Podcast Interview: AASHTO President Craig Thompson

The latest episode of “The Stream by AASHTO” podcast – formerly the Environmental Technical Assistance Program or ETAP podcast – features Craig Thompson, secretary of the Wisconsin Department of Transportation and 2023-2024 president of the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials.

[Above image by AASHTO]

“The Stream by AASHTO” podcast is part of a technical service program for state departments of transportation provided by the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials. It explores a wide array of environmental topics that affect transportation and infrastructure programs.

For his term as AASHTO president, Thompson plans to focus on three key emphasis areas: Bolstering safety on America’s roadways, realizing the promise of the historic Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, and reinvigorating the transportation workforce.

During his podcast interview, President Thompson shares insights into his presidential emphasis areas. Listen to this episode to gain a deeper understanding of this year’s AASHTO president and explore how his extensive experience has shaped AASHTO’s strategic focus for the 2023-2024 year.

[Editor’s note: AASHTO recently released a “presidential profile” video of Thompson, which can been viewed below.]

In his role as the Wisconsin DOT secretary, Thompson oversees one of the largest state agencies, boasting a workforce of over 3,100 employees and managing a biennial budget exceeding $8 billion. The department includes the Division of Motor Vehicles, serving approximately 50,000 customers weekly, and the Division of State Patrol, responsible for law enforcement and assisting motorists across the state.

Thompson also brings over 30 years’ worth of transportation industry experience to his role as AASHTO president. In 2020, he was president of the Mid America Association of State Transportation Officials and was the executive director at the Transportation Development Association of Wisconsin.

ETAP Podcast: Wrapping up Transportation Equity Series

The final episode of a four-part Environmental Technical Assistance Program or ETAP podcast series interviews key transportation officials about the ways to make mobility systems across the United States more attractive, equitable, and inclusive for all users. To listen to this episode, click here.

[Above: ETAP Podcast Host Bernie Wagenblast (left) with TxDOT’s Michael Bryant. Photo by AASHTO.]

The ETAP podcast – part of a technical service program for state departments of transportation provided by the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials – explores a wide array of environmental topics that affect transportation and infrastructure programs.

[To listen to the first three episodes in this equity podcast series, click here, here, and here.]

This podcast episode is comprised of interviews conducted at the 2023 AASHTO Annual Meeting – held November 13-16 in Indianapolis – following a knowledge session entitled “Stop, Look, Listen: Engaging Communities to Put Equity into Action.” 

Experts interviewed for this ETAP podcast episode include: Tanya Smith, director of the Office of Civil Rights at the North Carolina Department of Transportation; Michael Bryant, director of the Office of Civil Rights for the Texas Department of Transportation; Gloria Jeff, livability director for the Minnesota Department of Transportation; and Angela Berry Roberson, senior advisor with the Office of Civil Rights within the U.S. Department of Transportation.

Those podcast participants discussed the ways state departments of transportation, transit agencies, and other mobility-focused organizations are working to create more partnerships with underserved communities and disadvantaged businesses across the country to help better identify current and future transportation and mobility needs.

“For me, I think civil rights is the foundation of where we are today with equity,” explained TxDOT’s Bryant on the podcast. “I think equity is taking the foundational principles from the Civil Rights Act of 1964 – the fight for equality and justice – and figuring out new ways to implement those principles into all things that we’re doing at state DOTs across the country.”

To listen to the full final episode of this four-part ETAP podcast series on transportation equity, click here.

ETAP Podcast Discusses Active Transportation

The second episode of a four-part Environmental Technical Assistance Program or ETAP podcast series focuses on the crucial connections required between planners, policymakers, and local communities in order to make active transportation systems more attractive and inclusive for all users. (To listen to the first episode, click here.)

[Above photo by AASHTO]

“Active transportation” encompasses “human-powered” mobility options, such as biking or walking, and is also viewed as a way to help bridge the first- and last-mile gap in public transit systems. Active transportation also offers public health benefits as well, as it engages users in physical activity.

This ETAP podcast episode sits down with Tamika Butler, principal of Tamika Butler Consulting, who describes how her firm strives to help build more equitable and inclusive active transportation systems for minority and low-income communities.

The podcast also visits with Joshua Phillips, communications and public relations coordinator for the Alabama Department of Transportation, about “City Walk Birmingham,” also known as “City Walk BHAM.”

The recent completion of Birmingham’s I-59/20 Central Business District (CBD) Interstate bridges brings about a renewed focus on the space underneath the bridges known as City Walk BHAM. The goal of the project is to provide a space to assist in reconnecting Birmingham and create a destination and common area open to all citizens.

Conceptual planning began on City Walk BHAM in 2014 as a way to create a “fresh and vibrant space” underneath the I-59/20 Central Business District Interstate bridges.

Phillips noted on the podcast that at every phase of the project, Alabama DOT worked to engage the public in the project so it could be better tailored to pedestrian needs; an effort that resulted in the creation of public park and recreation spaces within the project.

To listen to the full podcast, click here.

ETAP Podcast: Oregon DOT Discusses Wildlife Crossings

In this episode of the Environmental Technical Assistance Program or ETAP Podcast, Cidney Bowman (above) – wildlife passage program coordinator for the Oregon Department of Transportation – discuss the different types of projects deployed by the agency to help prevent wildlife-vehicle collisions while at the same time improving habitat connectivity.

[Above photo by the Oregon DOT]

The ETAP podcast – a technical service program for state departments of transportation provided by the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials – explores a wide array of environmental topics that affect transportation and infrastructure programs.

During this month’s podcast, Oregon DOT’s Bowman also digs into what the U.S. Department of Transportation calls a “first-of-its-kind” pilot program that makes $350 million available over the next five years.

That includes more than $111 million in grants through its first round of funding in 2023, to support projects that prevent wildlife-vehicle collisions and improve habitat connectivity on a national basis.

[Editor’s note: In the video below, Bowman explains how wildlife undercrossings improve safety for animals and motorists alike.]

That federal funding supports both construction and non-construction projects, Oregon DOT noted – covering research, planning, and design endeavors that increase animal safety on roads.

Wildlife-vehicle collisions represent a major challenge across the country, according to USDOT data, totaling roughly 1 million to 2 million large animal impacts per year, which injure 26,000 people, cause 200 deaths, and results in $8 billion in property damage.

Oregon DOT has successfully enacted a variety of wildlife-collision prevention projects over the past several years, which reduced wildlife-vehicle collisions statewide by 86 percent

To listen to this podcast, click here.

ETAP Podcast: Bringing Young Professionals into Transportation

The latest episode of the Environmental Technical Assistance Program or ETAP Podcast examines different ways to recruit young professionals into the transportation industry, in part to help guide the sector’s new emphasis on issues such as infrastructure resilience, equity, and reducing greenhouse gas or GHG emissions, to name just a few.

[Above image by AASHTO]

For example, current state department of transportation projects under development include reconnecting communities, electric vehicle adoption, making infrastructure more resilient against cyber threats and extreme weather, and building a more equitable transportation system.

This podcast interviews several industry experts who provide insight into recruiting and preparing young professionals to lead such projects to completion in the transportation sector.

The first is Sarah Stickler, president and CEO of the Women’s Transportation Seminar or WTS International; a group dedicated to advancing women’s careers while strengthening their leadership skills within the transportation sector.

The second is Thomas Davidenko, director of programs at the Young Professionals in Transportation or YPT group; a nonprofit organization that supports new professionals in the transportation sector through fellowship, professional development, and networking opportunities.

The third speaker is Alicia Walker, director of programs and strategic engagement for the Conference of Minority Transportation Officials or COMTO, where she works to advance minorities in the transportation space and position tomorrow’s leaders for rapidly evolving global opportunities. To listen to this podcast, click here.

ETAP Podcast: Georgia’s Transportation Investment Act

The latest episode of the Environmental Technical Assistance Program or ETAP Podcast examines the impact of Georgia’s Transportation Investment Act or TIA a decade after its passage – a voter-approved 1 percent sales tax dedicated to funding state transportation and infrastructure needs.

[Above photo by the Georgia DOT]

In 2012, voters in three Georgia regions – River Valley, the Central Savannah River Area, and the Heart of Georgia Altamaha – approved a 1 percent sales tax that would last for 10 years to fund regional and local transportation improvements. Voters in the Southern Georgia Region passed the same transportation tax referendum in 2018. While TIA tax collections continued through 2022 for the original three regions, those collections will continue until 2028 for the Southern Georgia Region.

The Georgia Department of Transportation is responsible for the management of the budget, schedule, execution and delivery of all 1,022 projects contained in the TIA’s “Approved Investment Lists,” and

Kenneth Franks – state TIA administrator – details on this episode of the ETAP podcast how the regional and local impact of those projects. To list to the full episode, click here.

ETAP Podcast: NYSDOT Details Transportation Resilience Efforts

Marie Therese Dominguez (above), commissioner of the New York State Department of Transportation, recently joined the Environmental Technical Assistance Program or ETAP Podcast to discuss how her agency is working to build a more resilient transportation system.

[Above photo by the New York Governor’s Office]

Dominguez talked about how her agency tries to strengthen her state’s transportation system to better withstand severe weather events such floods, droughts, hurricanes, and in New York State’s case, winter storms.

Recently, the U.S. experienced a wave of winter storms that struck many regions of the country extremely hard – including upstate New York in and around the city of Buffalo. Dominguez shared with the ETAP Podcast how NYSDOT worked to help the region respond and recover from that storm, as well as the takeaways from the experience so the agency can apply what it has learned from its storm response to make the transportation network more resilient in the future.

Click here to listen to the full podcast.

ETAP Podcast: The I-24 Motion Test Bed

In this episode of the Environmental Technical Assistance Program or ETAP Podcast, Lee Smith – interim traffic operations division director at the Tennessee Department of Transportation – and Professor Dan Work from Vanderbilt University discuss the I-24 Motion test bed.

[Above image via the Tennessee DOT]

Formally known as the I-24 Mobility Technology Interstate Observation Network, the “test bed” encompasses a six-mile stretch of I-24 in the Nashville-Davidson County Metropolitan equipped with over 300 ultra-high definition cameras. The images from those cameras are then converted into a “digital model” to demonstrate the behavior of every vehicle using the roadway.

[Editor’s note: This test bed is part of the larger I-24 SMART Corridor project directed by Tennessee DOT, which seeks to integrate freeway and arterial roadway elements, along with physical, technological, and operational improvements, to provide drivers accurate, real-time information for actively managing traffic volumes. The agency noted in April 2022 that it completed Phase 1 of the I-24 SMART Corridor project in December 2021 and expects to wrap up Phase 2 by the spring of 2023.]

Tennessee DOT noted the I-24 Motion test bed’s “digital model” is formed anonymously via artificial intelligence or AI trajectory algorithms developed by Vanderbilt University. That vehicle trajectory data allows traffic researchers to uncover new insights into how traffic flow influences individual vehicle behavior – particularly critical due to the increasing automation capability of individual vehicles.

By unlocking a new understanding of how autonomous vehicles influence traffic, vehicle and infrastructure design can be optimized to reduce traffic concerns in the future to improve safety, air quality, and fuel efficiency, Smith and Professor Work noted.

To listen to this episode of the ETAP Podcast, click here.

ETAP Podcast: AASHTO President Roger Millar

At its 2022 Annual Meeting, held in October in Orlando, the Board of Directors of the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials elected Roger Millar (seen above) as its 2022-2023 president.

[Above photo by WSDOT]

Appointed secretary of the Washington State Department of Transportation in August 2016, Millar – a 1982 graduate of the University of Virginia – is a fellow of the American Society of Civil Engineers and a fellow of the American Institute of Certified Planners.

He also serves as president of the American Society of Civil Engineers’ Transportation and Development Institute, is chair of the Intelligent Transportation Society of America’s board of directors, and is a member of the National Complete Streets Coalition Steering Committee.

An experienced land-use and transportation engineer, planner, and program manager – with an international reputation for innovative approaches to conservation and development – Millar’s key emphasis area during his one-year term as AASHTO president is transportation system resilience.

That includes preparing for and adapting transportation infrastructure to changing conditions and climate-related disruptions like wildfires, flooding, excessive heat, sea-level rise, and extreme storm events.

In this ETAP podcast episode, Millar will discuss how his decades-long transportation industry experience led him to make resilience his key focus area as AASHTO 2022-2023 president. Click here to listen.

ETAP Podcast: The Ray Eyes Future Roadway Developments

This episode of the Environmental Technical Assistance Program or ETAP Podcast interviews Laura Rogers (seen above), deputy director of The Ray, to examine the future of roadways in America.

Founded in 2014, The Ray is a Georgia-based corporate venture devoted to roadway technology testing and collaborates with a number of state departments of transportation across the country. For example, in 2019, it formed a public-private-philanthropic partnership with the Georgia Department of Transportation to create and install a digital testing environment focused on critical interstate use cases, such as crash and weather warnings, for stakeholder engagement and education.

The first phase of work focused on an 18-mile corridor of rural interstate, known as The Ray Highway, and established as a connected vehicle ecosystem with six dual-mode and dual-active roadside radios, a number of cellular V2X or C-V2X equipped vehicles owned by the Georgia DOT connected to Panasonic’s CIRRUS cloud-based data management platform.

Laura Rogers, via The Ray

Additionally, in April, The Ray and consulting firm NGI recently released the NextGen Highways Feasibility Study for the Minnesota Department of Transportation that examined strategies for “co-locating” electric and communications infrastructure in highway right-of-ways or ROWs.

That study focused on the potential deployment of buried, high-voltage/direct current or HVDC transmission lines within Minnesota interstate and highway ROWs – an effort that offers broader implications for highway ROW strategies in other states.

In this episode of the ETAP podcast, Rogers discussed the “safety, condition, and sustainability” concerns surrounding America’s road networks, which she stressed are “vital” to the nationwide movement of goods and people.

Prior to joining The Ray, Rogers served as the sustainability and energy program manager at the Maryland Department of Transportation for six years as part of a long career in the federal and private sectors working on environmental management and sustainability issues.

To listen to this podcast, click here.