What is life like as a Transportation Engineer or Planner?

May 09, 2007

Staff members ebb and flow from the doorways of a transportation consulting firm throughout the day as site visits, stakeholder meetings, public presentations, and client work sessions take place. A walk down the office halls reveals drafters constructing detailed maps of street systems, engineers holding conference calls with teaming partners, and analysts sitting at computer stations preparing electronic simulations of intersection concepts.

While some people may consider the engineering and planning profession to be static or monotonous, it is actually rich with diverse opportunities and varied responsibilities. Gone are the days when engineering entailed number-crunching and long hours slumped over a desk. Instead, opportunities to collaborate with the public on plans for a new light-rail system or to conceptualize how a city can accommodate bicycle travel, for instance, are part of a consultant’s average work day. Consultants must also work effectively as part of a team, continue to learn professional skills, and act as a mentor to those entering the profession.

The following industry profiles track three Kittelson & Associates, Inc. staff members through a work day. Regardless of work experience or technical focus, each staff’s daily routine is anything but monotonous: schedules are booked with appointments, personal projects, team meetings, and professional development opportunities. Each employee hails from a different background and pursues very different professional interests. Collectively, however, their work illustrates a variety of the opportunities available to the modern-day transportation professional.

Jamie Parks; Transportation Analyst

Consulting means that you are part of a team, where multiple people count on your efforts.

The project manager and I met to discuss the Georgia Avenue Transit Signal Priority Study schedule and data collection activities. We will evaluate the impact of transit signal priority on Georgia Avenue in Washington D.C. To do this, we are collecting GPS data from the transit vehicles to measure TSP’s effect on transit speed and reliability.

Two staff members and I coordinate Tech Sessions, which are internal meetings where staff or other speakers present a topic to all our offices over lunch. These topics are wide-ranging, but many focus on new and exciting projects or tools. This is a great way for me to interact with and engage individuals in all our offices.

In the Census/GIS data meeting, a staff member in our Baltimore office and I prepared for a Tech Session that we presented. This Tech Session discussed how census data can be used for transportation planning and how it can be combined with GIS to create custom maps.

Another analyst and I helped a student from the University of Portland with his Senior Design project. This project is based on a real project KAI completed in Roseburg, Oregon. In this particular meeting, we taught the student the basic steps taken to perform a traffic study.

Overall, my activities vary each day. One day I might only work on writing a report; another might be spent coordinating with clients to keep projects flowing smoothly. Usually, it’s a mix of everything! I enjoy the variety.


Sonia Hennum, P.E.; Senior Engineer

Transportation is responsible for connecting our communities, which is critical for today’s global society.

For the Ada County Highway District interview, KAI and another firm on our team engaged in a discussion with ACHD about why they should select our team for the project. This discussion involved a visual presentation of our team’s skills and related experience.

The Southwest Boise Stakeholder Meetings were held with small groups of property owners and residents likely to be impacted by a potential new roadway connection. We presented the purpose of and need for the connection, identified some possible alternatives, and gathered feedback. Public involvement meetings like these, where I have the opportunity to educate and learn from others, are one of my favorite aspects of the work I do.

I work with other members of our staff to interview and place interns within the firm. At this intern coordination meeting, we began to discuss which students might best fit our program in terms of environment, type of work, available mentors, and the characteristics they encompass. I enjoy working with the interns. They offer a new perspective toward our work.

“US 97” is a corridor plan and design study in Bend, Oregon. In the weekly coordination call, the Oregon Department of Transportation, the City of Bend, and I meet to discuss the project status to ensure we are all informed and working as a team.

The rest of my time comprises technical analyses, design, or management tasks—answering client questions, gathering data, collaborating with staff, and identifying project needs. I also assist younger staff with their schedules and workloads, offering guidance related to project management or technical work.


Alan Danaher, P.E., P.T.O.E., A.I.C.P.; Senior Principal

Transportation professionals find ways to provide modal choices for the benefit of all users.

For the SR 528 multi-modal study project, we are assisting our client with some inventory work. Our internal project team met with the client to discuss project roles, documentation, and scheduling.

The JTA ITS Signal Priority Program Study is going to test the feasibility and impact of transit signal priority in Jacksonville, Florida. In this meeting, the internal team discussed the review status, equipment vendor issues, and traffic study elements.

During the field review, several staff members and I traveled to Sanford, Florida, to review the existing conditions of several neighborhoods and portions of the downtown area. We gathered information relevant to two proposals for the City of Sanford. One contract is for neighborhood traffic calming, which reduces vehicle speeds through neighborhoods, and the other is for downtown parking services.

The Transit Strategic Plan Group comprises internal staff members who are interested in working with transit services. We met to discuss the strategic plan for the firm’s transit service work. This effort is of particular interest to me. I have taken on an increasing amount of transit work over the years and am the leader of this service area.

Generally, I spend a lot of time marketing and maintaining client relationships. This often involves lunch and breakfast meetings. I often perform peer reviews of internal and external project work. I enjoy and spend a great deal of timing working with professional societies such as the Transportation Research Board and the Institute of Transportation Engineers. Within the office, I spend a lot of time mentoring younger staff members. I also enjoy presenting transportation concepts to youth programs when I have the opportunity.

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