Transportation engineer

A transportation engineer could...

Review plans of a proposed downtown development to determine the effect on the traffic system. Downtown plans Redesign the runways of an airport in order to accommodate the new mega jumbo jets. Jumbo jet
Perform simulations of traffic flow at an intersection to make sure that the traffic can move smoothly. Intersection Develop a system of crosswalks so that pedestrians can move safely through a busy intersection. Crosswalk
Find out more...

Key Facts & Information

Overview Have you ever visited family members for the holidays? You might have started your trip by taking the subway or a train to the airport. Then you jumped on a plane and flew to your destination. Finally, a family member picked you up in his or her car and drove you home. You traveled hundreds of miles in just one day. How did this happen? Who planned the subway route to the airport? Who decided the position of the airport runway? Who designed the highways and roadways? The answer to all of these questions is the transportation engineer. The goal of the transportation engineer is to move people and goods safely and efficiently.
Key Requirements Problem-solving, creativity, ability to think logically, teamwork skills, effective written and verbal skills
Minimum Degree Bachelor's degree
Subjects to Study in High School Physics, chemistry, algebra, geometry, calculus, English; if available, computer science, environmental science
Median Salary
Transportation Engineer
U.S. Mean Annual Wage
Min Wage
Projected Job Growth (2014-2024) Little or No Change (-2% to 2%)
  • Retired traffic engineer Jack Fleck talks about what inspired him to become an engineer and and how he spent the last 25 years shaping the streets of San Francisco.
Related Occupations
Source: O*Net

Training, Other Qualifications

Transportation engineers continue their education by reading technical publications and attending seminars and conferences.

Education and Training

Transportation engineers must have a bachelor's degree in civil engineering for entry-level positions. Some employers prefer a graduate degree for certain jobs. Nearly half of those working today hold master's degrees or PhDs, which may be required for research positions. A PhD is necessary for university-level teaching positions.

Prospective transportation engineers should take high school courses in mathematics and science. Courses in computer-aided design are also helpful.

Video: Transportation Engineer
Watch this video by the Arizona Department of Transportation and learn more about transportation engineering.

Nature of the Work

Transportation engineers creatively apply scientific principles and technology to the design, construction, and maintenance of 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. With increasing urbanization occurring globally, transportation engineers are in high demand to help figure out how to move people and goods safely and efficiently.

Transportation engineers can work in a variety of areas. They can work as traffic engineers and plan new roads or traffic patterns, prepare plans for new multi-lane highways, use technology to monitor traffic flow and conditions, and create alternative routes to congested traffic corridors. Some transportation engineers work in the railways sector, planning for high-speed rail service and developing commuter routes. Some engineers develop entire transportation systems, including roads, subways, commuter trains, and buses. Engineers also supervise the construction or repair of transportation infrastructure.

Part of completing a successful project is to stay within budget. In the initial stage of planning a project, transportation engineers study the costs for doing the project. When figuring out a project's feasibility, they must consider the needs of those being served and whether sufficient land exists for the project to be completed. They determine whether the land is in a location suitable for building and how the projects could affect the environment. Once these factors have been analyzed, transportation engineers compile their findings and share the information with all the agencies involved in building the project.

Some transportation engineers are closely involved in the construction process. They send the project out to several contractors for bidding, gather the bids, and then select the best one. Transportation engineers determine whether available land needs to be filled or treated before building, and they recommend construction methods best suited to the soil types encountered. During road construction, engineers must make sure design plans and highway department standards are fully met. It is the responsibility of the transportation engineer to make sure that their completed projects are safe for all users.

Work Environment

Transportation engineers may work exclusively in an office setting, though usually they will be required to work at construction sites as well. A transportation engineer should expect to work in all kinds of weather conditions. A 40-hour workweek is typical, though overtime is often necessary as deadlines near.

On the Job

  • Design or prepare plans for new transportation systems or parts of systems, such as airports, commuter trains, highways, streets, bridges, drainage structures, and roadway lighting.
  • Supervise the maintenance or repair of transportation systems or system components.
  • Analyze environmental impact statements for transportation projects.
  • Check construction plans, design calculations, or cost estimates to ensure completeness, accuracy, and conformity to engineering standards and practices.
  • Confer with contractors, utility companies, or government agencies to discuss plans, specifications, or work schedules.
  • Direct the surveying, staking, and laying-out of construction projects.
  • Estimate transportation project costs.
  • Inspect completed transportation projects to ensure safety or compliance with applicable standards or regulations.
  • Investigate or test specific construction project materials to determine compliance with specifications or standards.
  • Investigate traffic problems and recommend methods to improve traffic flow and safety.
  • Model transportation scenarios to evaluate the impacts of activities such as new development or to identify possible solutions to transportation problems.
  • Participate in contract bidding, negotiation, or administration.
  • Plan alteration and modification of existing transportation structures to improve safety or function.
  • Prepare final project layout drawings that include details such as stress calculations.
  • Prepare project budgets, schedules, or specifications for labor and materials.
  • Develop, or assist in the development of, transportation-related computer software or computer processes.
  • Evaluate traffic control devices or lighting systems to determine need for modification or expansion.
  • Prepare administrative, technical, or statistical reports on traffic-operation matters, such as accidents, safety measures, and pedestrian volume and practices.
  • Prepare data, maps, or other information at construction-related public hearings and meetings.
  • Review development plans to determine potential traffic impact.

Companies That Hire Transportation Engineers

Explore what you might do on the job with one of these projects...

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Research the famous collapse of the Tacoma Narrows suspension bridge. What lessons were learned about the potentially damaging effects of wind on bridges? What structures stabilize a bridge against wind forces? Build models and use a wind tunnel to test your hypothesis. Read more
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Suspension bridges, with their tall towers, long spans, and gracefully curving cables, are beautiful examples of the work of civil engineers. How do the cables and towers carry the load that is on the bridge? Can a suspension bridge carry a greater load than a simple beam bridge? This science project shows you how to find out. Read more
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Using just a single sheet of paper (8.5 x 11 inches) and up to five paper clips, can you build a bridge that will span 20 cm and support the weight of 100 pennies? The area beneath the span must be free (so that boats can pass beneath it). To test your bridge, place two books 20 cm apart, and set the bridge on the books, spanning the gap. Do not fasten the bridge to the book (nor to any other support). Does your bridge hold as much weight as you expected it would? If your bridge fails… Read more
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Bridges are big and beautiful structures, but they also need to be safe for the people who cross over them every day. Building a bridge that is safe and secure is a challenge to civil engineers. But the job is even more challenging if you live in earthquake country! Find out how engineers are solving this problem as they build a new bridge over the San Francisco Bay in California. Try some of your own Bay Bridge designs. Will your bridge design take the shake of a quake? Read more
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This is an interesting project that explores which geometrical shapes make the strongest bridge truss structures. It is a good introduction to the engineering design process. You'll design three different trusses, and use online simulation software to analyze the distribution of load-bearing forces in each design. Then you'll build and test prototypes of each design. Read more
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Did you know that you can use magnets to build a train that floats above its tracks? In this project, you will also use magnets to make the train stop, preventing it from crashing into the end of the track. Will adding more magnets help the train stop sooner? Read more
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Free science fair projects.