Making History: Women are leading the way to create an equitable toll program
It’s Women’s History Month and ODOT’s Urban Mobility Office (UMO) is spotlighting the women leading the I-205 Toll Project and the Regional Mobility Pricing Project and the work they do to help Oregon communities thrive.
“Women play a variety of roles either in community or family. They may access transportation and have transportation needs that are different. If you don’t have them around the table, you miss a lot,” said Mandy Putney, ODOT Strategic Initiatives director managing the I-205 NEPA Toll Project. Learn more about how these leaders are developing an equitable toll program.
Project Team (PT): What led you to pursue a career in transportation?
Jessica Stanton (JS): Several years ago the Portland Bureau of Transportation initiated an effort to tell the agency’s story and connect with the community. I talked to many fourth-generation Portlanders who had no idea about PBOT’s work. Transportation is an exciting opportunity for storytelling and to see how people can connect. Transportation is everything, without mobility and community, we wouldn’t be living and thriving.
Mandy Putney (MP): I have an academic background focused on environmental policy and started working in the social service sector. Then, I found jobs that merged the two, advising on communication and public engagement for infrastructure projects and planning. I began to see that transportation is key for people to live the life they want. Without access to transportation that’s affordable and viable, it inhibits every area of life. For me, the key driving factor is to think about the human-side of infrastructure planning and how to involve the community more.
PT: As of 2019, women comprised only 15 percent of the transportation workforce, with even fewer in decision-making roles. What advice do you have for women entering the field?
Hannah Williams (HW): There are so many women in leadership positions at ODOT and it’s been great to work with and be mentored by them. It’s inspiring and helpful when strong, talented women are already working here. My advice would be to reach out to women in roles that you’re interested in, start building relationships, and ask for guidance.
Lucinda Broussard (LB): I think women are leaders in every place they are, whether it’s at home, work, or community-based groups. What is important to know is as women, there’s room for us to be leaders in other areas. Now is the time to jump in, the water is warm.
PT: What motivates you on a daily basis to create an equitable Oregon Tolling Program?
JS: I will only thrive if my community thrives, and equity is a through line. Equity’s time has come, we can lead compassionately and build communities that are just and equitable. We can be better and do better.
MP: It’s time, it’s past time. Equity and transportation have been talked about in separate spheres for a long time and resulted in the system we have today. Why do this work now if you’re not interested in doing something different? We know the old ways gets us old results, and I’m not looking to redo the past.
HW: We’re trying to do something that’s never been done before. We’re trying to have innovative solutions for these huge problems that aren’t siloed in transportation. When I think about equity I think about outcomes, the people, and the process. To achieve creative solutions for the Oregon Toll Program, we need to talk to people, understand needs, and collaborate with our partners.
LB: We should not talk about equity separately, it should be interwoven. People don’t ask me how to create a quality program, because it’s expected, and equity should be that way too. I see that equity in transportation, or equity in life, has always been separate. Equity should be integrated into everything we do.
PT: You mentioned that the Urban Mobility Office is doing something that’s never been done before. What is unique about the UMO’s approach? What challenges are we facing?
LB: Unique is doing something that’s never been done before. We’re talking about tolling all lanes on an interstate to manage congestion. Managing congestion by pricing for all lanes is unique, and even more unique because we’re talking about doing it over 50 miles. I believe we will be successful. I consider congestion pricing a way to give people back some time in their lives.
MP: We’re not doing the typical project by project approach; we’ve got a comprehensive approach we’re tying all together with congestion pricing as the backbone. And we’re trying to do so in close partnership with others in the region. We can’t solve every issue with transportation projects, but we can bring people to the table to have conversations about community development, transit, and multi-modal access to create outcomes that help folks.
HW: It can be overwhelming thinking about challenges in the transportation system. When we are talking about equity, it’s hard to pull things apart because it is all connected. I try to stay focused on the project at hand and how to make it the most equitable with the process and outcomes. By making each project as equitable as possible, I hope that change will spiral outwards.
JS: The challenge is how do we break away from old paradigms of thinking to arrive at a new outcome? It requires a lot of faith and trust in places where there hasn’t been. We’re asking ourselves and communities to move forward in a different way.
LB: UMO is bringing in the consideration that we’re building projects “for people” that wasn’t there before. We’re asking for engagement and participation from partners and the community, and I think that is something unique.
PT: Lastly, what do you see as the importance of having women represented in transportation and public engagement?
HW: Part of our work is to think about different experiences and perspectives. It’s important to have people who are also working on the project represent different experiences and opinions.
MP: Women play a variety of roles either in community or family. They may access transportation and have transportation needs that are different. If you don’t have them around the table, you miss a lot. The project will have a better result if you bring in a variety of people, not only into the process but leading it as well.
To learn more about their work and what is happening with the Oregon Tolling Program, visit oregontolling.org. If you are interested in a career at ODOT or in transportation, visit https://www.oregon.gov/odot/about/pages/career-opportunities.aspx or email firstname.lastname@example.org.