Job Profiles of Transportation Professionals

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Transportation professionals are responsible for planning, designing, and operating streets and highways, transit systems, airports, railroads, ports, and harbors to provide for safe, economical, and environmentally sound movement of people and goods. Because a great deal of energy is used in transporting people and goods from one place to another, it is the job of these professionals to make this process as efficient as possible. In the United States, billions of dollars and millions of barrels of oil are wasted each year due solely to the time people spend stuck in roadway traffic jams. Traffic professionals are concerned with ways to relieve traffic congestion by designing roads with carpool lanes and encouraging the use of public transportation. Regional mass transit systems are being developed around the nation, even in Los Angeles, former bastion of the automobile. Transportation professionals also investigate, upgrade, and correct work to minimize the negative effects of new developments and proposed highway projects on air and noise pollution, wetlands, and other aspects of the environment. They design and control computerized traffic control systems to allow more efficient traffic flow and invent ways to increase the capacity and safety of roadways through the use of high-technology equipment. Researchers also are working with new technologies such as superconductivity, which can propel highly energy-efficient trains at speeds reaching 300 miles per hour.

Because of the breadth of work in the transportation field, which encompasses not only engineering but also planning, landscaping, computers, and environmental concerns, transportation professionals come from a variety of backgrounds. Transportation designers are concerned with the structural and aesthetic aspects of transportation projects. Their work backgrounds and educational experience includes civil and mechanical engineering, architecture, drafting, landscape architecture, and construction management. These individuals provide mechanical and construction expertise when planning and building roadways, bridges, rails, and other transportation infrastructure. Transportation designers may be asked to build an automobile ramp for a busy intersection, design a tunnel under a river or bay, or engineer a roadway through a mountain pass. They must consider, the unique environmental aspects of the natural landscape. This work is carried out by landscape designers who provide the aesthetic elements. Roadway overpasses, for example, must blend-in or complement the surroundings, and tunnel and bridge approaches are landscaped to blend the beauty of the indigenous flora with the modern character of concrete and steel structures. Construction engineers make sure that the project is built and designed with the correct materials and that the best in new technology is applied to every project.

Transportation planners work with other transportation professionals, as well as people in technical vocations, neighborhood groups, and public officials. Most projects require the preparation of environmental documents or environmental impact statements, and a project's success may depend on minimizing the negative effects on air, water, noise, and wildlife. Noise barriers, landscaping, or special design considerations may be required. Planners must meet each challenge and present a solution that both does the job from the design standpoint, and addresses the concerns of the public. Transportation planners may be called upon to justify projects to neighborhood groups, lawyers, business leaders, news media, and elected officials.

Transportation operation is another important field of the transportation profession. Traffic engineers are responsible for design, implementation, and maintenance of traffic controls, signs, and pavement markings. Traffic control is essential for safe travel on ordinary roads, construction work zones, detours, and for special events. Traffic engineers use computers to monitor the flow of traffic onto freeways, control parking decks, analyze accident locations, determine roadway capacities, improve traffic flow at intersections, and coordinate the operation of traffic signals throughout a city. This work also includes public transportation engineering to determine the routes and service frequency of buses and trains in the most cost-effective manner. Overall, traffic engineers must work with developers, planners, and designers to meet the challenge of providing a safe, affordable, and efficient transportation system.

  • Architect Surveyor Urban Planner Recreation Planner

  • Environmental Landscaper

  • Hydrologist

  • Geographer

  • Geologist

Most transportation professionals hold at least a Bachelor of Science degree from a four-year college. Many transportation professionals have degrees in engineering, particularly civil, electrical, mechanical, or chemical engineering. However, due to the diverse nature of the transportation profession, many professionals have educational backgrounds in urban and regional planning, environmental planning, computer science, landscape architecture, construction management, and a number of other related fields.

While few schools have programs specifically in transportation science, most offer degrees in one or more of the related majors. There are, for example, nearly 390 engineering programs in American colleges and universities, 130 undergraduate and graduate-level planning programs, 90 architecture programs, and 25 surveying programs. However, not all transportation careers require a four-year degree. Drafts persons, computer programmers, traffic signal technicians, and construction inspectors are needed. Many technical schools and community colleges offer two-year associate degrees in these areas.

Transportation professionals should have a strong educational background in mathematics and the sciences. High school students are encouraged to take advanced mathematics courses such a calculus and statistics, and science courses in the earth sciences, geology, physics, and chemistry. In college, transportation courses may include transportation planning, traffic engineering, railroad engineering, highway design, airport design, and related courses, such as computer science, statistics, urban planning, geography, economics, business management, and public administration. Additional transportation training can be obtained through training conferences and short courses on various transportation aspects offered by employers, universities, and professional societies.
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