Department of Transportation and university researchers are working on an array of new technologies, including a system that will warn drivers if their car is about to crash into another vehicle or veer off the road into a guard rail or tree. But before such collision-preventing technologies can go into cars or be integrated into highway systems, the DOT must smooth the way for them to emerge successfully from the research and testing phases.
Tim Klein is the department’s point man who shepherds Intelligent Transportation Systems (ITS) through the lengthy process needed to make state-of-the art transportation technology a reality.
Klein’s job is to make sure that ongoing agency-funded research meshes with federal transportation policy, and can overcome technical and bureaucratic bottlenecks. He can be found studying legislation and standards, reaching out to people in other federal and state agencies, and consulting with university researchers and private construction and engineering firms that will use the research results to create transportation advances.
“I help people as they develop these things, to make sure it all fits together,” said Klein, a senior policy advisor at the Research and Innovative Technology Administration (RITA) within DOT.
Some of the projects he has been overseeing and helping bring to fruition include wireless weigh stations that save truckers from making time-wasting stops during long-distance journeys, and traffic management systems that reroute vehicles to ease jammed highways and cut down on pollution in the process. Also in the works is a “dynamic mobility” application for gathering real- time transportation data that can be used to advise commuters en route to work that they’d be better off, say, parking their car and hopping onto transit that particular morning.
As part of his role, Klein helps spread the word about technology breakthroughs taking place at universities and at DOT research facilities with the hope that companies will commercialize them.
“We try to make sure the world knows what we’ve produced,” he said. “We do the test bed demonstrations and then it’s up to the private sector to take what we do and market it.”
Recently, the private sector took advantage of transponder technology road tested by RITA, creating a way for drivers in New York and San Francisco to use their smartphones to reserve and pre-pay for parking spaces in local garages from a few blocks away.
If the driver warning safety systems in the testing phase become available for use in cars and on the road, Klein said, it could potentially reduce up to 82 percent of crashes involving non- impaired drivers.
There are many stumbling blocks to bring new transportation technologies to the market, making it Klein’s job to run ideas through the policy and legal gauntlet. These include issues involving intellectual property, data rights and privacy.
Klein said he also works with engineers, scientists, lawyers, accountants and contracting officers involved in advancing new technologies, coordinates with state, local and federal agencies, and helps provide information and explanations to Congress.
“He’s good at finding mutually acceptable solutions to moving things forward,” said Steve Sill, a DOT colleague. “He has the ability to understand the perspectives of various parties who can either enable your accomplishing something or hinder you.”
In 2007, RITA tested the wireless weigh station system between Tennessee and Kentucky. It now is used across eight states. Other innovative technologies originally tested by DOT include the “NextBus” website, where transit riders waiting at bus stops in Washington, D.C., can tap into their smartphones to get information on when their bus will arrive.
Before working on surface transportation issues, Klein’s attention was on space. At the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), he worked his way up from intern to deputy project manager for new projects. In the process, he got the chance to climb launch towers, walk down the Space Shuttle cargo bay and watch shuttle launches.
But many people appreciate that he’s back on the ground, helping to further surface transportation achievements.
“With Tim, it’s not that he necessarily has made one single, gigantic accomplishment he might claim credit for,” Sill said. “It’s more that there’s one valuable accomplishment after another. They keep coming.”
This article was jointly prepared by the Partnership for Public Service, a group seeking to enhance the performance of the federal government, and washingtonpost.com. Go to http:// washingtonpost.com/wp-srv/politics/fedpage/players/ to read about other federal workers who are making a difference.