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Tolling Points

IBTTA Annual Meeting and Exhibition Delivers the Knowledge and Community You Need

By: 
Bill Cramer

Jeffrey Heilstedt, Senior Vice President and National Director of Tolling Services at WSP USA, is one of the Chief Meeting Organizers for IBTTA’s Virtual 88th Annual Meeting and Exhibition September 14-16. In this interview with Tolling Points, he talks about the importance of the professional community that IBTTA brings together, in a year when networking and peer interaction are more central to tolling agencies’ success than ever before.

What are the business community's hopes for the Virtual 88th Annual Meeting and Exhibition, and what do associate members stand to gain by attending and actively participating?

JH: Everyone is extremely disappointed that we couldn’t be all together in person, because meeting face to face and talking with our friends and colleagues, clients and competitors is really one of the key aspects of IBTTA conferences. However, after the cancellation of IBTTA’s technology conference in 2020, this month’s event will try and incorporate many of the traditional subjects you would find in the annual meeting, but also address technology. So there’s really something for everyone at this conference.

As your company was the first to participate in IBTTA’s newly created Toll Immersion Program, how did it work out and how do you think it will help the industry going forward?

JH: This is a subject that is extremely important to me, and I was very happy to have the opportunity to work with two toll agencies that employed three interns over the summer. There’s a general lack of knowledge about tolling and what having a tolling operation actually entails, especially compared to a traditional department of transportation. The tolling industry as a whole is so much more than just collecting money; there are career opportunities for engineers, business and finance majors, ITS and IT professionals. So, I view the Toll Immersion Program as an opportunity to excite and educate these young people about what a career in the tolling industry looks like, whether you’re working for an agency, a vendor or a consultant.

There are no real college courses about tolling, and if you look at the civil engineering curriculum, they teach highway design but not tolling design, which can be significantly different. That means we need to take a lead in educating our future leaders in tolling, so the next generation can pick up where we left off.

What are the origins and achievements to date of WSP’s diversity program, and how does that experience tie in with the moment of profound change the entire industry is going through?

JH: WSP has had an active Inclusion and Diversity committee for several years. Inclusion and diversity has been an integral part of our core values and now more that ever we have renewed our pledge to keep these values at the forefront and remain committed to the promises we have made to be a consistent voice for inclusion and diversity at WSP. Our aim is to be a leader in the industry, serving as an example of the strength that emanates from supporting equality for all. We have done a lot of things to move equity, inclusion and diversity forward within our space – we are involved with multiple organizations like the National Society of Black Engineers, Society of Hispanic Professional Engineers, Society of Women Engineers, American Indian Science & Engineering Society, Conference of Minority Transportation Officials and WTS; and have won multiple awards for a very robust mentor/protégé program, where we engage with small, women-owned and minority businesses to help them grow and achieve the next level of success.

We view our minority partners as a value-add to the industry, not just a check-box in the procurement documents. We bring in folks from our Disadvantaged Business Enterprise (DBE) partners to work in the WSP office, where they can tackle complex technical issues side by side with our in-house teams, gain technical expertise, and see where they might want to learn and grow their businesses. We value their participation, and they truly are our partners.

For one of our major clients, we were tasked with designing, constructing and testing a new crash system. We engaged one of our minority DBE partners to serve in a key technical leadership role. Now that firm, along with WSP, can put on their resumé of portfolio projects the development of this crash barrier, which will be adopted nationally by the FHWA.

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We’ve heard companies say they get so much more back from diversity and inclusion programs than they could ever have put in. Has that been your experience?

JH: We take those relationships, expand them outside the local projects, and help introduce some of our DBE partners to other partners or states where they do not work currently. By doing that, we’re developing a wider portfolio of subject matter experts to go out and perform and execute this work, and we also get the pleasure of seeing those partners grow. We can then go and support them, rather than lead them in a procurement. They may have been a sub to us on the initial projects, but because they’ve grown and gained this expertise, we now are in a supportive role to them as they go out and try to win work.

The key is to routinely exceed the required DBE participation, not because you have to but because, quite honestly, it’s the right thing to do. We need to continue engaging our DBE partners to help them be successful. One of the greatest pleasures I have is inviting some of our DBE partners to be part of the pursuit process and gaining insight from their perspective on how to frame an issue the client might have, to better help us win the job. Having diversity of our project teams helps us provide our clients a variety of new ideas and perspectives and better connects us with the communities that we serve.

How does the IBTTA community, and the Annual Meeting in particular, give members the tools, networking connections, and resilience to respond to even the most profound, unexpected challenges, as we’ve seen this year?

JH: If this year has taught us anything, it’s that you can never be over-prepared for an event. The tolling industry adapted very quickly to the pandemic by transitioning to a work-at-home model and suspending in-person collection of cash tolls. And for anyone who wants to listen, IBTTA and its member agencies are very willing to share the lessons they learned, how they would go about doing it differently if it happened again, and the short- and long-term ramifications of what they’ve done during this pandemic.

It’s very difficult to get that access to so many different agencies, vendors, consultants, and insights on industry best practices without being a member of IBTTA. It’s a one-stop shop for all things tolling, mobility, and it’s so successful thanks to the members of the organization.

Pre-conference sessions for IBTTA’s Virtual 88th Annual Meeting and Exhibition begin next Thursday, September 10, and regular programming runs September 14-16. Sign up today!

Newsletter publish date: 
Tuesday, September 1, 2020 - 08:00

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