Intentional Actions Can Create Pathways to Equity
As transportation professionals of the modern age, our common mission is to change the world through infrastructure and the access to the opportunities it provides. Like so many of my colleagues, I view public service as a ministry—an opportunity to promote changes that better the lives of all members of the community. And I believe that it is incumbent on us to grasp the gravity of the moment that we have to make a significant change to the way we invest in the future of transportation. Leaders in both the public and private transportation sectors must take up the cause and take meaningful action on diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI). If our industry commits now to creating pathways to equity, we can create a modern transportation system that serves and provides opportunity to all, regardless of race, gender, or income.
I boldly support and agree with the Biden Administration’s spotlight on DEI and believe that it will be a game changer in modern day public policy. But we in the transportation industry must act now to ensure that these principles are sustained by creating a new framework that incorporates measures of accountability. If we do not want to repeat the mistakes of the past, and we want to make real, sustainable change, the principles of DEI must be woven into the fabric of transportation planning and investment.
We cannot erase the past, but we can design a more equitable future. We must embrace the diversity that tries to divide us. As we go forward, transportation planners must look through the lens of equity in the planning, design, and investment in the future transportation and infrastructure needs of our communities. State and local agencies must consider how to mitigate the barriers of the past to promote communities that are healthier, more inclusive, fair, and empowering. The industry must ensure that the negative effects of transportation infrastructure projects are not concentrated in the communities that look differently than the collective of the decisionmakers.
The first step is to hire and promote so that the transportation industry workforce is reflective of the communities we serve. By delivering this “new normal,” transportation agencies will empower our workforce, challenge our thinking, broaden the base on common issues that will have a far greater impact on public priorities, and expand the conversation on issues that matter most. By new normal, I am suggesting we look at how we hire and promote: a workforce and leadership with DEI at heart will enrich our quality of work as biases are minimized; attract new talent to the workforce; generate innovative ideas; and provide new opportunities to collaborate. We have to talk to people that might not agree with us in order to strengthen our understanding of the issues. Taking the time to listen, learn, and understand different perspectives will create a comprehensive modal that provides equitable opportunity for all.
Words are valued, but actions are transformative and have a lasting impact.
Shawn D. Wilson, Ph.D.
Secretary, Louisiana Department of Transportation and Development