As a graduate student 35 years ago, Bill Gardner attended his first Transportation Research Board Annual Meeting, and he still remembers the thrill.
“I felt like a kid in a candy shop,” recalled Gardner, who heads MnDOT’s Office of Freight and Commercial Vehicle Operations. “I was amazed at the diversity of topics… You could find people who have devoted their whole lives to the hazards of rural mailboxes.”
Gardner and other MnDOT leaders on Tuesday recounted their experiences from this year’s annual meeting — which drew more than 10,000 participants — and encouraged other MnDOT staff to get involved in the organization, which helps set national transportation guidelines, oversees collaborative research and facilitates the exchange of information.
“We’re heavily involved, but I think we could be more involved,” said Modal Planning and Program Management Director Tim Henkel, who has been part of the TRB for more than 20 years.
Henkel said TRB involvement benefits MnDOT in several ways, including access to national and international experts, the ability to keep tabs on hot-button issues and having a seat at the table in decision-making.
“It makes us a more enlightened and informed decision-making body,” Henkel said.
MnDOT has more than 60 staff serving on 114 TRB committees and contributes $125,000 annually to the TRB core program, gaining $127 in collaborative research for every $1 it contributes.
As part of a series of staff forums they will hold throughout the year, MnDOT leaders chose to highlight the TRB, which met in January. (MnDOT employees interested in attending next year or getting involved in the TRB should speak with their supervisor.)
State Bridge Engineer Nancy Daubenberger, who serves on a TRB subcommittee and gave a presentation at the recent conference, said it helps to hear about the challenges faced by agencies around the country.
Assistant Engineering Services Division Director Amr Jabr, who attended for the first time, said he used a smartphone app just to decide which of the approximately 3,500 sessions he wanted to attend.
“I thought it was an extremely good experience,” he said. “I picked up a lot of information and made a lot of new contacts.”