Transportation Troubleshooting: Meet Paula Hammond: 40 Years of Engineering Experience to Share
Paula Hammond will write a recurring column for Informed Infrastructure, beginning with the August 2022 issue. This introductory column is based on an interview by Todd Danielson, the editorial director of Informed Infrastructure. You can view a video of the full interview above or by visiting bit.ly/37ARKn3.
Paula Hammond’s career is going strong after more than 40 years, and she’s long been committed to sharing her experience with fellow engineers and decision makers. For 34 years she worked at the Washington State Department of Transportation (WSDOT), including the last six as the secretary of transportation for Washington Governor Christine Gregoire. At the state DOT, she had responsibilities for not just roads and highways, but the nation’s largest ferry system, short-line rail lines, airports and transit.
After retiring from the state, she’s been working at WSP for almost a decade as senior vice president and national multimodal market leader, supporting the company’s efforts in emerging technology transportation topics such as resilience, pricing, systems operations and performance management.
“Our approach is to develop new and innovative solutions to the most-significant challenges our clients have,” explains Hammond. “We’re working hard in the industry to bring innovation and alternative delivery strategies that will help our systems be more environmentally friendly and equitable, but also address the needs of travelers and the economic demands of a growing United States.”
Building Resilient Infrastructure
Like most engineers, Hammond knows that a lack of funding has left U.S. infrastructure in dire condition. In addition to bridges and roads that haven’t been maintained, she also cites growing populations and increased threats from the climate as additional obstacles that need to be addressed.
“Bridges can be most catastrophic if they fail, but your everyday highways, freeways and roadways in your local area are being impacted by river flooding, avalanches, earthquakes and wildfires,” she notes. “All of these now are extreme threats to our transportation system and our communities.”
According to Hammond, technology can help infrastructure professionals adapt the transportation systems of the past to current conditions in which simply expanding travel networks can’t be the only solution.
“We now need to operate our transportation systems in a way that technology can serve for a more-efficient throughput, more-reliable transit trips,” she says. “I think it’s more important now than ever for integrated transportation decisions to be made. Not just how to build or modernize a freeway, an interchange, etc., but how does that connect to the local trips—the transit trips, the micro-mobility, the pedestrian and bicycling needs of that community? You have to think broadly and connect transportation engineering decisions to the community values and the actual users’ needs of what they want in a transportation system.”
In addition to increasingly effective technology, Hammond also believes the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law of 2021 will have a tremendously positive effect on U.S. infrastructure. She believes the additional money will benefit bridge repair and replacement as well as improve highways and roadways with an emphasis on preserving national systems.
She explains that an integrated approach to solving problems related to transportation, water, energy and resilience is the best way to provide infrastructure for a community, region or state.
“The connection to the economy is so strong that all of these infrastructure elements are necessary,” she adds. “I like the fact that this new bill is going to focus on clean energy solutions, great environment, water issues, clean water, reconnecting communities and building a basic, connected infrastructure that really does serve both the economic and value-of-life or livability issues for communities.”
Another area for transportation engineers to focus on is research and development of new innovations. “Spend the time to do specific research and test some innovations, so we can find those best practices that will really launch and leverage our ability to make a difference more quickly,” says Hammond.