Making the Connection Between Planning and Technology

The innovative format used in yesterday’s session, Connecting the Way We Plan and Deliver Transportation with Emerging Technologies, allowed students and future transportation leaders to engage directly with a few of our most important industry leaders around the very topics that will define how our transportation system evolves. Merging the advantages of technology with sophisticated management strategies will be critical to the future of transportation but Transportation Systems Management and Operations (TSMO) hasn’t always been the easiest concept to explain or understand. Most know that it can bring efficiency and save money, but many aren’t clear on how to apply it. That’s why organizers of a top-line panel used a new strategy to enlighten attendees.

Sponsored by the National Operations Center of Excellence (NOCoE) and planned and moderated by Laurie Matkowski of Gannett Fleming, the session featured a rendition of the Match Game, with Ms. Matkowski serving as the “host.” Students from Michigan DOT’s co-op program served as the “contestants” matching their answers with the celebrity panel made up of Jennifer Cohan, Delaware DOT (DelDOT) Secretary, Leslie Richards, Pennsylvania DOT (PennDOT) Secretary, Kirk Steudle, Michigan DOT (MDOT) Director, Andrew Bremer, Managing Director of Drive Ohio, and Patrick Son, Managing Director of NOCoE.

This lively new session format not only entertained the packed room but meaningfully engaged our current industry leaders around the challenges that may define the careers of our future transportation leaders, including the nature of the workforce, generational divides around technology, and understanding the nature of how our transportation system is managed.

The discussion wasn’t entirely about technology itself, but also about the way we organize our agencies and how that can impact the adoption and integration of technologies. Secretary Cohan of DelDOT and Chair of the NOCoE Board of Directors, emphasized the importance of land use planning and its effect on the transportation system. She emphasized positive impact regional organizations play managing and operating the transportation system and highlighted the opportunity that can be found in working more collaboratively with partnerships outside of the traditional transportation role. Secretary Richards of PennDOT discussed their priority of ensuring that the transportation industry reflects the diversity of the people using the transportation system and how the changes in this approach they’re making today, is the foundation for the next generation workforce.

But the gameshow questions also illuminated a few of the key challenges specific to how technology is currently used to operate our transportation system. Managing Director Andrew Bremer discussed Drive Ohio’s focus on providing long distance alternative fuel policies to encourage the development of new technologies. Then Kirk Steudle, Michigan DOT’s director, announced the operation of two fully autonomous shuttles at the University of Michigan that will not only provide improved transportation options for students, but allow the university to understand how students will approach riding an autonomous shuttle.

Student “contestants” came from Michigan DOT’s co-op program, the first Connected and Automated Vehicle co-op in the country and included Shellie Zamponi, Wayne State University, Maggie (Margaret) Kohler, University of Michigan, and Edward Weng, Michigan State University. As these contestants answered questions and spoke about their own viewpoints with the current leaders sitting on the other side of our “stage,” it became clear just how important this type of dialogue is as we shift our focus to TSMO and transition our transportation system to the 21st century.