Communicating the important role America’s transportation plays in the daily lives of its citizens should be a top priority for state departments of transportation going forward, argued Carlos Braceras (seen above), executive director of the Utah Department of Transportation and the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials 2018-2019 president.
“We need to be thinking about how we communicate just how important our transportation system is to all of our citizens,” he explained during a presentation at the Mid-America Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials in Indianapolis August 14.
“Because, at end of the day, transportation represents freedom; the freedom to move where, when, and how we want. It gives us opportunities that would not exist otherwise.”
Braceras said communicating the “positives” about transportation is also critically important as the deadline for surface transportation funding re-authorization draws ever closer and the staffing needs of state DOTs become more acute.
“Here we are, about 13 and half months away from expiration of the FAST [Fixing America’s Surface Transportation] Act, and all of your organizations are already far along in planning projects well past that deadline,” he stressed. “Those projects impact your constituents, their quality of life; we’re making promises to them that they’ll be completed. So getting re-authorization done is a really big deal for us.”
Braceras added that he is “so very happy” the Senate’s Committee on Environment and Public Works produced a re-authorization bill with unanimous support before Congress adjourned for its traditional summer recess. But now the next stage of the legislative process begins in earnest.
“Really good things are happening but now we need to get the rest of Congress – especially the funding and finance committees – behind it,” he emphasized. “We need the funding certainty that re-authorization brings. We need to communicate how critically important that is.”
The need for a steady, reliable funding stream also dovetails with the state DOT community’s need for a stream of new workers with new skill sets.
“We have this bubble [among state DOTs] where a large group of people are starting to retire,” Braceras said. “So we see this constant need for new employees, but also for new skill sets, because more and more of the technology [in transportation] is changing. Today it is almost more important how operate our transportation system than how we built it, because there is so much more data going into our decision-making processes today; helping us make better decisions faster, and with better outcomes.”