In this interview, we sat down with Bud Wright, executive director of the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials (AASHTO for short). One of the nation’s top-ranking transportation experts, Mr. Wright has worked with policymakers at the highest levels of government on transportation issues that affect the U.S. people and economy as a whole each and every day—issues like traffic safety, financial and environmental sustainability, and how to make transportation more efficient and affordable to the public.
We asked Mr. Wright to speak to middle and high school students about his thoughts on transportation as a career, his vision for the future of transportation, and his advice for students exploring the transportation industry—among other things. Check out some of the questions and answers below!
Q: What are you doing today?
A: Much of what I do these days, which is policy oriented, is trying to find ways in which to work with the Congress and with others to invest in transportation. At some level that has to happen in order for those who are actually out there building that bridge to have the tools and the resources necessary to do that.
Q: What is one of your favorite projects that you have worked on in the past?
A: I had a chance to be a part of a team that worked on something called the National Transportation Policy. It was really a team of people from the various modes of transportation brought together to pull together a vision of what transportation should look like in the future. That was not only the most exciting thing, but the thing that really opened up a lot of doors for me later.
Q: What were your favorite subjects in high school?
A: I liked history. I liked government, especially. It was really the public service aspect that attracted me to government. Transportation came after that.
Q: What was your college major?
Q: How did you get your start in a transportation career?
A: I had an opportunity to be part of a transportation intern program. That allowed me to work in several different transportation modes. I got a sampler of many of the issues that were affecting transportation agencies at that time. I felt like the Federal Highway Administration was something that was interesting and exciting to me, so I accepted a position with them after the program.
Q: How do you see the future of transportation?
A: I think we’re going to see that technology really becomes much more a part of transportation than it ever has been before. We’re seeing technological advances occurring not just in the automobile, but in the roadside. Vehicles not only interacting with one another, but also interacting with roadside devices so that we can avoid the kinds of crashes that occur at intersections today, or we can avoid things like people sitting for no reason at a traffic light while there are no cars passing through the intersection. There are all sorts of things we know how to do that we don’t have in widespread implementation yet, and I can only imagine the things that we don’t know how to do yet that we’re going to learn over the next 10 or 15 years.
Q: What are some of the challenges facing our nation’s transportation system?
A: We just are not investing enough in core infrastructure. I think it’s an element of the American public sort of taking transportation services for granted. You don’t really notice transportation until something goes wrong. So, there’s not a focus on the fact that we really do need to invest in order to ensure that people’s quality of life remains as it is or improves. So it’s making that case, building that argument, making sure that we’re educating legislators, educating the public on how significant transportation is in their lives and how important it is to invest.
Q: What is one of your favorite parts of your job?
A: I’m kind of people person. I like interacting with people, I like being part of a team. … To me that’s always been one of my favorite parts.
Q: What is one of the most rewarding aspects of your job?
A: I think transportation is one of those areas where you really have the chance to make a difference in something that you can legitimately say affects everybody in this country every day of their lives.
Q: What is something you would say to students who are just beginning to explore careers in transportation?
A: I think there are a lot of exciting career opportunities that on the surface people don’t necessarily associate with transportation but they really are there. There’s so much that we do in transportation now. It’s not just about engineering. It’s about social sciences, it’s about statistics, economics. It’s about electrical, it’s about technology. It gives you that sort of diversity of experience that I think in many careers you don’t have. For those that really want to look at things from a lot of different perspectives and feel like they have an opportunity to affect a problem or an issue from those different perspectives, transportation really is kind of the perfect career.