The Georgia Section of the Institute of Transportation Engineers just completed its annual meeting (Summer Seminar) in St. Simons Island, GA. The four-day conference, held at the King and Prince Hotel, provides technical talks and workshops focusing on new and upcoming trends and policies in the industry. Each day was packed with activities from conference panel discussions to volleyball and cornhole tournaments, and night events saw plenty of corporate networking parties, a casino night, and ice cream social. Typically, a single theme tends to dominate the conference; however, this year’s theme of “All In” led to a variety of discussions and workshops from all facets of the industry. Here are three takeaways from this year’s conference:
1. It really is all about the money
The transportation industry is funded almost exclusively by government money, meaning the typical transportation engineer has a vested interest in what funding is available for projects. The Georgia House Bill 170 was enacted in July 2015, opening the flood gates of much needed funding for transportation projects in the state. Much of that funding was initially allocated to maintenance and repair projects. Two years later we are starting to see more and more capital improvement projects. Many Georgia counties and cities are also making funding improvements by utilizing a Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax for transportation purposes (TSPLOST). Needless to say, many people in the transportation industry are very interested in how these programs are doing, where the money is being allocated, and how can they tap into these projects.
2. Automated Vehicles
Automated and connected vehicles are the cutting edge of the transportation world. Their adoption is an inevitability at this point, and Georgia just passed laws allowing automated vehicles on its roadways, joining five other states in doing so. Talks at this year’s conference focused on unintended consequences of the automated vehicle movement, including impacts to insurance, taxi services, traffic impact, parking, and personal ownership of vehicles. Heavy vehicles seem to be at the forefront of the automated vehicle thought process, from changing the trucking industry to automated public buses. One of the statements that stuck with me this year was from Bill Diong, a professor at Kennesaw State University, who reminded us that 10 years ago, the iPhone was this new technology that was just getting its foot in the door, and now everyone has a smart phone. It is going to be very interesting to see how fast and to what extent automated vehicles take over our roadways.
3. Transportation doesn’t just mean cars
When many people hear transportation they immediately think of their personal cars, but it is so much more than that. This year’s conference featured talks on how bus transit is being improved in Athens-Clarke County by starting a new service which mixes a fixed route and on-demand system. This expands its service in a much-needed area while maintaining the fixed schedule bus transportation we’re used to. There were also several groups at the conference discussing multi-use facilities and their greenspace initiatives. Livable Buckhead talked about how Buckhead has the lowest amount of greenspace in the city and their plan for fixing this problem. Path 400 was a big talking point. This multi-use trail under construction along the Georgia 400 tollway in Buckhead plans to not only connect parks and greenspace, but also to provide an alternative transportation method serving as the link between the Atlanta Beltline and Alpharetta. Many of these multi-use trail projects are taking place without federal funding. This speeds up the process dramatically from design to build, and the return on investment shows that it is worth it. The Beltline currently shows an 8:1 return on investment, although that is expected to slow as they work on west Atlanta.
The transportation industry is experiencing its busiest season in years with a renewed focus on funding, new technologies, and alternative forms of transportation. I personally can’t wait to see what is discussed at next year’s conference.
About Blake Bredbenner
Blake Bredbenner, EIT is a Transportation Project Analyst for Foresite Group’s Transportation Division in Peachtree Corners, GA. Blake graduated from the Georgia Institute of Technology with his Bachelor’s degree in Civil Engineering in 2013. Blake’s interest is in the future of Transportation and Traffic Engineering and how new technology and policy is changing the industry.