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Transportation generation, continued

TMP alumni arrive at their destination in transportation sector 

As you make your way to your next destination, you may very likely be traversing the work of Nelson institute alumni. 

For more than a decade, the Transportation Management and Policy (TMP) program – a graduate certificate that can be added to any UW-Madison degree program – has graduated tomorrow’s leaders in transport. We check in with four of those alumni from a range of transportation fields. 

Chris Dresser (‘08)
Environmental Protection Agency 

Chris Dresser

As more vehicles travel the roadways, more harmful pollutants enter the atmosphere, degrading air quality. Innumerable health and environmental problems trail close behind. 

Regulating air pollution is a classic solution, but one that must continually evolve as transportation routes expand. 

At the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Chris Dresser works in the office of Transportation and Air quality to mandate air pollution levels in the rapidly changing transportation sector. His efforts fall in the category of transportation conformity – a sector-wide effort to connect air quality standards with transportation initiatives. 

“It ensures that a city’s transportation plan doesn’t worsen air quality or prevent the city from meeting federal clean air standards,” Dresser says. “We use computer modeling to predict the air quality resulting from cur rent and future transportation emissions.” 

Transportation conformity is a requirement of the 1990 Clean Air Act amendments. The Clean Air Act, originally enacted in 1970, was the first of a series of environmental laws enacted by Congress as part of what would become known as the environmental decade. The legislation was intended to improve human health and environmental quality while encouraging economic growth. 

“Transportation agencies use the money they receive to build roads, and that’s their job,” Dresser says. “The Clean Air Act and transportation conformity, however, mandate transportation planners think about environmental and air quality impacts before they build the road.” 

Stephanie Lind (‘08)

Federal Highway Administration 

National parks draw in millions of visitors each year, often for their pastoral landscapes located far from our bustling lives. The parks’ attraction, however, can exact a price on small surrounding communities and the environmental integrity of the parks themselves. 

Stephanie Lind

During vacation seasons, severe congestion – typical of dense metropolitan centers – hampers small towns near national parks. Continuing into the parks, high traffic volumes also threaten natural areas that the National Park Service seeks to preserve. 

Stephanie Lind, a transportation planner for the Federal Highway Administration, works to resolve these issues in the Central Federal Lands Highway Division. Linking land use with transportation, Lind researches and implements projects for federal lands, including the national parks. 

Her assignments range from small park roads to elaborate forest highway systems accessing parks, national forests, wildlife refuges and defense operations lands.

“Our challenge is to address urban-like congestion problems with strategies that work in a rural context and with visitors who aren’t familiar with the area,” Lind says. “We encourage visitors to use alternative transportation, explore less congested areas, or travel during different times of day so that there isn’t as much impact on gateway communities or federal lands.” 

With a constant stream of visitors year round, federal land managers carefully monitor areas that could benefit from fewer human interactions. Transportation planners play a prominent role in this relief effort. 

“It’s not just getting people in to the parks,” Lind says. “It’s managing where people go, having a quality transportation service for users, and taking the natural environment into consideration.” 

Mary Ebeling (‘06) 
State Smart Transportation Initiative 

Inefficient transit systems often leave communities fragmented and jeopardize environmental sustainability. Changing community dynamics demand new transportation strategies that streamline forms of transit. 

Mary Ebeling

The State Smart Transportation Initiative(SStI), housed in the Center on Wisconsin Strategy at UW-Madison, promotes more efficient transportation practices that produce an improved system for all users. Mary Ebeling, a transportation policy analyst at SSTI, works with departments of transportation to consider transformative transportation initiatives and coordinate reforms across the sector. 

“We work as a community of practice, providing an open forum for state departments of transportation to discuss any number of topics,” Ebeling says. For example, a recent meeting focused on how states and cities can more positively work together to advance new programs. 

The initiative also provides free technical assistance, webinars and other resources for transportation administrators aimed at demonstrating the direct impacts of improved transportation systems operations. 

“We identify ways that transportation departments can operate more efficiently, more effectively, and save money, then we broadcast that knowledge to the larger transportation community,” Ebeling says. “Through our resources, other states and departments of transportation can get a taste of policies they may be able to implement to improve their operations.” 

Sam Van Hecke (‘06)
Cambridge Systematics 

For aging infrastructure, maintenance matters. For aging transportation infrastructure, maintenance can mean the difference between life and death for travelers. 

But the transportation sector has not always exhibited such attention to detail. For a time, the country’s infrastructure was built haphazardly to quickly expand roadways and bridges to accommodate growth, with little emphasis on upkeep. 

Sam Van Hecke
Van Hecke

Sam Van Hecke is helping to shift the thinking behind transportation decisions. As an associate at Cambridge Systematics, a transportation consulting firm focused on planning, Van Hecke works to elongate the life of safe, easily navigable and reliable transit systems. 

“Traditionally, transportation agencies were just thinking about expansion,” Van Hecke says. “They wanted to know where they should build the next road or bridge, and how to accommodate growth. Now we want to know how we keep what we already have from crumbling and get the most out of our scarce dollars.” 

Today, transportation agencies practice what is called asset management: monitoring nationwide transit infrastructure for gradual degradation. Think keeping an eye on a home driveway for cracks, but on a much larger scale. 

“Asset management is a series of analyses and processes to help transportation agencies make the best possible decisions to maintain roads and bridges,” Van Hecke explains. “We advise our clients on ways to do this, either by measuring the performance of the system, improving the system, or analyzing policy-level decisions that affect the system.” 

Van Hecke relies on maps, graphics and other data visualization methods to explain the complex – and often unfamiliar – transportation concepts at the heart of his efforts. 

“At almost every stage of the project, we have to show our clients the value of our work and the importance of the story we are all trying to tell,” he says. 


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