It is a subdiscipline of civil engineering that involves planning, design, and management of transportation systems that provide for the safe and efficient movement of people and goods.
Transportation engineers focus on designing new transportation systems and upgrades to highways, urban roads, airports, railroads, and water transport networks. To facilitate their designs, engineers need to collate and analyze data on traffic flows, accident rates, and other statistics. They also have to take future demand for transport into account while considering the results of impact studies and local, state, and federal transportation policies.
Scope of the Field
Transportation engineering is vast and can allow for excellent career opportunities. Of the 18 technical divisions within the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE), six are related to transportation engineering:
- Air transportation
- Waterway, coastal, port, and ocean
- Urban transportation
Scope According to Specialties
Graduates with a master’s degree in transportation engineering can concentrate on one of several specialties. For example, highway engineers develop their expertise in the following areas
- Analysis of traffic patterns, traffic flows, and collision rates during highway and road design
- Planning, design, construction, and operation of highways and roads, as well as their associated bicycle and pedestrian facilities
- Alignment, design, and construction of pavement and other roadway elements
- Estimation of public transportation requirements and the associated costs
- Design and construction of bridges, retaining walls, and tunnels
Railroad engineers focus on the design, construction, and operation of railroads and mass transit systems. Their goal is to develop a safe railroad transportation system to meet future demand, working with federal officials to ensure the rail system meets the nation’s transportation requirements.
Airport engineers become experts in the design and construction of new airports and upgrades to existing facilities. This is a special transportation engineering application where engineers must fulfill the following responsibilities:
- Take into account the physical impact of aircraft and air traffic volumes to design airport facilities
- Analyze wind patterns to determine runway orientation
- Design the size of runway borders and safety areas
- Determine wingtip clearances for boarding gates
Port & Harbor
Port and harbor engineers specialize in the design, construction, and operation of ports, harbors, and canals. As with the other branches of transportation engineering, the analysis of traffic volumes and maritime forecasts is essential for the design process.
The Transportation Planning Process
For any transportation project, engineers cannot take a purely clinical look at moving people and goods when planning new developments. Any new facility may have an impact on an area’s growth and economic activity, as well as the quality of life of the surrounding community. This means that transportation engineers must also consider the well-being of society in their plans.
Most local governments have a metropolitan planning organization (MPO), which is a policy-making body consisting of representatives from local government and transportation agencies. An MPO has the following main functions:
- Establishing an impartial setting for regional decision-making
- Identifying and evaluating alternatives for transportation improvement, using appropriate planning studies
- Preparing and maintaining a long-term transportation plan for the metropolitan area
- Developing a short-range program for transportation improvement
- Involving the public in transportation planning
To be successful in transportation engineering, strong organizational and analytical skills are required. Typically, a bachelor’s degree in civil engineering is a prerequisite for entry to a master’s degree program in transportation engineering, although many schools enable prospective students to complete bridge courses to qualify.
Transportation engineers typically secure employment with private engineering companies or engineering consulting firms. State and federal governments also employ transportation engineers in their relevant departments and agencies.Careers