Traffic EngineeringTraffic Engineering is a very broad field encompassing many different elements within the Civil Engineering discipline.  My experience includes a variety of work in the Engineering field in both Public and Private sector areas since graduating in Civil Engineering from the University of Washington in 1993. After working for awhile, I returned to the University of Washington for a Masters in Civil Engineering in 1999.

Let’s imagine if we, as engineers, or societies best minds had the potential to solve some of the biggest issues. Here’s a starting list of things we could do and what has already happened.

Imagine if we could? 

Eliminate all auto related fatalities. [~33,800 in the US alone 2009.  In the world there are approximately 3,000 deaths per day 1.3M per year WHO], [ Vietnam war between 1945 and 1954 resulted in 58,000 lives lost in the US] while reducing severe injuries.  Each year in the US we have almost 60% of the fatalities compared with 9 years of war and that’s not acceptable.

Click the “Imagine” tab if you are interested in reading more about this.

Here is my perspective on traffic engineering from my initial exposure to transportation engineering in the first 6 of 18 years in the industry.

Washington State Ferries (WSF) Construction

I had the opportunity to begin my work experience in the Public Sector for the Washington State Ferries (A division of the Washington State Department of Transportation).  I initially began as a inspector on many of the ferry terminal construction projects (Tacoma to Orcas Island) which ranged from new dolphin wood pile driving, diesel hammer steel pile driving,  vibratory hammer pile driving, electrical inspection, pavement repairs, to repairing floating wingwalls at the one of the Orcas Island Ferry Terminals.  Work in this environment required a watchful eye on large freight ships particularly during pile driving operations.  The wakes created by large shipping vessels off of the Edmonds Ferry Terminal was large enough on one pile driving operation to swing the entire pile driver (70,000# +) almost 15′ as it detached from the 90 foot long steel piling, the steel cable lines holding the pile driver in place quickly strung tight, like a 1″ diameter steel blade, missing a couple of the pile bucks who were scrambling across the steel wingwall structure.

As it applies to traffic engineering, it is very important to understand the construction paperwork and inspection requirements of any transportation improvement project – especially when Federal Funding is in the mix.  The paperwork requirements of Federally Funded projects is under much greater scrutiny and requirements.  

Perspective – Washington State DOT Roadway Design

After working at the WSF, I worked another 3 years as a roadway designer for the Washington State Department of Transportation Northwest Region (Dayton Office).  It’s very valuable, in my opinion, to understand all of the components involved in taking a roadway design from start to construction. The process may involve many aspects of a typical roadway project: scope funding and estimates, project matrix/roadway classification, environmental permitting, environmental documentation (SEPA/NEPA), right-of-way acquisition, public involvement, structural design, geotechnical investigation, surveying, utility relocation, drainage design, channelization approval, and right-of-way approval plans.  After all of that we were just getting started to begin the development of the PS&E (plans, specification, and estimate).

As it applies to traffic engineering it’s all about perspective.  As I’ve been in the industry longer, I appreciate the GAPS that I’ve seen between technical disciplines who don’t understand or appreciate the perspectives/importance of each discipline.  It’s a lot like the Mars vs. Venus topic.

A simple example may occur with one signalized intersection among a corridor of intersections.  There are or can be very different perspectives depending on your experience, technical specialty, and duration on the project.

  • An traffic operations engineer might have understood the Synchro analysis required a AM & PM corridor coordination plan for this signal with a 110 second cycle with concurrent left phase movements on the mainline as well as the side streets.  They also understood that the anticipated volumes in the future will require two left turn lanes for the principal arterial because of the storage requirements and closely spaced signalized intersections.
  • The roadway engineer, just starting with project team, understands the constraints of the right-of-way and the current issues with taking away parking spots from the vocal property owner who has written multiple letters to the State and Governor.  There are also significant cost impacts of taking a particular corner because there are a number of underground and overhead utilities that would need to be relocated. It’s also been about 9 months since the traffic operations took place and the roadway engineer, who knows the ins and outs of roadway design doesn’t really understand traffic operational analysis, but knows some of the people to do that task.
  • The signal designer understands how to wire it all up, meet illumination requirements (illuminance and uniformity) for the State and coordinate the design with the roadway engineer.  In this case, he’s directed by the roadway engineer to create a design that doesn’t allow enough room for the side street concurrent lefts because of right-of-way constraints in one corner.  Straight to the solution, the signal designer comes up with a lead-lag left turn phase for the side street.
  • If just one of these three individuals understood the roles and responsibilities of all three designers – the GAP would not occur.  A solution may not be easily found but the coordination would occur so that the three could discuss all of the different available options and constraints together.
  • It is valuable,  as a traffic engineer, to have exposure and experience in traffic operations, roadway design, traffic engineering, and construction.  It is also equally important to understand the process and channels of how things get done from the client perspective – what are the channels to get a project approved, who needs to review it, who are the decision makers, and who are the best advocates to champion the project for you on the inside?    Having both Public and Private experience helps you to appreciate this perspective.

About TrafficEngineer

Mr. Shimizu has over 23 years of traffic engineering and construction project management experience throughout the Western United States. He has provided technical and project management to various transit, transportation, and port facility improvement projects. He specializes in ITS, electrical, signal, illumination and corridor improvements from planning to construction. He has provided technical expertise on Design-Build contracts to contractors, local agencies and state agencies – providing delivery on over seven Design-Build projects. He has delivered federally funded projects for Design-Build and Design-Bid-Build contracts. Mr. Shimizu has taught AGI32 lighting and electrical design locally and nationally and has presented other traffic engineering topics at over fifteen professional events.

Mr. Shimizu is the founder and creator of the following LinkedIn Groups:

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