ENR interviewed Michael Johnson, Parsons Group President, Infrastructure and Donald Graul, Parsons Group President, Construction, for the February cover story on transit construction trends. Following are condensed excerpts from the interview.
Without getting too political, can you comment on what the future looks like for U.S. mass transit investments?
Johnson: I’m from the infrastructure party. It’s great to see Democrats propose a trillion-dollar plan. It comes down to political will and having those political champions driving what we’re trying to get accomplished in urban America. We’ve seen inconsistencies in policies that stunted growth.
Graul: It’s important to have a long-term consistent funding stream at both local and federal levels.
Johnson: I see transportation network providers [TNCs] providing that last mile. I absolutely think the Millenials and Boomers will continue to move to the cities and thrive. Then there’s the likes of Elon Musk talking about Hyperloop….we have to take a step back and say that as an industry we will continue to be progressive. We have to learn how to work with people who bring moon shots to the table. We had discussions with Uber and they’re coming up with Lyft. What our transit clients call the “last mile” in major metro markets—often handled by paratransit—it might be a lot more cost-effective to partition that work off and have TNCs handle it.
My son is 26 years old and he always says, “I live just six dollars from the waterfront.”
How do we keep the momentum going?
Johnson: On the community engagement side. People are not just embracing those lines—these are cores of interest and where they want to live. When we walk through the new lines or even state of good repair work, it starts with that. Be strong at the core. then grow and prosper outward. We need thoughtful transit projections for new … we have to challenge ourselves to do a better job at true projections.
Graul: A lot of that is political will and consensus among owners and stakeholders. When that doesn’t happen, projects fail [cites the example of the attempt to build a Virginia Beach light rail system]. Sound Transit—voters passed a $56 billion ballot initiative, and dozens of communities are lining up. It wasn’t necessarily the case in cities in the past. Now, they’re saying “absolutely, put it in my back yard” in Seattle.