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November 14, 2017 | Tom Ballard

Mary Peters keynotes INTERSECT17 conference with history of ITS

GridsmartBy Tom Ballard, Chief Alliance Officer, PYA

Former U.S. Secretary of Transportation Mary Peters keynoted the start of INTERSECT17 yesterday with a look back at more than four decades in the evolution of intelligent transportation systems (ITS).

Her rapid-fire presentation also included a gaze into the future with several predictions, particularly as the country becomes even more urbanized in the years ahead.

“We must have this continuing technology deployment if we are going to manage all these people in congested areas,” Peters said. The reference was to predictions that as much as 60 percent of the U.S. population will live in urban centers by 2050.

The Secretary during the final three years of George W. Bush’s Presidency said she was optimistic about future funding for ITS specifically and transportation generally, particularly with the Trump Administration’s emphasis on transformational technology.

“I predict they (Congress) will get something done on infrastructure early next year,” Peters said.

During her data-packed presentation, she chronicled highlights from the 1970s to today. Perhaps most striking to us was a comparison between what was important in the pre-1980s to top of mind topics today.

“People were beginning to realize (in the 70s) you couldn’t pave your way out of congestion,” Peters said. Much of the focus then was on design, construction, and maintenance. She characterized the decade of the 80s as one where there was more emphasis on “how can we make this system better.” ITS was beginning to come to the forefront in the 90s, and the explosion of technologies of all types have dominated this century.

INTERSECT17 is a weeklong event that includes training (Monday), the three-day conference (through tomorrow), and a day of service on Friday. This year’s registration reached a record of 240 attendees. You can learn more about it by reading our recent article.

The ever-evolving event is the brainchild of Bill Malkes, Co-Founder and Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of GRIDSMART Technologies Inc. He started the company with Vig Sherrill about a decade ago under the Aldis brand to revolutionize traffic management.

In his introductory remarks, the humble but passionate CEO showed his love of the company, its employees, and its customers in a video tribute to the first two and comments about the latter.

“I think about the things you do and the trust you place in us,” Malkes said to GRIDSMART’s customers in the room. “We take it incredibly serious.”

Noting that neither of the two Co-Founders was a transportation expert, he talked about the challenges that came with that reality.

“As outsiders, it was extremely difficult to get started in the early days,” Malkes said, noting that Peters helped the company when she agreed to join its board of directors. Today, the company’s tagline – “Traffic Control Freaks” – recognizes the significant progress that it has made.

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