Moving Toward the Regenerative Highway Corridor — Technologies and Implications for Workforce

Game-changing technologies in Transportation are on the way and a stretch of highway in Georgia is proving it with real-world pilot projects. The Ray is a proving ground for regenerative technologies along an 18-mile stretch of I-85, south of Atlanta. According to The Ray’s website, the goal for the highway is to become “net zero,” meaning zero deaths, zero waste, zero carbon, and zero impact. Today, there are seven active pilot projects on the site with another half dozen in the works for implementation over the next couple of years.

Solar Energy Generation

Solar power is a big part of the regenerative ecosystem being created, with multiple pilots of solar technologies in place or planned at the site.

In 2015, Georgia’s first solar-powered, photovoltaic-for-electric-vehicle charging station was installed.

The first solar pavement pilot in the United States, called the Wattway was installed at The Ray in 2016. This is a 50-square-meter site with solar panels that are affixed to the existing roadway and support all types of vehicle traffic including fully loaded 18-wheel tractor-trailers. The solar energy that’s generated from the road surface is sent to the nearby Georgia Visitor Information Center.

“The Georgia DOT is actually benefitting from the clean energy that’s being generated from the road surface via the Wattway when it is not shaded by a passing car or truck. It’s a little over a year old and has generated over 6.4 megawatt hours of energy during that time,” said The Ray’s Executive Director, Allie Kelly.

Georgia will become the third state to pilot right-of-way solar when a megawatt solar farm is built on the highway shoulder this year.

Solar panels can also be combined with other functional highway infrastructure. Research is being done on barriers that have solar panels attached.

Making Use of the Right-of-Way

Solar energy is not the only renewable resource being explored. Since 2016, the right-of-way along the highway has been used to grow a special type of perennial wheat grass that has deep roots that help retain water and sequester carbon. The straw from these plants can be used as an alternative to trees for products such as paper towels.

Other innovations in the utilization of the natural spaces around highways include the use of bioswales and pollinator-friendly plantings. A project tracking a series of bioswales—shallow drainage ditches filled with vegetation or compost that slow and clean water runoff—will help measure the impact this intervention has on water quality. A 7,000 square-foot pollinator garden has also been piloted at the visitor center located on the proving grounds.

A Better Road Surface

Incorporating recycled tire rubber into asphalt to create a better road surface is another innovation being explored through the proving grounds. The resulting rubberized asphalt mix creates a more resilient, crack resistant, and quieter road surface with a useful life expectancy that is 15-to-20 percent longer than traditional asphalt. With the help of The Ray’s leadership, this innovative technology was brought to the attention of county and city leadership and was recently used on a neighboring stretch of road, the Tom Hall Parkway. That project presents a template that could be used in the coming years for a total repaving of The Ray.


Safety is a key component of The Ray’s mission. Work toward this goal began with a focus on under-inflation, the most common factor in tire failure, which is a significant cause of traffic fatalities.

In 2016, a UK innovation called WheelRight, was installed, which is an all-in-one tire safety station. To use, drivers simply pull their vehicle through the equipment at a low rate of speed. It is vehicle agnostic, working on school buses as well as sedans. The tests and analysis take about seven seconds, from start to finish, providing an evaluation of the tire pressure and the tire tread on all tires simultaneously, as well as an examination of the sidewalls.

Intelligent Transportation Systems

Coming up this year, The Ray is focused on smart road deployment with the goal of making it a route for connected and autonomous vehicles. Working with the Georgia DOT and a global data company, a pilot of connected vehicle technologies will work to improve the data analysis capabilities of traffic management centers.

Another pilot will focus on the changes needed in the infrastructure of the interstate to make it ready for autonomous vehicles.

“Instead of primarily working on the computer analysis, which is what the connected piece of this is about, the autonomous piece is about how to change the infrastructure so that autonomous vehicle systems, like computer vision, can operate most effectively and safely in that highway environment,” said Kelly.

How will Evolving Technologies Affect Workforce Needs?

As can be seen through the work being done at The Ray, with all the potential changes coming to highway infrastructure, the care and maintenance of transportation assets could also be greatly affected. This brings up interesting questions about how the Transportation field should be preparing the workforce for the future.

“Solar roads don’t need to be ground down or micro-milled. They don’t need to be crack-sealed, right? But, these are the things that are a part of routine maintenance with asphalt roads,” said Kelly.

How will processes for maintaining highways be impacted when the infrastructure is physically changed? What will this mean for the skills and expertise needed by the people responsible for its upkeep?

Some of these technologies take what has been a single-use asset, requiring time, money, and resources for upkeep, and turns it into a resource that can potentially generate income. What impact might this have on the overall business model?

“When you unleash single-use assets to operate in a variety of ways or to multi-task, DOTs should be poised to collect the revenue, the financial value, from that multi-tasking,” said Kelly.

Could the ownership of, or responsibility for, certain assets also shift with evolving technologies? With the potential of generating energy in the right-of-way, will this require the DOT to start behaving like a power utility? Or, conversely, will utility companies take on responsibility for highway assets?

“I wish it was a conversation that we were having as a nation because there is a transition that necessarily accompanies these technological advances in transportation,” said Kelly. “You are going to need people with the knowledge of renewable energy and electrical engineering to be involved in the maintenance of that kind of road.”

More Apprenticeship Programs are Being Offered through Programs Sponsored by Community and Technical Colleges

With benefits like an 88% retention rate for apprentices, a built-in source of high-performing students, and an increasing interest among businesses, more and more community and technical colleges are seeing the value in sponsoring registered apprenticeship programs through the US Department of Labor. By being a program sponsor, the college takes on the responsibility of classroom education as well as all the paperwork, ultimately making it easy for employers to hire apprentices. In this model, even small companies, who are hiring just one or two apprentices at a time, can use this proven method to grow their talent pipelines.

When Harper College in Palatine, Illinois, began their program, they were one of just three colleges in the country that were Registered Apprenticeship program sponsors. The growth in sponsorship among community colleges can be seen on the website for the Registered Apprenticeship College Consortium (RACC), which currently lists 23 colleges that are program sponsors.

One state, Georgia, has taken this to the next level by working to approve most of the technical colleges in the state to act as Registered Apprenticeship sponsors through Georgia WorkSmart, a work-based learning initiative operated by the Georgia Department of Economic Development.

Businesses are also increasingly taking advantage of apprenticeship to grow expertise within their workforce.

“We’re finding that, after their first experience, companies want to expand and add apprentices in different industries,” said Dr. Rebecca Lake, Dean of Workforce and Economic Development at Harper College. For example, Lake pointed to one company that had enrolled an apprentice in Harper’s Logistics/Supply Chain Management program and then came back the next year with an apprentice for the Banking/Finance program, because they had a need in that area of their business, as well.

Like apprenticeship programs across the country, Harper is growing their Registered Apprenticeship programs in white collar industries. Their newer programs include Banking/Finance, Sales & Retail Manangement, and Graphic Arts Print Production. A program in Cyber Security is also in the works.

Lake is actively working to develop an apprenticeship program for truck drivers at Harper College. To do this, she is utilizing a curriculum created by another college in Illinois, another benefit to community colleges that join the RACC.

“If you’re part of the network, you can get curricula. You, don’t have to reinvent the wheel,” said Lake.

Driverless Vehicles Provide Moving Shield for Highway Maintenance Workers

Safety, whether from eliminating human error or by removing people from dangerous situations, has been a strong motivator for much of the work being done on autonomous vehicles. This trend continues and will remain a top factor in the adoption of driverless technologies. Most recently, the safety of roadway maintenance crews is the purpose of a new driverless vehicle.

In August, the Colorado Department of Transportation unveiled a driverless vehicle designed to protect roadway maintenance crews by putting itself between human workers and any errant vehicles that might cross into the work zone. The new vehicle, called an Autonomous Impact Protection Vehicle (AIPV), is scheduled to be deployed this year and has special crash-mitigating equipment just like traditional impact protection vehicles, but it also has the benefit of not requiring a member of the work crew to be behind the wheel.

In a press release on August 18, 2017, Shailen Bhatt, Colorado Department of Transportation (CDOT) Executive Director, is quoted as saying, “Just in the last four years, there have been 26 incidents where a member of the traveling public struck a CDOT impact protection vehicle…This is a dangerously high number when you consider that in some instances, a CDOT employee is sitting in the driver’s seat of the vehicle that was hit. By using self-driving technology, we’re able to take the driver out of harm’s way while still effectively shielding roadside workers.”

Automation is just one of several emerging technologies that are transforming how highway maintenance is done. As part of a national initiative, the Midwest Transportation Workforce Center is currently exploring this sector by looking at the changing skill and competency requirements of highway maintenance workers in response to advancements in areas like vehicle automation, information systems, and sensing technologies. Through this initiative, MTWC is working to establish career pathways in the Highway Maintenance Engineering discipline to ensure that the discipline will be able to attract and retain the creative and skilled problem solvers that will be needed.

While the CDOT autonomous safety vehicle is the first of its kind, other states will soon follow. Missouri Department of Transportation just released a request for proposals on January 5th for a similar vehicle system with the goal, “to avoid operator injury by eliminating the need for a human operator in the [Follow Truck].”

Safety through eliminating human operators is not a new concept. Military vehicles have been under development for some time, utilizing the same technologies now being put to use in civil settings. Two months ago, Lockheed Martin announced progress testing their Autonomous Mobility Applique System (AMAS), having logged more than 55,000 testing miles over recent months.

The company’s press release explained that the AMAS system provides semi-autonomous leader/follower capability. Benefits, according to the release include that the system, “reduces manpower needs for convoy operations, freeing Soldiers up for other tasks and removing them from exposure to Improvised Explosive Devices (IEDs) and other enemy activity while on resupply missions.”

As a country, we entrust highway maintenance workers with a great deal of responsibility. Today’s highway maintenance workers are responsible for keeping the infrastructure in a state of good repair and at the same time keeping the adjacent air, soil, wildlife, plant life and water clean and healthy. It is only fitting that new technologies be implemented to protect the well-being of this important workforce.

Emerging Careers – Autonomous Vehicle Development, Deployment, and Maintenance

This is the first article in a three-part series, “Transformational Technologies and Emerging Careers in Transportation.”

The futuristic technology of driverless vehicles now seems to be on the precipice of a widespread reality. News items on projects around the world pop up daily and the recent CES consumer technology show in Las Vegas showcased half a dozen cars with autonomous capabilities. According to journalist, Samara Lynn, in an article on CES for Black Enterprise, “If there was one, star attraction at CES this year, arguably it was vehicles. Vendors, including Ford, Toyota, Volkswagen, and Nissan gave CES attendees a look into the cars of the very near future.”

Autonomous vehicles capture the imagination and young people setting out on their career paths and selecting their post-high school educational route have been hearing the rumblings of this phenomenon for their entire lives. Today, those wishing to get into this field have a variety of opportunities to get involved.

Working toward the goal of making autonomous vehicles a reality is the Wisconsin Automated Vehicle Proving Grounds at the University of Wisconsin–Madison. This group is managed by Peter Rafferty, an engineer with a masters in Transportation Engineering, with other graduate work in planning and economics.

When asked how students can break into the field and work with autonomous vehicles, Rafferty points out that there are several fields that contribute to this discipline. Traditionally, transportation has been largely composed of Civil Engineers and Transportation Planners.

“There is always going to be a need for the infrastructure side, like Civil Engineering,” said Rafferty. “But, when it comes to traffic control, that’s becoming increasingly technical. Automated and connected vehicle growth in those areas is very multidisciplinary,” said Rafferty.

Rafferty points out that experience with database systems was helpful for his career. While he is not a computer programmer or a software engineer, just being able to work with data has been beneficial to him.
“I say to students, ‘Make sure you’re getting some exposure to basic scripting and working with big data,’” said Rafferty.

People entering this field today come from a variety of backgrounds including electrical engineering, computer science, mechanical engineering, artificial intelligence, and robotics.

Steve Herro, Project Manager of the Al Hurvis-Peak Transportation Center at the Milwaukee Area Technical College in Wisconsin, points out that people beginning their training as automotive technicians today will be working on cars with the types of technologies that come with autonomous vehicles. As examples, many of today’s newer vehicles come equipped with automatic emergency breaking, backup cameras, adaptive cruise control, and self-parking systems, all of which are components of autonomous vehicles.

However, not all automotive technicians will be working with driverless cars in the next five years or even in the next decade. “You have to be a little careful luring people into the field with autonomous vehicles,” said Herro, pointing out that only a small percentage of vehicles on the road will be driverless for some time. “Only a master technician will be able to touch any of those cars,” he said.

As a manager, Rafferty has not had to know all the technical details of all these varied fields, but he has had to develop an understanding of the concepts from them and “learn the lingo.” He has augmented his knowledge with some online courses. There are materials relevant to this field on online educational resources, such as Coursera and Udacity. Rafferty suggests taking courses on computer science, digital security, machine learning, sensor data, artificial intelligence, and robotics.

“If I were 25 years younger and going into college, I would go to one of these online resources,” he said.

His background as a planner has also been helpful. From this, he is able to understand the human experience with transportation and mobility. Rafferty thinks about autonomous vehicles more broadly than just automating a piece of hardware.

“I am grateful for the opportunity to work with autonomous vehicles here at the university. This is not something I could have done as a consultant.”

Best Practices Coming to Light as Highway Construction Workforce Pilot Moves into Implementation Phase

Having completed their first year, the cities and states in the Highway Construction Workforce Pilot recently met via webinar to take stock of their progress and share strategies that are working. Overseen by the U.S. Department of Transportation Federal Highway Administration, the national initiative was begun in the fall of 2016 with the goal, “to meet the transportation workforce challenge and harness the energy, expertise, and communication networks of all stakeholders.” Midwest Transportation Workforce Center highlighted the St. Louis pilot location last year for their partnership with their Workforce Development Board.

Across the initiative, the FHWA reported that many of the pilot locations have formed working groups and begun working on initiative goals with two of the locations having delivered an “Identify, Train, and Place Program,” a stated outcome of the initiative.

The initiative uncovered best practices that are becoming familiar across the Transportation sector:

  1. Building relationships and forming partnerships with stakeholders
  2. Participation in the working groups by a diverse representation of stakeholders, especially contractors
  3. Combating stereotypes/perceptions of highway construction jobs, especially among middle school and high school students and their parents and teachers
  4. Developing a pre-apprenticeship or apprenticeship program

To assist the pilot locations, a suite of marketing tools were developed to help spread the word and increase awareness about the initiative. These include billboards, posters, flyers, and postcards, all with the hashtag #RoadstoYourFuture.

Two of the pilot states, Alabama and Arizona shared their case studies.

For this project, the Alabama team was able to build on successful practices already in place in the state including the Alabama Industrial Development Training system, marketing and outreach done by the community college programs, and the Alabama Department of Transportation On-the-Job Training Program. They began by focusing on entry-level employees and learned a lot from their project partners about where to focus marketing efforts and where to find available resources.

The Arizona pilot site worked closely with contractors early on to determine workforce needs. From this they determined that industry readiness was a high priority. They also zeroed-in on at-risk youth age 18 to 24 and dislocated workers for their initial outreach efforts.

For more information on the national initiative, visit the Highway Construction Workforce Pilot program website.

Public-Private Partnership Helps Technical College Launch New Transportation Center with $3 Million Challenge Grant

A curious person, who uses their sleuthing skills to get to the bottom of a problem with the aid of computerized diagnostic equipment, may not be what most people picture when they think about automotive technicians or diesel mechanics. Yet, today, successful candidates in these occupations are just that; they are inquisitive problem solvers. They need these skills to work in a field that has become increasingly technical and computerized.

There is a shortage of workers with these skills nationally, and in Wisconsin, employers are having trouble finding the talent they need to fill positions. In the state’s largest city, Milwaukee, a public-private partnership, called the MATC RevUp program, has been launched to help recruit more people into the field and provide needed training.

Tom Hurvis, issued the funding challenge to help fill the need for more technicians and provide opportunities for students to obtain the skills needed for a family-supporting career in the automotive field.

Tom Hurvis, Co-founder of Old World Industries, issued a $3 million challenge grant in March 2017 to expand automotive programs at the Milwaukee Area Technical College (MATC) and kick off fund raising to create the Al Hurvis-Peak Transportation Center. Grant funding will provide seed money to launch expanded academic programming and outreach activities, including the additional personnel and equipment expenses for the new transportation center.

The grant provides $1 million in immediate funding, and up to an additional $2 million for every dollar MATC raises for the RevUp program over two years. To house the transportation center, MATC is repurposing an existing auditorium at its downtown campus. The building will be named the Al Hurvis PEAK Transportation Center to honor Tom Hurvis’ father, Al Hurvis, who was an automotive executive in the Milwaukee area.

The RevUp project is taking aim at the causes behind the talent gap in the state.

“The biggest issues are two-fold. First, there is a shortage. The recession caused people to hold off retiring. But now, with the economy rebounding, combined with all the changes in technology, a lot of those baby boomers are leaving. We’re going to have serious technician gaps in the workforce,” said Steve Herro, Project Manager of the Al Hurvis-Peak Transportation Center at MATC. “Secondly, there is a negative stereotype around auto mechanics. It is seen as a non-technical career with no growth potential. This is why we use the term technicians, to better reflect the current reality of this occupation.”

In addition to technology evolving, the way that young people find their way to careers like automotive technician or diesel mechanic has also changed.

“In the past, young people probably had some sort of mentor—like a family member—who was working on a car and they got a chance to help. In our urban areas, today, youth coming up have not had the same sorts of opportunities,” said Herro.

The RevUp program is focused on opportunities for students in urban settings. The two-pronged approach is providing additional support and engagement activities for existing students and outreach into the community to get more young people interested in transportation careers.

The RevUp program is focused on opportunities for students in urban settings. The two-pronged approach is providing additional support and engagement activities for existing students and outreach into the community to get more young people interested in transportation careers.

MATC RevUp will be partnering with area groups, like the Boys and Girls Club, which have expertise in putting on camps, to host automotive-related camps starting this summer. These camps will be at the middle school and high school level and introduce students to careers in the automotive industry. Representatives from area businesses will offer their time as mentors. One of the planned activities for high schoolers is to build raceable go carts. This project will provide experience with engines, fabrication, and auto-body painting.

Herro points out that the skills learned by automotive technicians provide advancement opportunities over time along a career pathway. These skills are also highly transferable according to Herro, and technicians may not spend their whole careers in the automotive field.

“One of our instructors told me that he had a student from the diesel program who went on to work on an oil rig in the Gulf of Mexico making $100 grand after three years. Diesel is a huge area because you can work on any diesel engine. It doesn’t matter if it’s at a power company, in a truck, or in a manufacturing setting,” said Herro.

The RevUp program will also be running after-school clubs during the school year. While Wisconsin has many high-quality automotive programs that meet national standards, many schools in the state have discontinued their automotive programs due to costs.

“Often, an automotive program might have $500 to $1000 per year to purchase supplies. That doesn’t even provide annual updates for their automotive diagnostic equipment,” said Herro. “We need to do more than just support those schools. We need to dive deeper into the community and get more students interested in these programs,” he said.

Milwaukee area native, Tom Hurvis, chairman of Old World Industries, LLC, the parent company of the PEAK automotive brand, issued this funding challenge to help fill the need for more technicians and provide opportunities for students in urban Milwaukee to obtain the skills needed for a family-supporting career in the automotive field.

Interested donors can contact Laura Bray, Executive Director of the MATC Foundation and MATC Vice President of College Advancement and External Communications, at

In the Midwest, Driverless Vehicle Proving Grounds are Revving into High Gear

Proving grounds are often used to test a new technology or products. It is natural in the Midwest, where the auto industry has long relied on test tracks to test automobile safety and performance, that these same sites are being used to test driverless vehicles. Every state in the Midwest has taken notice of the momentum growing in driverless vehicle technologies and several projects are underway in the region, including three of the 10 sites designated by the U.S. Department of Transportation (US DOT) as proving grounds.

State-Focused Internship Portals Keep Talent within Borders During Crucial Career Decision Point

The ability of internship programs to retain talent has spurred a growing interest in internship programs as well as the launch of internship-matching portals catering to in-state employers. In the Midwest, Indiana, Ohio, Michigan, and most recently, Wisconsin, all have websites dedicated to promoting their state’s internship opportunities.

Logistics Engineering Technology Pre-College Experience

In its second year, the experiential summer program is part of a project to build an academic pathway for Logistics Engineering Technicians funded by a National Science Foundation grant under the Advanced Technological Education (ATE) program. The project addresses skills and knowledge gaps found in emerging occupations in the logistics field where automation and sophisticated computerized systems are becoming more prevalent.

Suite of Transportation Lesson Plans Bring Leading Edge Technologies to Middle and High School Students and Educators

Technologies around transportation are evolving rapidly. Staying current is difficult enough for professionals in the field, let alone for young people or the educators who prepare them for post secondary education and to choose their career path. Through a unique project, a suite of lesson plans teaching concepts from intelligent transportation systems (ITS) and connected vehicle technologies has been developed for middle school and high school students. The plans connect educators with the latest technologies and expose students to a modern vision of careers in the transportation industry.

“What kids see in terms of highway workers is a bunch of guys with trucks and shovels. But, we’re doing coding and robotics and communications. There’s a difference between the current perception and the vision of what’s going to come in the future as things are automated and as technology improves, and as the ways that transportation systems are developed, designed or maintained change,” said Richard Claus, Chief Executive Officer of NanoSonic, a company specializing in advanced materials and devices headquartered in Pembroke, Virginia.

NanoSonic is one of very few high-tech companies in a very rural area. Located near a local middle school, the people of NanoSonic were routinely asked to visit science, math or chemistry classes. Four years ago, the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) sponsored a Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) contract to develop lesson plans around intelligent transportation systems and connected vehicle technologies. The company’s leadership saw this as an opportunity to get more formally engaged with the education system.

They were awarded the contract and began collaborating with engineers from the U.S. Department of Transportation’s ITS Joint Program Office’s Professional Capacity Building (ITS PCB) Program and Leidos and with educators from local schools. Since the initial project, the company was also awarded another contract for a second phase lasting two years, which is coming to a close, now.

“The contract required us to develop twenty lesson plans. We’re up to about sixty-five, now,” said Claus.

A recently developed lesson plan involves students in the development of clothing that will keep highway maintenance workers safe by sensing when traffic is too close.

From the initial set of lesson plans, the ideas have continued to evolve and grow. One of the plans most recently developed has students utilize e-textile fabrics with embedded sensors and actuators. In this exercise, students develop clothing that will keep highway maintenance workers safe by sensing when traffic is too close. In addition to getting the students to think about how close a vehicle can be to a person without putting them in danger, the activity provides experience assembling electronics, learning about how the sensors work, and programming the devices.

Lesson plans were field tested through a STEM afterschool program serving middle school and high school students. Now in its third year, the program has reached many students, some of whom have returned year after year.

“One of our best success stories comes from one of the students who was with us for a couple of years, graduated from high school, and then, between graduating and going to college in the fall, worked for the Virginia Department of Transportation as a transportation engineer,” said Claus. The graduate returned recently and talked to the kids in the afterschool program about his experiences. “After he talked, enthusiasm among the students went up by a factor of ten. It just has more impact for a student to tell other students, than for an adult to tell them.”

Sensors in the fabric to be used for highway worker clothing.

Transportation is a good field for engaging with students of this age group, according to Christina Martin, who serves as the Giles County STEM Education Program Coordinator. “Students are excited about driving; it’s something they can see themselves doing in a few years. It’s fun for them to think about how vehicles are going to change. They see some of the connected applications that already exist on vehicles and they can start to imagine what that progression is going to look like in several years,” she said.

It was through their interactions with local teachers that the NanoSonic engineers learned that most of the classrooms in the area did not have access to the Internet. “That floored us because we’re engineers and nerds,” said Claus. NanoSonic purchased inexpensive routers and installed them in the science classrooms in all the county schools they worked with. Today, perhaps in part because of this effort, all of the county schools now have wireless Internet throughout. “We think that’s a nice benefit. Certainly, that wasn’t FHWA’s objective, but as a side benefit, we think we’ve been able to move the county ahead a step or two.”

The company has also helped create a regional science fair, launched a Transportation Engineering Summer Camp, and initiated a summer work program for high schoolers.

“We think it’s our civic responsibility to be part of the community,” said Claus. However, he does point out that the company has had one direct benefit from the work they have done with the schools. Through a summer work program for high school students, NanoSonic has hired one person as a full-time, permanent employee.

To view and download the suite of free transportation lesson plans, visit the Education page of the NanoSonic website.  Questions related to the plans can be directed to .