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Lisa Jacobson Posted by Lisa Jacobson, Nelson\Nygaard Consulting Associates

On Tuesday, June 21, over 100 young transportation professionals gathered after work at the State Transportation Building to hear from Jeffrey Mullan, Secretary of Transportation and CEO of the Massachusetts Department of Transportation (MassDOT). The crowd was certainly abuzz – and not just because free dinner was provided – but because Secretary Mullan spoke about the future of transportation in Massachusetts, a topic near and dear to participants.

It was clear that Secretary Mullan was excited to be in a room with 100 eager young professionals, and he immediately voiced how impressed he was with the event coordination: three organizations, Young Professionals in Transportation – Boston, New England Section of the Institute of Transportation Engineers, and the Massachusetts Chapter of the American Planning Association all came together to co-host the event.  Secretary Mullan commented that groups like these – that work with each other and host educational and networking events for those young in their careers – did not exist 25 years ago when he was starting out on his own path.

Secretary Mullan's remarks centered around where we've been, where we are now, and where we are going. He focused on the impacts and importance of the Commonwealth's most recent large-scale investments, including the Central Artery/Tunnel project, and the transition to a unified MassDOT. He went into depth on the importance of having ONE MassDOT and its clear goals: save money, improve customer service, rebuild employee morale, and invest in the entire Commonwealth. Secretary Mullan explained each goal separately, taking the time to describe why each one is so important to our transportation future and what MassDOT and other partners are doing to ensure their success.

Secretary Mullan also provided sound advice for us that are at the beginning stages of our careers. What stuck with me the most is his explanation of why long-term vision and setting goals is so important. When he reflected on the long story of The Big Dig project, he remarked that he tried to not get too stuck on the day-to-day work in the weeds but to think about the overall, big picture outcomes of the project. He said that with a project of this magnitude, you have to be forward-thinking and visionary to move it along.

What also struck me is how proud Secretary Mullan is of what Massachusetts has accomplished, and how we have a great future ahead of us. We may not have plans (or the cash) for another Big Dig, but projects such as the Accelerated Bridge Program, the Green Line extension, and investment in innovative technologies to make our system more efficient are equally, if not more, exciting. Secretary Mullan acknowledged that as much as these large-scale projects are important, MassDOT wants to focus on what is important to people – their customers – which may simply be getting a bus to show up on time or filling a pothole.

Secretary Mullan entertained several questions after his remarks, which ranged from pricing parking, to the future of paratransit, to energy efficiency.  We were honored that the Secretary was able to spend his evening with us, and we hope that he'll join us at another event in the future!

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