Jerry Premo
Executive VP/Global

There is much controversy surrounding high-speed rail. Do you feel there's still a place for it in the U.S.?

Sure. The interest that so many states have expressed in high- and higher-speed rail is often forgotten. When Florida's money was 'recompeted,' there was a tremendous response. The fact is that there have been decisions made in three states, in particular, that have received a tremendous amount of press, — Florida Ohio and Wisconsin — but the reality is that a number of states want to do what historically has been an essential building block in transport projects in our country. Specifically, they want to carefully plan and provide an opportunity for public input. That's now going on in a lot of different places. I think it's important to acknowledge that reality.

My next point is that we do have some higher-speed rail that hopefully can be made even faster. The Northeast Corridor is a transportation powerhouse; more people travel by train in the corridor than fly. Amtrak has an ambitious program with a dramatic vision for the future. It's a scheme for truly high-speed rail — less than an hour and a half from New York to Boston and less than an hour and a half from New York to Washington, D.C. Amtrak is dreaming big dreams, something very few people in this country do anymore. I have no qualms about being an unabashed advocate for improvements in America's current high-speed rail corridor, namely the Northeast Corridor.

What are some of the challenges your company is currently facing?

We're a global company. We work for clients around the world and there are some parts of the globe that are really, really cooking. That's been important to AECOM as we balance out what everyone would acknowledge to be relatively slower markets in Europe and North America. All told, the factors that make transit a good investment are the things that are strong underpinnings for continued investment in transit, namely, city building and environmental issues. We are very positive about public transportation, high-speed rail and the role of freight in moving goods. It's an absolutely integral part of AECOM's today and tomorrow.

What has contributed to the slowdown in the U.S.?

One is the recession that we are now coming out of. There have been serious drops in tax revenue, particularly sales tax revenues, because people have spent less. The agencies have been hurting, not only in advancing big capital projects, but in meeting operating costs. Now, they are being hammered a bit by rising fuel costs. So, one of the problems is the availability of money at the non-federal level.

A second is the lack of federal reauthorization. Universally, people believe we would be better off if a long-term bill was enacted. I know how tough it is to advance any projects, particularly if there's uncertainty about whether the federal partner is going to be there.

Booz Allen Hamilton
Ghassan Salameh
Executive VP

What growing trends do you see in the industry?

There is an urgent need for more reliance on innovative funding as federal and state sources dry up and transit competes with other public services for a limited pot of funds. Also, there is more emphasis on technology to increase capacity, improve efficiency and capture more revenue, as well as the growing availability and complexity of transit technologies triggering the need for more advanced planning and systems integration to leverage these investments.

Additionally, there are concerns about the aging workforce and retirements of experienced staff. This will have profound effects on the future of the industry and increasing challenges in succession planning and human capital management. Without a new generation of managers or craftspeople, management, maintenance and operations of current systems will be jeopardized. Longer term, there is a need to keep the focus on mass transit in simple terms: Transit is a critical element of sustainability improvement, energy efficiency/security, and to urban and suburban economic development and quality of life.

What is your outlook for the future of public transportation?

The future has to be bright. Due to growing populations, constrained transportation capacity and new environmental sensitivity there will continue to be growing emphasis on transit as part of the mobility mix in successful metropolitan areas, because it is fundamental to sustainability. However, public transportation will continue to be challenged in terms of the competition for human and financial capital and will need to continue to actively promote its role in regional and national quality of life issues. And as usual, it depends on gas prices and local politics.


Courtesy NYCT

Courtesy NYCT

DeLibero Transportation Strategies LLC
Shirley DeLibero

How would private investment help public transit?

With a private investment, you'd have at least some idea of what kind of funding you're going to have, what kind of money is going to come in. Then, if you wanted to do some programs or capital improvements with some of your local money as well as having a private investor, that's doable. But, without having anything, no private investment and no federal dollars, there's nothing you can plan. A lot of agencies get a portion of the sales tax, and so, at least with that, if there were private investment as well as their sales tax dollars, they can have some predictability of what they can do. Right now, I think everybody is just hanging out there.

Is private investment the solution or should there simply be more federal investment?

I think with the people that are in Washington right now, transit authorities are going to have to do some public-private-partnerships much more than they ever had to do before. I don't see these folks being transit advocates, so I think more transit properties are going to have to look for different types of opportunities now more than ever.

Transit agencies should be looking at privatizing bus routes, paratransit and rail services as an option, when looking at how they can stretch their precious operating dollars. More federal dollars for operating would be ideal, but in this political climate, I don't see that happening.

Gannett Fleming
Bryan Mulqueen, PE,
VP/Director of transit and rail, Delmarva and Southeast Regions; and Anastasia Harrison, AIA, LEED-AP,
Director of Sustainability, Northeast Region

Will the public transportation industry continue its growth during these difficult financial times?

Mulqueen: Growth, in terms of ridership, will no doubt continue through the difficult financial times, simply because public transportation represents good value to the user. The high cost of gas and the scarcity of good jobs results in a greater need for affordable transit. The prospects for robust growth in capital spending are less clear. Local and state governments continue to struggle to balance their budgets and the lack of federal surface transportation legislation both conspire to make the advancement of major transit capital programs a questionable pursuit.

Discuss your company's newest sustainability initiatives.

Harrison: Establishing metrics to measure sustainability have become the 'transparency' that differentiates the truly sustainable from the 'greenwashing' in corporate sustainability programs. At Gannett Fleming, our internal structure has always operated with an interest in sustainability. But, it wasn't until 2010 that a newly formed Corporate Sustainability Team began the charge to formalize our approach to sustainability, record and measure our impacts to set a baseline, and set realistic reduction goals. At the end of 2010, our environmental and social programs were captured in a Corporate Sustainability Report. A fundamental goal of the team is to enhance our corporate philosophy and culture by promoting sustainability among employees, clients and colleagues, not only to leave less impact on the environment but to also provide sustainability services to our clients.

Steven Beard, Sr.
VP, transit market sector director

How important will 2012 elections be to the industry?

The elections will be critically important to our industry. All we have to do is look at the results of the 2010 elections, particularly in the U.S. House of Representatives. Cities and states are returning federal transportation dollars. Transportation appropriations decreased from 2010 to 2011, and it looks like there will be deeper cuts for 2012. Infrastructure improvements are desperately needed, the country needs jobs and continued economic stimulus, and Congress is turning its back with a myopic focus of only cutting spending and debt reduction. Congress is ignoring the proposed increase in transportation spending advocated by the President in his 2012 budget. Depending on which way the 2012 elections go, spending on transportation infrastructure might be slashed even further.

On the other hand, with an increase in the Congress of Democratic, or even moderate Republican representation, we could return to a period of growth in transportation funding from the federal government. State elections are equally important.

Does high-speed rail still have a place in the U.S.? Do you feel it will indeed become a reality?

High-speed rail does have a place in this country. It should be an important component of our regional and national transportation program. Currently, there is a big gap in our transportation system that only high-speed rail can fill. Others around the world have figured that out, while most of our politicians have not. It is an important option that we are failing to provide. It is not only about trains and transportation. High-speed rail should be a component of our energy policy, economic development policy, environmental policy and homeland security considerations.

The question, will it ever become a reality is a good one. I think without a significant change in the U.S. Congress and in several of our statehouses, high-speed rail is very much in doubt. The Obama Administration put forth a bold high-speed rail initiative and it has mostly lacked traction around the country. I think what will happen is that there will be some speed improvement in the Northeast Corridor and in a few of the selected locations around the country. California is the last big hope for true high-speed rail. It needs to happen in California, so that a successful system there can be a catalyst for more high-speed rail lines around the country.

Discuss some of your company's newest training initiatives.

One of our key training initiatives is in the area of client relations. To better serve our clients, we are designating and training client managers. All of our clients are being assigned an internal client manager. The job of our manager is to know everything they can about the client's organization, goals and needs. The client manager will be the focal point for matching the needs of the client with the services we provide within HDR Engineering and HDR Architecture. We consider ourselves a great client service organization, and through our training program, we will be even better at meeting the diverse needs of our clients.

Elizabeth Rao
Chair, transit services

What can the consultant industry do to help struggling public transportation agencies?

The industry can provide transit agencies with solutions that help stretch their public dollars. For capital projects, this includes a focus on the most efficient ways to deliver projects that save time and dollars. Also, suggest and develop efficient project designs that lower future operating and maintenance expenses after a capital project is completed. Since operating and maintenance and state of good repair expenditures comprise a large portion of transit agency budgets, improvements should be proposed that extend the useful life of current assets while reducing operating and maintenance expenditures. Providing public transportation agencies with these types of strategies can help bridge revenue shortfalls while keeping systems in good repair.

What is your company's greatest challenge?

Our greatest challenge is continuing to assess and evaluate what it will take for HNTB to support its clients successfully in the future. This requires careful planning to be able to respond to the rapidly changing needs of our clients. Whether it is developing cost-effective designs, efficient project delivery methods or implementing new technology applications, our clients are interested in saving time, reducing expenses and getting a bigger bang for their dollar. Also, it is essential in this cost constrained environment that we help our transportation partners develop innovative funding and financing strategies to enhance their transportation revenue streams. HNTB is responding to this challenge by continuing to recruit and build a sophisticated team of transportation managers that understand this full service approach.  

How has the lack of a new authorization bill impacted projects/consultant industry?

Lack of a new authorization bill has caused uncertainty in the transportation marketplace, placed some projects on hold and delayed project implementation. The longer this uncertainty continues and projects are delayed, it will result in more expensive projects. A year-to-year continuing authorization makes it difficult for agencies to plan for the future and develop not just projects but their transportation programs cost-effectively. Adding to this uncertainty is the inability to predict future federal funding levels, due to the current economic challenges facing this country and decisions that must be made on how our country's critical transportation needs are funded as part of the overall federal budget. At HNTB, we are continuing to help our clients move their projects forward, but at a slower pace, helping them conserve resources and develop more effective delivery methods.

Holland & Knight LLP
Jeff Boothe

How has the Obama Administration impacted public transportation?

Certainly the Obama Administration is probably the most pro-transit administration we have seen during the 30 plus years I have been in Washington, D.C. The Administration certainly has demonstrated its commitment to transit through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) funding as well as initiatives to promote transit in connection with housing and economic development through the livability and sustainability programs. Further, we see a commitment to transit through the proposed authorization bill, which provides a substantial increase in investment in transit in Fiscal Year 2012 and beyond. The Administration surface transportation bill proposes substantial increases in funding for transit that would both address the need for state of good repair as well as investment in new systems and high-speed rail.

How will the upcoming elections impact public transportation?

Looking back at the 2010 elections, the change from Democrat to Republican control in the House had a substantial impact. The Democratic chairs of the appropriations and authorization subcommittees and full committees were very pro-transit. There appears to be less support for transit among the newly elected Republican members in both the House and Senate. Although Chairman Mica is a strong transit supporter, his committee is substantially comprised of new Republican members who have, to date, not demonstrated a huge commitment to transit. If the proposed changes to the Fiscal Year 2011 Continuing Resolution and the House-passed Fiscal Year 2012 budget are any indication, we see a waning of the historic commitment to surface transportation and to transit in those actions. In the Senate it continues to be about securing 60 votes on any issue. Even when there were 60 Democratic Senators in the 111th Congress, there was not a filibuster-proof majority. Thus, it's about getting the 60 votes regardless of who controls the chambers. We still have a challenge in finding some consensus in the Senate between the Republicans and Democrats to move forward an annual funding bill as well as move forward a surface transportation authorization bill.

Are there any practical ideas for solving funding issues down the road?

Certainly, the gasoline tax is the funding mechanism of which we're most familiar, however, that familiarity appears to have bred opposition from the public resulting in a reluctance to increase it despite not being raised for nearly 20 years. Therefore, we are forced to consider other alternatives in the face of that apparent unanimous opposition to the gasoline tax. Trial balloons have been floated, such as the vehicle mileage tax, and quickly shot down due to opposition. I'm not hearing of any option that has generated consensus in the House and Senate. I would just simply say that none of the parties — the House, Senate, Democrats, Republicans or the administration — are necessarily showing their cards at this point regarding what sources of funding they might be willing to consider.  

At some point in time, though, delay does have implications for the program. We will be confronted with declining revenues in the Highway Trust Fund and Mass Transit Account and have to confront that reality toward the end of calendar year 2012 and early 2013. My concern is that rather than to be proactive and address that in advance of facing substantial reduction in funding, we may face a period of time in which the substantial impacts of an underfunded surface transportation program will be realized at the state and local level. Perhaps, that will compel members of Congress to act in response to that impact. I can only hope, because the alternative is not a pleasant one.

Alan Wulkan
Managing Partner

How has the lack of a new authorization bill impacted projects/consultant industry?

From an InfraConsult perspective, we have not been dramatically negatively impacted by a lack of a bill. We've been fortunate to work with some projects that already started, had significant local money and our clients have proceeded with those projects. There is no question it varies by industry. Everything that I can see says that the supplier industry — rail manufacturers and bus manufacturers, for example — are beginning to see a dramatic slowdown in orders, because ARRA and other stimulus money has just about expired.

There's no question that a lack of reauthorization is beginning to have its impact on the kinds of orders, the kinds of procurements that are longer term. In fact, it's very interesting, with a lack of a reauthorization, one area we're seeing an increased interest is in private public partnerships. So, it's kind of a two edged sword right now, in that part of our market is doing well, but there's no question suppliers are hurting very badly because of the lack of reauthorization.

What can the consultant industry do to help public transportation agencies that are struggling at the moment?

We need to continue to be creative and not just do projects the way we've done them in the past. One way is by exploring every kind of project delivery method that we know works around the world. Whether that be design-build or design-bid-build or other creative ways of accelerating projects, we need to cut down on the number of steps that are involved from the time you start planning to the time you actually open a project. I think the consultant industry has a role in helping clients become far more innovative, and that also applies to looking at the use of private capital and coming up with help on financing plans.

A lot of the consultant industry's challenges are going to be less technical. We know how to design projects, we know how to plan projects, and I think it's getting to understand the projects from beginning to end and figuring out how we help our clients accelerate project delivery.

What is your outlook for the future?

There is no question in my mind that we are going to be much more involved at every level, Washington as well as local, in the politics of infrastructure. And, as an industry, we are clearly seeing the need to reinforce the roles of federal involvement of infrastructure in public transportation in addition to state and local support.

There is no question that we have done a really good job of making the case for the need of public transportation, and now, we need to step up the political involvement and engagement at all levels for people to communicate and advocate for increased spending. We can't just do business as usual. We are going to have to do more advocacy than ever before, continue to make that case, and probably, spend a significant amount of money on advertising and marketing what we do best to keep our issue in front of the American public.

Legacy Resource Group
Huelon Harrison

Will the public transportation industry continue its growth during these difficult financial times?

I think they can, but the players in the industry need to be a little more aggressive, a little more creative in monitoring the marketplace and taking advantage of opportunities as soon as they arise. You used to have to stay on top of the marketplace, now you've got to stay in front of it.

What can the consultant industry do to help transit agencies that are struggling?

Just try to provide good service and be as responsive, the best you can be, to their needs. Also, if there's a need to help address their concerns, put your hat in the ring and say 'let me help make a difference.' I find myself working conferences the whole time I'm there; trying to talk to people to get information, share best practices, get ideas and solutions, and then, as I go back to the market, take those solutions back to people I can help. A better educated industry is a better performer in the marketplace.

[PAGEBREAK]Parsons Brinckerhoff
George Pierson

What are some of the key challenges facing transit properties?

No surprise, no secret; it comes down to three words: Funding, funding, funding. Obviously, with an economic downturn causing less revenue within state and local municipalities, there's less money available for all sorts and varieties of things, including transit. As a result, what we've seen is an overwhelming majority of agencies cutting back either by reducing service in some manner or raising fares, and obviously, all of them are looking to be as efficient as possible. So, the primary challenge, really, is to balance their budget, if you will. As we know transit properties generally are not self-supporting financially, so they rely on funds from outside the farebox. But, those monies outside the farebox are under the greatest pressure they've been in an awfully long time.

The real challenge is the combination of that funding crunch and trying to do more with less, juxtaposed with what is an increased demand on their systems. Because of the economic crunch combined with significantly higher gas prices these days, many have seen an increase in ridership, so they get hit on both sides. They have a funding crunch, so they have less money to do what they were doing previously, but now, they are being demanded to do more because of an increase in ridership. If that wasn't enough, if you overlay the delay on the surface transportation program funding, it just creates more uncertainty, if you will, for general transportation funding, including that which might be available for transit...it is quite difficult to be head of a transit agency these days.

What trends are you seeing as agencies try to, for lack of a better term, stem the flow?

Obviously, every transit agency has different challenges, different ridership, different geography to address, so they all are going to come up with their own unique way of addressing and trying to close a funding gap. From an operating perspective, I think many are looking at reduced service. Some are increasing fares. But, of course, there's a tremendous effort to be more efficient to drive efficiencies through the system.

The second is to look for additional funds to help support capital programs. Some of that has been done through local ballot measures to either raise taxes or issue bonds, many of which have been supported by the local electorate. Not every agency has the ability to do that so freely and so easily, so some of them, then, have to begin knocking on the doors of their funding sources, and really, be in the queue for everyone else who's knocking on those doors to compete for funds.

Another challenge that is probably a bit more acute these days than it has been in the past, although it's always been there, is the concept of whether transit as a mode of service is one that should be supported. I think while there has always been the transit versus highways debate for funding for all sorts of other reasons, I think there's a sharper criticism of transit from sort of this more recent upswing of fiscal conservatism, if you will, because transit by nature doesn't pay for itself. Because of that, it becomes an easier target for fiscal conservatives to say, 'well, if a system is not paying for itself, then it clearly is one that is not necessarily wanted by the local population, so why should we continue to support it?' My own personal view is that is a very short-sighted way of looking at transit. It creates tremendous benefits to the community beyond simply balancing its own budget. However, I will say that there is more criticism now coming from fiscal conservatives then there has been in the past, and again, that creates a challenge to transit agencies to continue to show their relevance in helping drive local economies.

STV Incorporated
Rich Amodei
Sr. VP/chief strategic growth officer

What impact has the Obama Administration had on public transportation?

For the first time in many years, investing in the nation's transportation infrastructure is at the forefront of the Administration's agenda and it's not a moment too soon. In the President's most recent State of the Union Address, he focused on the need for more and continued investment in railways, roads and bridges to support reliable and efficient transportation of people and goods across America to promote economic growth and maintain our competiveness with countries in Europe and Asia. I believe that he is following through on his commitment and this is a huge win for the country and our industry as a whole. His efforts to bring high-speed rail to the nation continue to move forward even with the recent setbacks in a few states where significant funding was turned down. It was encouraging to see that these funds are now being redirected to other states and to Amtrak with a focus on the Northeast Corridor. Obviously, the Administration is transit friendly, and the nation and the industry can clearly see the projects on the horizon and the benefits they will bring to bear.

Have you seen an influx of business in your industry as a result of this focus?

Yes, we have. STV was selected by the Federal Railroad Administration as the project management oversight consultant for the Florida high-speed rail system prior to its cancellation, and we continue to serve in this capacity for high-speed rail investments in the Pacific Northwest from Portland to Seattle. In the west, we are the prime designer for the first leg of the California high-speed rail system from Anaheim to Los Angeles that will provide the capability for shared corridor service accommodating Amtrak and express commuter rail. These programs represent significant new business that did not exist in the past and they continue to evolve and move forward.

What are some of the growing trends you are seeing in the industry?

One of the most obvious trends is the fact that fuel prices are rising significantly, with gasoline approaching $5 per gallon, and this will have an impact on the industry to meet the demand for more transit riders. Many cities across the country are experiencing large increases in ridership, with some approaching or passing the 10 percent mark. This will put additional pressure on the nation and the industry to continue the increased interest, consensus and investment in public transportation infrastructure as an option to the automobile. I think we are already seeing the effects of this dynamic based on a flurry of new opportunities that have us and the rest of the engineering community busy preparing responses for new planning, design and construction projects not only in the U.S. but north of the border into Canada, where investments in public transportation are increasing.