions advisor at Juniper Unmanned, explored how computer software and drones are cutting costs and saving time to survey and evaluate project sites.  Recommendation: Embrace the new technology and stay flexible in using it on project sites. “Designers understand construction,” Gray said. “Construction (firms) have to understand design.”

HNTB’s Zoli said the transportation construction sector must reach out to develop new alliances with groups outside of its core industry. “We don’t have enough broader coalitions,” he said. “We’re isolated.”

During the group workshop, attendees had the opportunity to discuss these topics with speakers. Recommendations and output from each group will be evaluated for further policy development and action items at the association.