Alabama Transportation Conference Held In Auburn

By Steve Hudson | September 28, 2010

More than 650 highway contractors, engineers, Alabama DOT personnel, and other industry representatives gathered in Auburn, Ala., recently for the 50th Annual Transportation Conference. The conference, held at Auburn University, featured a wide variety of technical sessions, plus presentations by the Alabama Governor Bob Riley and by Alabama DOT Director Joe McInnes.

The event also included "Career Night 2007," hosted by the Auburn University student chapter of the American Society of Civil Engineers.

The conference general session was moderated by Dr. Frazier Parker, Department of Civil Engineering, Auburn University.

Sponsors of the conference included the Alabama Department of Transportation; Auburn University; Federal Highway Administration; Alabama Road Builders Association; Alabama Asphalt Pavement Association; Alabama Concrete Industries Association; Association of County Engineers of Alabama; Institute of Transportation Engineers, Alabama Section; American Concrete Pavement Association; Southeast Chapter; American Council of Engineering Companies of Alabama; Bridge Construction Association of Alabama; Alabama Concrete Pipe Association; and the Alabama Section, ASCE.

The Governor's Perspective

A highlight of the general session was a presentation by Alabama Governor Bob Riley.

Riley noted that his goal when taking office was to surround himself with "people who have no political agenda but want to do what's right for the state of Alabama," adding that where road money is concerned, "we don't have the luxury to play politics again.

"I hope we can get to the point where we never take political solutions and put them in the Department of Transportation," he said.

"For 40 years we have done that," Riley continued. "We've started roads all over the state of Alabama for a vote here and a vote there." But he added that such a strategy "will cost us in the end" because "when we've done that we've taken away the ability of the DOT to have a strategic plan.

"As long as I'm governor," he said, "we're going to continue the policy of doing what's right for the state of Alabama, and if it costs me in the political arena, so be it."

Riley noted that Alabama is poised to enjoy some significant growth.

"But that creates some challenges," Riley said, adding that the state must "make sure that we don't limit our ability to be successful."

He said that "two things could limit our ability to be successful," one of them being manpower.

"But the second is lack of access," he said. "We'd better not ever tell [new industries] that we can't give them access to an interstate," he said, because in that case everything "comes to a halt."

In the future, Riley said, the state's transportation industry will face even more demands — and to build those projects, he said, "We are going to have to think out of the box, and we are going have to be more creative than we've ever been.

"The first thing we're going to do is to continue to operate the Department of Transportation the way it needs to be operated," he said.

Additionally, he said, future factors will include "public-private partnerships, total private operations [and] toll roads.

"If we can start looking at more private and public investment," he said, "there is no reason we cannot have a multiplier effect for what we're going to be spending for the next 10 years.

"But if we continue to do things like we've been doing them," he said, "I can promise you we're going to limit our success."

Riley said that the state's legislators should "forget whether you're a Republican or a Democrat. If we can get two years where everyone will do what's best for the state, you're going to see Alabama transform itself." He continued, "We absolutely are at the cusp of not only leading the South but also leading the nation. All we've got to do is take advantage of it. Very few states ever have the ability to make decisions like we have to make today."

He concluded, "We're going to build a lot of roads and lot of bridges, and we're going to allow Alabama to be as great as it can be."

Special Presentations

Another conference highlight was a presentation by Joe McInnes, director of the Alabama Department of Transportation.

"We ended another fiscal year with a record letting," McInnes said, noting that this is "the third consecutive year for all-time record lettings."

He added, "We set those records without significant increases in funding."

McInnes said that the focus will remain on "closing the gaps" in Alabama's transportation system, with an emphasis on safety, on looking at what is needed versus what people want, and on "remembering the economic impact of everything we do."

"Our three priorities remain the same," he said.

John Bobo, acting administrator of the U.S. Department of Transportation's Research and Innovative Technology Administration, rounded out the general session presentations.

"I came to you today to ask for your help in coming up with ideas for the future of transportation," he said.

Bobo noted three challenges facing transportation today, including financing, system performance and technology, and he went on to discuss how each may impact the transportation picture of the future.

"That's why these conferences are so important," he said, "to find out what works."

The program also featured a presentation by Merrill Eisenhower Atwater, great-grandson of President Dwight David Eisenhower. Atwater spoke on "President Eisenhower and the Interstate System."

"Ike understood the importance of roads," Atwater said.

Atwater discussed the development of the Interstate System and also commented on what may lie ahead.

"What's the future of the highway system?" he asked, noting that there are three factors he believes will be significant in the years to come. These include the use of tunnels, the impact of the trucking industry, and toll roads, privatization and other approaches to funding.

"I know my great-grandfather would be very, very proud of what we have accomplished, and my challenge is to look to the future."

The conference program also included a presentation by Mark J. Bloschock of the Texas Department of Transportation, Austin, Texas. In his remarks, Bloschock focused on the topic of highway and wildlife interaction, with particular attention to "Bats and Bridges."

Technical Sessions

Conference participants enjoyed a full complement of technical sessions spotlighting a variety of topics.

The "Construction" block included sessions on "Emergency Response to Katrina Damage: NS & CSX Railroad Bridges," presented by Ike Scott and Chuck Davis, Scott Bridge Company, Opelika, Ala.; "John James Audobon Bridge: Louisiana DOTD's First Major Design Build Project," presented by Greg H. Schafer, Audubon Bridge Constructors, New Roads, La.; and "Repaving the Talladega Motor Speedway," presented by Brian Prowell, National Center for Asphalt Technology, Auburn University, Auburn, Ala. These sessions were presided over by Renee Casillas, executive director of the American Council of Engineering Companies of Alabama.

"Transportation Safety" presentations, presided over by David Turner, president, ITE Alabama Section, Tuscaloosa, Ala., included "Guidelines for Pedestrian Crossing Treatment: Results from TCRP/NCHRP Project on Improving Pedestrian Safety at Unsignalized Crossings," presented by Kay Fitzpatrick, Texas Transportation Institute, College Station, Texas; "High Tension Cable Guardrail in Alabama," presented by Steve Walker, ALDOT, Montgomery, Ala.; and "Low Cost Local Road Safety Solutions," presented by Melisa D. Finley, Texas Transportation Institute, College Station, Texas.

William F. Conway, bridge engineer, ALDOT, Montgomery, presided over the "Bridges" sessions. Topics included "Bridge Vulnerability to Terrorist Threats," presented by James C. Ray, U.S. Army Engineer Research and Development Center, Vicksburg, Miss.; "Innovative Applications of High Performance Steel in Highway Bridge Design," presented by Hassan H. Abbas, Department of Civil Engineering, Auburn University, Auburn, Ala.; and "Hurricane Surge Wave Forces on Deck-Girder Bridges and Design/Retrofit Options For These Forces," presented by G. Ed Ramey, Department of Civil Engineering, Auburn University, Auburn, Ala.

The "Transportation" sessions, presided over by Bill Carwile, ARCADIS, Montgomery, Ala., included "New Directions in Urban Street Design," presented by R. Marshall Elizer Jr., of Gresham, Smith and Partners, Nashville, Tenn.; "Rational Speed Limit — Is It Real? Can It Work?" presented by Brian Park, Department of Civil Engineering, University of Virginia, Charlottesville, Va.; and "Personal Protective Equipment In Highway Construction," presented by Wesley C. Zech, Department of Civil Engineering, Auburn University, Auburn, Ala.

"Asphalt Pavements" presentations, presided over by Larry Lockett, materials and test engineer, ALDOT, Montgomery, Ala., included "Perpetual Pavements In China," presented by David Timm, Department of Civil Engineering, Auburn University, Auburn, Ala.; "2006 Track Research and Construction," presented by Buzz Powell, National Center for Asphalt Technology, Auburn University, Auburn, Ala.; and "A Study of High RAP Content HMA," presented by Randy West, National Center for Asphalt Technology, Auburn University, Auburn, Ala.

The "Surveying" sessions, moderated by Philip Widner, president of the Association of County Engineers, Cullman, Ala., included "New National Geodetic Survey Adjustments of NAD 1983," presented by Milton Denny, Denny Enterprise, LLC, Tuscaloosa, Ala.; "GPS CORS (Continuously Operating Reference Stations) In Alabama," presented by John D. Russell, ALDOT, Montgomery, Ala.; and "CORS Benefits In The Private Sector," presented by Thomas Brooks Jr., Brooks & Brooks, Inc., Northport, Ala.

Sessions focusing on "ALDOT Projects" were moderated by Don Arkle, assistant chief engineer for policy and planning, ALDOT, Montgomery, Ala., and included "Environmental Studies For A New Mobile River Bridge," presented by Nathaniel "Skeeter" McClure, Volkert and Associates, Inc., Mobile, Ala.; "I-85 Extension Corridor Study," presented by Paul Griggs, Volkert and Associates, Inc., Mobile, Ala.; and "Overview of Birmingham Northern Beltway Studies," presented by David Welch, ALDOT, Montgomery, Ala.

The "Concrete" presentations, moderated by Butch Wyatt, masonry director, Alabama Concrete Industries Association, Montgomery, Ala., included "Rapid Bridge Deck Replacement Strategies In Utah," presented by James McMinimee, Utah Department of Transportation, Salt Lake City, Utah; "Lightweight Concrete For Bridges," presented by Reid W. Castrodale, Carolina Stalite Company, Salisbury, N.C.; and "Self-Consolidating Concrete For Transportation Structures," presented by Anton K. Schindler, Department of Civil Engineering, Auburn University, Auburn, Ala.

Next year's conference, the 2008 51st Annual Transportation Conference, is scheduled to be held Feb. 20–21, 2008, again at the Auburn University Hotel and Conference Center.