WICA Partners For Industry Forum at ACPA's Pipe School

Kim Spahn, P.E.

MAR. 1, 2021

The Women in Concrete Alliance, AASHTO, and the American Concrete Pipe Association (ACPA) partnered in an exclusive industry panel featuring women executives at state transportation agencies providing their perspectives on issues facing every DOT.

Brandye Hendrickson, AASHTO’s Deputy Director, led the discussion by challenging the panelist to share their views on building for the future, state funding, challenges during the pandemic, and the engineer’s right to choose. The group of senior leaders certainly shed new light on pressing topics and provide implementable career tools.

Planning for the Future: Julie Lorenz (Secretary of Kansas DOT) discussed that planning for the future of these large investments must stand the test of time and entails looking at scenario planning and solutions that span various scenarios that may occur in the future. Yassmin Gramian (Secretary of Pennsylvania DOT) followed up by sharing that asset management and maintenance of these assets are a key components to maximize the life span of those assets and replacements should account for the life cycle and risk assessment that will serve the public in a cost effective manner.

Funding: Victoria Sheehan (Commissioner of New Hampshire DOT) highlighted the needs of Reauthorization funding for long term planning in NH by explaining that her state works with local communities to determine the highest priorities for the state’s funding and without long term funding the state can’t serve its citizens to its fullest. Melinda McGrath (Executive Director of Mississippi DOT) followed up with how a dip in funding following has strained the ability of her state to keep contractors and employees alike safe in this new environment. Secretary Lorenz highlighted that KS funding is shared with local cities and states and she is concerned about their long-term wellbeing with these shortages and that federal stimulus is a great long-term investment for jobs in her state. Secretary Gramian spoke about the 40,000 miles of roads and 25,000 bridges that PA has to maintain. 74% of that funding comes from the gas tax which was reduced by 45% at the height of the COVID-19 stay-at-home orders totaling almost $600 Million in lost revenue of which the stimulus relief replaced about $400 Million of that funding.

Workforce post COVID: Melinda McGrath promoted that the MS DOT has an opportunity now to compete with private industry in allowing employees to work from home and they are seeing significant increases (up to 30%) in productivity in many of their departments and as parents are adapting to children in remote learning, they are able to adapt their schedules and be exceed productivity of their schedules. Ms. Lorenz added to Ms. McGrath’s report of productivity that KS has seen the opportunity to better train contractors and inspectors because it can now be done remotely and on-demand to fit the schedules of those partners.

Safety: Ms. Gramian promoted the initiative of a Stop Day for Safety across PennDOT where they halted all operations for 1 hour to refocus employees across the state on the dangers of working around heavy equipment, on roadways, to combat complacency, and the importance of reporting near misses that had crept in during the time of the pandemic when so many other items had to be addressed. Mississippi has now hired on a Safety Coordinator in each region to coordinate a wholistic mentality of employees keeping one another safe.

Workforce Development: Ms Sheehan shared that mentorship, leadership training, and knowledge management has been key in NH to not just recruit new employees but ensure they are ready to step into leadership roles. NH is now looking at the skills people have to manage knowledge through a focus on people, process, technology and data. Julie Lorenz reinforced mentorship and encouragement of workforce development. Women are equally likely to pursue a promotion when encouraged, but only ½ as likely without it. And in 2018, there were 23 Women CEOs and 25 Male CEOs named John in Fortune 500 companies, so the more people that apply for a job, the better the candidate pool will be.

Evacuation Routes: Ms McGrath explained that in these weather events, State’s need to build back quickly and usually redesign the lost assets with stronger materials with a higher design life. And its difficult to build these routes robust enough to withstand these events, and therefore you have to select the routes that will get the public to safety and make sure those designs are sufficient.

Engineer’s Right to Choose: Ms Sheehan expressed the support NH gives to the engineer’s right to choose resilient materials for each state to meet the unique needs they each balance. They are all approaching factors such as short/long term costs, frequency of storm events, and traffic volumes and she feels strongly that the engineers need to be allowed to do their job and select the best materials for the projects they are designing in the local areas of those projects.

We thank the panelists for a look into the operations of your state’s transportation systems and we are thankful for your leadership within this transportation industry and your own communities. Your insights highlighted that with all the challenges as well as innovations DOTs are implementing, it is imperative for our industry to continue to provide the highest quality products with timely delivery through our continued innovations and partnership with the DOTs to ensure long term solutions for the traveling public. Thank you for sharing this perspective! It is a fantastic reminder for the concrete industry to maintain the Gold Standard.