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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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
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.
The future of transportation/mobility is about leadership. Seven tenants to improve this include:
Safety: reduce crashes, fatalities, injuries, and property damage
At its base, every department of transportation, their partners, and stakeholders hold their first priority as safety. This is the value we put on life. As the future of transportation and mobility evolve, driven by demand for technology and collaboration, a safe system can be achieved with zero crashes, fatalities, injuries, and property damage. However, human nature cannot be controlled and periodic mishaps are bound to occur. Nonetheless, the future is bright for a safer transportation/mobility system.
Mobility: reduce congestion, increase the capacity of existing infrastructure; connected and intermodal=one seamless transportation system
Every transportation department, their partners, and stakeholders were formed to improve mobility, whether that was getting out of the mud or the interstate highway system. Earlier, these departments were focused on engineering and construction using concrete, asphalt, and steel to predominately build a network of roads and bridges. The complexity for these departments has long since become increasingly multi-faceted, demanding additional disciplines, skill sets, and more understanding. The future of transportation and mobility, again driven by increasing demand for digital technology and collaboration, portends the opportunity for one connected, intermodal, seamless transportation system. The parts to this system are fast emerging in autonomous vehicles, one shop stop apps for routing, transfers and payments, and increasing demands from the public to make it so. This latter is driven largely by demand for access, social justice, greater diversity and other social values for fairness.
Economy: improve access to jobs, products and services, origin, destination, and transport
There is a strong argument that transportation and mobility have been a primary driver of economic growth. This is an especially strong argument in valuing the interstate highway system. Other countries recognize that, too. That is why China is building the “One Belt, One Road” which will result in the largest road network in the world 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. Our entire society depends on transportation and mobility for access to jobs, public safety, health care, food, recreation, and many others. This access can be as large as the interstate highway system or as small as handicap ramps at intersections and curbs. Transportation and mobility are important at every level of our society although many take it for granted. Increasingly and rightly so, departments of transportation are using various and emerging systems to more directly value the impact of transportation and mobility in the economy. In fact, many have this reflected in their mission statements.
As the future emerges and more efficient, environmentally friending fuels come into the market, the future transportation and mobility system may include a newer user-based system such as a vehicle miles traveled tax or VMT, emerging from the fuel tax invented by the State of Oregon in 1919. This has been demonstrated as feasible for over 10 years by Oregon and other states. As such, the transportation and mobility system may operate more like a utility than it does now.
As the demand for digital technology and collaboration has increased, it requires a workforce that knows and understands how to use them. The rate of change is so rapid that the entire transportation and mobility industry, educators, and job seekers are challenged to keep up.
Environment: improve air, land, and water
As the social consciousness of environmental pollution, impacts, and climate change has increased, the efforts to control, mitigate and cleanup those impacts have correspondingly risen. While the environment and the impacts put upon it are often complex, the ownership is often ambiguous. Although many businesses are leaders in improving the environment, governments at all levels are frequently the leaders in regulating, mitigating and cleaning up impacts. As such, it is increasingly common for departments of transportation to be looked to lead in the environmental arena and mitigate the impacts on air, land, or water. My own sense is that these departments are generally very sophisticated and are up to the task.
Costs: reduce overall costs
Most people, governments, and businesses look closely at the costs in dollars since that is a primary measurement of value in our society. We view our savings, reduced costs, or costs avoided to a lesser degree. These can be significant, especially when viewed broadly such as the time-value to the driver either sitting in traffic, not being able to get to work or appointments on time, emergency responders including ambulances being slowed or stuck in traffic, and the increased opportunity for secondary collisions. Still, other impacts on the environment may be affected and add to global warming. What are the impacts on plants and animals which share our planet and sometimes may represent the “canary in the coal mine”. While direct costs in dollars serve an important purpose, viewing the wider range of costs, including those that are difficult or may not lend themselves to being valued in dollars, can be a challenge. In fact, progress in some areas such as environmental impacts and climate change may not be adequately valued in dollars, in spite of the fact that there are real financial impacts. Taking the “big picture” of the real or estimated costs in dollars or other value systems is difficult. Still, this must be done to more fairly assess the impacts to and within the built and natural environments. Otherwise, decision-making, which always has inherent flaws or risks, will not result in optimal judgments. Our ability to make more informed decisions on the total costs is evolving and improving in many parts of our society, including in transportation and mobility. Some of the systems enabling decision-making are well founded and continue to be well used, such as engineering economics. Others such as balancing the built and natural environments are more challenging but are improving within the emerging discipline of sustainability.
Time: reduce travel time
There is only so much time. Most of us are very protective of it. If we cherish our time, then it makes sense to place a value on it. Increasingly this is done. For example, placing a dollar value on a driver’s time and doing a calculation for a construction contractor’s incentive if work is completed early, or conversely charging a disincentive if work is completed late. Driven by increasing demand for digital technology and collaboration, the transportation/mobility system future promises a transition from a fragmented multimodal system to one connected, seamless, intermodal system that will optimize travel time for each of us.
Support: leverage emerging, business intelligence/analysis, data, and decision-making systems
The six previous tenants are ideas that cannot be achieved without an underlying support system. While these are based on education and research and development, emerging technologies are building tools for creating better built and natural environments. The rapidly evolving arena of the Internet of Things (IoT), big data, business intelligence, and analytics, augmented and virtual reality and others are great, especially when considering the Apple iPhone was only released in 2007. Digital technology is a significant driver in this brave new world of transportation and mobility. Another significant driver is our human ability to collaborate for the greater societal good. Using these emerging tools to create a better transportation and mobility system will be a significant step.
The above seven tenants do not supplant the process of planning, design, construction, operations, and maintenance. At least until there is a better way, these do not supplant many other important elements such as a strong safety culture and program, annual needs assessments and their costs or savings, preserving the existing system, utilization of asset management tools, assessing and documenting infrastructure condition, and monitoring and managing traffic speed and volume.
It is the utility of all tools that will optimize outcomes in creating a better world for us and our posterity.
“The secret of change is to focus all of your energy, not on fighting the old, but on building the new.”
The idea of one seamless transportation system has existed for many years. Currently we have strong transportation modes, but one seamless transportation system is lacking. Over the past 100 years we have become a nation that is car-centric, and our system of roads, highways and interstate allow us largely to travel where we want, when we want. I count myself among the many that are car-centric. In spite of the negative impacts of this surface transportation system, it has driven our economy to be the strongest in the world. However, if we want to connect various modes—public transportation, airports, trains, marine and inland water navigation etc.—we are frequently left to our own devices in getting where we want, when we want. This can be inefficient, ineffective and frustrating. As an example, in many areas of the country public transportation does not connect to airports, train stations or water navigation. While several urban areas have developed these connections, there is still a long way to go.
Although infrastructure will continue to be important to add value by connecting these “edges”, digital technology can act as a valuable force-multiplier in bringing a multimodal system to an emerging intermodal system and finally to one seamless system. The value of connecting these edges adds enormously to our economy and quality of life. In many ways these “edges” reflect the richness and value at intersecting biomes, a fact known by ecologists for many years. The freight industry has long recognized that their business relies on one connected freight system. Otherwise, products would be delayed, not delivered and at times products would rot. A national freight program has emerged in recent years, bearing testimony to its importance. While there are still needed improvements in the freight system, the efficient movement of people has lagged. This is an opportunity to be seized.
Strategic planning to achieve one seamless transportation system is a collaborative affair with inclusive interests. There is no entity, to my knowledge, that is not dependent on some form of transportation. Our economy and quality of life depend on a safe and reliable transportation system. In fact, the history of human colonization, societies and economies on planet Earth could be told in the context of transportation with all of its components.
These are exciting and challenging times in transportation, with perhaps more changes in the next 10 years than in the previous 60, or even the previous 100. In spite of the challenges, including to find a replacement for the fuel tax, mobility is the imperative, not infrastructure, vehicles, digital technology or other elements alone. It is about convenience, quality and affordability, using transportation to improve lives. Thus, we are at a watershed moment in time that requires that we change the way we think and act to build one seamless “transportation ecosystem” that will save lives, save costs, reduce congestion, reduce pollution and mitigate climate change, create jobs, grow the economy and increase customer service and satisfaction.
The industry has been slowly moving in this direction for some time but has failed to realize any significant improvement in developing one seamless system. In a previous blog (The Future of Transportation…September 2015) I reviewed the history leading to the start of the interstate highway system. The general concept for an interstate highway system was created during the World War I era as a means for defense and to spur economic growth—the Pershing Map, named for General John J. Pershing. The concept for an interstate highway system was further advanced based on the experience of Dwight D. Eisenhower shortly after World War I where a transcontinental road trip took weeks, and then during World War II as he recognized the efficiency and speed of the German Autobahn. During the intervening 30 years there was general consensus as to what the interstate highway system should look like but there was no agreement as to how it should be paid for. The States did not sit idle then, as they are not now. Oregon invented the fuel tax in 1919 and within 10 years every state had adopted a fuel tax to build the infrastructure (roads) to primarily “get out of the mud”. States, including Kansas, Oklahoma and others, also built toll roads, just as the states and locals had built toll bridges for many years before, to increase connectivity and spur economic development. Finally, agreement was reached to adopt a federal fuel tax and fund the construction (not maintenance) of the interstate system through the National Interstate and Defense Highways Act of 1956. The evidence is overwhelming that the interstate highway system, and transportation in general, has improved our economy and quality of life.
The question now is will it take another 30 plus years to decide what our future transportation system should be and how to pay for it? This does not even include the needs of other forms of infrastructure for water, waste water, power etc. that our society has become dependent on.
Once again, I believe the evidence is clear that states are leading the way in further developing transportation and how to fund it. However, this time there are two other events driving this:
Rapidly evolving digital technology and
Increasing demand for collaboration, especially with the private sector
Technology, especially digital technology, is evolving at breath-taking speed. As such, the public sector is not well suited to rapidly adjust to these changes in technology. The private sector is much better suited and again, I believe, there is evidence that the private sector will drive much of the transportation future. We are already witnessing this with Lyft, UBER, autonomous vehicles, connected vehicles, intelligent infrastructure, continuing to evolve intelligent transportation systems, drones, automated machine control, positive train control, just-in-time delivery services, Internet shopping and delivery, “big data” and resulting useful information, and other changes across all modes of transportation. Many of these technologies and businesses did not even exist a few years ago. This does not even contemplate other rapidly evolving technologies impacted by nanotechnology and other advances in materials.
Our societal values have also evolved. For example, we are much more aware of the risks to life and the economy from driving. Thus a safe transportation system is valued more highly than in the past. We recognize the impact that the built environment can have on our natural environment and the attention to maintaining and improving the natural environment has dramatically increased, largely since the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) of 1970. Other aspects such as societal justice has evolved. In reality there is no single solution to the way our society evolves, it is more a matter of weighing informed choices in decision-making. This has resulted in a relatively new field—sustainability—which “balances” our society, environment and economic interests.
The number of licensed drivers and privately owned vehicles is declining. Our society is aging as “baby boomers” move into “retirement” age, an indication of changing demographics. While oil is currently in abundance, it is not a renewable resource and the use of alternative fuels and more efficient vehicles continues to evolve. Debt is increasing, whether our national debt or the result of student loans. Wages are static. These only begin to portend some of the changes in our world, with little deference to the changing international landscape.
So, it is important, if not essential, to be as inclusive as possible when doing strategic planning. While strategic planning is more precise for the relative near-term, the long-term is much less clear. Perhaps the best we can do is to develop and be mindful of a “cone of possibilities” which so-called futurists propose. How many years a plan should be forward looking is open to discussion. However, strategic planning could be easily constructed along time horizons of a few years and up to 50 or more, realizing that longer time frames will be less certain with a point of diminishing returns. In my opinion, these strategic plans should be updated perhaps every five years based on how rapidly our world is changing.
While the visioning of a strategic plan is important, it is also important to identify next steps with specific and measurable performance measures and who is responsible for actions.
Since our economy and quality of life will be impacted by what we do, all citizenry interests must be represented to include pedestrians, bicyclist, motorcyclists, automobile drivers, truckers, rail roads, aviation, digital technology interests, ride sharing/taxi cab providers, public transportation, government, emergency responders (including fire departments and police), utilities, schools and academia, consultants, contractors, economists and economic developers, environmental interests, business owners, marine and inland water shippers, ports and others. While participation by these various interests cannot be guaranteed, outreach is necessary to solicit as much participation as possible. This must be balanced to avoid being “frozen” into inaction. The goal is for general consensus, knowing that complete agreement is rarely, if ever, obtained.
With these efforts, it is hoped that our societal buy-in for transportation strategic plans at the federal, regional, state and locals will advance our progress in developing one seamless system, using transportation to improve lives.
“Explore this next great frontier where boundaries between work and higher purpose are merging into one, where doing good is good for business.”
“If your actions inspire others to dream more, learn more, do more and become more, you are a leader.”