The Toll Roads Give Students a “Behind the Roads” Look at Transportation and Tolling

Tomorrow’s transportation leaders recently gathered via Zoom when the Transportation Corridor Agencies (TCA) hosted an educational seminar as part of the Women’s Transportation Seminar (WTS) Orange County Chapter’s Transportation Academy. TCA is responsible for planning, financing, constructing and operating The Toll Roads (State Routes 73, 133, 241 and 261).

TCA has participated in the WTS Transportation Academy since its first class in 2009. The WTS Transportation Academy presents students with real-world applications in their course of study. Topics including engineering, urban planning and government affairs are areas of focus for the two-week seminar, in which students hear from various stakeholders in the industry. 

As part of TCA’s two-hour offering, students gained perspective on tolling and the industry in general from Interim CEO Samuel Johnson and Interim Deputy CEO Valarie McFall. Both shared their unique viewpoints gained from decades as transportation executives. Johnson spoke about TCA’s mission and offered his perspective on the importance of networking, not just to further the students’ own interests, but to expand horizons and accomplish industry goals through collaboration. He also spoke about the importance of equity in today’s climate.

“TCA has acted to advance talented, capable women and men of all backgrounds, ethnicities, skin colors and beliefs. You can see that reflected in our leadership team and throughout our ranks. I’m proud to be at the helm as we continue that tradition and work to be even more inclusive and develop an even better understanding of the diverse needs and backgrounds of our current staff as well as future candidates such as the bright students attending the WTS Transportation Academy,” Johnson said. 

McFall, who is TCA’s first Deputy CEO, spoke about the various paths available to students looking for a career in transportation – such as environmental planning and design, her chosen field and a subject she is passionate about. 

In years past, a highlight of the TCA program was the popular on-road tour. Last year’s group stopped by the Oso Parkway Bridge, a key mobility project scheduled to open this fall. Challenges presented by COVID-19 prompted this year’s event to be held virtually and TCA staff offered students a virtual tour of the Tomato Springs Mainline Toll Plaza and a look at the Upper Chiquita Canyon Conservation Area – a 1,158 preserve near Rancho Santa Margarita. 

Another highlight of the virtual event was a career panel that featured Director of Communications Lori Olin, Program Manager Natasha Ahsan, Corridor Manager Kelsie Anderson and Director of Design and Construction Juliet Su, an active leader in WTS and a frequent Academy participant. 

“When I graduated from UCI 25 years ago, I was one of only a handful of female engineers entering the transportation industry. At that time, I wish I had the opportunity to be introduced to agencies and firms through programs like the WTS Orange County Chapter Transportation Academy,” Su said.

“TCA is proud to participate each year and support the growth of these individuals. I hope we were able to illustrate the importance and impact that each of their chosen fields has on the transportation industry. The work of these future engineers, planners and environmental stewards will shape the future of our industry,” Su concluded. 

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