Education and Training College
Salary Median—$64,230 per year
Employment Outlook Good
Definition and Nature of the Work
Transportation engineers are civil engineers who design highways, airports, and railway and bus systems. They work for governmental agencies; for consulting firms that troubleshoot for the government; and for private firms that produce materials and equipment used in transportation. Engineers are also teachers and researchers at colleges and universities.
Some transportation engineers specialize. For example, traffic engineers plan new roads or traffic patterns, while railroad engineers plan for high-speed rail service. Some engineers develop entire transportation systems, including roads, subways, commuter trains, and buses. Engineers also supervise the construction or repair of transportation systems.
Municipal, county, or state officials hire engineers to develop new transportation systems or to find alternative routes to relieve congestion on existing highways. Sometimes the engineers draw up plans for new multilane highways to be built in places where only local roads exist. In other cities they may decide whether buses or trains can best provide commuter service.
In planning projects, engineers consider costs, the needs of the town or state, and the availability of land. They determine whether the land is good for building—marshland may have to be filled or treated before construction begins—and how the projects could affect the environment. Once these factors have been analyzed, engineers make detailed proposals.
Some transportation engineers oversee construction. They invite contractors to submit bids and then choose the best bid. Once work begins, engineers make sure that schedules are met and building standards are followed. When a highway is being constructed, for example, engineers check the building materials to
make sure the contractors are following highway department standards. Engineers also inspect the completed road to make sure it is safe for drivers.
Education and Training Requirements
Transportation engineers must have bachelor's degrees in civil engineering. Nearly half of those working today hold master's degrees or doctorates, which may be required for teaching and research positions.
Prospective transportation engineers should take high school courses in mathematics and science. Courses in computer-aided design are also helpful. College courses in English and the natural and social sciences, including political science, can be as important as specialized courses in surveying, specifications writing, traffic control, and the mechanics of fluids and materials. Some engineers get graduate degrees in business administration to improve their chances for advancement.
Transportation engineers continue their education by reading technical publications and attending seminars and conferences.
Getting the Job
College placement offices may be able to help graduates find employment. Job seekers can also apply directly to construction companies and to consulting firms that do engineering work. Civil service commissions have information about civil service tests and job openings in government agencies. Other good sources of job leads are newspaper classified ads, Internet job sites, and engineering journals.
Advancement Possibilities and Employment Outlook
With experience and ability transportation engineers can advance to a number of positions, such as construction supervisor, project engineer, or designer of transportation systems. In addition, they may become supervisors of engineering departments, chief engineers for construction firms, or consulting engineers.
Employment of transportation engineers is expected to grow as fast as the average for all occupations through 2014. Many new roads need to be built and existing roads need to be redesigned. Demand should also be strong over the next decade for engineers who can design better public transportation systems.
Transportation engineers work in offices or at construction sites in all kinds of weather. They generally work forty hours per week, although overtime may be necessary if construction deadlines must be met.
Because their work affects public behavior and policy, transportation engineers must be able to communicate effectively with diverse groups of people—from government officials to machine operators to the general public. They must be willing to make and advocate unpopular decisions.
Earnings and Benefits
In 2004 the median salary of transportation engineers was $64,230 per year. The most experienced engineers earned more than $94,660 per year. Salaries were higher for those with master's degrees and doctorates.
Where to Go for More Information
American Society of Civil Engineers
1801 Alexander Graham Bell Dr.
Reston, VA 20191-4400
American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials
444 N. Capitol St. NW, Ste. 249
Washington, DC 20001
Institute of Transportation Engineers
1099 Fourteenth St. NW, Ste. 300 W
Washington, DC 20005
Benefits usually include paid holidays and vacations, health insurance, and retirement plans.