The Future of our Regional Transportation: a Q&A with our 2022 State of Transportation Panelists

In Chamber Blog, Government Advocacy by admin

On September 1st, the Chamber will host an exciting and dynamic group of top transportation leaders from around the region for our annual 2022 State of Transportation event. We asked our speakers to give us a sneak peek on the future of transportation ahead of this enlightening event. Read their answers below:

1. What are one or two things you see in the medium term – 5-10 years away – you think are incredibly exciting?

"This is an incredible time for transportation with many exciting opportunities on the horizon. There are four key areas that transportation infrastructure and service providers must address – resiliency, decarbonization, digitization and equity. Connected and autonomous vehicles (CAVs) and diversification of energy are the two medium term trends that can have the most profound impact in these areas and in reshaping the movement of people and goods. The technology is here- we need vision, regulatory and policy foundation, investment funding and determination of leadership.  Being a leader in these two areas put us on a path to address those four key areas facing transportation leaders today." – Paula Dowell, National Practice Consultant, Integrated Planning Services, HNTB 


"I'd like to cite three trends I find exciting: expanding transportation options, improving supply chain chokepoints, and the increasing market share of electric vehicles on our roads.

Northern Virginians want more options in transportation. The days of just widening highways are over. In the future we'll see more capacity expansion projects like HOV and Express lanes, in addition to dedicated bus lanes and other measures that emphasize efficiency in getting people where they need to go.

Multimodal transportation infrastructure is vital to the supply chain. We've all seen how disruptions and delays in the supply chain can affect us. So in the coming years we'll see more investment in Northern Virginia's roads and bridges as well as ports and airports, improving our transportation systems while securing the supply chain.

Most exciting of all the transportation trends I see is the accelerating growth of electric vehicles. EVs are undoubtedly the future, and with the environmental benefits of zero-emission cars and trucks, it really can't get here fast enough." – Renee Hamilton, CEO, Dulles Greenway


"It’s full Level 4 autonomous operation capability for first and last mile transit solutions.  It’s 12-18 months away!  It creates an opportunity to augment  and expand existing transit services with this safer, and more sustainable solution.  It solves for expansion of service in a constrained workforce." – Jennifer Foote, SVP Business Development, Beep


"There are numerous innovations underway that will change our transportation landscape in the years to come.  But perhaps the two most impactful in my opinion at those in the fields of data analytics/artificial intelligence (Big Data/AI), and connected/autonomous vehicles (CAV) as described below:

Big Data/AI has already begun to offer incredible insights into travel behavior and patterns, allowing infrastructure  managers to make more informed decisions that affect all modes of transportation.  In the next 5-10 years these capabilities, and the artificial intelligence solutions they will enable, will result in safer, more reliable and convenient mobility options.  They will offer us travel predictability and dynamic trip re-routing if unexpected events occur.  Furthermore, they will not only predict incidents or other events before they happen, but they will also prescribe what action officials need to make to address such events ahead of time.  

CAV:  As with the above, these technologies are already being tested or in limited cases already part of the mix on our roadways (GM’s Cruise division has several autonomous cars operating in San Francisco, for example).  As the Internet changed everything, CAVs will also affect our society in a profound way.  In the next 5-10 years they will continue to gain market share and offer safer and more convenient travel options.  As human error is the cause of 94% of accidents, autonomous vehicles offer the potential to significantly reduce injuries and fatalities on our roadways.  Furthermore, they will lower insurance costs for owners and require less physical space.  They will offer the segment of the population who cannot drive full mobility and many other benefits." – Arya Rohani, Vice President and National Practice Leader, Intelligent Transportation & Emerging Mobility, HNTB


2. What sort of impediments – public policy, consumer behaviors, other trends, etc. – do you see to achieving a better transportation system?

"With opportunities, come some challenges. To fully leverage the benefits of emerging technologies and energy diversification, we need a holistic approach to infrastructure.  Our transportation infrastructure, digital infrastructure, energy infrastructure and human infrastructure will need to be more connected and coordinated than ever before. The coordination will have to address policy, programs, operations, and investment decision making at every level across very diverse agencies and businesses. It will not be easy and will require partnering across public agencies as well as across public and private sectors. For example, deploying an electric-centric decarbonization program without fully understanding the demand and costs could result in overburdened electric grid, lack of fueling infrastructure, and shortage in critical components and maintenance. We need to expand our decarbonization focus to include other alternative fuels, especially hydrogen fuel cells. 

The safe and secure deployment of connected and autonomous vehicles is highly dependent on robust digital infrastructure.  Failure to have this infrastructure in rural communities will have spillover impacts into urbanized areas such as Northern Virginia. 

Finally, we cannot forget our human infrastructure. Workforce shortages are impacting every industry. Combined with the demands rapidly changing skills required for these emerging technologies we are on a path to both a worker and skill deficit. The other side of the human infrastructure is equity. We must be intentional in planning for and implementing equitable mobility, ensuring all residents and businesses can reap the benefits without bearing an undue proportion of the costs." – Paula Dowell, National Practice Consultant, Integrated Planning Services, HNTB 


"First, we must provide greater support and infrastructure for the growing popularity of electric vehicles. Charging stations in particular remain inadequate for widespread EV usage.

Second, we need regulation to catch up with technology. There's incredible promise for autonomous vehicles, not only in the delivery sector, but also for transporting people. The technology is developing faster than regulatory agencies can institute rules for safety. Autonomous vehicles require a first-rate road network, harmonized regulations, and standards for the construction and renovation of roads and highways.

Lastly, I believe we'll need citizens to buy in to these new transportation technologies, including advancements like autonomous vehicles and smart roads. There will be plenty of reticence at first, but I think people will adapt when the benefits become clear." – Renee Hamilton, CEO, Dulles Greenway


"From our perspective, there are a couple things that need to be addressed.  One is policy around autonomous solutions, and most importantly, a distinction between the various types of autonomous vehicles.  Our policymakers generally don’t have an understanding of the difference between controlled speed autonomous shuttles that operate in specific geofenced areas and robotaxis that theoretically will operate anywhere and highly automated vehicles like Teslas.  Broad stroke policy can have a detrimental impact on the innovation and availability of autonomous mobility, which I believe is a component of a better transportation system.  Next is insurance – they too are taking a broad stroke in evaluating risk for autonomous solutions, so the cost can be an impediment depending on performance of highly automated vehicles in the hands of Mr. Joe Driver versus autonomous transit solutions operated by highly trained professionals. – Jennifer Foote, SVP Business Development, Beep


"Public policy and consumer behavior are perhaps the biggest impediments to a more innovative transportation system.  This is understandable given what’s at stake.  Unlike mainly financial risks associated with hacking one’s computer or phone, doing the same to an autonomous car can result in injury or loss of life. So the margin of error is astronomically low, requiring intensive testing and certification of advanced technologies.  But due to their enormous benefits they will eventually reach the maturity level required to gain public and policy maker acceptance." – Arya Rohani, Vice President and National Practice Leader, Intelligent Transportation & Emerging Mobility, HNTB


3. How can employers and business leaders work together to realize the great potential new transportation technologies can offer?

"We need to reimagine mobility for both people and goods.  This means a transition from simply supplying a multimodal transportation network to managing shared mobility across that network. This will require calculated partnering and optimization of a shared mobility system.  An example is exploring opportunities to utilize transit for the transport and distribution of e-commerce goods.  Combining autonomous last 50 feet technology with Northern Virginia’s mass transit network provides a promising alternative for “port-to-porch” delivery. Buses and trains could carry the goods to transit stations and intermodal centers that could act as consolidated pick-up and drop-off locations.  Autonomous technology could be used for the secure loading and unloading on and off the vehicles and into the delivery lockers. The result could be more efficient use of existing infrastructure, new revenue streams for transit agencies and better service for users of the service.

This is one of many examples that require rethinking how we move people and goods today. To truly reimagine mobility, we need to be inclusive in our discussions- engage a diverse group of people across all our communities- public and private- to develop Northern Virginia’s transportation 'moon shot.'" – Paula Dowell, National Practice Consultant, Integrated Planning Services, HNTB 


"One way leaders can help realize the potential of transportation innovations is to encourage adoption of new technologies. Provide employees with incentives for using fuel-efficient vehicles, such as rebates or charging stations or preferred parking spaces. Make it an easy decision to be environmentally friendly.

Another way for business leaders to leverage transportation technology is to switch their company fleet to all-electric, and choose to work with vendors who also use electric vehicles.

But employers can shape the future of transportation in Northern Virginia right now by hiring a diverse, dynamic workforce that is attractive to young job seekers. Help employees of color move up through the ranks into decision-making positions. Facilitate uncomfortable but necessary conversations around systemic racism and its role in our transportation sector.

As the CEO of Northern Virginia's only privately operated toll road, I believe that when we consider the future of transportation, we should let our prior experiences help us shape the best, most innovative multimodal transportation system possible - one that truly enhances the Northern Virginia region." – Renee Hamilton, CEO, Dulles Greenway


"Workforce development now is crucial to ensuring the skills in the market exist to design, develop, operate and maintain new transportation technologies.  We are seeing the requirement for a combination of skills we haven’t seen before – electrical, mechanical, and technical, for example, for maintenance resources.  Or technical troubleshooting along with passenger engagement skills for attendants or command center workers.  Proactively engaging colleges and universities to develop curriculum and also providing internships and leadership development opportunities are strategies we’re employing now to ensure the workforce is ready to take on the tremendous opportunities coming their way." – Jennifer Foote, SVP Business Development, Beep


"Business leaders and employers have much to gain by working together.  We have already seen the impact of cloud technology enabling remote work as a result of the Covid pandemic.  The economic benefits of modern transportation, whether in enhanced safety, higher productivity or more efficient commerce/freight movement will be significant.  However, as we could not have predicted how the Internet will impact society when it hit the mainstream the mid-1990’s, we cannot fully predict how new transportation technologies will reshape our world.  The key is to have a “seat at the table” early to understand the influence the process and to communicate regularly with your audience." – Arya Rohani, Vice President and National Practice Leader, Intelligent Transportation & Emerging Mobility, HNTB