Randell “Randy” Iwasaki recalls visiting his uncle, a civil engineering professor at Colorado State University, during the summers of his youth and getting tours of transportation labs and irrigation projects. That exposure to engineering and transportation led Iwasaki to a long career at the California Dept. of Transportation, where he eventually became the director.
Early on in his Caltrans career, he was involved in the installation of visibility meters and speed loops on a highway in Stockton, Calif., that prevented fog-related accidents—and turned him on to the possibilities of technology. He would go on to advocate for technology at Caltrans and then as executive director of the Contra Costa Transportation Authority (CCTA).
“Randy has a lot to do with the agency being leaning-forward,” says Malcolm Dougherty, also a former Caltrans director and now senior vice president with Michael Baker International. “He pushed the envelope.”
At CCTA, Iwasaki did more with less, leading a 20-member staff on a number of technology accomplishments such as GoMentum Station, drone technology to measure highway excavations and multipurpose traffic sensors that use infrared light cones to monitor traffic.
Even dearer to Iwasaki’s heart are pilot programs to improve mobility for all populations, including an automated shuttle serving a retirement community. “My mother is 86, and she still drives,” he says wryly.
Aside from a forward-thinking approach to technology, Iwasaki helped shape CCTA into an owner that hasn’t had to deal with claims in his 10-year tenure there. Contractors and consultants praise the agency for its transparency, fairness and prompt payments.
“This is Randy’s legacy—how he genuinely partners with people who provide him services. Now they bend over backwards when he needs something,” says Sam Hassoun, founder of GLA, a consulting firm that specializes in collaborative dispute mitigation.
Julie Pierce, chair of the CCTA board and mayor of Clayton, Calif., says that Iwasaki fit in with a board that prides itself on working with every city in the county. “From day one, this committee was a place where representatives of the entire county come together and drop parochialism at the door,” she says. “Randy brought a culture to the CCTA staff that meets that of the commissioners. He helped us elevate our aspirations. He’s shown us we can do things better and more efficiently, and as a team.”
Iwasaki retired from the CCTA at the end of 2020 and was promptly hired by Amazon Web Services to lead its transportation division. At CCTA, he had worked with AWS on various grants for Mobility as a Service (MaaS), a concept of integrating various transportation systems into a single channel, such as an app. “If you’re not in the cloud, you’re heading into the cloud,” he says of MaaS.
Prone to colorful anecdotes, Iwasaki recalls when he told his uncle he had gotten a job at Caltrans. “He was floating in the pool. He said: ‘Congratulations on your first job. My career advice is to go work for a consulting firm.’ ”
Years later, as Iwasaki rose through the ranks, his uncle said, “Aren’t you glad I told you to stay at Caltrans?”