Exploring Strategic Workforce Development: An Interview with NJDOT’s Human Resources

FHWA is promoting Strategic Workforce Development in highway maintenance, construction and operations.

FHWA is promoting Strategic Workforce Development in highway maintenance, construction and operations.

Strategic Workforce Development, an FHWA Every Day Counts (EDC) Round 6 innovative initiative, anticipates collaboration between government agencies, trade organizations, private agencies and communities to prepare individuals for the construction workforce. The demand for workers in highway maintenance, construction and operations is growing, as is the demand for new skill sets required for work with emerging technologies. An important element of this initiative is the recruitment and retention of women and minorities in the construction sector.  Through on-the-job training and supportive services program, NJDOT is exploring ways to work with contractors, contracting associations, and unions on shaping their future workforces, including programs aimed at increasing representation of women, minorities, and other disadvantaged populations in the construction and operations workforce.

We spoke with Kelly Hutchinson, Director, Human Resources at NJDOT about ongoing and planned workforce development initiatives at NJDOT.

Workforce Development at NJDOT

Q. We know that NJDOT engages in a variety of innovative programs to attract and retain your workforce. Could you update us on the status of some of these programs?

Operations Apprenticeship Program

NJDOT’s Operations Apprentice Program offers a structured path to advancement

NJDOT’s Operations Apprentice Program offers a structured path to advancement.

This program began in 2015 to provide consistent training and skills for workers in Highway Operations and to establish a path to advancement and has focused on developing a job title structure and staffing profile for participants as well as both on-the-job and classroom training. We are still promoting the program and trying to get our numbers where we want them to be. We will be testing our third of four groups of mid-level individuals at the end of April 2022.

NJ Supervisory Training Empowering Performance (STEP) Training

This program is focused on teaching management skills and several hundred NJDOT employees have completed this very beneficial initiative. The Civil Service Commission provides this training, which has been on hiatus due to the COVID-19 pandemic as instructors prefer in-person classes. We offer a two-day, in-house training on DOT-specific supervisory issues like the supervisor’s role in promoting staff, leaves of absence, working test periods, performance assessment reviews (PARS) and discipline to build on what participants learn in STEP, but we may opt to offer this in-house training first if there is an ongoing delay in STEP availability. We have a lot of new staff advancing to supervisory and managerial roles who could benefit from this training. We would also bring in small groups from this supervisory cohort to participate in and benefit from a few Lunch & Learn sessions. In the past, these smaller group sessions have been very helpful for sharing experiences.

Leadership Academy

This is a Transportation specific Leadership Academy that focuses on the importance of soft skills related to management. In April, the NJ Turnpike Authority will be hosting this program locally with instruction from Dr. Tom DeCoster. Many of our manager-level and future directors will be attending, along with staff from NJ TRANSIT and the Turnpike Authority.

Skill Enhancement for Clerical and Administrative Professionals (SECAP)

This program was originally focused on skill enhancement for staff in clerical positions. Now, more individuals are being hired to fill administrative professional roles, rather than the traditional clerical roles. Persons with technical capabilities, such as policy writing and budget preparation, are filling these roles. In response, we are considering revamping this program to best support the needed skill sets related to these positions.

Administrative College

This program is ongoing and focuses on offering courses on topics such as financial wellness, mental and physical health, and technical skills that can be mastered in a couple of hours. We conducted a survey pre-pandemic to identify what our employees wanted in Administrative College courses.

Promotion of Asst. Engineers to Senior Engineers

NJDOT engineers participate in on-site training as part of a program that moves individuals from journey level to mid-level positions.

NJDOT engineers participate in on-site training as part of a program that moves individuals from journey level to mid-level positions.

This effort was initiated about seven years ago and we have continued the practice, adding programs for most journey level professional titles in Human Resources, Budget, Planning, Accounting, and Information Technology. When participants have completed one year past their initial training and have been in their journeyman title for two years, management determines whether they are performing higher level work and have mastered the technical skills to be considered a technical expert in the particular area. After three years, they may be considered for reclassification.  Management makes recommendations and provides written justifications to advance persons based on established criteria and must describe why they are recommending an individual, or why they are not. HR ensures that each individual has completed enough time in the title and gives a provisional appointment, but the candidate needs to pass the Civil Service exam to confirm their promotion.

This effort reflects both a retention strategy and a strategy to help bridge the supervisory gap resulting from retirements.

Succession Planning

Promoting continual skill development among NJDOT staff is a priority.

Promoting continual skill development among NJDOT staff is a priority.

Moving forward, NJDOT succession planning training and development will likely be less formalized than the previous NJDOT program. In this former program, participants were selected through an application process, which, in my opinion, may not have been ideal for all employees. Training and development should happen daily, at all levels, and should not be programmed by Human Resources. We are looking to promote parity, transparency and equity through the training programs we just spoke about. Our Leadership Academy and STEP program help workers to advance and instruct supervisors on how to support training and development of all employees. We are depending on management and senior leadership to work on a smaller scale. We want to provide the same level of opportunity to everyone and see who rises to the occasion.

Q. In a presentation to NJ STIC last June, former NJDOT Human Resources Director Michele Shapiro noted that you would be working on trainings for both the Construction Inspectors Apprenticeship program and the Engineering Technician Apprenticeship program. What is the status of these new programs? Do you anticipate developing similar programs for other job titles?

We have the new titles in place, but we do not have the formalized training program developed yet. I have spoken with Asst. Commissioner Snehal Patel and we will be collaborating with the Construction Director to start building the program this summer. Our plan is to update the existing 10-module program for the Resident Engineer Construction Inspectors to adapt to the Apprenticeship program.

Q. We had heard of the possible expansion of experience-based hiring. Are there any updates to this initiative?

Automotive and Electrical Mechanics would be the titles we are considering for a possible formalized program. There are trainees now but we don’t have a formal program. With all the advances in technology, we would like to find a community college partner to provide training and build a title structure based on the new technologies and see if it would increase the salary determination. We have trouble competing with private industries for candidates from these two trades. We are continuing efforts to receive approval for the program from Civil Service but effort was halted with the pandemic.

Q. Does NJDOT have plans to offer internships or similar positions?

We have a Summer Student program called Temporary Employment Services primarily targeted to professional titles. We do not refer to the program as an internship because participants are paid but do not earn academic credit. Typically, we accept rising college seniors, but if applications are light in a given cycle, we sometimes accept sophomores and freshmen as well. Pre-pandemic, it was a great pipeline for permanent positions with the department. In 2019, we had 55 students in the program, paid $20/hour, and 20 percent were hired for full-time positions with NJDOT. With our late start this year, we will have 20 participants. Some may stay with us into the school year, working part-time up to 944 hours per year as permitted by Civil Service.

NJDOT Human Resources staff attend career fairs to raise awareness of rewarding jobs in transportation.

NJDOT Human Resources staff attend career fairs to raise awareness of rewarding jobs in transportation.

The program is beneficial to participants as they receive work experience while earning wages. We recruit candidates via virtual and in-person career fairs, partnerships with alumni of the program and community organizations, campus organizations and using Handshake (an app that connects students on college campuses with open positions, mainly internships and entry level jobs). When we meet with students and other prospective hires, we focus on communicating how NJDOT offers dynamic, interesting, rewarding, and purposeful career opportunities.

Our talent acquisition team facilitates recruitment efforts and includes a diverse group of DOT subject matter experts in addition to our Human Resource representatives. Specifically, members of the team reflect a diversity of ages, genders, races/ethnicities, and career stages. Some are alumni of the Temporary Employment Services program. Also important, team member subject matter expertise varies (e.g., structural, environmental). We have found success with the talent acquisition team as members make personal connections with candidates as they discuss their roles at DOT and opportunities with the department.

Developing the Highway Construction Workforce

Q. There seems to be a lack of awareness – especially among women and minority persons – about jobs/careers in the highway construction industry. Do you know of programs that have been effective at building awareness of job opportunities in transportation in New Jersey?

To recruit a diverse workforce, NJDOT Human Resources focuses on forging relationships with community organizations such as the Society for Hispanic Engineers, Society for African American engineers, Asian American engineers, LGBTQ+, and STEM programs.  We use LinkedIn a great deal to target engineers and collaborate with New Jersey Youth Corps to spread the word on career opportunities at NJDOT.

We also successfully partnered with the Trenton Soup Kitchen, working with job specialists to inform those accessing the kitchen about construction apprenticeships and Highway Operations Tech positions. We have partnered with the National High School Guidance Counselors Association for New Jersey and were able to post in their newsletter about job opportunities that do not require experience via our highway operations tech program.

NJDOT’s programs for career are effective recruitment and retention tools.

NJDOT’s programs for career are effective recruitment and retention tools.

In 2019, we increased representation of African American male applicants by 93 percent for Highway Operations Tech positions. We achieved this goal by reaching out to our many community partners, with 100 African American applicants from the Trenton Soup Kitchen. Finally, we partner with the NJ Department of Labor, One-Stop offices, and attend county and other virtual and in-person job fairs.

Q. Reliable transportation and child care are often cited as roadblocks to entry into the construction sector, particularly for women and minority candidates. What strategies could help to address these issues? Are you aware of any model practices or programs to support women and minority populations looking at the highway construction trades?

We had a program for parolees several years ago that focused on identifying job opportunities for them in locations with good transportation networks, such as Jersey City and Newark.

NJDOT does offer an employee subscription van pool (pre-COVID-19) that accesses various public transit stops near DOT headquarters.

The newly announced Trenton MOVES project seeks to deploy 100 on-demand Autonomous Vehicles (AVs) throughout the state capital; when deployed, it could prove to be great service for helping people access employment opportunities.

Q. Have you worked with the NJ Council of County Colleges to look at possible programs that might advance NJDOT’s goals for workforce development? Do you work with the NJDOL Office of Apprenticeship?

We do collaborate with NJ DOL and with the One-Stops and Career Centers. However, our apprenticeships are not true apprenticeships by federal labor standards, but have similar components. Because we work with Civil Service titles, it is much more difficult for us to be recognized as an official apprenticeship program.

We also have a tuition aid and reimbursement program, at the public college rate, for employees as long as their course of study relates to transportation.

"Yes, we can work with them and are very interested in building these relationships."

Looking Ahead

Q. What strategies should be pursued to encourage more New Jerseyans to consider a career in the construction industry? Who should be leading or involved in those efforts?

Creation and implementation of an awareness campaign to highlight construction career opportunities would be helpful, as such an effort could amplify the message that you don’t have to look a certain way to work in construction. The campaign should highlight the diversity of workers and work options in the construction industry. A team of “ambassadors” comprised of local union representatives, NJDOT staff, and others can describe the different kinds of work available within construction and showcase opportunities to increase interest in the profession.

Q. There have been a number of grant funding opportunities through the Department of Labor for pre-apprenticeship and apprenticeship programs. Is NJDOT able to work with other organizations or academic institutions to build programs using these funds?

Yes, we can work with them and are very interested in building these relationships.

Resources

NJ STEP. Civil Service Commission | NJ Supervisory Training Empowering Performance (NJ STEP).

NJDOT Division of Human Resources. Current Openings & Application Process.

NJDOT Division of Human Resources. KM Toolbox: Last Lecture on Operations Apprenticeship Program.  Presentation to NJ STIC, 2nd Quarter Meeting, 2021

Exploring Strategic Workforce Development in NJ: An Interview with the IUOE Local 825

FHWA is promoting Strategic Workforce Development in highway maintenance, construction and operations.

FHWA promotes Strategic Workforce Development in highway maintenance, construction and operations.

Strategic Workforce Development, an FHWA Every Day Counts (EDC) Round 6 innovative initiative, anticipates collaboration between government agencies, trade organizations, private agencies and communities to prepare individuals for the construction workforce. The demand for workers in highway maintenance, construction and operations is growing, as is the demand for new skill sets required for work with emerging technologies. An important element of this initiative is the recruitment and retention of women and minorities in the construction sector.  Through on-the-job training and supportive services program, NJDOT is exploring ways to work with contractors, contracting associations, and unions on shaping their future workforces, including programs aimed at increasing representation of women, minorities, and other disadvantaged populations in the construction and operations workforce.

We spoke with Greg Lalevee, Business Manager, International Union of Operating Engineers (IUOE) Local 825.  The organization is collaborating with Hudson County Community College (HCCC) on a newly established apprenticeship program and is undertaking other IUOE initiatives focused on workforce development in highway construction and related fields.

Background

Q. Can you tell us a little about your role with the union?

I am the Business Manager for the International Union of Operating Engineers (IUOE) Local 825. The jurisdiction of IUOE Local 825 is the State of New Jersey and the Hudson Valley (Rockland, Ulster, Sullivan, Orange, and Delaware Counties). We are heavy equipment operators, working on buildings, bridges, roadways, ports, airports, utility infrastructure, power generation, and reservoirs around the state such as Round Valley, Spruce Run, and Mercer Lake that ensure our water supply and serve for passive recreation. There isn’t much that an ordinary person does that operating engineers did not have something to do with. We have a 61-acre training center at exit 8A on the NJ Turnpike and a 51-acre training center in the Hudson Valley. I am also one of the vice-presidents for IUOE International, which covers the US and Canada.

Union members are engaged in many kinds of work using heavy equipment, including highway and bridge construction.

Union members engage in many kinds of work using heavy equipment, including highway and bridge construction.

Q. Overall, what professions does IUOE support?

Aside from heavy equipment operators, our members do construction layout and surveying for infrastructure projects. Several members work as mechanics/product support for machinery product lines including Caterpillar, Deere, and Komatsu.

Q. Before we delve into your new IUOE program with Hudson County Community College (HCCC), please tell us, based on your experience, if there is a lack of awareness– especially among women and minority persons – for jobs/careers in the highway construction industry?

The lack of awareness for construction careers reflects a multi-tiered situation. In contrast to those residing in more rural areas, prospective job candidates residing in urban areas typically live “vertically” in high-rises and thus are familiar with professions including plumbers and electricians but not so much the work of operating engineers. They are not typically exposed to professions utilizing heavy machinery.

For the last seven years, I have reached out to political and community leaders in several NJ cities to try to develop a direct-entry program that would bring training opportunities to those communities for jobs that are semi-skilled or lower-skilled. The goal was to work collaboratively with community leaders to create a pipeline for young people to enter the workforce as operating engineers. To operate heavy equipment, one needs hands-on training. Our training facility is on the Turnpike in Middlesex County, which is difficult to access for anyone without a car. In one city, we proposed that we set up basic courses, including OSHA 30-hour construction training and Hazardous Material training, in a school, or faith-based or community center, and we would send an instructor. The participants would be working locally during this time, earning money and accruing benefits. When the trainees had acquired some basic training we would then send the simulator to that location and these individuals could start to acquire hands-on training. After 18-24 months of paid training, they may be able to purchase a vehicle and thereby access the training center. Or we might be able to partner with a faith-based or community center to work out a transportation plan for those facing transport obstacles. I proposed this concept in four NJ cities but, frustratingly, did not receive any positive responses.

IUOE Local 825’s 61-acre training center is located at exit 8A on the NJ Turnpike.

IUOE Local 825’s 61-acre training center is located at exit 8A on the NJ Turnpike.

Q. Several commonly cited roadblocks to entry into the construction sector, particularly for women and minority candidates, include transportation issues and childcare. What strategies could help to address these issues?

Both transportation and childcare issues can be roadblocks to entry into the construction sector. One of the reasons we pursued the NJ PLACE 2.0 grant with a higher education partner was to open the door to Pell grants to underwrite transportation or childcare costs through existing grant funding opportunities that a traditional union apprenticeship would not be eligible. In the past year we received accreditation as a standalone licensed technical college to help us open the doors to more job candidates. As we pursue programs in higher education, we can now take advantage of not only NJ Department of Labor grants, but NJ Department of Education grants as well.

Q. Do you see a role for unions like IUOE in helping to reduce barriers for women, minorities, and others in entering the highway construction trades?

Recently, the Operating Engineers fought to have highway construction work be subject to project labor agreements (PLAs). When it was written twenty years ago, the original legislation exempted this field from these agreements. We retooled the legislation to include much more aggressive percentages of women and minorities required on projects and helped to secure its passage by the legislature. These percentages now apply to any construction project with a value of $5M or more. However, since the law was passed and signed by the Governor in April 2021, the State has not used a PLA on any project.

On-site heavy equipment operator training at IUOE Local 825’s training center.

On-site heavy equipment operator training at IUOE Local 825’s training center.

Participation numbers for female and minority employees on these publicly-funded highway projects are generally set on a county-by-county basis by NJDOT. One of the reasons we strongly support inclusion in PLA is because when our contractors secure a publicly-funded highway job, they often contact IUOE to request our assistance in reaching these goals. We respond affirmatively, but when we offer to help with this recruitment, follow-up from contractors is not forthcoming. The reason is that these participation numbers are goals, not mandates and it would be difficult to make them mandates.

There is a false perception that unions don’t have their doors open to all, and that there is not equity or diversity amongst the ranks. We actively recruit people from the non-union world. However, in the 21 years since I was hired by IUOE, we have only encountered two men of color and one woman working non-union jobs operating heavy equipment. There are few women and minorities working non-union operating equipment; it seems that there is not a real draw to this occupation. So the issue is broader than just the unions.

About five years ago, the number of paving projects in the State was increasing and we saw that our front line paving operators were aging. To address demand, we recruited 36 candidates to join a full-immersion paving training initiative. With paving shut down for the winter, we were able to hire and bring in seasoned major paving contractors as instructors during their off-season. The participants were instructed on one piece of paving equipment for 14-weeks until we knew they could run it proficiently. They were then absorbed by the paving industry for high-paying work during the summer and were brought back each winter over a five-year period to learn another piece of paving equipment. It’s not an apprenticeship program so we were not bound by apprentice rules, but we were able to train a diverse group. Of the 36, over one-third were minorities and women, and one-third were veterans. None of these people were associated with our union. In all, while the paving industry is unique, and our training school had the capacity to respond to this particular need, it represents an example of how thinking outside the box and proactively recruiting targeted groups can be very successful.

The IUOE Local 825 training facility occupies 61 acres where journeyworkers and apprentices can train on a large array of heavy equipment. https://www.iuoe825.org/home/training/

The IUOE Local 825 training facility occupies 61 acres where journeyworkers and apprentices can train on a large array of heavy equipment.

Q. We have heard that pre-apprenticeship programs are growing in popularity across the country. Are you aware of any pre-apprenticeship programs for the highway construction trades in NJ?

Pre-apprenticeship programs are not growing in the highway construction trades, but are happening in the building trades. I have concerns though with the pre-apprenticeship programs that I am aware of. For example, some pre-apprenticeship programs offer testing help that provide individuals with tutors to teach them how to pass the union apprenticeship written test. The percentage of these students who are actually admitted into the apprenticeship program does not appear to be that high however. Candidates are ranked by test score, so those that receive testing assistance might secure an interview, but they typically score lower in the written portion of the apprenticeship exam compared to their peers and thus do not advance. Overall, the competition for these positions is fierce.

The Earn & Learn program was funded by a NJ PLACE 2.0 grant through the NJ Department of Labor.

The Earn & Learn program was funded by a NJ PLACE 2.0 grant through the NJ Department of Labor.

IUOE Program with HCCC

Q. We know the Earn & Learn program orientation with Hudson County Community College was a few weeks ago [in January 2022]. How is program implementation going so far?

We understand that all 30 students are still enrolled and thriving. This cohort includes 10 minorities, 6 women, and 6 veterans so this is an opportunity to support diversity. For many of them, this is a continuation of their college education, and some are eager to pursue an occupation where they will earn $80-100,000 a year. The NJ PLACE 2.0 grant supports inclusion of a success coach to help keep the students on track, which is helpful. The students will be at our training center in May to begin traditional operating engineer training in the classroom and with equipment.

Q.Will all of your apprentices go through this program in the future, or are there multiple paths to a career in construction?

We have our own very competitive apprenticeship program with 160 people. There’s been a lot written about a skill gaps and a worker shortage. We want to develop a new apprenticeship model and have hired an academic who will begin working with us this spring to help develop some new apprenticeship tracks.

Students gain hands-on experience at IUOE Local 825’s NJ training center.

Students gain hands-on experience at IUOE Local 825’s NJ training center.

We have had a successful process for soliciting apprenticeship applicants in the last two traditional application cycles. There is a date and time when applications are available and the first 250 people in line receive one. The opportunity is posted on the Tuesday after Labor Day. We advertise in the paper and on social media. We have candidates lining up for a week ahead of time. For the Earn & Learn program with Hudson County Community College, the on-line application was opened and the portal had to be shut down in two hours due to the high response.

One gap we are eager to bridge is from the Vo-Tech programs to our apprenticeship program. Individuals have to be 18 years old and a high school graduate to enter an apprenticeship program, but some students are 17 when they graduate from Vo-Tech so we lose this cohort. We are trying to harmonize the end of Vo-Tech education with the beginning of an apprenticeship. Traditionally, our apprenticeship program begins in April. For the Earn & Learn program, we changed the start date to January to align with the academic calendar. Any changes to our apprenticeship programs must be approved by the federal government. Sometimes this process means that we can’t move as quickly as we would want.

People will tell me they can’t find workers, but we can get people; there is a lot of interest in our Operating Engineers apprenticeship program. Several of the other trade union apprenticeship programs are very competitive as well, including the Carpenters and the Ironworkers. The Carpenters union had an arrangement with East Brunswick Vo-Tech for direct entry to the union apprenticeship program for up to three students upon graduation from the carpentry program. The Vo-Tech sends students who are well-prepared and likely to succeed. I am trying to mirror that arrangement with Middlesex County Vo-Tech Career and Technical Education program.

Q. Do you see IUOE Local 825 collaborating with other institutions on similar programs in the future?

Absolutely and with multiple higher education partners and members of the business sector whom we have not yet identified. Hudson County Community College has a construction management program that offers 6-8 courses that build the “perfect operating engineer” and HCCC’s Lori Margolin and I are discussing how we could organize those courses together into a different type of degree program in the future. There are existing programs at other state education institutions that we have been considering as well. We might be able to take advantage of remote learning opportunities.

IUOE 825 will continue to look for opportunities to collaborate with HCCC and other higher education institutions.

IUOE 825 will continue to look for opportunities to collaborate with HCCC and other higher education institutions.

We are also very interested in the transportation-related activities at Rutgers-CAIT (Center for Advanced Infrastructure and Transportation) and testing on bridge work. Rowan University has ongoing asphalt research and recently visited the IUOE training center to see if they could use some of the area for asphalt testing and of course we would support that.

Every year, we have a full-immersion asphalt paving class. A major manufacturer of paving equipment has been visiting our site in the past week teaching our journeyworkers and apprentices about the latest technology on their equipment. We have the equipment dealer with the product support staff and mechanics participate and share the service bulletins and the new information. And the dealers get the word out to members of the broader construction community who can attend these events.

These are ways we will continue to collaborate with the educational world and the business world in the future. We can leverage our 8,000 members, 1,400 employers, 120 pieces of heavy equipment, and 61 acres in New Jersey and 51 acres in the Hudson Valley. We have the laboratory and want to establish synergies and diverse partnerships to support the industry.

As the burgeoning field of automation and robotics for heavy equipment grows, I sit on an IUOE International subcommittee where we are discussing the skill sets and training needed to prepare an individual to be a successful remote equipment operator or REO. We can work with the computer engineers to let them know what aspects of heavy equipment operation may not be transferable to computers and what alternatives there might be to support their efforts.

Looking Ahead

Q. What strategies should be pursued to encourage more New Jerseyans to consider a career in the construction industry? Who should be leading or involved in those efforts?

A key reason why our organization migrated toward the higher education piece is because we believe that we will secure a more diverse population of job candidates by doing so. Specifically, offering an avenue to earn an Associate’s degree is helping to increase awareness for construction and operating engineer careers.

Students in Somerset County’s MEAM program participated in an Operating Engineer Awareness program and IUOE’s training facility.

Students in Somerset County’s MEAM program participated in an Operating Engineer Awareness program and IUOE’s training facility.

Moving forward, our long-term goal is to implement more of a college application process rather than continue the traditional apprentice application process.  We are also seeking partnerships with the Vo-Tech system since most of the traditional high schools do not have programs that align as well with our goals and needs.

I am on the Board of Somerset County Vo-Tech and my daughter is a guidance counselor at Middlesex County Vo-Tech so we know the system fairly well. We wanted to provide students from Somerset’s Mechatronics, Engineering and Advanced Manufacturing program (MEAM) an opportunity to learn about IUOE and visit our campus. In academic parlance, our program fits in the Advanced Manufacturing sector. I worked with the superintendent to secure a small grant for an Operating Engineer Awareness program at Somerset. We developed a curriculum to introduce the students interested in construction to the occupation of construction engineer, and transported the students to our campus to see and experience the equipment. We are also helping the district with OSHA training, and with welding, and are seeking other opportunities to work together. Ocean and Hunterdon Counties have Equipment Operator programs that are simulator-based but we have not yet received a lot of interest from them in working with us. East Brunswick Vo-Tech is very close to our campus and we have students visit from there as well.

Q. Through their on-the-job training and supportive services program, NJDOT is exploring ways to work with contractors, contracting associations, and unions on shaping their future workforces, by focusing on training and recruitment programs aimed at women, minorities, and others. Do you have any thoughts about how NJDOT might pursue this goal?

NJDOT should consider implementing several model project labor agreements, collaborating with the different trades, with all participants making a concerted effort to increase the number of women and minorities on a project. The outcome of this effort could be presented as a showcase and best practice example statewide. It is important to recognize that when we set the hiring goals to include a certain percentage of women and minorities, we have to plan to engage in a collaborative effort with the successful bidding contractor to reach those goals. Rather than penalize a contractor if they experience challenges in achieving the diversity goals, we need to determine strategies for how to reach them and secure their buy-in to reach these diversity goals.

Exploring Strategic Workforce Development: An Interview with the Office of Apprenticeship, NJ Department of Labor and Workforce Development (NJDOL)

FHWA is promoting Strategic Workforce Development in highway maintenance, construction and operations.

FHWA is promoting Strategic Workforce Development in highway maintenance, construction and operations.

Strategic Workforce Development, an FHWA Every Day Counts (EDC) Round 6 innovative initiative, anticipates collaboration between government agencies, trade organizations, private agencies and communities to prepare individuals for the construction workforce. The demand for workers in highway maintenance, construction and operations is growing, as is the demand for new skill sets required for  work with emerging technologies. An important element of this initiative is the recruitment and retention of women and minorities in the construction sector.  Through on-the-job training and supportive services program, NJDOT is exploring ways to work with contractors, contracting associations, and unions on shaping their future workforces, including programs aimed at increasing representation of women, minorities, and other disadvantaged populations in the construction and operations workforce.

We spoke with Nick Toth, Director, New Jersey Office of Apprenticeship, NJ Department of Labor and Workforce Development (NJDOL) to learn about the State’s role in funding, promoting, and providing technical assistance for on-the-job training programs, and pre-apprenticeship and apprenticeship programs, to support all workers including women, minorities and other disadvantaged individuals seeking to enter highway construction and other related fields.

Background

Q.  Can you tell us a little bit about your role in the Office of Apprenticeship at the New Jersey Department of Labor and Workforce Development?

NJ DOL provides funding for apprenticeship and other training programs.

NJDOL has six grant programs to promote workforce development in the State.

I am the director of the New Jersey Office of Apprenticeship in the Department of Labor and Workforce Development. I was hired into this position to develop the first Office of Apprenticeship. In 2018, Governor Murphy announced the New Jersey Apprenticeship Network to invest in pre-apprenticeship and apprenticeship programs throughout the state. We developed a host of grant programs and have grown from a staff of one to twelve people. We currently oversee six grants, including two grant programs for the New Jersey Builders Utilization for Labor Diversity (NJ Build) Program that came under our umbrella in the past year. We provide $10-15 million in grants each year focused on supporting pre-apprenticeship and apprenticeship programs in varying employment sectors. The key tenet of our work is to build a stronger and fairer economy with greater equity, inclusion and diversity among participants. We also focus on removing the economic barriers that inhibit access to training.

Q. Our understanding is that NJDOL supports apprenticeship initiatives via grants but that the USDOL manages apprenticeship programs in the state. Is that accurate?

New Jersey operates as a federal state, with NJDOL providing technical assistance, funding, and marketing to support pre-apprenticeships and apprenticeships. However, the U.S. Department of Labor (USDOL) is the registrar for NJ apprenticeship programs. There is no registration process for pre-apprenticeship programs. We work closely with USDOL and we have an employer engagement unit that works closely with NJ employers.

Seal of the United States Department of Labor

The USDOL is the registrar for NJ apprenticeship programs.

Q. What is the difference between the NJDOL Office of Apprenticeship and the New Jersey Apprenticeship Network?

The New Jersey Apprenticeship Network is a broad initiative focused on building partnerships and developing relationships to provide employment opportunities for New Jerseyans in a wide array of sectors. The Apprenticeship Office is part of the Network. We partner with employers, whether they are grantees or not, and we partner with other organizations.

Q. NJDOT is focused on recruiting and retaining workers in the highway construction industry. Based on your experience, is there a lack of awareness – especially among women and minority persons – for jobs and careers in the highway construction industry?   If so, do you know of programs that are building awareness for opportunities in transportation?

In general, there is a lack of awareness of what apprenticeships are and the opportunities available to workers. There is also a communication gap, both statewide and nationwide, related to the skilled trades. There is no solid messaging or awareness about the economic benefits of pursuing a trade or following a non-college path. I have not seen a concerted public awareness effort directed to women and minorities. But there’s a real economic argument to be made for apprenticeship programs. If you go through a structured apprenticeship program, you will experience hands-on training and receive a paycheck throughout the program. Some of these programs are four years and you will exit without any student loans. It is vital to better communicate and increase awareness among employers and prospective employees that apprenticeships are very different from internships.

Q. Several commonly cited roadblocks to entry into the construction sector, particularly for women and minority candidates, include transportation issues and childcare.   What strategies could help to address these issues?

I can confirm that transportation and childcare are the two most common barriers that are at the front of the discussion. For most of our grants, including the GAINS, PACE, and NJ PLACE 2.0 grants, budgeting for supportive services includes transportation and childcare as permissible uses of funds. Where our Office has leverage is in how we prescribe the way state funds can be used; we try to incentivize applicants to include this support for program participants as part of their application.

Q. Does your Office play a role in helping to reduce barriers for women, minorities, and others in entering the highway construction trades?  Also, we saw on your website that NJDOL has posted a notice of grant opportunity (January 31, 2022) called, “Women and minority groups in construction trades program.” Can you please tell us about this grant opportunity?

NJ Build Program grants are available to contractors in the construction and building trades and provide access to women and minorities to training.

NJ Build Program grants are available to contractors in the construction and building trades and provide access to women and minorities to training.

This grant opportunity is a NJ BUILD Program effort that has been available for a decade. Unfortunately, we receive low response rates to these grants which seem to be “the best kept workforce development secret,” as it can be difficult to get the word out to contractors and construction companies that are open to diversifying their workforce.

Any state agency can also apply for this grant and it is specifically written to provide access for women and minorities to apprenticeships or pre-apprenticeship training. The NJ BUILD grants are limited to the construction and building trades because of the way they are funded. By statute, a fee is assessed on public works contracts with a value above $1 million and these funds must be used for training of women and minorities in the field that is paying into that fund.

Q. We have heard that pre-apprenticeship programs are growing in popularity across the country and that NJ has the Pre-Apprenticeship in Education (PACE) program. Can you tell us about PACE and if the program focuses at all on highway construction trades in NJ?  

What are essential elements of a pre-apprenticeship program to help women, minorities, and others enter an apprenticeship program?  Are there programs that offer a direct connection between pre-apprenticeship and apprenticeship programs?

With all our apprenticeship grants – everything outside of NJ BUILD – there is no specific focus on highway construction, but highway construction would fall under the heading of infrastructure. We would love to fund a workforce development program for those jobs, considering the federal dollars that will be coming to the state from the new federal infrastructure bill.

It is important to link pre-apprenticeship programs with apprenticeship programs so you don’t lose people between these programs. For example, in order to be eligible for a PACE grant – which is focused on high growth sectors including infrastructure – you have to have one established partnership with a registered apprenticeship program. We provide placement metric requirements to track how many pre-apprenticeship participants move to the apprenticeship program. But we also offer two other “off-ramps,” since sometimes not all participants will be able to move on to the apprenticeship, for example, if you have trained 50 people but your partner can only take 15 into their program. If participants go on to a job, a post-secondary program or career training program at a higher level, we count that as a good outcome as well.

Q. Are you aware of any model practices currently among community-based organizations to support women, minority, and others looking at the construction trades?

I use healthcare as an example. We have made significant headway in the number of women participating in registered healthcare apprenticeships, which has doubled from 6 percent to 12 percent. Some programs are over 90 percent women, with many minority participants.

Preparing students for jobs in the skilled trades is a good strategy to provide employment opportunities for all.

Preparing students for jobs in the skilled trades is a good strategy to provide employment opportunities for all.

Generally, there is less interest among job seekers in the building trades. Thirty years ago, pursuing a career in construction would have been considered on par with going to college, but we have changed a lot as a country.

From a union perspective, it would be great to see a more concerted effort to diversify union membership. But I understand that when you target economically depressed communities, there are existing barriers that inhibit people from applying. The unions need a qualified applicant pool. So, focusing on pre-apprenticeships and apprenticeships as a pipeline into the sector and building awareness among young adults in high school for careers in trade are valuable strategies. In addition, raising awareness for career opportunities in construction overall and to targeted audiences is also needed. High schools are not preparing students for jobs in the trades, but rather emphasize college placement, so there are structural issues contributing to the problem.

NJDOL Grant Initiatives

The Earn & Learn collaboration between HCCC and IUOE Local 825 is funded through a NJ Place 2.0 grant.

The Earn & Learn collaboration between HCCC and IUOE Local 825 is funded through a NJ Place 2.0 grant.

Q. The "Earn and Learn" program developed between the International Union of Operating Engineers (IUOE) Local 825 and Hudson County Community College (HCCC) is supported with a NJ PLACE 2.0 Degree Apprenticeship Program grant. Our understanding of this innovative program is that its aim is to integrate work-based learning with post-secondary education, allowing apprentices to earn college credits and an apprentice wage simultaneously.  Are both four-year and community colleges participating in this program?   Can grantees apply for continuing funding after their initial award is spent?

The genius of the NJ PLACE 2.0 grant program is that participants simultaneously earn course credit and a paycheck via this grant that incentivizes four-year and community colleges to collaborate with organizations that have a registered apprenticeship program. Participants pursue an Associate’s degree while being paid for on-the-job training.

If a grantee’s program is doing well, they could be eligible for additional funding. Ultimately, the goal of the Office is to distribute these grant dollars to applicants with promising initiatives designed to integrate work-based learning with post-secondary education.

Q. Another initiative that your Office oversees is the GAINS, or Growing Apprenticeships in Nontraditional Sectors, program. Our understanding is that GAINS is focused on training youth, adults, and incumbent workers by developing apprenticeship programs in a wide variety of in-demand fields. Is that accurate?  For how long have you been distributing these grants?

The GAINS program focuses on in-demand fields and the hiring of women, minorities, and other underrepresented groups.

The GAINS program focuses on in-demand fields and the hiring of women, minorities, and other underrepresented groups.

GAINS is our flagship grant program and the first one I worked on when I came into this job. As noted, it is focused on developing apprenticeship programs in fields that are in demand. We are in our fourth program year for this annual grant. We will soon announce a $3 million funding round and will probably have another round later in the fiscal year. We have had a good uptake in the program. This round we will fund apprenticeships in nursing residency, wastewater treatment, massage therapy, electrical, cybersecurity, and for machinists, home health aides, computer systems analysts, and ironworkers. We encourage all of our applicants to hire from diverse groups and our application evaluation criteria are based on inclusion of people of color, people with disabilities, women and veterans.

Q. How do you ensure compliance with these inclusion goals?

Registered apprenticeships are tracked through a national database. We require monthly reports from our grantees. The staff in the contracting unit validate the level of service.

Looking Ahead

Q. What strategies should be pursued to encourage more New Jerseyans to consider a career in the highway construction industry? Who should be leading or involved in those efforts?

Implementation of awareness campaigns, job fairs, rapid interviews, and events to learn about these careers can be effective. If NJDOT has openings, they can let NJDOL know. We can then reach out to the local One-Stops to request they send out an email blast statewide or to a particular geographic region alerting folks of these DOT job opportunities. We have done this for our grantees. If NJDOT has job openings, they can also advertise through the One-Stop Centers, and share eligibility requirements.

NJDOT should also engage in conversations with the contractors who are seeking workers for NJDOT contracts. The state has leverage in the contract requirements when contractors receive state dollars. Under a new law, which has been in effect the last two years, every contractor that has a public works certification, must participate in a registered apprenticeship program. In their procurement language, NJDOT can require the contractor to train their workers, or develop apprenticeships to pipeline people in, or partner with their local One-Stops, or include a local hire provision. Including these requirements can drive positive behavior among employers that can help to diversify the workforce.

Q. Through their on-the-job training and supportive services program, NJDOT is exploring ways to work with contractors, contracting associations, and unions on shaping their future workforces, by focusing on training and recruitment programs aimed at women, minorities, and others. Do you have any thoughts about how NJDOT might pursue this goal?  How could NJDOT partner more closely with your Office?

We had productive conversations with NJDOT when I came on the job, and I discussed our apprenticeship grants with them. NJ BUILD was not in my purview at the time. Our NJ BUILD programs are tailor-made for NJDOT. Philosophically, our two departments are aligned in wanting to accomplish the goal of having a more diverse workforce. NJDOT should definitely consider applying for some of our available grants as they are eligible to do so and we can cover some of the operational costs associated with the grants in some cases, including staffing costs. There’s a lot of opportunity there and it could be a win-win for NJDOT.

"Our programs are tailor-made for NJDOT. Philosophically, our two departments are aligned in wanting to accomplish the goal of having a more diverse workforce."

My team and I love to get in front of groups of NJ employers to discuss our grant opportunities. We have lots of mutual goals for increasing successful job recruitment and the diversity of the labor supply, none of which can occur without conversations with the employers. I’d be happy to spend time discussing NJ BUILD opportunities with construction companies that are already contributing to the state through the public works contract fee and with NJDOT, to share how our Office can support the training and upscaling of their workforce.

 


Resources

Federal Highway Administration, Every Day Counts Round 6, Strategic Workforce Development. https://www.fhwa.dot.gov/innovation/everydaycounts/edc_6/strategic_workforce_development.cfm

Hudson County Community College, Workforce Development. https://www.hccc.edu/programs-courses/workforce-development/index.html

International Union of Operating Engineers, Local 825. Earn and Learn Program. http://www.iuoe825.org/

NJ Department of Labor and Workforce Development, NJ PLACE 2.0 Grants. https://www.nj.gov/labor/lwdhome/press/2020/20200131_njplace.shtml

NJ Department of Labor and Workforce Development, Office of Apprenticeships. https://www.nj.gov/labor/career-services/apprenticeship/

NJ Department of Labor and Workforce Development, NJ Builders Utilization for Labor Diversity (NJBUILD),  Women and Minority Groups in Construction Trades.  Notice of Grant Opportunity, Fiscal Year 2022

Image of a street iwth four lanes for traffic, three parked cars, and a series of shops, such as center city deli, hi five, Ocean Therapy, and casino city barber and salon

ATLANTIC AVENUE, ATLANTIC CITY: Planning for Safer Conditions for All Roadway Users

In November, the United States Department of Transportation (US DOT) announced that Atlantic City would receive $10.3 million as part of the Rebuilding American Infrastructure with Sustainability and Equity (RAISE) discretionary grants program. The grant award will help to fund the Atlantic City Corridor Revitalization and Safety Project, which aims to implement Complete Streets improvements on approximately 2.7 miles of Atlantic Avenue. The project will include a road diet, ADA accessible sidewalks, drainage facilities, new bike lanes, traffic signal synchronization, LED streetlighting, and improved accessibility at transit stops.

Supported by the RAISE funds, the project will enhance safety and provide alternative transportation options for residents and visitors who travel for work, school, medical appointments, recreational activities, and other daily activities.

The below article, originally posted in July 2021, describes several planning activities that helped lead to this successful Federal grant award.

Image of a bus with passengers boarding, reading Atlantic Avenue Road Safety Audit Atlantic City, New Jersey, Report, December 2014

The Atlantic Avenue Road Safety Audit was performed by a multidisciplinary team that analyzed high incident areas along the route, courtesy NJDOT

Atlantic City, well known for its resorts, casinos, and boardwalk, has a large share of residents who use alternative transportation modes daily: about 30 percent of its residents use public transit and 17 percent walk to work. On centrally-located Atlantic Avenue, high pedestrian volumes and a disproportionate number of traffic incidents have prompted several studies to determine the scope of needed infrastructure improvements to support pedestrian and bicycle safety and address deficiencies for vehicular travel.  New Jersey Department of Transportation (NJDOT), and the South Jersey Transportation Planning Organization (SJTPO), the regional Metropolitan Planning Organization, in partnership with the City, supported these studies to analyze conditions along the route and to make recommendations for a safer corridor.  The decade-long planning process for the Atlantic Avenue corridor provides an example of collaboration between the municipality, SJTPO and NJDOT to implement safety improvements for all roadway users.

The planning process used strategies such as Data-Driven Safety Analysis and Road Safety Audits that are supported by the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA). Many of the study recommendations include safety countermeasures that FHWA has promoted through its Every Day Counts (EDC)-4 and EDC-5 Safe Transportation for Every Pedestrian, or STEP, Innovative Initiative. These strategies include Leading Pedestrian Intervals, Crosswalk Visibility Enhancements, Pedestrian Crossing/Refuge Islands, and Road Diets. The EDC program identifies proven and underutilized innovations and promotes rapid deployment.

About the Corridor

Atlantic Avenue is a major thoroughfare through the center of Atlantic City. The street is 69 feet wide, with four travel lanes and a fifth lane at some intersections for turning. Along the corridor, there are retail and commercial centers, a bus terminal, healthcare facilities, and a public library. Eleven bus stops, each accommodating up to ten different bus routes, provide frequent transit service and contribute to high pedestrian volume. The Atlantic City Rail Terminal is situated several blocks to the Northeast, adding to pedestrian trips.

Due to high foot traffic, and the nature of the roadway, this segment of Atlantic Avenue saw 829 crashes in a five-year period, from 2013 to 2017. Compared to the rest of the municipality, three times as many incidents involving pedestrians, and twice as many involving cyclists occurred along this 2.65 mile stretch. Recognizing the ongoing challenges, leaders and transportation planners at both the City and the South Jersey Transportation Planning Organization (SJTPO) initiated the process to study safety improvements for this important corridor.

2011 – A Policy Framework

Following NJDOT’s adoption of a Complete Streets policy in 2009, Atlantic City passed its 2011 Complete Streets policy to promote consideration of the safety of all roadway users in infrastructure planning. The resolution mentions the need to improve safety for cyclists and all users of a street, such as the elderly, non-drivers, and the mobility impaired. It acknowledges, too, that incorporating pedestrian and cyclist infrastructure can simultaneously reduce traffic congestion and fossil fuel emissions. The 2011 resolution and policy supports the City Planning Department’s goals of improving bicycle and pedestrian safety and accessibility, enhancing economic development, and developing initiatives to increase residents’ knowledge of safe bicycle and pedestrian travel (Atlantic City Resolution No. 917).

2013  – Atlantic City Bicycle and Pedestrian Plan

Image of plan cover page, the first reads Atlantic City, always turned on, Bicycle and Pedestrian Plan, Local Planning Assistance Program, Final May 2013, an dbelow four square images, clockwise of people crossing a street, a man in a wheelchair waiting to cross, a young girl feeding gulls on the boardwalk, and people biking along the boardwalk. Below it reads Prepared for: The New Jersey Department of Transportation and the City of Atlantic City.

The Bicycle and Pedestrian Plan helped to first identify problem areas along Atlantic City's Atlantic Avenue, courtesy NJDOT

NJDOT funded the 2013 Atlantic City Bicycle and Pedestrian Plan through the agency’s Office of Bicycle and Pedestrian Programs Local Technical Assistance Program (LTAP), which helps New Jersey municipalities improve active transportation infrastructure.

Consultants analyzed the City’s bicycle and pedestrian network, and made suggestions for improvements in areas of concern. Among the City’s streets, the Atlantic Avenue corridor ranked first for both pedestrian and bicycle crashes. Analysts also identified the corridor as the location of 8 of the top 10 intersections for pedestrian or bicycle crashes.

According to the Plan, “Pedestrian safety is imperative not only because each of us becomes a pedestrian as part of every trip, but also because creating safe walkable streets is critical to the success of the City redevelopment and tourist efforts.” However, the document notes that, at the date of publication, there were no dedicated bicycling facilities in Atlantic City. (Atlantic City Bicycle and Pedestrian Plan).

The 2013 Plan suggested several alternatives for street design interventions in Atlantic City. On Atlantic Avenue, Alternative 1 involved removing a lane of travel in each direction, widening the median, installing buffered bike lanes between Ohio and Maine Avenues on the corridor. In the same stretch, Alternative 2 proposed using parking as a buffer for bike lanes abutting the curb on each stretch. The report concluded by calling for the formation of a task force of stakeholders to discuss the implementation of such road diets.

2014 – Atlantic Avenue Road Safety Audit (RSA)

Graphic with a depiction of a magnifying glass covering a road with people walking on it, reading "Road Safety Audits: a Road Safety Audit is a proactive formal safety performance examination of an existing or future road or intersection by an independent and multi disciplinary team. Safety Benefit: 10 to 60 percent reduction in total crashes.

RSA's were one of the safety countermeasures FHWA promoted through EDC-4 and EDC-5, courtesy FHWA

The following year, the Transportation Safety Research Center (TSRC) at the Rutgers Center for Advanced Infrastructure and Transportation (CAIT), in collaboration with the South Jersey Transportation Planning Organization (SJTPO) and the City of Atlantic City, conducted a road safety audit of the most heavily trafficked portion of Atlantic Avenue, between South Carolina and Michigan Avenues. This study analyzed dangerous intersections in depth along the Atlantic Avenue corridor.

Road Safety Audits (RSA) are one of FHWA’s proven safety countermeasures. An RSA, conducted by a multi-disciplinary team that is independent of the design team, considers all road users and their capabilities and limitations. Findings are documented in a formal report and, while they do not constitute engineering studies, require a response from the road owner. RSAs can result in a 10-60 percent reduction in crashes.

According to FHWA, advantages of an RSA include:

  • Reduced number and severity of crashes due to safer designs.
  • Reduced costs resulting from early identification and mitigation of safety issues before projects are built.
  • Improved awareness of safe design practices.
  • Increased opportunities to integrate multimodal safety strategies and proven safety countermeasures.
  • Expanded ability to consider human factors in all facets of design.

Based on crash data, the RSA identified pedestrian “hot spot” and corridor locations along Atlantic Avenue, between Mississippi Avenue and Virginia Avenue. The study looked at crashes according to time of year, week, and day; lighting conditions; collision type and severity; and intersection.

Bar graph reading Crash Type and Severity, the tallest bars (by a wide margin) are same direction, rear end, and same direction, side swipe. Pedalcyclist and pedestrian collisions rank very high as well.

Many of the incidents involved vehicles striking each other in the same direction, one motivation for the road diet, courtesy SJTPO.

NJDOT provides network screening lists to the three Metropolitan Planning Organizations which identify hot spot and corridor locations based on crash data. The RSA analysts took this data for the SJTPO region and then worked to identify the source of the crashes by examining geometric and physical characteristics of the location. The process involved looking at types of crashes and other details to establish patterns, and then suggesting countermeasures to address those problems. These hot spot lists are crucial to securing federal funding for infrastructure improvements such as the proposed road diet.

The Road Safety Audit identified issues, such as signal phasing, roadway maintenance, and lack of bicycle facilities, and made recommendations. Like the 2013 Bicycle and Pedestrian Master Plan, the 2014 Road Safety Audit provided two road diet alternatives, suggesting the removal of one lane to accommodate bike lanes and a median with a turning lane. Road diets are promoted by FHWA as a safety countermeasure that improves speed limit compliance, reduces crashes, and provides a space for enhanced bicycle and pedestrian facilities.

2020 – Atlantic Avenue Road Safety Assessment

PDF cover, reading January 2020, Road Safety Assessment, Atlantic Avenue, Atlantic City, Atlantic County, NJ, then there are three images of the route, rather car-oriented in design, followed by text: Road Safety Assessment, Atlantic Avenue from Boston Avenue to Maine Avenue

A final Road Safety Assessment was performed in 2020, recommending a road diet, with a median and protected bike lanes, courtesy City of Atlantic City

Building on the findings of the 2014 report, consultants in 2019 conducted a data-driven analysis of the conditions along Atlantic Avenue from Boston Avenue to New Hampshire Avenue, and recommended safety countermeasures to improve pedestrian safety, reduce the frequency of vehicular collisions, and improve traffic flow.

The 2020 Atlantic Avenue Road Safety Assessment looked at all crashes along the entire corridor, by crash type (pedestrian, bicycle, parked vehicle), and by intersection. Consultants also conducted travel time runs during each of the corridor’s scheduled signal timing schedules. They engaged in site visits to look for causes of crashes and to observe the condition of the roadway infrastructure, and then developed statistical observations and recommendations from their findings.

Overall, they found a lack of consistency on the roadway that resulted in unpredictable driving conditions. In one example, poorly timed signals caused drivers to try to “beat” the light, which, in combination with poor pedestrian visibility and infrastructure, led to collisions.

For a recommendation, the consultants cite NJDOT guidance for bikeway selection. At the current vehicle traffic figures (Annual Average Daily Traffic 15,000) and an 85th percentile speed of 35 mph, NJDOT recommends a Buffered Bicycle Lane, Separated Bicycle Lane or Shared Use Path. The report presented two preferred options, Alternatives #5 and #6, each of which involve removing a driving lane and adding a median; Alternative #6 would place the bikeway between the curb and parked cars, to decrease the chance of “dooring.” These alternatives recall those suggested by the 2013 Master Plan.

2021 – Atlantic Avenue Road Diet Implementation

Twelve years after Atlantic City passed its Complete Streets policy, a road diet will be built, extending the length of Atlantic Avenue. The four-lane road will be reduced to two travel lanes with a center median. Protected bicycle lanes will be located between the travel lane and curbside parking, in both directions. Other countermeasures to be implemented echoed those called for in the 2013 Bicycle and Pedestrian Master Plan, including leading pedestrian intervals, traffic signal heads with backplates, and targeted left turn restrictions. According to City Engineer Uzo Ahiarakwe, improvements to some intersections will include bump-outs to decrease the distance that pedestrians need to cross Atlantic Avenue, synchronization of traffic lights, higher visibility crosswalk striping, and ADA-compliant curb cuts.

Atlantic Avenue’s road diet conversion and additional infrastructure improvements will cost between $8 and $10 million. The City expects to cover 10 percent of the project cost and to receive federal funding for the remaining 90 percent. The project is set to go out to bid in Fall 2021 with construction due to be complete in Summer 2022 (Brunetti).

 

Resources

Brunetti, Michelle. Atlantic City putting Atlantic Avenue on a ‘diet’. March 5, 2021. Press of Atlantic City. https://pressofatlanticcity.com/news/local/atlantic-city-putting-atlantic-avenue-on-a-diet/article_f9b1e44f-43f0-5cf2-9b8a-91e4c1d3fb0e.html

City of Atlantic City. (2011). Resolution Establishing and Adopting a City of Atlantic City Complete Streets Policy. City of Atlantic City. http://njbikeped.org/wp-content/uploads/2012/05/Atlantic-City-Complete-Streets-Resolution.pdf

City of Atlantic City. (2013). Atlantic City Bicycle and Pedestrian Plan. Local Planning Assistance Program. City of Atlantic City. https://njcrda.com/wp-content/uploads/Atlantic-City-LTA-Final-Report.pdf

Federal Highway Administration. Road Safety Audits. Federal Highway Administration. https://safety.fhwa.dot.gov/rsa/

Federal Highway Administration. Proven Safety Countermeasures: Road Safety Audits. Federal Highway Administration. https://safety.fhwa.dot.gov/provencountermeasures/road_safety_audit/

Federal Highway Administration. Proven Safety Countermeasures: Road Diets. Federal Highway Administration. https://safety.fhwa.dot.gov/provencountermeasures/road_diets/

JMT. (2020, January). Road Safety Assessment: Atlantic Avenue, Atlantic City, Atlantic County, NJ. City of Atlantic City. https://www.njdottechtransfer.net/wp-content/uploads/2021/07/19-01474_Road_Safety_Assessment_Report.pdf

South Jersey Transportation Planning Organization. Atlantic Avenue Road Safety Audit. South Jersey Transportation Planning Organization. https://www.sjtpo.org/wp-content/uploads/2020/05/2014_AC_Atlantic-Avenue-RSA-Report.pdf

 

NJDOT’s “Weather Savvy Roads” System Receives 2021 Outstanding Project Award from ITS-NJ

The Intelligent Transportation Society of New Jersey (ITS-NJ) recognizes outstanding projects or programs that employ or advance ITS technologies. This year NJDOT’s “Weather Savvy Roads” system, also known as the Mobile RWIS effort, received its 2021 Outstanding Project Award.

NJDOT’s Weather Savvy Roads Program was recently recognized by the Intelligent Transportation Society of New Jersey

NJDOT’s Weather Savvy Roads (WSR) program started with NJDOT’s Mobility Division applying for and receiving NJ’s first federal Accelerated Innovation Deployment (AID) grant.  The concept was to procure and install mobile RWIS devices and dash cameras in 23 DOT snow-fighting vehicles statewide to view real time conditions and guide decisions for allocation of resources during a winter event.

The team is comprised of staff from NJDOT Mobility, NJDOT Operations, the NJIT ITS Resource Center, and technical partners from Vaisala and EAI.  NJIT created a web-based platform where users could view a statewide map and data from the RWIS devices and video from the CCTV6 in real time.

The WSR project was also designed to continue NJDOT’s investigation into cellular strength along NJDOT’s road network. This effort was first evaluated during NJ STIC Incentive grant funded program using iCone devices on SSP trucks. Utilizing a cellular router carrying FIRSTNET cellular capability, the technical team at NJIT is evaluating the strength of this first responder-only focused cellular system to see the various levels of signal strength. The project has shown tremendous benefits after just one winter season with staff across multiple levels of the Department utilizing the web platform to make better informed decisions about staffing and contractor use.

To learn more about the project, click on the NJ Innovative Initiatives, Weather Responsive Management Strategies page, or watch a presentation to the NJ STIC by Sal Cowan, Senior Director of Mobility at NJDOT about the equipment installation and web interface efforts taken for the pilot project.

See the FHWA’s Innovation Spotlight video on Road Weather Management: Weather Savvy Roads.

Launching the UAS Program: STIC Incentive Funding Grant – Final Report

Click for report

Unmanned Aerial Systems (UAS), or drones, were promoted by the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) as one of the Every Day Counts Round 5 (EDC-5) innovations. In 2017, the NJDOT Bureau of Aeronautics applied for and received a NJ State Transportation Innovation Council (STIC) Incentive Program Funding grant to purchase equipment and provide training to evaluate the use of UAS for applications within NJDOT. Prior research had determined that this innovative technology could improve safety and efficiency and reduce costs.

The final report, Unmanned Aircraft System (UAS): Purchase and Training, describes the use of the STIC funding to assist in establishing the UAS program within the Bureau of Aeronautics.  The report describes the training curriculum and two use cases — high mast inspection and traffic incident management — and offers lessons learned and best practices.

The STIC grant, in combination with two other grants, enabled the Bureau to advance UAS within NJDOT. The innovation is now considered institutionalized within the agency.  A video, Drone Technology at NJDOT, highlights the efforts to launch and integrate UAS in NJDOT operations.

FHWA offers up to $100,000 to each STIC each year. You can find out more about the STIC Incentive Program here.

Highway Crowdsourcing

STIC Incentive Grant Award: Crowdsourcing Traffic Data to Optimize Roadway Monitoring

The Federal Highway Administration recently awarded the New Jersey Department of Transportation (NJDOT) a $55,000 State Transportation Improvement Council (STIC) incentive grant for the purpose of piloting a crowdsourced data platform to improve roadway monitoring operations.

NJDOT operates two Mobility Operations Centers that monitor conditions on more than 7,500 lane miles throughout the state. In 2017, a New Jersey Institute of Technology study found that the centers were only aware of 6.5 percent of crashes when compared with statewide records from the same time period. NJDOT plans to use this STIC grant to test software that could dramatically improve monitoring performance.

Slide image of a computer depicting a map with vehicles on it, text above it reads: Waycare is a cloud-based platform that provides AI solutions for proactive traffic management. To the left text reads: Automated Incident Detection, Crash Prediction and Forecasting, Irregular Congestion Detection, and Collaborative Tools for Faster Response
The Waycare Platform

The “Enhanced Crowdsourcing for Operations in New Jersey” pilot will fund a test of the Waycare traffic management platform, software that aggregates data points and uses Artificial Intelligence for predictive traffic monitoring. The $55,000 grant from the FHWA will finance the implementation of this technology for a limited section of roadway, and help NJDOT analyze whether the cloud-based data-aggregation platform can significantly assist the agency with predictive and real-time traffic monitoring.

Several states across the country, including California, Texas, Florida, and North Carolina, have successfully deployed the Waycare platform. Waycare takes data such as information about hazardous weather or sudden braking from a variety of sources (Waze, INRIX, Ticketmaster, etc.), aggregates them, and uses artificial intelligence to predict where accidents and congestion are occurring. This granular-level driving data would be sourced from around 1 in 10 vehicles in the state—information which could then be passed on to NJDOT’s Mobility Operations Centers. The platform’s collaborative, shared dashboard would also enable monitoring in the field, and potentially speed up the dispatching of emergency and maintenance vehicles. The promise of the technology is to comprehensively revamp how NJDOT monitors traffic operations, transitioning from a few, human-monitored data points to many, aggregated and prioritized by AI.

Slide reading: Platform ingests data from a vast amount of sources to provide highly accurate insights and predictions. Below this text, there are logos of companies, such as Volvo, Waze, iCone, Siemens, and Ticketmaster.
Data sources used by Waycare

NJDOT applied for funding from the FHWA’s Every Day Counts (EDC) program, which is currently in its sixth round and known as EDC-6. The program provides grants for projects that champion underutilized innovations and promise quick delivery times, and has highlighted Crowdsourcing for Advancing Operations as a key theme for this two-year grant cycle. Once funds are disbursed, the NJDOT Crowdsourcing pilot could begin operations in as little as six months.

Through the program, NJDOT will monitor the performance of the Waycare platform with regards to how it affects roadway monitoring and incident response times, as well as the efficacy of the crowdsourced data when compared to the existing statewide crash records. The overall goal for this two-year project is to find new, more comprehensive means of monitoring traffic for New Jersey.

Sal Cowan, Senior Director of Transportation Mobility in NJDOT’s Transportation and Operation Systems and Support Unit, presented this at the NJ STIC Spring 2021 meeting. The full presentation can be viewed here.

Next-Generation TIM: Integrating Technology, Data, and Training

What is Next-Generation TIM: Integrating Technology, Data, and Training?

New methods for improving Traffic Incident Management (TIM) programs aim to increase traveler and responder safety and improve trip reliability and commerce movement on all roadways.

Over 6 million reportable crashes occur every year in the United States. Each crash places responders and motorists at risk of secondary crashes while having a severe impact on congestion. New tools, data, and training mechanisms can be used to improve safety and reduce clearance times at roadway crashes. New and existing TIM programs, including those for local agencies and off-interstate applications, will benefit from using enhanced TIM practices on all roadways to save lives, time, and money.

A New Generation of TIM

While the FHWA's national TIM responder training program successfully trained almost 500,000 responders to clear incidents collaboratively, safely, and quickly, it was largely focused on agencies that respond on interstates and high-speed roadways. Next-generation (NextGen) TIM increases the focus on local agency TIM programs while integrating new and emerging technology, tools, and training to improve incident detection and reduce safety response and clearance times on all roadways.

Traditionally, transportation agencies capture incidents (crashes, roadway debris, stalled vehicles on mainlines, etc.) where sensor technologies are installed, where safety service patrols are present, or when contacted by public safety/law enforcement agencies. NextGen TIM significantly expands this capacity. It enables agencies to improve TIM strategies by implementing new options such as back-of-queue warning, navigation-app notification of active responders in the vicinity, notification-based incident detection using crowdsourced data, and more.

By using NextGen TIM methods, State and local agencies can increase traveler and responder safety, improve trip reliability and commerce movement, and enable responder communities to focus more resources on other pressing citizen needs.

Benefits

Increased Safety. NextGen TIM targets advances in safety through engineering, enforcement, education, and emergency services to help keep responders, drivers, and pedestrians safe across freeway, arterial, and multimodal travel.

Improved Travel Times. Training, data, and technology combine to help local and State agencies reduce secondary crashes and clearance times, improving trip reliability and increasing motorists' awareness of active responders along their travel routes.

Improved Operations. Integrating new and emerging technology, tools, and training can improve incident mitigation and safety throughout the whole TIM timeline, from incident detection to clearance on all roadways.

Learn more about this EDC-6 Innovation.

How NJ Incorporates NextGen Traffic Incident Management (TIM)

Stage of Innovation:
DEVELOPMENT
(December 2021)

Research. NJDOT is coordinating with State Police to determine communications that will be shared with Computer-Aided Dispatch (CAD) integration. NJDOT is also working to establish radio channels to enable coordinated DOT and law enforcement communications at incident sites.

Training. NJDOT is actively working towards achieving participation by all local agencies in the NJDOT established statewide TIM training course.

Building Support. DVRPC area-generated incident management task forces can serve as models for creation of similar diverse stakeholder task forces in other regions. NJDOT is also looking to build partnerships with media to facilitate TIM communications.

What’s Next?

For the EDC-6 initiative, the NJDOT will focus on CAD integration. It is one of the major activities in support of the TIM strategic plan. The goals of the project include reducing incident response time and duration. To achieve this, the agency seeks to establish and implement the standard/efficient use of technology and promote the integration of traffic operations centers and law enforcement CAD systems.

 

 

 

Next-Generation TIM: Integrating Technology, Data, and Training: NEW & NOTEWORTHY

Innovation Spotlight: Testing and Deploying ITS Solutions for Safer Mobility and Operations

Innovation Spotlight: Testing and Deploying ITS Solutions for Safer Mobility and Operations

We spoke with Sue Catlett from NJDOT's Transportation Mobility, Planning and Research Group to get an update on Crowdsourcing, Weather Responsive Management and Traffic Incident ...
NextGen Traffic Incident Management (TIM) Webinar Series

NextGen Traffic Incident Management (TIM) Webinar Series

A series of FHWA-hosted webinars spotlights ongoing NextGen TIM implementations and best practices. ...
Developing Next Generation Traffic Incident Management in the Delaware Valley

Developing Next Generation Traffic Incident Management in the Delaware Valley

DVRPC's Traffic Incident Monitoring (TIM) platform provides system-wide traffic operators, first responders, and highway planners. ...
STIC Incentive Grant Award: Crowdsourcing Traffic Data to Optimize Roadway Monitoring

STIC Incentive Grant Award: Crowdsourcing Traffic Data to Optimize Roadway Monitoring

The Federal Highway Administration recently awarded the New Jersey Department of Transportation (NJDOT) a $55,000 State Transportation Improvement Council (STIC) incentive grant for the purpose ...
Final Report Released for the Connected Vehicles Program Pilot Testing of Technology for Distributing Road Service Safety Messages from Safety Service Patrols

Final Report Released for the Connected Vehicles Program Pilot Testing of Technology for Distributing Road Service Safety Messages from Safety Service Patrols

NJDOT’s top priority is to improve highway safety. To support this goal, in September 2018, New Jersey began a pilot study of the effectiveness of ...
Connected Vehicles Program Pilot Testing of Technology for Safety Service Patrol Workers Continues

Connected Vehicles Program Pilot Testing of Technology for Safety Service Patrol Workers Continues

The pilot study continues to examine the effectiveness of connected vehicle technology to alert motorists to Safety Service Patrol (SSP) workers at an incident site. ...
New Jersey Pilots Connected Vehicles Program  to Protect Safety Service Patrol Staff

New Jersey Pilots Connected Vehicles Program to Protect Safety Service Patrol Staff

This study will examine the effectiveness of connected vehicle technology to alert motorists to Safety Service Patrol (SSP) workers at an incident site. ...

e-Ticketing

Implementing e-Ticketing, and the related practice of using digital as-builts, into project delivery enhances safety, quality, and cost savings by improving the accessibility of project data.

Highway construction projects produce massive amounts of valuable data. Historically, information such as materials tickets and as-built plans were communicated via paper. Today's transportation agencies are improving on these paper processes by integrating them into electronic and digital workflows. Electronic ticketing (e-Ticketing) improves the tracking, exchange, and archiving of materials tickets. Digital information, such as 3D design models and other metadata, can enhance the value of contract documents and the future usability of the as-built plans for operations, maintenance, and asset management. Both can increase project safety and quality through efficient data gathering and sharing.

What is e-Ticketing?

Providing all stakeholders with an electronic means to produce, transmit, and share materials data and track and verify materials deliveries enhances safety, streamlines inspections, and improves contract administration processing. Using electronic ticket (e-Ticket) exchanges enables access via mobile devices and simplifies handling and integration of material data into construction management systems for acceptance, payment, and source documentation.

Benefits

Safety. e-Ticketing enhances data collection while reducing exposure to adjacent vehicular traffic and construction equipment for inspectors and work crews while retrieving paper tickets.

Time Savings. Real-time access, via electronic handling of tickets, reduces processing time for quality assurance and payment, decreasing the inherent delays in paper-based project administration.

Quality. Project documentation is more consistent and efficient using e-Ticketing platforms. Standardized data enables archiving for future reference, leading to improved design, construction, maintenance, and operations.

Learn more about this EDC-6 Innovation.

How NJ Incorporates e-Ticketing

Stage of Innovation:
DEVELOPMENT
(December 2021)

New Jersey has taken several steps to advance its use of e-Ticketing and to encourage its partners to adopt its use.

Research. NJDOT has collected and reviewed information, guidance, research, and best practices on the implementation and use of e-Ticketing techniques.

Training. NJDOT has participated in e-Ticketing trainings, peer exchanges, and workshops.

Building Support. NJDOT is working with internal and external partners, stakeholders, and vendors to advance the use of e-Ticketing. The agency has also identified individuals for an implementation team.

What’s Next?

A NJDOT e-Ticketing working group was formed that will work to advance this innovation by pursuing tasks including seeking guidance from other state DOTs on their e-Ticketing related interactions with vendors and procedures and policies.

 

 

e-Ticketing: NEW & NOTEWORTHY 

 

Crowdsourcing for Advancing Operations

What is Crowdsourcing for Advancing Operations?

Crowdsourcing is focused on employing the collective experience of a number of people to manage a process. Crowdsourced data can be obtained whenever and wherever people travel, allowing agencies to capture in real time what happens between sensors, in rural regions, along arterials, and beyond jurisdictional boundaries. Agencies at all levels can use crowdsourced data integrated from multiple streams to optimize roadway use for reduced congestion and increased safety and reliability.

State and local transportation systems management and operations (TSMO) programs strive to optimize the use of existing roadway facilities through traveler information, incident management, road weather management, arterial management, and other strategies targeting the causes of congestion. TSMO programs require real-time, high-quality, and wide-ranging roadway information. However, gaps in geographic coverage, lags in information timeliness, and life-cycle costs for field equipment can limit agencies' ability to operate the system proactively.

Benefits

Public agencies at all levels are increasing both their situational awareness and the quality and quantity of operations data using crowdsourcing, which enables staff to apply proactive strategies cost effectively and make better decisions that lead to safer and more reliable travel while protecting privacy and security of individual user data.

 

Learn more about this EDC-6 Innovation.

How NJ Incorporates Crowdsourcing for Advancing Operations

Stage of Innovation: ASSESSMENT (Pilot Study)
(December 2021)

The NJDOT is institutionalized in its use of vehicle probe data to support traffic incident/operations management and planning for operations. New Jersey has been a leader in using crowdsourcing data to advance operations since 2008. The following activities occurred in under previous EDC rounds:

Acquired Two Probe Data Sets. Crowdsourcing data from INRIX and HERE (via TRANSCOM partnership) is used for real-time performance management and traffic monitoring for roadway management and event after actions.

Incorporated Crowdsourcing Data Sets. TRANSCOM tools such as Data Fusion Engine (DFE) and Selected Priorities Applied to Evaluate Links (SPATEL) aggregate all available data sources for operations, analysis, and performance measures.

Piloted a Connected Vehicle Program.  The pilot study funded through a STIC Incentive Grant seeks to protect safety service patrol staff by alerting drivers in real-time of their presence at an incident site through apps such as Waze and Google.

What's Next?

For the EDC-6 initiative, the NJDOT submitted and was awarded a STIC incentive funding grant to collaborate with a crowdsource information service provider (ISP). The goals of the pilot project include:

Utilize the data set provided by the crowdsource ISP to gain a better situational awareness of traffic incidents on the interstates/state highways.

Increase the availability of data to complement the 511 traveler information system for timelier traveler information.

Analyze the crowdsource data by comparing it to the State’s crash records to assist in determining the accuracy of the crowdsourced data.

Click for the Crowdsourcing for Operations Fact Sheet.

CROWDSOURCING FOR ADVANCING OPERATIONS: NEW & NOTEWORTHY 

National Operations Center Webinar to Feature NJDOT’s Commercial Vehicle Alerts Initiative

National Operations Center Webinar to Feature NJDOT’s Commercial Vehicle Alerts Initiative

The National Operations Center for Excellence will hold a webinar featuring New Jersey and Colorado DOT initiatives to establish private sector partnerships that use crowdsourced ...
Adventures in Crowdsourcing Webinar Series 

Adventures in Crowdsourcing Webinar Series 

Crowdsourcing for Advancing Operations is one of the Federal Highway Administration’s (FHWA) Every Day Counts (EDC) initiatives for the 2021-2022 round. The program is looking ...
Innovation Spotlight: Testing and Deploying ITS Solutions for Safer Mobility and Operations

Innovation Spotlight: Testing and Deploying ITS Solutions for Safer Mobility and Operations

We spoke with Sue Catlett from NJDOT's Transportation Mobility, Planning and Research Group to get an update on Crowdsourcing, Weather Responsive Management and Traffic Incident ...
STIC Incentive Grant Award: Crowdsourcing Traffic Data to Optimize Roadway Monitoring

STIC Incentive Grant Award: Crowdsourcing Traffic Data to Optimize Roadway Monitoring

The Federal Highway Administration recently awarded the New Jersey Department of Transportation (NJDOT) a $55,000 State Transportation Improvement Council (STIC) incentive grant for the purpose ...
DVRPC’s Sidewalk Inventory and Crowdsourcing Platform

DVRPC’s Sidewalk Inventory and Crowdsourcing Platform

The Delaware Valley Regional Planning Commission (DVRPC) is seeking to understand the region’s pedestrian infrastructure through the development of an online inventory, map, and platform ...
Final Report Released for the Connected Vehicles Program Pilot Testing of Technology for Distributing Road Service Safety Messages from Safety Service Patrols

Final Report Released for the Connected Vehicles Program Pilot Testing of Technology for Distributing Road Service Safety Messages from Safety Service Patrols

NJDOT’s top priority is to improve highway safety. To support this goal, in September 2018, New Jersey began a pilot study of the effectiveness of ...
How SJTPO Refined Their Congestion Management Process with Crowdsourced Data

How SJTPO Refined Their Congestion Management Process with Crowdsourced Data

Through the Everyday Counts (EDC) program, FHWA identifies and deploys established but underutilized innovations through a state-based model, with the goals of streamlining project delivery, ...
Tech Talk! Webinar: Crowdsourcing for Local Operations

Tech Talk! Webinar: Crowdsourcing for Local Operations

The NJDOT Bureau of Research hosted a Tech Talk! Webinar, Crowdsourcing for Local Operations, that illustrated how local agencies are working, often with state partners, ...
Connected Vehicles Program Pilot Testing of Technology for Safety Service Patrol Workers Continues

Connected Vehicles Program Pilot Testing of Technology for Safety Service Patrol Workers Continues

The pilot study continues to examine the effectiveness of connected vehicle technology to alert motorists to Safety Service Patrol (SSP) workers at an incident site. ...
Making Work Zones Smarter: Data-Driven Decision Making

Making Work Zones Smarter: Data-Driven Decision Making

In honor of Work Zone Safety Awareness Week, the NJDOT Bureau of Research hosted a Lunchtime Tech Talk, “Making Work Zones Smarter: Data-Driven Decision Making” ...
New Jersey Pilots Connected Vehicles Program  to Protect Safety Service Patrol Staff

New Jersey Pilots Connected Vehicles Program to Protect Safety Service Patrol Staff

This study will examine the effectiveness of connected vehicle technology to alert motorists to Safety Service Patrol (SSP) workers at an incident site. ...