SASHTO 2017: Bringing the Future of Transportation into Focus

Drivers in the U.S. are placing unprecedented strain on their roadways. In fact, data from the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) indicates that Americans drove a total of 3.22 trillion miles in 2016, increasing 2.8 percent from the previous year. With the challenges and opportunities that accompany a growing demand on infrastructure, collaboration among players in the public sector transportation industry is both an operational and strategic imperative. Last month, I had an opportunity to take part in the latest industry dialogue at the 2017 Southern Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials (SASHTO) conference in Norfolk, Virginia. Hosted this year by the Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT), SASHTO is an annual gathering of regional, state, and federal transportation officials, leaders, and supporting industry focused on modernizing the nation’s highway transportation infrastructure. In both the formal agenda and informal hallway conversations, several key themes surfaced:

  • Using technology to create a better experience on our roadways
  • Anticipating growth in connected and autonomous vehicles
  • Securing the next generation of transportation workers
  • Building a framework for ongoing measurement and process improvement

Using technology to create a better experience on our roadways

State DOTs are increasingly incorporating technology to enable more efficient tolling, effective traffic flow management, and optimized passenger safety. For example, one state DOT is creating direct linkages between its customer contact center CRM system and its highway maintenance management platform to speed time from passenger complaint to on-the-road issue remediation. Many DOTs are also using predictive analytics to proactively manage speed limit parameters on high-risk roads based on expected weather and traffic patterns, pre-empting and minimizing driver hazards in high-risk driving conditions.

Anticipating growth in connected and autonomous vehicles

Discussion at SASHTO centered not only on enabling better customer experiences today, but pushed industry leaders to consider the impact of emerging technologies on future infrastructure. The conference featured several technical sessions that focused on connected and autonomous vehicles. Throughout these sessions, it was clear that recent technological advances in this area are substantive, happening rapidly, and carry significant policy implications at both the state and federal level. There are a myriad of safety and policy questions that state and federal transportation policymakers must tackle in enabling the continued growth of connected and autonomous vehicle capabilities. While many questions remain unanswered, there is one clear reality in my opinion: the environmental, passenger experience, and passenger safety benefits in this new era of highway transportation are worth the effort in making sure that policy catches up to technology in this field.

Securing the next generation of transportation workers

As new technologies continue to emerge, dialogue throughout sessions and among attendees also highlighted that the future of transportation is only as vibrant and innovative as the workforce that supports it. Like many public sector entities, state DOTs face an impending wave of retirements in their workforces and are seeking innovative and compelling ways to attract, retain, and grow their next generation workforce. Throughout the conference, there was also an emphasis on the importance of diversity in the highway transportation workforce, with discussion offering insight into the methodologies state DOTs could deploy to make diversity a reality in both offices and the field. One session in particular focused on how state DOTs could improve the perception of public sector transportation as a viable career choice among prospective new hires. This session made it evident that state DOTs face a critical challenge and opportunity that must be addressed: designing effective programs to attract the next generation of transportation workers.

Building a framework for ongoing measurement and process improvement

Workforce isn’t the only component of the public sector transportation industry that is in flux. In an environment of increased budgetary pressures and a rapidly aging highway infrastructure base, the need for state highway DOTs to employ robust performance measurement, program management, and continuous process improvement initiatives has never been more important. Innovative DOTs are beginning to leverage agile and big-data intensive program management tools and approaches gleaned from the software development world in traditional civil engineering domains such as highway and multi-modal infrastructure projects. The need to move quickly to address critical highway infrastructure modernization projects—in a budget environment that values measurable, short-term ROI—will elevate the importance of rigorous performance measurement and continuous process improvement efforts.

My experience at SASHTO highlighted the major trends playing out across the public sector transportation industry today. These trends highlight the key opportunities for regional, state, and federal transportation organizations as they focus on building resilient, future-ready infrastructure—infrastructure that is prepared for increased demand ahead.

For more on the SASHTO conference, click here.

To learn more about North Highland’s Public Sector capabilities, click here.