There is little or no question that education is a key to success. As the responsibilities of transportation professionals broaden, there is needed education in all areas: the suites of disciplines in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) but also digital technologies and their various disciplines and off-shoots, social sciences, human resources management, public relations/communications, organization development and change, project and program management, business, finance, accounting, project controls (scope, schedule, budget), audit, English/editing/writing, planning, project development, design, construction, operations, maintenance, engineering and its disciplines, architecture, systems engineering/management, biological/environmental/climate sciences, geology, hydrology, political science and government, law, economics and economic development, jobs sustained and created, analytics, quality assurance and control, history, leadership, and many others. These are needed along with the skills, talents, and innovations to address the spectrum of transportation and mobility and associated challenges. It is difficult to find comparable data on countries’ STEM graduates. However, it appears while the U. S. produces the most Ph.D.s and 40 percent of India STEM graduates are women, India and perhaps China produce more STEM graduates than the U. S. (Buchholz, 2020; Sindwani, 2020; Gray, 2017). Regardless, the United States needs to keep focused on the importance of STEM programs and adjust to increasing technology and automation (Långstedt, 2021; Dilven, 2021). The competition for talent and skills will only continue in the future. A recently announced leadership development program is a partnership between Kiewit Corporation and University of Nebraska called the Kiewit Scholars Program (Crouch and Reed, 2021).
Marcia McNutt, President of the National Academy of Sciences, provided an excellent overview as the 2021 Transportation Research Board (TRB) Key Note Speaker on where we have been, where we are, and where we’re headed in her presentation: “Delivering science in a crisis: our critical role in helping society build back and forge a more resilient, sustainable future” (https://youtu.be/wuMOSM8BEoA). The TRB celebrated its 100th anniversary November 11, 2020, and as part of the National Academies, signed into law by Abraham Lincoln during the Civil War.
It is also important to remember that leadership is about people (Bock, 2021).
Strong generalist, systems and servant leadership are essential to bring this all together, setting the vision, mission, strategy, goals and objectives, priorities, policies, and standards through the people to overcome the many challenges—social, environmental, economic—we face (Smith, 2020; Renjen, 2020; Baldoni, 2020; Renjen, 2019; Moore, 2019; Bruce, 2020). (Some of these topics are also discussed in other articles on this website www.leadershipintransportation.com). In addition to the many talents leaders have needed in the past and present, they must continue to learn, adjust, and understand digital technology, at least at a conceptual and conversational level about what it can and cannot do (Joy, 2021; Cheng, et al, 2021). These are in addition to the many characteristics and intangibles that make good leaders—providing vision and direction, listening, asking questions, being responsible and accountable, giving credit, taking blame, being open, transparent and honest, doing outreach, building trust and strong relationships, and many more.
Some good transportation leadership articles written in a plain and direct manner are worth reading (McClain, 2013; Russell Reynolds Associates, 2015; Fohr, 2020). There is also the greening of transportation career fields (National Center for Sustainable Transportation, n.d.).
Top leaders must also develop a strategy that is simple, disciplined, and based on a clear value proposition on which customers, employees, suppliers, partners and stakeholders can mobilize (Oberholzer-Gee, 2021).
Regarding leadership, the Biden Administration has proposed a vast $2 trillion infrastructure package while the Nobel Foundation is hosting a “Nobel Prize Summit: Our Planet, Our Future” in April 2021 in efforts to address the many social, economic, and environmental needs (Tankersley, 2021; Renshaw and Holland, 2021; Schlesinger, 2021; Schapker, 2021; The National Academies of Sciences Engineering Medicine, 2021; Wehrman, 2021). Some are even promoting a $10 trillion infrastructure package over 10 years (Anderson, 2021; Winck, 2021.)
It is likely that we will see more changes in the transportation and mobility space in the next 10 years than in the previous 100, and education and leadership are more important than ever. It is no understatement that the race to the future will require skilled leadership and a well educated and skilled workforce. With the dramatic pace of change, perhaps there is nothing more important than to be life long learners. This writer has learned this lesson many times.
It has perhaps never been more important and necessary to step back and look at the world anew, think anew, and act anew, as a whole, not just its parts and sum of its parts, but as more than the sum of its parts—the built-natural environment we call earth—our home. This, leadership, and education, will continue to help us find a better path forward.
We live in a global economy, driven by multimodal transportation across the earths surface—land, air, and water.
This writer has tried to separate into shorter sections the social, economic, and environmental issues but found separating them was artificial and not real, losing or subordinating the inter-connectivity in the process. While disciplines are important and reasonable to separate out for “deeper dives,” separating them into categories defeats the purpose of a holistic or systems view. Thus, these issues are addressed as they appear—one ecosystem, or mobility ecosystem in this case, with related parts—in at least an attempt to reflect a systems view. Segueing from Part 9, it is also worth noting that without a functioning democracy we have nothing, including meaningful progress in the transportation and mobility space and all of the issues tied to it.
While the current Covid-19 Pandemic was not caused by our global transportation system that drives our global economy, there is no question that the pandemic’s rapid spread was a result. Similarly, the “cure” will be more rapid because of this same transportation system.
The pandemic has lost some of its acceleration as counter measures and vaccinations have taken place although there is concern over variants and a race for booster vaccinations occurs, similar to annual flu vaccinations. Still, more than 30 million Americans, or one in every 12, have been diagnosed positive for COVID-19 with over 550,000 deaths in the U. S. and nearly 3 million deaths globally, as of this writing. The expectation is that the total U. S. deaths will exceed 600,000 deaths by the end of 2021, before the pandemic is “under control” in the United States. The Centers for Disease Control, or CDC, estimates the actual number of Covid-19 infections may exceed 83 million in the U. S alone (CDC, 2021). Worldwide there are currently nearly 140 million recorded cases. (Wu and Chiwaya, 2020; Worldometer, 2021; Baker, 2021).
The year 2020 was the worst year for economic growth since World War II (Siegel, et al, 2021). Moreover, there was no “playbook” of how to respond economically as we continue to try and understand and plan for the future (White, 2021; Ross, 2021; Achenbach et al, 2021). It has changed everything in our lives—how we work, how we shop, how we socialize, how we commute, how we travel, education, business, entertainment, the environment, the economy (Vasel, 2021; Reese, 2021; Lobosco, 2021; Stern, et al, 2021; Watson, 2021; Dickler, 2021; Hughes, 2021; Wikipedia, 2021; Wikipedia, 2021; Parker, 2020; Spear et al, 2020; Pesek, 2021; Burns and John, 2020; Reuters, 2021; Bauer, et al, 2020; Patton, 2020; McKinsey & Company, 2021; Craven, et al, 2021; Entrepreneur, 2021; Davidson, 2021). The Pandemic persists even as vaccinations progress; new variants emerge; some states set aside recommended CDC measures, and a potential 4th surge emerges (Khemlani, 2021; Dearman, 2021; Rodriguez, 2021; Guenot, 2021; Dilven, 2021; Diedrich, et al, 2021; Murray, 2021). This is also changing how we think about cities, remodeling them in ways that could make urban life, and rural life, more attractive and sustainable (Goldsmith, 2021). More specifically, state department of transportation leaders recently discussed the impacts of Covid-19 on transportation (AASHTO, 2021). The “15-minute city” concept is emerging around the world—dwellers should have everything they need (work, grocery stores, bars, restaurants, shops, schools, healthcare, leisure) within a 15-minute trip, on foot or bike, from home (The 15-Minute City Project, 2020; Moreno, n.d.; Sisson, 2020; Harley, 2021). To be fair, there are also concerns about the 15-minute city with potential to increase inequality (O’Sullivan, 2021). Lockdowns gave working from home proof of concept, challenging the notion that cities need to be divided into separate areas for working and living. Many city dwellers experienced life with fewer cars and more bikes on streets and those cities will have to decide whether to make these “healthy streets” permanent (Whittle, 2020). A new smart city work philosophy concept is emerging for companies—smaller workspaces to meet all over the city, closer to people’s homes. The traditional idea of a city, one where smaller communities form around one central hub, is changing. Future cities may become vast urban areas made up of several smaller communities, each with their own center.
There is also the issue of communities holding onto some of the good things that have occurred during the pandemic (Descant, 2021). Besides the Herculean effort to develop and deploy vaccines, there are many other efforts that have been generated in these dark times. In another Herculean effort, the U. S. Army Corps of Engineers led the conversion of hotels and other buildings into needed COVID-19 hospitals. They also created an intelligent HVAC system that will likely find many uses in indoor spaces, and perhaps the transportation space as well (Carter, 2021).
None of this discounts the attractiveness of living and working in rural communities because there is much to like in these wide-open, needed spaces, that produce much of the food and other products we consume. Access is through mobility in all its forms. While agriculture is main stem in rural areas, the beauty of wild spaces has an important part in the United States, the world, our psyche, mental health, health of our planet and the life that it supports (Williams, 2017; Louv, 2011).
Even as we deal with this pandemic and its impacts to our lives and economy, there is need to learn lessons and prepare for the next pandemic, including in the transportation/mobility space (Wall, 2021).
The pandemic has caused us to rethink the ways we work. Microsoft founder, Bill Gates, predicts companies will much more begin to question taking a trip “just to discuss things,” reducing business trips by more than 50 percent. Home offices have grown exponentially, turning business meetings into video calls. This way of work is likely here to stay, reducing “office life” by more than 30 percent. (Entrepreneur, 2020).
As mobility emerges as a human right, equity, social and racial justice, equality, environmental justice, and mobility for the under served, disabled, minorities, communities of color, and poor are part of the core mission for transportation agencies. Moreover, as technology evolves and holds promise for improving lives, the digital divide must be closed and made accessible and affordable to all. This is an opportunity and will require strong strategic partnerships with private sector partners such as IBM, Apple, Google, Verizon, GE, and others. These necessary public-private partnerships might include joint committees, agreements versus contracts, and collaboration with other partners and stakeholders. Transportation agencies also would be well served by having offices or positions for experts in these areas and are well integrated into planning, design, construction, operations, and maintenance activities and collaborate with other partners, interests, and departments as appropriate. Updating the American Disability Act and related laws and rules must also occur.
The February 2020 ITE Journal is dedicated to exploring equity, what it means for transportation, strategies, how to put equity at the center of our work, micromobility to reach the under served, and how to make transportation systems better for all. This is a valuable resource for transportation professionals (ITE, 2020). There is evidence that transportation and mobility can help defeat poverty (Korman, 2021). There are also emerging tools and experience for measuring and advancing equity and social values (Fujiwara and Dass, 2020; Alexander et al, 2020; Citizens Utility Board, 2018).
Dorval R. Carter, Jr., President of the Chicago Transit Authority, received the 2021 Thomas B. Deen Distinguished Lectureship from the National Academies of Science, Engineering and Medicine Transportation Research Board (TRB). Mr. Carter was recognized for his leadership in the transit industry and legal community, and for spearheading significant advances in public transportation. His presentation, “Our Work is Never Done: Examining Equity Impacts in Public Transportation”, provides an excellent narrative for where equity has been and where it is going. His presentation, given as part of the TRB’s 2021 Annual Meeting on January 25, 2021, can be viewed via YouTube at: https://youtu.be/IBMgn5Ivm3c.
Environmental justice, similar to mobility, is emerging as a human right as it should. Its premise is essentially that all people deserve to live in a clean and safe environment free from industrial waste and pollution that can adversely affect their well-being. Those involved in creating and maintaining the mobility space must take responsibility for insuring this space is accessible, affordable, and with a clean and safe environment for all, including the under -served, minorities, communities of color, poor, and dispossessed. In addition to strong environmental offices and positions, environmental laws and rules must be updated. The impacts of greenhouse gases can have impacts far from their source (TRB, 2021).
In 2020 during the pandemic, the U. S. saw a 10.3 percent reduction in greenhouse gases, the lowest drop in annual emissions since World War II. See Figure 11. (Larsen, et al, 2021). This was a result of an estimated reduction of 15 percent vehicle miles traveled (VMT) compared to 2019 and a 13-40 percent reduction in demand for primarily passenger vehicles and as much as 18 percent reduction in diesel in April and May. This also resulted in delays of many projects as transportation department revenues from fuel taxes cratered.
While this allows the U. S. to exceed the 2020 Copenhagen Accord target reduction of a 17 percent below 2005 levels, this should not be considered a permanent change in meeting the 2025 Paris Agreement target of 26-28 percent reduction from 2005 levels. In addition, the 2020 reduction has come at an enormous price to the economy and human suffering. Serious work to make meaningful structural changes must continue to improve environmental health and limit global warming.
Over the past year, the world has been fixated on the pandemic and its effects on our lives, and for good reason. But an even bigger threat could change the way we live in a less rapid but more permanent way—the climate crisis—an existential and intergenerational quality of life threat. The threats range from the profound to the more subtle (Guterres, 2018; Xu, et al, 2020; Roston and Wade, 2021; Deutsche Welle, 2021; Cassella, 2021). Transportation agencies are some of the largest land owners in the world with responsibility for the land, air, and water. As such, they play a significant role in fighting climate change.
Global warming has already forced an estimated 20 million people to flee their homes every year (Oxfam, 2019; Ropeik, 2021; Newburger, 2021; NOAA, 2021). Rising temperatures combined with population growth means three billion people — one third of the projected global population — could be living in “unlivable” conditions by 2070 (Fleming, 2020). The inevitable result will be mass migration to “climate havens,” or cities sheltered from extreme weather with the capacity to grow (McDonnell and Shendruk, 2020). Preparing for this future can no longer be put off, and heads of state, members of the scientific community, the private sector, NGOs and youth groups will meet to discuss the issue at the world’s first Climate Adaptation Summit in January 2021. As cities around the globe develop climate action plans (C40 Climate Leadership Group, 2020), expect to see more zero-carbon housing projects (C40 Cities Climate Leadership Group, Nordic Sustainability, 2019) and green belts replacing asphalt (Totaro, 2020). “The questions we should be asking is how to protect the most vulnerable residents,” says Greg Lindsay, Director of Applied Research at the nonprofit NewCities Foundation. “How to develop new carrot-and-stick approaches to steer people away from the highest-risk areas.” (Lindsay, 2020).
Florida is ground zero for sea level rise and the costs are rapidly escalating into the multiple billions of dollars. Miami is raising their roads two feet and others are preparing to abandon, roads, bridges, and homes (Mitchelides, 2016; Harris, 2019; The Weekly Staff, 2020; Carroll, 2021; Sea Level Rise.org, n.d.). Rising sea levels are threatening Route 1 through the Florida Keys. The costs of raising the roads will amount to $500,000 per resident according to an a narrative without reference (Latanision, 2020). Regardless, published reports state some roads would cost $25 million per mile to adjust for sea level rise (Brackett, 2019). Using that cost and that US1 is 113 miles long over the Florida Keys with an estimated population of 73,000, the cost would be about $40,000 per person. Regardless of which is more reliable, these costs will likely continue to grow and ignore other impacts such as abandoned homes and businesses, property being flooded and below sea level, and ultimately a cost the State of Florida cannot afford.
Florida is not the only location at risk due to the rise in sea level. New Orleans is a case in point where it has been below sea level for many years—protected by sea walls and gigantic U. S. Army Corps of Engineers pumps (Twillie, 2018; Prior, 2019; Dunn, 2020; Laskow, 2017). Add to this that by 2050 70 percent of the world’s population is estimated to live in large cities, and these cities are sinking, literally, under their own weight (Parsons, 2021; Koop, 2021; Department of Economic and Social Affairs, 2018). The cumulative effects of storms, land subsidence, and urban cities subsidence could have dramatic impacts on life and the way we live, including transportation and mobility since they are never mutually exclusive from the built-natural environment. Soils have elastic and plastic properties. There is a propensity for cities to expand development through building new land with fill material, on wet soils, or adjacent to water bodies. Thus, it is relatively easy for these saturated soils to be prone to liquefaction, especially in seismically active areas. This is made worse by infrastructure, including roads and bridges, not being seismically designed or retrofitted (Chalmers, 2018; Oregon.gov, 2013). This writer is reminded of the many studies on the risks and catastrophes of building on permafrost, helping to better understand the built-natural environments, including before construction of the Alaskan Oil Pipeline (Péwé, 1979). Engineering has limitations and we frequently learn as we go, or hopefully.
Climate change has resulted in billions of dollars in flood damage (National Centers for Environmental Information, Feb 2021; National Centers for Environmental Information, Jul 2021; Kann, 2021). There is also the threat of land subsidence that may affect 19 percent of the world population by 2040 (Herrera-García, et al, 2021).
There are yet other issues that are likely to have negatives impacts. As many as 572 airports are also threatened by global warming and associated sea level rise by 2021 (Yesudian and Dawson, 2020). A record number of hurricanes, wildfires and floods cost the world $210 billion in damage in last year, much of it due to global warming. There were a record number of disasters during 2020 which occurred in the U.S. (NOAA, 2021).
This does not even mention the many negative impacts to a healthy environment (some of which were mentioned in earlier blogs of this series) that we depend on and continue to emerge (World Wildlife Fund, 2021; Rosane, 2021; World Wildlife Fund, Feb 2021). There are also many negative impacts to our environment, including from global warming, but some may not be attributed directly to climate change (Burt, et al, 2018; University of California – Santa Cruz, 2021; PEW, 2020; McPherson, et al, 2021). .
The recent winter infrastructure crisis in Texas is indicative of the importance and cost of infrastructure upon which society depends. In many cases, the repair, replacement, updating, contingency planning and preparation has been deferred, delayed, and perhaps overtly ignored for decades. This has been made worse by the impacts of climate change (e.g. changing weather patterns, warming/acidic oceans, etc.). Millions of people have gone without power, electricity, heat, water, waste water services, transportation and mobility for days, in some cases weeks. Fish and wildlife have also suffered. This is largely avoidable, if not substantially mitigated, by relying on science and proactive planning. This catastrophe has also impacted other states and communities. This human catastrophe is a failure of leadership. It is a virtual certainty that we will see more of these built-natural environment catastrophes in the United States and around the world. And, it is the most vulnerable, poorest and least able to cope that will suffer the most. (Gonzalez, 2021; Giusti, 2021; Meier, 2021; Fowler, 2021).
Defining carbon zero by 2050 targets, as well as roles and responsibilities, is yet another area that must be clarified and is critical to addressing the challenges of climate change in the United States and around the world (Buddoo, 2021; National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, Medicine, 2021; Global Carbon Project, 2015-2020).
The Internet of Things, or IoT, holds promise to mitigate and improve other climate changes in other ways such as biodiversity and habitat loss (McClellan, 2020). Ecological bridges, essentially bridges over roads or other man-made structures, serve to connect wildlife habitat, connect and sustain gene pools necessary for healthy ecosystems (Hui Min and Pazos, 2015; Machemer, 2020). Otherwise gene pools become fragmented, exacerbating the challenges of habitat and species loss due to climate change.
While this author was a researcher at the U. S. Army Corps of Engineers Waterways Experiment Station, the Corps adapted a Wetlands Evaluation Technique developed by Paul Adamus for the Federal Highways Administration (Adamus, 1983). The valuing of nature has continued to evolve to the present. More recently, Dow Chemical Company and The Nature Conservancy developed a technique called the Ecosystem Service Identification and Inventory Tool that is available publicly (www.esiitool.com). This technique quantifies ecosystem services using a nature screen and a nature scoreboard to develop the business case for using nature in lieu of or in conjunction with other man-made systems. Dow has committed to generating $2 billion of value to nature, having achieved $500 million thus far. This system continues to evolve as do the efforts of private and public organizations in creating a sustainable world. On the horizon are what have been termed “stacked benefits.” That is, bringing together many partners, from up stream and downstream, so to speak, to pool resources and funding toward a greater benefit to the natural and built environments. This is part of Dow’s commitment to identify $1 billion in net present value through their Valuing Nature Goal, and work processes developed to support the goal, as well as challenges and successes in driving culture change (Polzin and Molnar, n.d.; Engineering with Nature, 2021).
Recently, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) intends to funnel up to $10 billion into preventing climate disasters, the most ever, preemptively protect against damages by building sea walls, elevating and moving flood-prone homes and businesses, and other steps as climate change intensifies storms and other natural disasters—“Building Resilient Infrastructure and Communities or BRIC”. While this is an important step, it is doubtful this will be enough given the costs that climate change will exact. The U. S. Army Corps of Engineers National Nonstructural Committee (NNC) has had a relocation program from flood plains and other areas prone to natural flooding and that has met with some success but resistance as well (National Nonstructural Committee). There is a continuing discussion of resilience (Campbell, 2021). There is the idea of “seasteading”, houses and other buildings built on floating platforms that would rise and fall with the tides and changing sea levels (Cusick, 2020). Although this can seem a bit far-fetched, the Dutch have been doing this for 400-500 years. As with many things in our society including transportation and mobility, lower income families and the dispossessed are disproportionally impacted (Cusick, 2020).
There are also landscape designs emerging to protect cities and property as flood plains of rivers are shrinking, much of it led by the Netherlands, and have relevance to transportation infrastructure (Mossop, 2021; Rijkswaterstaat, 2019). Research also indicates promise for measuring risks and optimal rerouting of traffic during flash floods, minimizing exposure to motorists (Corns, et al, 2021). A lot can be learned from biomimicry as well (Fairs, 2021).
During the devastating 1993 Mississippi River floods the St. Louis District Engineer stated that “you cannot control Mother Nature.” That was true then and is true now. We can, however, work with Mother Nature, perhaps more as native and indigenous peoples did as they had little choice but to live in harmony.
The climate crisis is an existential threat. Roadway traffic alone accounts for about one-third of greenhouse gas emissions. As such, there are many opportunities for transportation professionals to have a positive impact in reducing and mitigating the climate crisis and associated impacts to our transportation and mobility system (Gates, 2021; Adler, 2021). Some examples (Plummer, 2021):
Rethink transportation grants
Make states measure emissions
Mandate cleaner vehicles (go electric)
Lend a hand to public transit
Push congress for new laws
Still other areas hold promise (Schapker, 2021):
Surface transportation authorization
Highway Trust Fund solvency
Project delivery reforms
Most recently, Buttigieg and his modal administrators spoke to the AASHT0 Board of Directors on February 25, 2021 and spoke to the pillars that will drive federal transportation policy:
Breaking down barriers within the U. S. Department of Transportation, between other federal departments, and with state and local agencies
He and his modal administrators also discussed a variety of initiatives and potential initiatives such as environmental justice, jobs, a partnership with auto manufacturers to alert drivers of on coming trains, user-friendliness/less bureaucracy with smaller communities, a dedicated rail trust fund, increasing bus lanes, sustainable funding, a coordinated government setup on climate change, and others. (Cho, 2021).
These are all critical issues for the transportation and mobility space. These and other critical issues have also been reported elsewhere (see most recent TRB critical issues in transportation report).
Still, our society operates in largely economic terms so we must speak in those terms (Milberg, 2021; Wachs, 2011; Cramer, 2018). One recent example is from Florida, of which the state legislature requires a report on the economic impact of transportation investments (Florida Department of Transportation, 2020). Similarly, the Oregon Transportation Investment Act III first priority required by the state legislature was economic stimulus. That was measured in various methodologies including jobs created or sustained (HDR, n.d.).
Tribal Nations as native Americans have a unique status in our country as dependent sovereignties and they have unique challenges. As such, the USDOT and BIA programs at the federal level are important and must be reviewed for reasons similar to reviewing and updating the funding and allocation that is needed for states and communities, urban and rural, and in a partnering framework. Similarly, this is true for territories as they are American citizens as well.
Eventually, transportation and mobility should be addressed holistically in social, economic, and environmental terms on a routine basis, whether in planning, needs assessments, establishing priorities, or other processes. It is the only way to achieve a sustainable and healthy built-natural environment.
Engaging people is critical to success and all means must be exhausted in the effort, virtual as well as physical. Sometimes the process of making a decision together as a community is more important than the decision made (Couros, 2021). This will require significant outreach, public meetings, education, listening, and a sense of humor yet sober seriousness. The United States and world are filled with good people who want to live good, happy, and safe lives. It is only by engaging and educating people and working together that we will achieve the future we all desire. One recent example by industry was announced December 10, 2020, a coalition of 37 leading company CEOs (www.OneTen.org) has formed One Ten to hire and promote one million Black Americans over the next ten years into family-sustaining jobs with opportunities for advancement. As a meritocracy, we must find ways to yoke the intellectual talent and diversity of all Americans regardless of race, color, creed, sexual orientation or other differences.
There are many, many examples where effectively engaging people has been critical to success, as it is a part of virtually any successful venture. One example, the Nebraska Department of Transportation led a statewide safety summit that over a period of a few years reduced roadway fatalities by 50 percent. More recently, the Kansas City area is engaging people for ideas to reduce roadway fatalities and injuries (Mid-America Regional Council, n.d.).
We have a generational opportunity to transform and improve America’s infrastructure (Buttigieg, 2021), and in a post-pandemic world (Cisneros and Fulton, 2021).
There is much to do and there are many ideas. We need them. Still we need a strategy to guide and align these efforts. Transportation agencies have much in common around the world and state departments of transportation have had a dominant presence in the United States—safety, traffic control, infrastructure planning, project development, design, construction, and maintenance. Because of the rapid move to digital technology, one of the more promising services is cloud technologies or computing and its inherent flexibility, agility, scalability. It offers economies of scale through large, centralized server banks and services that provide hardware, software, and applications through the Internet vice the expense of having them on site. The risks must be weighed, but there appears to be considerable upside, to include improved customer facing outcomes vice “back room” or organizational business processes.
Some of the leaders adopting these technologies include toll agencies who are continually seeking ways to improve customer outcomes which include not only the physical infrastructure and traffic speed but paying tolls as easily as possible. As the move toward a mileage-based system continues, especially given Tesla, VW, etc., and increasing pledges of 100% manufacture-only of electric vehicles by 2035 by Ford, GM, and others, transportation agencies may be operating a lot more like a utility in the near future. As such, the experience of toll agencies may allow them to take the lead. Certainly other transportation agencies can learn a lot as this future evolves. The potential for people and freight to move seamlessly, easily, and without cash, through one multimodal mobility ecosystem is possible, if not highly probable or a virtual certainty. (Wehrmann, 2021).
As the mobility ecosystem continues to change, it is in a unique position to be a substantial help in improving society, the economy, environment, and people’s lives.
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Burt, J.M., M.T. Tinker, D.K. Okamoto, K.W. Demes, K. Holmes, A.K. Salomon. (2018, July 25). Sudden collapse of a mesopredator reveals its complementary role in mediating rocky reef regime shifts. Proceedings of the Royal Society B. Retrieved April 11, 2021, from https://royalsocietypublishing.org/doi/10.1098/rspb.2018.0553
Carter, D. (2021, January 21). Our work is never done: examining equity impacts in public transportation. The National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. Retrieved March 21, 2021, from https://youtu.be/IBMgn5Ivm3c
Engineering with Nature. (2021, February 10). Dow’s valuing nature journey: how a multinational chemical corporation is realizing value by incorporating Nature in its business decisions. Engineering with Nature. Seminar Video. Retrieved April 11, 2021, from https://ewn.el.erdc.dren.mil/seminars.html
Entrepreneur. (2020, November 18). Bill Gates predicts that 50% of business travel and 30% of office life will disappear in the post-Covid-19 era. Entrepreneur. Retrieved March 21, 2021, from https://www.entrepreneur.com/article/359957
Herrera-García, G., P. Ezquerro, R. Tomás, M. Béjar-Pizarro, J. López-Vinielles, M. Rossi, R. M. Mateos, D. Carreón-Freyre, J. Lambert, P. Teatini, E. Cabral-Cano, G. Erkens, D. Galloway, W. Hung, N. Kakar, M. Sneed, L. Tosi, H. Wang, S. Ye. (2021, January 1). Mapping the global threat of land subsidence. Science 371(6524):34-36. Retrieved March 21, 2021, from https://science.sciencemag.org/content/371/6524/34
McPherson, D.J.I. Finger, H.F. Houskeeper, T.W. Bell, M.H. Carr, L. Rogers-Bennett, R.M. Kudela. (2021, March 5). Large-scale shift in the structure of a kelp forest ecosystem co-occurs with an epizootic and marine heatwave. Communications Biology 4(298). Retrieved April 11, 2021, from https://www.nature.com/articles/s42003-021-01827-6
TRB. (2021, March 8). New mobility services combined with transit show potential to further accessibility, efficiency. equity, safety, and sustainability. Transportation Research Board. Retrieved March 21, 2021, from http://www.trb.org/main/blurbs/181729.aspx
Xu, C., T. A. Kohler, T. M. Lenton, J. C. Svenning, M. Scheffer. (2020, May 26). Future of the human climate niche. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America 117(21) 11350-11355. Retrieved March 21, 2021, from https://www.pnas.org/content/117/21/11350
Current events seem a good place to start before a walk through some history and mobility—where we’re at and how we got here.
We are a society of people, and with that comes “the good, the bad, and the ugly,” borrowing from the movie of that name, and mobility is a part of that mix. The United States, and other cultures as well, have come a long way, including the times when discrimination and oppression of anyone that was different and had not been a part of the dominant class—African-Americans, Hispanics, Asians, Native Americans, other colored peoples, women, other cultures and religions, and others—was rampant. But, we have a long way to go. In some form or fashion, this is reflected in what we are experiencing in the United States—division, tribalism, polarization, radicalism, cults, misinformation, disinformation, lies, conspiracy theories, inability to agree on facts, trust deficit, racial inequality, economic disparity, escalating, vindictive, caustic political dynamics, and even nihilism. These elements helped facilitate an attack on the United States Capitol, an act of domestic terrorism if not sedition (Bush, 2021). Moreover, voter suppression is reasserting itself at the state level and counterproductive to democracy. There is some speculation that this era of suppression may allow minority rule, similar to some fascist and autocratic regimes (Derysh, 2021; Bagley, 2021; Albert, 2021; Smith, 2020; Chung and Hurley, 2021; Wolf, 2021). Where is this all headed and how will it end? How do we address or respond to this morass? Isabel Wilkerson (2020) makes a compelling case in her book, Caste: the Origins of Our Discontents, about how power—which groups who have it and which do not—has shaped America through a hidden caste system, a rigid hierarchy of human rankings, that has continued from our nation’s beginning to today. The situation our society has found itself in has been referred to as a “cold civil war.” With all of the issues we in the United States and around the world are facing, it can be a challenge to resolve them. Developing leaders and helping them succeed, trust, display mutual respect, create strong relationships, educate the public, and listen are critical to addressing these challenges and in a civil and collaborative way. One element that is emerging is discussion to develop consensus of what democratic social media and the Internet look like in order to guard against extremism, hate, and lies that can foment conspiracy theories, attacks on our democracy, and distract and make difficult the work toward more important issues and needs such as transportation and infrastructure while protecting the freedom of speech and Internet, in the United States and around the world. This is a fine line to walk but with progress, democracy will be improved. The United States Constitution preamble, after all, is: “We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.” The work to achieve that aspirational preamble will never end. The mobility space is a part of this mix, is impacted by these events, and has a role to play in advancing a more sustainable and healthy society, economy, and environment.
It is hard to imagine how we can meet and overcome our many challenges—social, economic, environmental—associated with growing populations (Figure 10) in cities and countries around the world, but transportation/mobility are part of the solution. In 1968, The Population Bomb (Ehrlich, 1968) predicted worldwide famine in the 1970s and 1980s, major societal upheavals, and other environmental degradation due to human population growth. While most of the predictions did not occur as predicted, the general premise is hard to ignore considering today’s climate change, environmental degradation, and other global events. Ehrlich’s predictions were not new. Thomas Robert Malthus (1766–1834), a British economist and mathematician, proposed that population growth would outstrip increases in food supplies in his day (Malthus, 1798). Others have predicted that a sixth mass extinction has already begun (Ceballos et al, 2017; Carrington, 2017). While events have not unfolded as Ehrlich, Malthus, and others predicted, environmental resilience and human ingenuity, although limited, have almost certainly delayed and modified the timing, scale, and specific details of their predictions. It is startling to contemplate these events, the fact that there is evidence to speculate on these outcomes is reason enough to act to change their potential impacts (Lovejoy, 2017). It is also rare that predictions of any kind take place as originally described.
Transportation and mobility have been around since the beginning of humans. In fact, the history of people and civilization could be told in terms of mobility. Therefore, it provides some context and perspective for where our species started and how we got to the present. Our species, after all, are travelers and explorers that seek to understand our world and ourselves.
The universe and our place in it is a complex one (Figure 11) (Flannery, 2012; Flannery, 2002; 2018, Christian, 2019; Harari, 2014).
Mobility allowed our species to move out of Africa and around the world in roughly 50,000 years (starting around 60,000-80,000 years ago and completing this global journey around 15,000 years ago). Early components included navigating on animal trails and along waterways (rivers, lakes, and oceans), increasingly large and sophisticated floating craft (boats, canoes, ships, and others), and using domesticated animals to increase transport (horses, alpacas, camels, and others) over larger and larger expanses. The invention of the wheel (and associated axle) appears to date back to about 5,000 years ago and was a milestone that has resulted in vehicles of increasing size and capability ever since. The Silk Road connecting Europe and Asia, and others, increasingly expanded trade and cultural exchange over vast areas of the globe.
History is marked by the longest and oldest trade route in the world—the Silk Road—an ancient overland trade route formed in the Western Han Dynasty from about 202 BC to 9 AD. This road or trade route spans 4,350 miles, connecting China, India, Persian Gulf, Japan and Europe. While this route has periodically declined in usage, it has existed for over 2,000 years. (History.com, 2019; Elizabeth, 2016; National Geographic Society, 2019).
Within the realm of recorded human history, mobility and its infrastructure is also marked by the Romans building a network of an estimated 200,000 miles of roads to connect their empire. That was in their DNA from the beginning, and is likely in ours today (Morales, 2021).
Fast forward to the United States. Our forefathers had a great interest in roads, particularly in a “National Road” to connect the emerging United States of America. What eventually became the National Road (also known as the Cumberland Road, Cumberland Pike, National Pike, and Western Pike) was created by an Act of Congress in 1806 and signed into law by President Thomas Jefferson. The Act was revolutionary and called for a road connecting the waters of the Atlantic with those of the Ohio River. Federal funding began in Cumberland, Maryland. The predecessors of the National Road included buffalo trails, Native American footpaths, Washington’s Road, and Braddock’s Road. The latter two were developed over part of the Nemacolin Trail, a Native American pathway, as part of the British campaign to evict the French from the forks of the Ohio River (Weiser-Alexander, 2019). Congress paid for the National Road, in part, by establishing a “2 percent fund” derived from the sale of public lands for the construction of roads through and to Ohio (National Road PA Org, n.d). Construction took longer than expected and the costs of maintenance were underestimated. As a result, tolls were eventually collected to pay for maintenance. To this day underestimating the cost of maintenance is true in many states and communities.
The United States developed the first National Park System in the world, signed into law by President Ulysses S. Grant in 1873, that began with Yellowstone National Park, treasures for all to enjoy. Prior to full control by the National Park Service in 1918, the U. S. Army Corps of Engineers was responsible for building roads, bridges, buildings and other appurtenances that provided access for the public to the Park while leaving nature as they found it (Williamson, 2016).
Early in the 20th Century, Gifford Pinchot, forester, conservationist, former Pennsylvania Governor, first Chief of the U. S. Forest Service, and close friend of Theodore Roosevelt, became known not only for advancing the protection of forests and public lands but economic development including road building for recreational public use access. (U.S. Department of the Interior, 2017; Encyclopaedia Britannica, n.d.).
In 1919, Oregon was the first to develop a reliable funding mechanism—the fuel tax—which has been the primary funding mechanism for roads and bridges. By 1929, all states had a fuel tax. It was not until 1956, that the federal government created a federal fuel tax—Federal Highway Trust Fund— to pay for construction (not maintenance) of the Dwight D. Eisenhower National System of Interstate and Defense Highways, commonly known as the Interstate Highway System. While much of the first half of the 20th Century was spent “getting out of the mud”, the 50 years subsequent to 1956 were spent building and maintaining the interstate highway system under the responsibility of state departments of transportation. In large part, the 21st Century ushered in an era of system preservation, due largely to inadequate funding, NIMBY (not in my backyard), and other competing issues (e.g. climate change, pandemic, social justice, equity, political polarization, etc.).
Using the United States as a yardstick, the first half of the 20th Century was marked by increasing motorized road, rail, air, and river and blue water conveyance. The second half of the 20th Century was marked by improvements in all areas of conveyance but largely by the creation of the Interstate Highway System. Simplistically, these can be referred to as the motorized conveyance era and Interstate era, respectively. The Interstate era also saw an increase in the emphasis on safety, an effort to decrease loss in lives and property driven partly by liability concerns and increasing value placed on human life. This is critical and continues to this day.
As great as development of the interstate highway system is, there is also a dirty secret. It destroyed many neighborhoods of color, the poor, and underserved through destruction of homes, businesses, displacement, congestion, pollution, noise, and racism. The shadows of these impacts linger to this day (McFarland, 2021).
Data for improving mobility is not new and is reflected in virtually every aspect of the mobility ecosystem. These include engine oil diagnostics which serve to extend engine life, data-based preventative maintenance checks and services and scheduled services for all types of vehicles, data-based structural and functional capacities of roads and bridges, data-based pavement management systems, data-based bridge management systems, data-based needs assessments and estimated costs for repair and replacement of infrastructure (roads, bridges, buildings, runways, etc.), data-based asset management for determining priorities of spending within and between modes, analytic tools such as life-cycle costs, return on investments, and many others. In fact, it would be difficult to identify an element of the mobility ecosystem that is not or cannot be managed by data—we are dependent on it. Of course, good data does not always exist. There are many examples of poor organization and project performance (over budget, over schedule, poor quality) that resulted from the lack of good data.
In 2007 the first iPhone was fielded, and this serves to mark the beginning of a new era, one driven largely by rapidly evolving digital technology but other elements as well, including demand for vast amounts of data and analysis. These elements include other technologies and increasing demand for collaboration. While 2007 was not the beginning, it is convenient to view it as an inflection point, especially for mobility. The United States is, and has been, a leader in mobility and that has been a significant force-multiplier in building our nation’s strong economy.
The result—the United States is the best connected country in the world with the most extensive transportation system in the world—over 4 million miles of public roads, over 600,000 bridges on public roads, over 5,000 public airports, over 90,000 miles of privately owned Class 1 freight rail, over 20,000 miles of AMTRAK passenger rail, over 10,000 miles of transit rail, nearly 7,000 public transit providers, over 25,000 miles of navigable river channels, and over 300 ports (Wagner, 2020; BridgeReports.com, 2019; Hughes-Cromwick, 2019; Mazareanu, 2020; Bureau or Transportation Statistics, n.d.; Maritime Administration, 2019). This does not even consider other privately owned roads, bridges, airports, and other means of conveyance such as pipelines, short-line rail roads, trails, etc.
While much of the rest of the world has lagged behind the United States in the mobility space, it is rapidly catching up. Two examples: China’s “One Belt, One Road” which will result in the largest road network in the world, paving the Silk Road connecting China and Europe (Belt and Road Initiative, n.d.), and India’s National Highways Development Project which will result in a road network of over 30,000 miles as an element of their industrial revolution (IBEF, 2021; Devonshire-Ellis, 2020). This does not even consider other countries such as Norway, where roughly half of all cars on the road are no longer powered by gas, incentivized by tax savings, toll road exemptions and other incentives to limit climate change (Welch, 2021).
Multimodal advances, including through technology and collaboration, are also increasingly providing three dimensional vice two dimensional thinking—land, water, air, and space. It’s about connecting people to people and to other assets and resources. As such, transportation and mobility professionals are deemed “essential workers.”
We are now in the 4th Industrial Revolution—digital technology—with velocity, scope, and systems impacts that are blurring the lines between physical, digital, and biological spheres. The speed of these break throughs has no historical precedence and is evolving at an exponential rather than a linear pace. (Schwab, 2016). The evolution of transportation and mobility has been quite a journey and that journey continues.
Ceballos, G., P.R. Ehrlich, R. Dirzo. (2017, July 10). Biological annihilation via the ongoing sixth mass extinction signaled by vertebrate population losses and declines. PNAS. Retrieved March 7, 2021, from https://www.pnas.org/content/114/30/E6089
Christian, D. (2018). Origin story: a big history of everything. Little, Brown and Company.
While the future can be exciting and an adventure, there are unanticipated events that occur that can disrupt normal flows and operations (Maritz, 2019). On the extreme, there have been catastrophes that seemed “acts of god”, events that are not contemplated in this series of blogs yet provide some context (Maritz, 2019; Gibbons, 2018). More predictable and relevant to our lifetimes, the Cascadia Fault off the coasts of Oregon and Washington is predicted to rupture in the next 50 years and could be the worst North American human disaster on record with significant costs in lives lost and property damage. The damage to roads, bridges, airports, transit, railroads, and navigable waterways will significantly reduce the ability to respond and recover. This event is being studied and planned for (Bauer, et al, 2018; Roth and Thompson, 2018; Sounds, 2019; Steele, 2020).
Risk management is the identification, evaluation, and prioritization of risks followed by methodologies to minimize, monitor, and control the probability or impact of unfortunate events or to maximize the realization of opportunities. The U. S. transportation industry has enormous risk exposure and among the most risk-prone industries in the world. As such, the federal transportation act—Moving Ahead for Progress in the 21st Century Act or MAP-21 and signed into law in 2012—established the requirement for states to develop a risk-based asset management plan. Risk management is a dynamic process and used routinely within the public and private sectors. Without such plans, organizations can be surprised by events that have negative financial impacts or missed positive opportunities with improved outcomes. The literature on risk management is rich and evolving. A Black Swan is an unpredictable event that is beyond what is normally expected and has the potential for severe consequences. Risks must be identified at the beginning of a project or program, discussed, and updated regularly. Some typical risks might include scope, schedule, and budget issues; safety issues; liability issues; site condition issues; dispute issues; quality issues; workforce turnover or other staffing issues; weather or other delays; contract interpretation disputes; rework; prompt payment; opportunities for additional work; priorities; owner readiness; and so on. Regardless, it is critical to identify risks, actions to prevent or mitigate new risks, probability of occurrence, and a champion/responsible party to take the lead. Various means of identifying the probability of risks are also important such as Monte Carlo simulation.
The Covid-19 Pandemic is a glaring and recent example of positive and negative impacts and could be categorized as a Black Swan. It could not have been anticipated although pandemics are a certainty. As risks do, it is also having positive and negative impacts. For example, remote work and quarantining are reducing CO2 emissions (IEA, 2020; Figure 9), online shopping continues to increase versus brick and mortar stores (Ali, 2021), costs associated with commuting and office space (Boland, et al, 2020; Ambrose, 2020), and reducing traffic congestion (Ronan, 2021). Some reports are that certain categories of online shopping and delivery increased 50-125 percent in 2020 compared to 2019. However, already disadvantaged populations are disproportionately negatively affected and transit faces an existential threat in 2021 and beyond due to the reduction of ridership and associated revenues.
As many as 572 airports are also threatened by global warming and associated sea level rise by 2021 (Yesudian and Dawson, 2021). A record number of hurricanes, wildfires and floods cost the world $210 billion in damage in last year, much of it due to global warming. The six most expensive disasters of 2020 occurred in the U.S. (NOAA, 2021; Kann, 2021). There is also the threat of land subsidence that may affect 19 percent of the world population by 2040 (Herrera-Garcia, et al, 2021).
As of this writing, over 30 million U. S. citizens have tested positive for COVID-19 and over 500,000 deaths. That is more than 1 in 9 that have been diagnosed with the disease. Under more normal conditions before the pandemic, there was not a public transit system that was not subsidized. Even with vaccines being fielded, the future of transit ridership and revenues is far from certain. The course for the foreseeable future, without federal help, is to reduce services. Black Swans and other events may be giving us a “pause” to rethink transportation/mobility.
As weather patterns change, commodities and other flows are interrupted and delayed. The recent Texas utility debacle from unusual winter weather is yet another risk that could have been precluded and mitigated. People and companies lost heat, potable water and waste water services, and have and are experiencing injuries, death, and economic hardships—a series of cascading failures (Northey, 2021). During the crisis, unregulated utilities charged a market cap price of $9,000 per mega-watt hour (McGinty and Patterson, 2021). The lack of preparation was made worse by delaying commodities including food and Covid-19 vaccinations. Moreover, Texas utilities were warned 10 years earlier of the preparation needed but they ignored the risks (Blunt and Gold, 2021). This is a failure of leadership.
In addition to individual risks typically identified in risk assessments, there can also be risk correlations between work breakdown structure (WBS) elements, events, risks of projects, across projects, and programs. Some of these might include (modified from Prieto, 2020):
“Money Allocated Is Money Spent”
Parkinson’s Law – work expands to fill the time allotted
Overconfidence in assessing uncertainties
Complexity with hidden coupling – risk events are likely to affect multiple cost elements with the potential for cascading impacts
State of technology – common new technologies/materials
Common management, staff and work processes
Optimism bias and other biases consistently applied
Budgeting and contingency management strategy and approach
Packaging and contracting strategy
Failures/delays at interfaces
Low frequency high impact events of scale
So risks, associations of risks, and Black Swans can be complicated and reflect the nature of the mobility ecosystem, systems, and systems of systems, in general. Megaprograms and projects (over $1 billion) are particularly prone (Denicol, et al, 2020; Vartabedian, 2021; Garmo, et al, 2015; Irimia-Diéguez, et al, 2014; Zidane, et al, 2013; Flyvbjerg and Bruzelius, 2014).
Dr. “Kevin” Bao also provides an interesting perspective on how leaders should respond to crises and opportunities (Steele, 2021).
Denicol, J., A. Davies, I. Krystallis. (2020, February 13). What are the causes and cures of poor megaproject performance? A systematic literature review and research agenda. Project Management Journal. Retrieved February 27, 2021, from https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/10.1177/8756972819896113
Herrera-Garcia, G., P. Ezquerro, R. Tomás, M. Béjar-Pizarro, J. López-Vinielles, M. Rossi, R. M. Mateos, D. Carreón-Freyre, J. Lambert, P. Teatini, E. Cabral-Cano, G. Erkens, D. Galloway, W. Hung, N. Kakar, M. Sneed, L. Tosi, H. Wang, S. Ye. (2021, January 1). Mapping the global threat of land subsidence. Science. Retrieved February 27, 2021, from https://science.sciencemag.org/content/371/6524/34
There is never enough funding in any organization to meet the needs, much less the wants. The debates to determine funding and how to allocate it are endless and continue to this day at all levels of government (Ryan, 2021). Typically, the effective use of available funding falls to public sector transportation professionals, unless private-sector owners, in conjunction with private sector partners. Thus, it is important to review some analytic tools, methodologies, and aspects for maximizing results with limited funding. These could loosely be considered part of asset management. A more thorough review of asset management, setting a basis, criteria, and priorities, is on the March 6, 2016, article on this website entitled Transportation Asset Management. This discussion merely augments that discussion and is by no means an exhaustive list. In no particular order, these are some of the more important tools, methodologies, and aspects that can help establish priorities and maximize results with limited funding.
Asset Management: Every public and private body is under increasing pressure to justify investment and that it is making the best use of its resources. The essence of asset management is to better prioritize resources to optimize outcomes, basically institutionalizing a business-like approach to managing infrastructure—asset management. The ability to retain, retrieve, and analyze increasing amounts of data in recent decades has enabled evidence-based decision-making on a network scale. Made possible by computers and digital technology, other “big picture” analyses are increasingly emerging to include the discipline of sustainability that facilitates decision-making among economic, social, and environmental realms. Performance metrics also began to evolve at the same time as asset management. The result is a fundamental framework for managing resources or assets:
Performance measures: what target is desired and achievable
Value in dollars
Life-cycle cost prediction: estimate remaining useful life
Agency or organization cost
Trade-off analysis and investment strategies (by combining the above to produce an optimized budget)—criteria to develop needs priorities
Develop an emergency fund for unexpected events
Develop program including asset needs priorities with available funding
Asset management is quite literally the best of continuous improvement. That process never ends. More discussion can be found on this website under transportation asset management.
Scope, Schedule, Budget: This is closely related to Planning, design, below. Regardless, as a program or project is contemplated, a preliminary and final scope, schedule, and budget must be developed. Tied to the next bullet point, it is common for scope to creep or an ill-defined scope to create problems later on. As such, that can lead to schedule and budget problems later. This is especially prevalent in mega and giga programs and projects. The takeaway: spend the time necessary up front to conduct thorough due diligence, planning, risk assessment, and scoping. It is a lot better and a lot less expensive in time, money, and resources to do it right the first time vice the second or more times. Effective and efficient program or project controls are essential to track changes against the baseline contract of scope, schedule, and budget.
Planning, Design: There is no substitute for good, solid planning and design. This in no way discounts good construction, maintenance, operations, materials, and other practices. These can all save or optimize dollars when done right. However, many times problems and opportunities missed can be traced back to the beginning of planning and design. It can be a challenge and take time to get input and reviews from construction, maintenance, operations, stakeholders, and partners. It is worth the effort to do things right or as well as possible at the beginning. Otherwise, time and money will be expended later and opportunities will likely be lost. More broadly, open-source engineering can be more valuable economically and in terms of building on standard design specifications. Thus providing more cost-effective projects, more innovation, improved quality, and scalability. (Shepherd-Smith, 2021).
Needs Assessments, Criteria, and Priorities: This may appear obvious, and as stated above it is discussed in more detail in other blogs. Regardless, this process is essential in setting priorities for what to do first, second, third, and so on in spending on the highest priorities. While many governments do this, all do not. The larger, more capable governments tend to do this a lot more than smaller governmental, typically more rural, cities and counties. This typically manifests itself in state departments of transportation doing thorough needs assessments while smaller, less populated cities and counties have neither the staff or funding to do this. This can be a problem. This can be similar in non-highway modes. One solution is to generate one multimodal needs assessment for states, cities, and counties. To gain consensus on such a mechanism would be Herculean but not impossible. As it is, each entity has its own way of identifying needs and setting priorities and the challenge increases as governments establish “formulas” in an attempt to equitably distribute funding to the highest needs. This manifests itself in several ways such as donor and donee states relative to the federal Highway Trust Fund, earmarks depending on the power of elected officials, competitive grants which typically leave out smaller, more rural communities, and others. These are all an attempt to do the best we can but they also fall short. The net result—the inability to fund the highest needs. While it is true that federal and state highways carry the vast majority of traffic, the needs of rural communities are of equal importance. So, the idea of a multimodal and multigovernmental needs assessment should be aspired to if not accomplished. There are some rare examples of similar efforts in other areas that have been successful such as the State of Iowa developing one common state-city-county design manual. Also, the State of Nebraska requires an annual needs assessment (with inventory, standard criteria, inspections, estimated scope and cost, etc) for their state highway system so that the state legislature has a target to determine funding. Uniquely, Nebraska law has a variable fuel tax that adjusts the state fuel tax to meet that funding, regardless of impacts such as decreased fuel consumption due to pandemics or other unforeseen events. A system that effectively prioritizes limited funding to address the needs of one seamless transportation/mobility system would be invaluable to our society vice each governmental entity struggling on its own. While this may never be achieved, it is worth aspiring to.
Design Exceptions, Practical Design, and Least-cost Planning: Until perhaps the last two decades, the standards for planning and design were fairly rigidly followed, partly due to liability risks of not doing so. That is understandable because of the importance of standards. However, as funding continues to be tight as needs grow, exceptions have increasingly been made. This evolution began as design exceptions to established standards, to somewhat broader exceptions termed practical design, and that has evolved into more recently termed least-cost planning. The core purpose of all is to maximize results with limited funding where a high proportion of benefits can be gained while accepting little or no additional risk. These are of course highly scrutinized for approval but can save considerable dollars. One mega program in Oregon had 275 design exceptions which saved $683 million.
Alternative Delivery Methodologies: Alternative delivery methodologies have been around for decades in the form of contracts of which the U. S. Army Corps of Engineers has been one of the more innovative. In 1993 the Design-Build Institute of America (DBIA) agreed upon the term design-build and its use among transportation agencies began to accelerate. Originally established to save time, not money, design-build projects have evolved to save time and money (Figure 8). Other integrated delivery methodologies have also begun to emerge such as design-build-operate, design-build-operate-maintain, construction management-general contractor, public-private-partnerships, and others, each designed for a specific purpose in saving the owner time, money, level of oversight, or all three. The key is that integrated delivery teams can work together, resulting in time and money savings for the owner. Embedded is risk and who has it, but that’s another subject that warrants a paper on its own.
Materials: This may seem out of place but it is not. High-strength steel is a good example of allowing wider gaps to be spanned with fewer vertical supports and girders. Superpave asphalt mixes compete effectively with concrete depending on the costs of oil, cement, and other commodities. Likewise, steel can compete against concrete and accrue savings. Fiberglass reinforced-polymer girders and other corrosion-resistant features have also been employed to extend the design life of bridges to at least 100 years (Knapschaefer, 2021). 3D printed bridges and other structures can save on time and labor (U.S. Bridge, 2021).
Recycling: Recycling is about saving resources and money. Asphalt, concrete, and steel are regularly recycled by owners and construction contractors, through both on-site and off-site processes. Depending on the strength, bridge girders are utilized on other bridges as appropriate. Old rail cars have been recycled as low cost-culverts where appropriate. One of the more innovative recycling methods being studied is to use old wind turbine blades in bridges as well as buildings, etc., rather than placing them in landfills (Stone, 2021).
Engineering Economics: This tool has been around for over 100 years but continues to be relevant although other tools now supplement it and can lead to other conclusions.
Life Cycle Costs: This tool has been around for over 100 years although it has been refined during that time. As our perspectives have increasingly become long-term versus short-term or a human lifetime, the life cycle of infrastructure, vehicles, and other assets have taken on additional meaning relative to least-cost decision-making. Therefore, the life cycle cost of any asset is critical to know.
Return on Investment (ROI): Commonly known as ROI, this is another analytical tool that can have myriad perspectives. That is the ROI in economic terms, jobs created or sustained, environmental values, social values, and so forth. Regardless, knowing the return on dollars expended is a critical part of decision-making.
Benefit-Cost (BC): Benefit-Cost is commonly assessed as a ratio, normally calculated in dollars. Frequently shown as an equation such as a BC ratio of 3:1 or B/C and if the numerator or B is greater than the denominator, then it is concluded to be a benefit. If the numerator or B is less than 1 it is considered a net cost and not a benefit. Nonetheless, this is another important tool in determining investments.
Economies of Scale: This is a methodology that can provide a return on scale. For example, “bundling” projects within a region can reduce mobilization and material delivery costs. Conversely, breaking projects up has the potential to increase competition and reduce costs. While this is not a new concept, it is valuable. The term “bundle” is a relatively new term and is now commonly used. Previously, other terms such as “tied projects” were used to describe the same methodology. Buying materials, equipment, and other assets at scale can also provide economies of scale and reduce costs.
Multimodal Needs Assessments: Typically, needs assessments have been done by asset or mode with critically important and useful outcomes. As mobility has become increasingly multimodal, the question has become how to conduct needs assessments across all modes. Multimodal planning is common but multimodal needs assessments are largely qualitative, not standardized, and not widely accepted. One of the outcomes in the absence of good, repeatable, and reliable multimodal needs assessments is that funding (federal and state) is distributed based on modal assessments, dominated by highways and bridges, and then a somewhat subjective assessment of how to distribute dollars to each mode. Until we achieve a truly standardized multimodal needs assessment with specific criteria, allocating funds to other modes (such as transit and pedestrians) will be a challenge. Generally, transportation is not a particularly partisan topic at governmental levels, partly because it provides objective information to help determine what funds can or will be appropriated and what the long-term implications may be. This is critical for the built environment in which we live.
Operations and Intelligent Transportation Systems (ITS): ITS was one outcome of advancing digital technology. What this allowed was the transportation system to be instrumented with sensors that provide data and information, especially on volume and speed, to a central office that can more quickly and effectively assess and respond to congestion and issues stemming from traffic congestion, crashes, and other incidences. Advanced Traffic Management System (ATMS) is used for traffic management and control and accounts for the most revenue in the overall ITS market. Although the benefit-costs of ITS vary widely from 2-9:1, others exceed 100:1. One ratio used for comparing ITS to more infrastructure is 8:1, a methodology to get more capacity from the existing roadway. The prudent use of ITS technologies can achieve greater benefit at less cost than more concrete, asphalt, and steel. Related, vehicle pricing systems such as electronic toll collection, congestion pricing, vehicle miles traveled, and other road user charging systems can be cost-effective. In addition, transport and supply chain service providers are seeking cost-effective solutions that ITS can provide to boost their productivity, performance, and profits. On e example developed early in Nebraska was a statewide oversize-overweight permitting system that allowed truckers to efficiently route their trucks and cargo and became an effective decision-making tool.
Internet of Things or IoT: There are benefits to be gained throughout society by leveraging IoT, including in government, and new opportunities are continually being uncovered to improve services and efficiencies (Center for Digital Government, 2019; AT&T, n.d.; ServiceNow, n.d.; Descant, 2019).
Partnerships and Collaboration: It is virtually impossible for any organization to have all the talent, tools, and resources to optimize returns for society, the economy, and our environment. As such, partnerships and collaboration are keys to leveraging the unique strengths of an organization. This is not a new concept, but like the exponential growth of our 4th Industrial or Digital Age, the need is greater than ever before. These strategies continue to grow (Salesforce, n.d.).
Program and Project Management: Good program and project management begins and ends with good leadership. The team is all-important since they are the ones that get work done. As such, good leadership can make a team better while bad leadership can destroy a team. This easily translates to improved or decreased performance, costs, and profits. This topic is also discussed in other blogs on leadership, program, and project management on this website. There are many articles and books on program and project management, one of the most prolific and best is Robert Prieto who publishes regularly in PM World. He also authored one of the most comprehensive books on the subject, “Theory of management of large complex projects” (Prieto, 2015). Also, review PMWorld Journal, https://pmworldjournal.com/welcome, and the Project Management Institute (https://www.pmi.org).
Risk Management: This is the identification, evaluation, and prioritization of risks followed by methodologies to minimize, monitor, and control the probability or impact of unfortunate events or to maximize the realization of opportunities. The U. S. transportation industry has enormous risk exposure and among the most risk-prone industries in the world. As such, the federal transportation law—Moving Ahead for Progress in the 21st Century Act, or MAP-21, and signed into law in 2012 (FMCSA, n.d.)—established the requirement for states to develop a risk-based asset management plan. Risk management is a dynamic process and used routinely within the public and private sectors. Without such plans, organizations can be surprised by events with negative financial impact or miss positive opportunities with improved outcomes. The literature on risk management is rich and continues to evolve.
Strong Relationships: This is another topic that might seem odd within a discussion of maximizing results with limited funding. However, the adage “a good relationship can make a bad contract better while a bad relationship can make a good contract worse” reflects the importance of strong relationships. It is common to have disputes but resolving them in a fair and amicable way while preserving the all-important relationships is critical. No one really wins when disputes move to litigation. This topic is further discussed in other blogs on this website, including the importance of trust.
Safety: This may seem an odd topic within the topic of maximizing results with limited funding but the cost in lives, injuries, and property damage is staggering. As has been stated, virtually every transportation organization has the safety of their employees and traveling public as their highest priority. One of these efforts to improve safety, although for NASCAR racing, has important implications for the traveling public (Midwest Roadside Safety Facility, n.d.; Wikipedia, 2021). The work towards a safer built environment will likely never end.
This is by no means meant to be an exhaustive list and is only intended as a sample. The search to reduce costs is part of continuous improvement and that never ends. There are some very simple changes that cumulatively can have huge impacts including the use of LED bulbs in traffic signals and buildings, the use of highly reflective tape rather than electric lit signs, shutting off computers during overnight hours, and so on. This, again, is in no way a substitute for sound and skilled planning, project development, design, construction, maintenance, and operations, all of which continue to evolve and improve within their own discipline.
The Biden Administration recently announced through their Infrastructure for Rebuilding America grants or INFRA some of the above tools and methods as part of their criteria in addition to other related criteria such as climate change, environmental justice, and racial equity (Ichniowski, 2021). Still, other technologies are being advanced with their own inherent efficiencies (New Hampshire Union Leader, 2021; VIA, n.d.; LeBeau, 2021; Danko, 2021; Ewoldsen, 2021). Other technologies that may seem a bit far-fetched continue to advance and may be part of a transportation future and at less cost (Levy, 2021; Subin, 2021; Halvorson, 2021). Still, other areas are advancing, including space, and may well have cost-effective impacts on our futures on earth (Adams, 2021; Hughes, 2020).
Ewoldsen, B. (2021, January 21). New mobility services combined with transit show potential to further accessibility, efficiency, equity, safety, and sustainability. Transportation Research Board. Retrieved February 20, 2021, from http://www.trb.org/main/blurbs/181729.aspx
While there is never enough money to address the needs, there is not a transportation agency in the Nation that is not struggling with the lack of funding, largely due to the Pandemic 2020-present whether it’s fuel taxes, general funds, bonds, public-private-partnerships, wheel taxes, vehicle registrations, or other funding sources (American Society of Civil Engineers, 2020; Stofan, 2021; NPR, 2020; Jimenez, 2020). Still, are we talking about infrastructure the right way? That is, are we talking to and the about the people that use it (Milberg, 2021)?
In 2019 the U. S. federal government spent $96 billion on building and updating infrastructure, $67 billion was transferred to states. In 2017, the most recent data available, state and local infrastructure spending totaled $162 billion excluding these federal transfers. At the same time there has been a shift toward increased spending on operations and maintenance and away from spending on new capital projects. Some estimates are that roughly 2/3 of dollars go to keep infrastructure functioning (i.e. maintenance, repair, replacement, or system preservation) while roughly 1/3 of dollars go to upgrades (i.e. new capital projects). While this allocation can be disputed depending on the audience and perspective, keeping infrastructure functioning (system preservation) is the highest and best use of dollars and most economical in serving the public good. How dollars are best allocated for system preservation and new capital projects needs to be continually assessed, typically on an annual basis in conjunction with needs assessments and specific criteria. The current (2017) American Society of Civil Engineers, or ASCE, Report Card identifies an estimated $2 trillion gap in the $4.6 trillion needs required to achieve a state of good repair over the next 10 years (American Society of Civil Engineers, 2017). For surface transportation alone the gap is estimated to be $1.1 trillion gap in the over $2 trillion needs over the next 10 years. Perhaps more sobering, the world is facing a $15 trillion infrastructure gap by 2040 (George, et al, 2019).
Since the creation in 1919 by the State of Oregon, the fuel tax has been the primary federal and state funding mechanism for transportation/mobility infrastructure for over 100 years. The past two decades have seen a decline in those fuel tax revenues as a result of little or no increase in many fuel taxes, improving fuel efficiency, alternatives fuels, and now a pandemic. To close those gaps, general funds, wheel taxes, vehicle registrations, bonds, and other sources have been used. Still the gaps exist.
A question: should the US align with the UN’s “people first” model for public-private infrastructure projects? The model evaluates projects on five criteria (United Nations Economic Commission for Europe, 2016):
Increasing access and promoting equity
Improving environmental sustainability
Improving project economic effectiveness
Engaging all stakeholders
While there is important movement in this direction, it probably comes down to whether the needs of all stakeholders can be reconciled—consultants, builders, financiers, politicians, businesses, the public and others—that oversee infrastructure development and come to consensus on what they are doing. These can be powerful interests and getting people to work together, much less collaborate and come to consensus, will continue to be a challenging task to scale up the funding to meet growing needs.
So, what is the likely funding source for the future? That is unknown. A few years ago many believed that a Vehicle Miles Traveled (VMT) tax being tested over the past two decades in Oregon and other states would prevail and might yet. However, emerging technologies, declining personal car ownership, electric vehicles, alternatives fuels, remote work, changing business models, sustainability, climate change, access, equity and social justice, and future physical infrastructure needs may warrant new funding sources. Regardless, it is clear a new, reliable, and sustainable transportation/mobility funding model is needed that balances urban, rural, and multimodal needs and with an eye to the future. This includes a review of criteria for allocating funds, taking into account the needs of urban and rural communities, connecting roads and modes, and the capabilities of smaller communities who do not have the staffs to accommodate the substantial federal processes. The federal government must partner with states, communities, and other partners and entities to make funding and its allocation as effective and efficient as possible. While traffic is much higher with more costly infrastructure needs in urban areas, there are also critical needs in rural areas although there is less traffic (NAFB, 2021).
The funding space is also changing. Black Rock Chairman and Chief Executive Officer, Larry Fink, in his 2020 letter to CEOs has stated “In the near future—and sooner than most anticipate—there will be a significant reallocation of capital” (Fink, 2020). This is driven by their investors demand for investments that are sustainable and that will limit climate change. Black Rock is the world’s largest asset manager with $17 trillion under management, has said its clients are looking to double their environmental, societal, and governance (ESG) investments in the next five years. Institutional investors have said they will stop investing in companies that are not sustainable (CISION PR Newswire, 2021; Losavio and Tsai, 2021). This has implications for transportation, infrastructure, and mobility. To that extent it is not a surprise that stocks such as Tesla experienced dramatic growth in 2020 as investors look for positive and sustainable environmental, societal, governance, and economic outcomes.
There is a mounting need from city and road planners to evolve current ground-based infrastructure, especially across transportation networks (Deruytter, 2020). There are a number of technologies, and collections of technologies, that are changing and impacting the mobility space. In Part 4, this writer neglected to acknowledge one of these leading transportation technology centers that is bringing the industry together to develop transportation and mobility solutions—the Infrastructure Automotive Technology Laboratory, or iATL, and iATL Partner Alliance in Georgia. The Intelligent Transportation Society of America (ITSA)—Smarter, Greener, Safer—began in 1991 and has been a primary convention and driver for use of transportation technologies in the intervening 30 years. Below is a brief scan of some of these technologies, each of which could warrant a book to provide a complete coverage.
Vehicle-to-Vehicle (V2V) and Vehicle to Infrastructure (V2I): These are the two primary connected vehicle areas and encompass CAV (connected and automated vehicle). The advantage of V2V is to gain capacity from infrastructure and improve safety (NHTSA, n.d.). This technology may also enable increased speeds and reduce travel time. V2I is beginning to advance as a means of further advancing capacity, safety, and speed. Both V2V and V2I offer the potential to expand other technologies such as battery charging while moving, autonomous routing of vehicles, and providing intelligent infrastructure with the capability of autonomously sending condition and other reports back to a central office for planning and response for repair or replace (RoboticsBiz, 2020; 3M, n.d.).
Intelligent Infrastructure: In addition to being able to send condition and other reports for action to a central office, emerging AI technologies are allowing for self-healing materials that repair themselves (Flower, 2020; Mazzarol, 2012; McFarlane, 2015; McMillan, 2017; ScienceDirect, n.d.).
Internet of Things or IoT: Infrastructure and transportation agencies are leading the way in adopting many IoT technologies, and that will continue. Why? Because they provide tangible results (Center for Digital Government for Spectrum Enterprise, 2019).
3D Printers: These printers have existed for some time but are expanding for construction. This includes the printing of the small 3D plastic models for completing concrete bridges to the printing of steel bridge models (U.S. Bridge, 2020). The basic limitation is only the size of the printing machine and whether that is cost effective.
Materials: Whereas 3D printers are limited by the size of the printing machine, new research is revealing the possibility of rationally designing materials to specification at the micro and macro scale and with broad engineering applications (Jenett et al, 2020). Plus, traditional materials continue to be improved such as ultra-high performance concrete (Carter, 2019).
Artificial Intelligence (AI): This is a leading technology of technologies, combining various technologies into new ones that can perform tasks thought to be science fiction. One of these is “robotic swarms” of meta materials that turn into buildings, vehicles, bridges—delivered in boxes by drones (Jenett, 2020; Wyss Institute, n.d.). The technology currently exists and the U. S. Army has initiated this development in partnership with the private sector including the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Still others are in use such as Building Information Technology or BIM. Others include AI-driven asset management for bridges, monitoring the condition of assets on a real and near-real time basis (Stone, 2021). Yet another focuses on road maintenance (Holliday and Frick, 2021). Ford Motor Company has expanded to leverage AI and machine learning to predict and prevent traffic crashes (Mendoza, 2021). The future of AI is enormous in the transportation and mobility space, and society as a whole (The Washington Post, n.d).
Virtual (VR) and Augmented Reality (AR): Beginning in the gaming business, these technologies continue to rapidly develop, especially in the design and construction arenas. A recent augmented reality innovation by VW and Mercedes Benz enhances safe navigation through an AR blue line down the center line of the lane, allowing the driver to stay focused on the road ahead (Ligon 2021).
Robotics/Drones: These technologies have been in development and use for decades. Like other technologies that reduce the requirement for labor (typically the largest single cost for many organizations) within the mobility space these technologies are increasingly used for terrestrial and aquatic inspections of all kinds, vegetation planting, surveying, aerial photography, movement and delivery of materials, and others. There is continuing discussion on the use of drones, including the potential to lease air space above roads and perhaps generating a new revenue source (Skorup and Harland, 2020; Pressgrove, 2021).
Machine Control: Expanding on robotics and drones that are currently used is the programming of autonomous earthmoving and other equipment, surveying, inspections, etc., on construction sites (TopCon, n.d.; UK Plant Operators, n.d.). These have been in use for some years and allow for greater efficiency at a lower cost. Using currently available technology, other systems are emerging for other activities such as hauling dirt, delivery and placement of materials. Expanding on this area, some years ago the University of Nebraska developed remotely controlled orange work zone barrels to move without the labor required for moving each barrel (Bauer, 2004). This technology could be adopted to other systems, such as the Lindsay Company Road Zipper which moves concrete Jersey barriers on a near-real time basis to adjust lanes and contra flows in conjunction with traffic flow needs, separate bicycle from vehicle traffic, adjust to the needs of construction zones, etc. In effect, this could be done remotely or autonomously. The options are endless and open to continued innovation.
Cloud services: There are a growing number of organizations that are leveraging the cloud for more efficient operations. Among them is Amazon Web Services (AWS) which has a growing presence in the transportation and mobility space (Silver, n.d.). Municipal and state agencies continue to expand use of cloud services for construction oversight and other activities (Yoders, 2021).
5G: This technology holds tremendous promise as it increases the speed and capacity of communications essential to the mobility ecosystem (Abbosh and Downes, 2019). The Internet of Things or IoT is a driver of 5G with three broad categories of use: enhanced broadband, massive IoT sensing, and critical IoT. The massive IoT sensing alone will allow 10 times more devices to connect at 100 times the energy efficiency compared to LTE-Advanced (Little, 2019). Smart cities are being advanced thanks to 5G and other technologies (CBS Interactive Inc., 2020; Abbosh and Downes, 2019). 5G and its capabilities are expanding as this is written. 5G and AI will continue to drive mobility development.
Lidar: This technology has been around for some years, allowing for rapid 3D surveying by law enforcement, surveying by drones, autonomous vehicles, improving safety, enhanced BIM (Building Information Modeling), and other diverse applications that go on and on (Shacklett, 2021). One recent application makes transportation infrastructure more efficient and safer (Clark, 2021).
Global Positioning Systems (GPS): Although around for decades, GPS is worth mentioning because of its importance in pinpointing locations, navigation, and its ease of use (available on smartphones and many other devices). This is critical for many technologies including autonomous vehicles.
5.9 GHz: This bandwidth had been identified for public safety with important uses in the transportation arena. However, recently the Federal Communications Commission or FCC has given this bandwidth away for other commercial purposes. This sorely complicates an important safety tool for the transportation industry (Fisher, 2020).
Communications, integrated and interoperable-voice and data: The most common lesson-learned following disasters is the difficulty of communicating between all parties in both voice and data (FEMA, 2020; FEMA, 2014; OnSolve, n.d.; U.S. Fire Administration, 2015). As such, many states have developed more robust and interoperable communications systems. Nonetheless, effective communications is literally a key to success in responding to man-made or natural disasters and will need to be continually improved and maintained.
Solar: Solar power is developing slowly, but surely, as one of the most important renewable energies. For over 100 years, petroleum-based fuels and electricity generation have been separate industries. Oil was for vehicles, coal and water were for electric power. Drillers versus miners, petrostates versus power utilities. With EVs the distinction between petroleum-based fuels and power markets is blurring. Solar power is rapidly becoming the cheapest form of energy in much of the world, which means that as power markets grow to meet the new demand from EVs, oil is being largely displaced by power from the sun. For nearly 20 years, the International Energy Agency has underestimated the rise of solar power. Every year, their estimates expected the rate of solar growth to plateau, but every year it grew (Figure 7).
Solar roadways have been developed in France these past few years. It was recently announced that the first solar roadway to come on line in the U. S. will be in Georgia (Cooke, 2017; Edelstein, 2020).
Cyber-security: There is an arms race going on to hack and secure data. As technology has developed so has the need for adequate cyber-security. It is wise to have one, if not at least two, backup systems to protect transportation/mobility systems, including autonomous vehicles. Every organization continues to struggle with enhancing security (Center for Digital Government, 2020).
There are literally thousands of other technologies and associated tools in the transportation/mobility industry, and other fields, that continue to be developed, some proprietary and some not, in an effort to increase sales/profits and benefit-cost. A scan of printed and electronic trade journals, conferences, proposals, and sales presentations reflects the stunning scale of these developments. A brief scan reveals advanced and integrated project and program management, data collection and workflow automation, big data and analysis, remote piloted aerial and aquatic vehicles or drones, machine learning, Lidar, ground penetrating radar, geomatics, geophysics, Reality Mesh Services (i.e. 3D models out of unordered photographs or laser scans), Building Information Modeling (BIM) across the project life cycle while incorporating Reality Capture for Digital Twins and integrated for Asset Management, and many, many others.
This also does not discount the importance and value of the myriad existing methodologies that continue to advance, have been around for years, and that can increase system efficiency. Just a few include data collection and analysis, signal timing, static signing, variable message signs, 511, video cameras, radar, roadway weather notifications, traffic operations centers and infrastructure sensors, materials, recycling, planning, design, construction, maintenance, operations, and so on.
Motorized vehicles began with the advent of electric vehicles as evidenced by the first recorded powered vehicle fatality in the United States in 1899, from an electric taxi (see Part 2 of this series). Technology advances in the intervening 100 plus years have given rise to fully autonomous vehicles which are on the horizon.
The summary (abstract) provided by Clements and Kockelman (2017) is superb and provided in full.
“Connected and fully automated or autonomous vehicles (CAVs) may soon dominate the automotive industry. Once CAVs are sufficiently reliable and affordable, they will penetrate markets and thereby generate economic ripple effects throughout industries. This paper synthesizes and expands on existing analyses of the economic effects of CAVs in the United States across 13 industries and the overall economy. CAVs will soon be central to the automotive industry, with software composing a greater share of vehicle value than previously. The number of vehicles purchased each year may fall because of vehicle sharing, but rising travel distances may increase vehicle sales. The opportunity for heavy-truck drivers to do other work or rest during long drives may lower freight costs and increase capacity. Personal transport may shift toward shared autonomous vehicle fleet use, reducing that of taxis, buses, and other forms of group travel. Fewer collisions and more law-abiding vehicles will lower demand for auto repair, traffic police, medical, insurance, and legal services. CAVs will also lead to new methods for managing travel demand and the repurposing of curbside and off-street parking and will generate major savings from productivity gains during hands-free travel and reduction of pain and suffering costs from crashes. If CAVs eventually capture a large share of the automotive market, they are estimated to have economic impacts of $1.2 trillion or $3,800 per American per year. This paper presents important considerations for CAVs’ overall effects and quantifies those impacts.”
See Table 1 for a summary of the economic impacts of autonomous vehicles.
In the columns headed “Dollar Change in Industry” and “Percent Change in Industry,” signs “+” and “-”, respectively, denote a gain and a loss for the industry, whereas the industry-specific total for the dollar change in industry is the sum of their absolute values. Figures in the “$/Capita” columns and provided as overall total represent the sum of net economic benefits enjoyed by consumers.
According to an estimate by Intel Corporation and Strategy Analytics, announced in June 2017, the economic effects of autonomous vehicles will total $7 trillion in 2050 (Figure 6). The dollar amount represents a newly created value or a new ‘passenger economy’, calculated based on the assumption that fully automated Level 5 vehicles will be on the roads by 2050.
They also assumed that consumers and businesses will use Mobility-as-a-Service (MaaS) offerings instead of owning cars, and those who had been commuting to work by car will become passengers and spend the commuting time doing something else. Furthermore, transportation companies suffering from a serious labour shortage – such as long-haul truck operators and home delivery service providers – will introduce autonomous driving services, thereby enabling them to change their business models drastically. As such, the estimate reflects a very broad range of potential effects, which also include a wide variety of new commercial services such as onboard dining and retailing (Tomita, 2017).
Advancements continue almost daily. CNN Business (Farland, 2020) reports a self-driving and electric robotaxi from Amazon’s Zoox can travel up to 75 mph and never has to turn around, reversing directions as needed to navigate crowded city streets. In an effort to become a leader in this sector, China is advancing autonomous vehicles quickly, including fully autonomous highways (Metha, 2019; KPMG International, 2019).
There are a myriad of challenges to realize fully automated vehicles and that will require an accumulation of massive quantities of data and learning processes to enable the development of AI capable of coping with navigating the rules, laws, traffic control devices, unique infrastructure, and nuances in each city, county, and state, not to mention internationally. Moreover, developing soft infrastructure, including laws and regulations, and setting rules for liability arising from accidents involving autonomous vehicles will be challenging. Similar to the open ITS architecture established by USDOT, there is a need to establish AV architecture within the U. S., if not internationally.
The advent of fully automated driverless vehicles will have a tremendous impact on our society, bringing fundamental changes to the entire economic and social systems. When fully automated vehicles come into operation, they will become a major means of mobility for the elderly and infirmed in rural areas, in addition to agriculture uses. Urban areas will likely experience the greatest changes, the number of cars owned for personal use will drop, eliminating congestion and the need for parking spaces, and car-sharing services will continue to grow.
Companies are investing enormous money in both electric and autonomous vehicles. For example, Microsoft is investing $2 billion in Cruise, that is majority owned by GM, for a valuation of over $30 billion (Colias, 2021). Apple and Hyundai-Kia are planning to start production of a fully autonomous electric car in 2024 (Lebeau, 2021). It is interesting to note that the smart phone market is about $500 billion annually of which Apple has roughly one-third of that market. By contrast, the mobility market is about $10 trillion annually so Apple would only need two percent of that market to match their iPhone business. It is little wonder the interest in the autonomous and electric vehicle space.
Although some estimates are that it will be at least 2040 before fully autonomous vehicles will be dominant, how should we cope with these forthcoming changes? How should we redesign and change the urban and rural infrastructure and landscapes, land use, and the economic and social systems?
There are test beds spreading around the nation in an effort to bring these and other technologies to market—Contra Costa County California formed a Transportation Authority (CCTA) and developed the leading facility in the nation—GoMentum (https://gomentumstation.net), the University of Michigan established Mcity some years ago (https://mcity.umich.edu), Waymo is planning a test facility in Ohio (Moderation Team, n.d.), and Missouri just formed a Missouri Center for Transportation Innovation (https://mcti.missouri.edu). These test beds, and other efforts, reflect the drive toward an autonomous and safe mobility ecosystem future. What do they have in common? They are built on partnerships and collaboration. Of course, the National Academies Transportation Research Board (https://www.nationalacademies.org/trb/transportation-research-board), U. S. Department of Transportation, state departments of transportation, universities, and the private sector represent the best minds around and continually add to our body of knowledge on all aspects of mobility and transportation.
Autonomous marine, freshwater, river, air, truck, and train vessels
This discussion does not even mention other modes and types of autonomous vehicles such as marine, riverine, freshwater, trucks, trains, planes, drones or unmanned aerial vehicles, aircraft, or space craft. Although they share many of the same challenges as cars and similar vehicles, many of these are likely years away before widespread use. Nonetheless, they are on the horizon. Of course, the elimination/reduction of operators will require careful planning to help people find other jobs in addition to negotiations with unions, changes in business models, and changes in society. The following links provide more information on these topics.
As with other subjects, the literature and development of electric vehicles (EVs) and oil is vast and evolving. What can be gleaned, generalized, and estimated is this (Reichert, 2017; Idaho National Laboratory, n.d.; Skeptics, n.d.; Evannex, 2018; Schmidt, 2017):
there are growing advantages to electric vehicles
a battery charge can go 400-600 miles
there are approximately 20 moving parts in a EV versus 2,000 moving parts in internal combustion vehicles
there is zero maintenance except for tires
EVs are 90 percent cheaper to operate
The estimated life of an EV may be 500,000-1,000,000 miles
Globally, peak car ownership is projected to occur by 2035. Cars are used only 4% of the time, and by 2023 it is estimated that EVs will reach parity with the cost of gas-fueled vehicles (Ingham, 2019; Weiland, et al, 2017; Gearino, 2020). As younger generations consider the cost of car ownership, a review of vehicle registration records in more than 200 metro areas revealed that per-capita car purchases increased 0.7 percent on average in the years after Uber, Lyft and other e-taxi giants deployed their fleets, compared to projected registration rates prior to the entry of the companies. These were very slow years for car dealerships, partly due to the pandemic in 2020 (Naughton and Welch, 2019; Wilson, 2021).
The first nine months of 2020 saw car sales crater (Figure 2). Every major automaker was impacted with the exception of Tesla. The electric automaker sold more cars than ever before. Even as the rest of the economy froze, Tesla posted its longest stretch of profitable quarters, increased stock value over 750 percent, is now the largest U. S. vehicle manufacturer, became the 6th largest U. S. company, and ended the year with inclusion in the S&P 500 stock index. A closer look reveals AVs in general managed to thrive even as sales of traditional cars declined. Both Volkswagen and Daimler saw record-setting losses in total sales while sales of their EVs doubled.
While the sale of electric vehicles has been increasing for some years, there is also a need for the infrastructure and charging stations to support it (Figure 3).
The Biden Administration wants to increase charging stations by half a million as part of their effort to cut carbon emissions to zero by 2050. As such, new gas-powered cars and trucks would have to be phased out rapidly, probably by 2035 or sooner. That means aggressive action would have to continue. (Welch, 2021).
The energy sector is undergoing a major transformation and it will intensify as more and more consumers, especially in the transportation industry, change their purchase decisions to cleaner and less expensive options in the marketplace (i.e. EVs over internal combustion vehicles) (Figure 4).
Batteries are a technology, not a fuel, which means the more that are produced, the cheaper they are to make. However, up until now, EVs have been more expensive to build than gasoline cars. That’s changing (Figure 5).
This past year saw the first companies producing batteries at a cost of $100 per kilowatt-hour. That’s the point that analysts believe will bring the cost of building electric cars in parity with similar gasoline vehicles. After that, EVs should only get less expensive.
Volkswagen, the biggest automaker by cars sold, confirmed that its batteries had reached the $100 threshold for its 2020 ID.3 sedan and upcoming ID.4 compact SUV (Matousek, 2019). China’s CATL, the world’s biggest battery supplier, also claimed $100 battery nirvana as it struck deals across the auto industry (Schmidt, 2020). In addition, Tesla plans to manufacture battery cells, a first for any automaker, and to reduce battery costs 56% by 2023 (Spector, 2020).
Most recently, President Biden has announced his intent to convert the federal vehicle fleet of 645,000 vehicles to electric (Dow, 2021). Still, we need to remain aware of the basic infrastructure required for migration to electric vehicles, charging stations scattered across the Nation, and power generation and network to provide adequate electricity.
General Motors has announced it intends to stop making gas- and diesel-powered vehicles and go all electric by 2035 and be carbon neutral by 2040 (Colias, 2021).
Amazon is also in the process of having 10,000 electric delivery vans on the road by 2022, and 100,000 by 2030 (Hawkins, 2020).
In spite of the Pandemic, 2020 experienced a 30 percent increase in electric vehicle sales and that is expected to increase to 72% in 2021, charging stations infrastructure has lagged (BlastPoint, 2021).
We are near a “tipping point”.
Another aspect to consider, the cost and weight of a power train goes up for large EV vehicles (trains, heavy trucks, and buses), essentially losing any EV advantage. That is a reason Cummins Diesel is looking to use hydrogen fuel cells for these types of large vehicles (Nagel, 2020; Ohnsman, 2020).
A dirty secret of EV— the extraction of minerals such as cobalt used to make batteries is frequently done by child labor (Broom, 2019).
There is likely not a transportation agency or company that does not consider safety as their number one priority. This is how it should be. The very first roadway powered vehicle fatality in the United States was on September 13, 1899, when Henry Hale Bliss, a 69-year-old local real estate dealer, was dismounting a southbound 8th Avenue trolley car in New York City when an electric-powered taxi cab struck him. Bliss hit the pavement, crushing his head and chest. Bliss died from his sustained injuries the next morning (Eschner, 2017). A plaque was dedicated at the site on September 13, 1999, to commemorate the centenary of this event. It reads:
Here at West 74th Street and Central Park West, Henry H. Bliss dismounted from a streetcar and was struck and knocked unconscious by an automobile on the evening of September 13, 1899. When Mr. Bliss, a New York real estate man, died the next morning from his injuries, he became the first recorded motor vehicle fatality in the Western Hemisphere. This sign was erected to remember Mr. Bliss on the centennial of his untimely death and to promote safety on our streets and highways.
Since then, it has been a continual challenge to reduce fatalities, injuries, and property damage. Entire industries have grown up during this time (insurance, roadway policing, etc.).
More recently, while technology and autonomous vehicles hold promise to reduce and perhaps eliminate crashes, it will be many years and probably decades before a significant impact occurs. The United States alone averages 30-40,000 roadway deaths a year. Globally there are 1.35 million people annually killed on roadways around the world (3,700/day) with a $1.8 trillion economic cost in 2010 U. S. dollars (Road Traffic Injuries and Deaths—A Global Problem, n.d.). In the meantime, efforts must continue to protect people. Within the past decade, many in the industry have set goals for zero fatalities. As an example, one of these is Houston’s Vision Zero Action Plan (Begley, 2020). The city’s plan identifies 13 “priority actions” the city is committing to take. Among them:
construct at least 50 miles of sidewalks annually
build at least 25 miles of dedicated bike lanes annually
evaluate road projects for options to include sidewalks, bike trails and other amenities
redesign 10 locations with high numbers of incidents every two years, and make those changes within the following calendar year
Additionally, the plan calls on the city to train its employees on how to talk about crashes to avoid victim-blaming or playing down safety issues. It also calls for a detailed analysis of Vision Zero’s progress to be made publicly available.
These are not particularly unique actions to improve safety, as professionals work every day—through planning, design, construction, operations, maintenance, education, and collaboration—to reduce, if not eliminate, crashes and the circumstances that lead to them in an effort to keep people safe. However, “action” is the operative word just as Houston is doing.
Smart Cities and Concepts
Advances in policy, planning, partnerships, and innovation are being developed at all governmental levels in an effort to provide a framework for the public and private sectors to work in unison within an architecture to increase effective and efficient mobility. An early example of this is the Intelligent Transportation System or ITS Architecture developed by the U. S. Department of Transportation in conjunction with many partners and issued in 2001.
There are a number of concepts that can and have been referred to as “Smart Cities” or “Smart City Concepts”. These have evolved especially during the technology revolution of the past two decades. This list is far from exhausting the myriad concepts or disciplines. The following discusses some of these disciplines and concepts, in no particular order, and none fit neatly within one topic.
Some disciplines in these concepts:
Strategic Planning. This is the starting point for virtually everything else. It is, of course, preceded by the necessary outreach, listening, team building, and collaboration needed to build a strategy.
Performance Metrics. Tracking progress toward meeting the goals imbedded within the strategic plan is equally important. Any plan becomes useless without progress toward obtaining it and performance metrics provide that tool to measure progress.
Connected and Automated Vehicles (CAV). Driven by rapidly developing technologies, CAV primarily provides more capacity from infrastructure, essentially reducing costs and improving safety.
Clean Energy—Maturing Alternative Fuel Technologies. The Industrial Age and resulting pollution and climate change that resulted have demanded clean energy in all its forms—solar, wind, hydrogen fuel cell, and electricity. Electricity is currently most dominant.
Electrification. As electricity emerges as the clean energy fuel, vehicle manufactures and governments are rapidly moving forward to increase electric vehicle use and reduce carbon-based vehicle use. The Governor of California has mandated no new internal combustion vehicle sales within California after 2035 while electric vehicle use continues to rise, and many states and communities are encouraging their use with supporting infrastructure. California has led many areas in the mobility space so this is one to watch.
Hydrogen Fuel Cells. Recently, the diesel engine manufacturer Cummins is developing hydrogen fuel cell engines that they believe will be efficient and compete favorably with electricity for heavy vehicles such as buses, heavy trucks, and trains.
Mobility as a Service/Mobility on Demand. Mobility as a Service, or MaaS, also known as Transportation as a Service, provides services typically with a joint digital channel that enables users to plan, book, and pay for trips. This is part of a more global shift from personally-owned vehicles to mobility provided as a service. Micro-mobility and micro-transit are also emerging (Regional transportation study suggests ‘’micro-transit’, 2020).
Car and Ride Sharing. Car and ride sharing has been around for decades, but the technology of recent years has allowed it to become much more effective and efficient as evidenced by the rise of Lyft and Uber.
Increasing Biking, Scooters, and Pedestrian Mobility. In recent years as a means to reduce car usage especially in metropolitan areas, bike lanes, trails, sidewalks, and scooter/bicycle rentals are increasing. These have the ability to also improve health while reducing congestion and increasing the capacity of infrastructure.
Big Data. This is the best of continuous improvement. Virtually every organization has legacy systems of data, physical (e.g. file cabinets) or electronic (e.g. servers or the cloud). For a variety of reasons, these data have resided in ”silos” and are not easily accessed and analyzed from broader, more complex perspectives. New technologies and related tools are now allowing “big data” to be accessed and analyzed with resulting increases in efficiency and performance.
Risk. Risk has always existed and is dominant in mega and giga projects as evidenced in projects such as the California High Speed Rail. While private companies have had risk management programs for years, the most recent federal transportation act (Fixing America’s Surface Transportation or “FAST Act,” 2015) requires states to have a risk management program. Using different tools to anticipate potential challenges (e.g. lost revenues) as well as opportunities (e.g. lost opportunities to increase revenues), these tools allow proactive development of strategies to mitigate and address the challenges as they occur vice the turmoil and problems associated with surprises. Of course this does not eliminate surprises termed “black swans” but these tools do significantly reduce most risks.
Resilience. Infrastructure is the backbone of our economy, connecting people, enhancing quality of life, and promoting health and safety. But climate change is revealing infrastructure vulnerabilities (Will infrastructure bend or break under climate change?, 2020). Like risks, resiliency or the lack of it, has always existed. As our built environment has increased, come into conflict with, and impacted the natural environment, the demand for protecting the built environment has increased. The National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) (Lindsey, 2020) estimates a sea level rise of one foot to 8.2 feet by 2100. The variables are such that it is impossible to project more precisely. These apparently man-induced climate changes have increased hurricanes, other storms, coastal erosion, flooding, and other events that erode or destroy man-made structures including roads and bridges. This has demanded more resilient infrastructure through better materials, protective structures, relocation to less exposed areas, improved construction practices, and others (Parsons, 2020). One of the more recent efforts to improve the built-natural environment coexistence is the U. S. Army Corps of Engineers initiative “Engineering with Nature” (https://ewn.el.erdc.dren.mil/).
Environment. This discipline, like other disciplines, interacts together. As living beings, we depend on and are part of the natural environment. Thus, while risk and resilience are critical to the built environment, the healthy functioning of the natural environment is essential to our well-being. There is general recognition that climate change, biological diversity, populations, species loss and other insidious environmental impacts are undermining the natural world on which life (including humans) depends. (Will infrastructure bend or break under climate change?, 2020; UN Report: Nature’s Dangerous Decline ‘Unprecedented’; Species Extinction Rates ‘Accelerating’, 2019; Bongaarts, 2019; Duckett, 2020; Sofia, et al, 2020; Kann, 2020). There are emerging lab cultured meats that may reduce greenhouse gases 20-30 percent, slaughtering of 80 billion animals a year, improve land use, and reduce creation and transmission of diseases such as coronavirus. In the end we must take care of our natural environment. There is an increasing demand for the transportation/mobility space to not only mitigate but improve the natural environment. While many techniques are not new, the U. S. Army Corps of Engineers initiative “Engineering with Nature” increases the attention to the importance and techniques to live well within and take care of the natural environment.
Internet of Things (IoT). This is technology taken to a high level. There is increasing demand for seamless mobility and IoT provides tools to achieve that future. As the title of this blog infers (The Mobility Ecosystem), the IoT allows an increasing emphasis on a “systems perspective” of our lives. Technology is allowing us to not only see the mobility ecosystem more clearly but how to improve its performance in all of its myriad impacts and relations…economic, social, environmental etc. (Joshi, 2020).
Some Smart City Concepts
Incentivize High Density Development. Our society has seen in an ebb and flow in regards to this concept—rural agriculture migrating to cities during industrialization, migrations to suburbs during metropolitan growth, migrations to more rural areas with increased opportunities for remote work, and a return to metropolitan areas primarily for work. This latter has dramatically increased traffic congestion and no one likes that. So, metropolitan areas are employing solutions to address this issue, such as providing incentives for high density development, not only of businesses, but housing and support services such as health care and grocery stores that are within walking distance. Due to population densities in European and Asian metropolitan areas, high density development has been occurring for some time. The United States is a much younger country so, we can learn from looking at their experience.
Incentivize Core Downtown Development by Charging Fees for Increases in Traffic. This is more of a technique than a concept. Nonetheless, charging fees for development that results in traffic increases can be a powerful tool while developing downtown areas, reducing traffic congestion, and increasing pedestrian/bicycle/scooter traffic.
Electrify Transportation: While electrification is a discipline, its application to traffic is considerable and is rapidly occurring. The economics driving this are discussed in a later post in this series.
Use More Shared and Connected Transportation. While shared transportation providers such as Uber and Lyft are becoming increasingly ubiquitous and used by many, especially millennials, there is little question that these and other providers will continue to expand. Connected transportation is beginning to emerge essentially in two forms. One is connecting various modes into one seamless multimodal transportation system, largely through technology. The other is by linking buses, trucks and cars into essentially “trains of vehicles or platoons” with little or no separation (i.e. virtually or physically connected). This has the net effect of increasing the capacity of infrastructure and increasing the productivity (and safety) of vehicles.
Use Traffic Calming Devices that Slow Cars and Enhance Pedestrian, Bicycle, Scooter, and Transit Mobility. This is likely one of the less obvious smart city concepts. However, the use of traditional traffic lights, traffic circles, pavement markings, and signs can have the net impact of slowing cars and enhancing pedestrian, bicycle, scooter and transit mobility.
Adopt User-Friendly App(s) for Routing and Paying for Multimodal Trips. This may be more of a technique for increasing connected vehicle use by a user-friendly app that allows for routing and paying for multimodal trips. These are being developed in locations such as the Denver RTD.
Free Public Transportation. As population densities increase and the impacts are valued and assessed via more “systems thinking,” the results may be that free public transportation may be more advantageous and cost-effective than alternatives. Dunkirk France concluded that free public transportation was more advantageous and cost effective than other alternatives, and thus provide free public transportation. Kansas City, Missouri, is providing free public transportation in a one year test to determine whether to do the same.
Stay Healthy Streets. Making more use of streets has gone by various names including complete streets, but Stay Healthy Streets is a more recent terminology. Essentially, this concept increases the usage of roads from motorized vehicles to pedestrians, bicycles, and other micro-mobility. This can be accomplished by closing or limiting streets to vehicle access, pavement markings for bicycle lanes, etc. The cities of Seattle and Minneapolis saw increases in pedestrian and bicycle traffic during the COVID-19 Pandemic while other cities saw little or no change. The question now is whether to keep these Stay Healthy Streets or not.
The fDis Global cities of the future (fDiintelligence.com, a service of the Financial Times LTD) also offers a variety of great insights, including by competitions to identify the best practices for future global cities.
Smart Rural Concepts
In an effort to be holistic, it is appropriate to provide some discussion of Smart Rural Concepts. The needs in largely agriculture-based communities for access to hospitals, schools, jobs and other communities is equal to that of more urban communities although the challenges may vary, including longer travel distances. Nearly every element in the above discussion of Smart Cities also relate to rural areas, the need for strategic planning, clean energy, electrification, big data, resilience, 5G, ITS, variable message signs, CAV, GPS, IoT, user-friendly apps for routing, etc. One exception is that most rural communities are not burdened with traffic congestion in their downtowns so incentivizing high-density development downtown makes little sense. However, many rural communities strongly desire more downtown traffic as a perceived means of economic development. Traffic can be a two-edged sword depending on your perspective. Truck traffic routing is another area rural communities may struggle with more than more urban communities.
One of the more challenging aspects of rural areas is that 45 percent of the nation’s fatalities are on rural roads while only 19 percent of the nation’s population lives in rural areas (Rural/Urban Comparison of Traffic Fatalities, 2020). This warrants counter measures not usually used in more urban areas. With more than 30 people a day dying in roadway departure crashes on rural roads, inexpensive countermeasures like SafetyEdge, rumble strips, lane markings, signage, and edge lines can and are bringing that number down.
Bongaarts, J. (2019, September 4). IPBES, 2019. Summary for policy makers of the global assessment report on biodiversity and ecosystem services of the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services. Wiley Online Library. Retrieved January 14, 2021 from https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/full/10.1111/padr.12283