Brian Tobin has made a career in transportation systems, from creating opportunities in the research world to representing asphalt pavement and highway construction industries.
Today an engineering research project manager at the Rutgers University Center for Advanced Infrastructure and Transportation, Tobin has been busy in the 10 years since he was recognized as a 40 Under 40 honoree by NJBIZ.
“Infrastructure is key to any economy and any good transportation system,” said Tobin, a lifelong New Jerseyan. “I translate engineering thoughts and ideas into public policy approaches.”
In his current role, Tobin’ work is focused primarily on CAIT’s Pavement Resource Program and Technology Transfer Group, working with key stakeholders on grant proposals, legislative agendas, technology evaluation, public education and business and infrastructure development.
CAIT is funded entirely by grants and is a resource for public agencies by helping solve important infrastructure issues, including condition assessment, life-cycle costs and durability, asset management, safety, resilience and environmental and economic sustainability of transportation venues.
“We are helping to manage the issues that help people to get to their jobs,” he said.
A professional since 1996, Tobin earned a master’s degree in 2017 from Rutgers University/New Jersey Institute of Technology in history with a concentration in technology, environment and medicine. He remains active in the Rutgers Alumni Association.
“Having a history degree, I am incredibly grateful and thankful for finishing it,” he said. “I was able to learn how to read, comprehend, analyze and evaluate better, which has made me a better employee and manager.”
Tobin manages the $1.8 million Pavement Resource Program to assist the New Jersey Department of Transportation and helps conduct expansive research and perform advocacy and outreach to agencies and private industries relevant to the center.
Looking ahead, Tobin said he is optimistic about the future of autonomous vehicles, based on the premise that they will be safer than those driven by human beings. Self-driving cars can accelerate, brake and map their location in relation to other cars.
“Imagine if you removed all variables of cars driving the way humans drive and you had every car going 55 miles per hour all the time,” Tobin said. “Every car drives itself in an automated way. You would probably get there faster and safer. We still need people in driver’s seats but the car will do most of the driving, communicating with other vehicles and communicating with the infrastructure itself.”
Roads are designed to last 15 years in New Jersey and 20 years in less densely populated states. With the prospect of self-driving cars, Tobin thinks the pavement industry will adjust to design roads around them.
He also believes parking garages will soon be connected with GPS technology to tell drivers if there are available spots. When the garage is full, motorists would then be directed to other garages.
In 2017, Columbus, Ohio, was designated a Smart City by the U.S. Department of Transportation based on its potential to improve the efficiency of moving people within the city. Columbus received $40 million in funding from the DOT and another $10 million from Vulcan Inc., a privately held company owned by Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen.
Tobin said he thinks New Jersey could follow in Columbus’ footsteps, noting that New Brunswick, Newark and Jersey City are considering the feasibility of a similar investment. He envisions this would require private and public investments, with all parties working together to foster changes. Municipalities have a combination of state, county and local roads.
“From transportation systems, the biggest issue is they do not all communicate on the same equal basis and you can’t force Place X to go with certain technology. They have to make those decisions on their own,” he said.