Consultant Roundtable: Industry Focusing On Gains

Posted on June 15, 2012 by Alex Roman, Managing Editor

Page 3 of 4

Holland & Knight LLP
Jeff Boothe, Partner

Can you reflect on the past four years of the current Administration and give your opinion on how the upcoming elections may impact the industry?
First of all the Obama Administration has been the most pro-transit Administration since I first came to D.C. and started working on transit issues in 1982. They have done more to advance public transportation and to discuss it, not just in terms of public transportation, but also, in terms of impact on land use and economic development. They are the first Administration that truly understands the relationship, or the impact, that transit has in shaping growth and economic development in communities, so I commend them for that.

In terms of what does the next election mean, first, I would say the transit program has shown remarkable resiliency even as we have a new Congress and certainly substantial change in the House with a substantial number of new Republican members. When the House made the initial effort to take transit out of the Highway Trust Fund, we were able to demonstrate as an industry strong support for transit within the Republican Party in the House. Given the changes from the districts and the changes in redistricting, I would suspect that there will be more transit support in the House following the 2012 elections, than there is presently.

In the Senate, there has always been strong transit support. It’s hard at this point to say who is going to control the Senate, but transit has always fared well in the Senate, and we have strong advocates within both parties in the Senate, which is encouraging.

There seems to be a lot of optimism a reauthorization bill will get done very soon.
Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) has been expressing her strong support and communicating that conversations are going well and that she’s optimistic that there will be a bill. So, yes, there is a concerted effort to be optimistic about the prospects for the bill. There is also a concern that time is not our friend. If you look at the dates on the calendar, you start getting a little concerned whether there is time to complete a bill this Congress. To me, if it is the will of the House and Senate to get a bill done, we will get a bill done. I’m waiting to see leadership step in and communicate in the strongest terms that this bill is important; we haven’t seen that yet. So, I’m hoping that if there is a belief that we need to get a bill done because it’s important to the economy and important for members of Congress heading into the fall elections

Marlene Connor, Director,
public transportation planning

What is your outlook for the future of public transportation?
It’s good; it’s going to be different. The future of public transportation is going to be all about figuring out how we fit better in our communities and who our partners are. That is how we’re going to be the most successful in making our case and talking more broadly, instead of just to the people we typically communicate with.

Do you feel the younger generation will continue to use public transportation?
I think so. The younger folks like the idea of living in an urban environment and living in a community where you don’t have to get in your car every time you want to get milk. It’s interesting that a lot of folks are moving back to center cities. A lot of cities are trying to figure out how to make that work by finding how to connect housing and the central city areas, which will definitely continue. In addition to the younger generation, I think older people will follow suit. The landscape is going to shift a little bit and continue that way.

Why do you feel the use of PPPs is still stagnant?
It’s probably different everywhere. From a public-private perspective, it’s pretty good. It’s part of the picture; it’s never going to be the whole picture. Transit’s never going to be able to start suddenly being profitable; it’s an industry that’s always going to depend, to a certain extent, on support from the local, state, and/or federal governments. PPPs are not going to take the place of the usual funding categories. To some extent, I’m not sure, necessarily, a lot of people have figured out what PPPS can do, and people really need to look at them differently. PPPs are not just about getting the private sector to build bus stops or invest in stations and things like that, but it’s figuring out who key partners can be in a community and learning how to work and partner with them.

Why do you feel the state and local initiatives are so successful?
At the local level, people get it. At the local level funds go to real projects assisting real people, so it’s easier to see need for more funding, while at the federal level funds go to amorphous systems that are more difficult to support adding funds during tight economic times. At the local level, a lot of people understand that mobility and connections are important to them.

Parsons Brinckerhoff
George Pierson, President/CEO

The focus on sustainability came along at the same time as the economic and funding issues. How is that impacting agencies in choosing to do green-friendly projects?
I don’t see that it has, and there’s no reason it should. It’s a false equivalency to say that green costs more; it doesn’t. Lifecycle costs with a thoughtful green approach is and should be less. So, the idea that we’re in tough economic times and green has to go by the wayside, in my view, is a false equivalency. Long-term operating costs are shown, in many ways, to be less when you have a green initiative than without. It may be slightly more upfront, but when you factor in the lifecycle costs, it tends to be lower.

Have you seen any growing trends toward design-build?
There’s certainly a growing trend toward design-build not only in transit but in other markets. One of the things that has to be done properly to insure a successful design-build is that the agency has to think well upfront about what it is looking for, what it wants and how it has to operate. That is more complicated for a transit system than it is on a highway project. You have to be more thoughtful on a transit system about all of the parameters of the system and how it ties into the existing systems, so it’s a little more difficult, but it is certainly a growing trend. Agencies are figuring out how they can ensure that they can develop the proper detail of specifications upfront so they know they are getting the product in the end that they need and are paying for without being so prescriptive as to remove the benefit of design-build, by, in effect, calling it design-build but handing such a detailed design to the contractor that there’s very little leeway for innovation and improvements.

Discuss some of your company’s newest training initiatives.
We’re actually rolling out a global mandatory sustainability training program for everybody in the company and that’s as much of a cultural training as it is technical.

We have what we call PB University, which is online training on a number of programs, including an annual ethics training that everyone in the entire company has to go through. We have increased the emphasis on third-party certifications. In fact, we have equated people getting LEED accreditation with getting a professional engineer’s license, and we not only encourage that, but we pay for the course and actually give an automatic salary increase when they successfully attain the accreditation.
When we look at training, we try to take a very expansive thought process. For instance, something we’ve started over the last couple of years is putting a much greater focus on training within the industry. A large component of that is how we drive more engineers into the field. One of the things we did a few years ago is create an alliance with Bucknell University, which is designed to drive more minority engineers into the field to try to continue to fill the gap that is growing from those retiring and those entering the field. A component of that is support for their academic achievement, training, internships and more.

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