IN THIS CASE STUDY YOU WILL LEARN:
1. The Northwest Transportation Conference (NWTC) is a unique forum and was fi rst held in 1949.
2. Through this conference, Oregon State University has supported advances in transportation for 70 years.
3. Recent topics include connected and autonomous vehicle development and integration.
The Northwest Transportation Conference (NWTC) is a biennial meeting held at Oregon State University (OSU) in Corvallis, Oregon. First held in 1949, the event is a unique collaboration of regional public agencies in the Pacifi c Northwest that explores topics related to all aspects of transportation and has been consistent in its focus since its inception. Since the beginning, OSU and the Oregon Department of Transportation (ODOT) have been key collaborators in this conference along with other key players and stakeholders throughout the region, who over time have built and solidified relationships among transportation agencies and professionals.
A hallmark element of the NWTC conference is its longevity as a regional transportation conference. Held at least biennially since 1949, it has brought together generations of transportation officials with a common passion and purpose.
G.W. Gleeson, Dean of Engineering at Oregon State College (now OSU), accurately summarized this purpose in his opening remarks to the attendees at the conference held in 1950. “I’m most enthusiastic about a conference of this kind because I feel that this sort of spreads out and blossoms into a real benefi t to the people of the State of Oregon. If meetings of this kind can do nothing more than exchange some ideas of the overcoming of present diffi culties attendant to your work and promote better construction and better satisfaction of the people in your communities, then it has accomplished its purpose.”
The longevity of the conference has also allowed it to reflect many challenges in the transportation industry and build on that collective knowledge over decades. As an example, at the 1974 meeting, Robert MacVicar, then President of Oregon State University, addressed the attendees by noting “what you in the business should be doing is reviewing our transportation policy with an eye on the recent trend of oil reserves and consumption. It will require the support of all engineers and planners to find more effi cient means of transportation.” As this statement highlights, the transfer of knowledge was critical to allow transportation professionals to react effectively to the energy crisis of the 1970s. The conference also provides a platform for the industry to be proactive in transportation development. In 2018, there were several presentations regarding connected and autonomous vehicles and the opportunities of integrating this technology. The long history of this conference has positioned it to be a regional leader in the transportation conversation and direction of the industry in the years to come.
Collaboration between academics and professionals is an aim of the transportation industry. The NWTC is a prime regional example of this goal. Conference sponsors have varied over the decades, but OSU and ODOT have been key partners since the beginning. Other prominent organizations that have invested in the conference over the years include Benton County (OSU is in this county) and the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA).
A MUTUALLY BENEFICIAL PARTNERSHIP
The primary coordination for the conference is a mutually beneficial partnership between ODOT, OSU, and Benton County. The ODOT Research Office is currently the primary organizer for the conference and it is traditionally held on OSU’s campus in Corvallis. This decision leverages a strength of OSU as a partner of this conference since the university has an established conference services group and large meeting spaces capable of hosting an event of this size. ODOT and OSU also work together to schedule the conference at a time when ODOT employees are substantively available and students are on campus. This seemingly simple decision is vital to ensuring that the people who will most benefit from the transfer of information at the conference are able to attend.
CHARACTERISTICS AND BENEFITS
The conference has been a consistent draw throughout its history. Even in the early years, records show that there were around 140 participants at the conference in 1955. In recent years, the conference has grown to draw more than 400 participants at each meeting. To maintain this strong attendance, the event is advertised through consistent mediums. The most effective outreach is email announcements to previous conference attendees. The individual sponsoring agencies also distribute conference announcements, further reaching the appropriate audience in the region who could benefit from the conference.
The diversity of backgrounds in these participants is broad, further adding to the robustness of the discussions and collaboration. Professionals from city, county, state, and federal levels who are experts in engineering, planning, maintenance, and public works attend to participate in professional development and to share best practices. Many conferences have a very specific focus, but the organizers of the NWTC have purposely kept the audience broad to encourage interdisciplinary collaboration and communication. A benefit of OSU being a key collaborator is the involvement of students in the conference. In the first decades of the conference, the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) student chapter at OSU was involved in the planning and organization of the conference. In recent years, while students have not been as involved in the planning, the OSU Institute of Transportation Engineers (ITE) student chapter arranges student volunteers to participate in conference logistics like registration and set-up. In addition, students have some involvement in conference presentations as well. Professors and students will regularly present academic research, providing an avenue for industry leaders to discover and implement novel solutions being explored within the state. Through providing online access to the past presentations, the knowledge shared between agencies at the conference can continue to be disseminated. Yet, the conference’s greatest strength and benefit comes from its longevity. The conference provides a consistent, stable, and historically significant forum for transportation officials to discuss local and regional challenges while better preparing the community to embrace the future of the industry.