“When you’re in the middle of something, you can’t see the forest for the trees. I had no clue what was going on nationally in transportation. Also, when you’re in a microcosm, you don’t know that your situation isn’t unique, that there are others out there like you. And that they’re facing the same issues and problems you are. COMTO gave me an understanding of national transportation legislation and politics. COMTO gave us a voice that we didn’t have before. And COMTO gave me a network I’d never had before. You have to remember what things were like back then. When I looked for a role model, the only one I could find was in a mirror. COMTO showed me there were more of me — above and below my level.”
Prince’s story is not unique. It reflects COMTO’s ability to transform individual careers and lives. COMTO’s "Missouri Model" serves as another great example of COMTO’s efficacy.
“I met Julie when we had a $500 million construction project in the St. Louis area,” explains Lester Woods, COMTO board member and external civil rights director for the Missouri DOT (MoDOT). Woods ensures minority and female participation in businesses and in the work force engaged on MoDOT projects. MoDOT is also a COMTO member. “We had some community advocates who were interested in ensuring MoDOT would be aggressive in terms of diversity and inclusion. Due to past problems with these issues, MoDOT senior management wanted to make sure the community knew we were going to be open, honest, fair, and equitable in our contracting practices. So we brought Julie in to mediate community discussions.
“She came in and mediated roundtable discussions on the I-64 project. And it worked. We exceeded all disadvantaged business enterprise (DBE) goals. We met training goals. We exceeded federal labor goals. And the project came in ahead of schedule and under budget. Julie’s effort later became known as COMTO’s Missouri Model. And we’ve used the Missouri Model on subsequent projects.
“COMTO provides a unique sounding board to discuss different vital issues, and to meet many other transportation agencies and glean best practices from them. It’s a two-way benefit. We gain information and best practices and share them as well from a DOT perspective. Because COMTO is multimodal, it also gives everyone access to information across transportation disciplines.”
Ann August sees COMTO’s multimodal focus as a game changer. “At one point I was an internal auditor in the shipping industry. I needed advice, but there was no one for me to call. In transportation, COMTO provides that. COMTO expands your vision and it’s the primary voice for people who have traditionally been denied a voice. COMTO also reaches into communities that broader organizations might never reach.”
A COMTO member since 1985 and a former board member, August was recently named executive director of the Birmingham-Jefferson County Transit Authority — the first female director in the authority’s history. Crediting COMTO with helping her advancement, August offers membership advice.
“Join COMTO and get active. Don’t sit on the sidelines. It’s like a debit card. If you don’t put anything in the bank, you can’t pull anything out. This organization is the same way. If you’re not willing to provide your skills and talents to others, it will be hard for you to benefit from theirs.”
Ten-year COMTO member Calvin Davenger sees a COMTO “triumvirate” as a compelling aspect of COMTO’s appeal. As the deputy director of aviation for planning and environmental stewardship at Philadelphia International Airport, Davenger is an award-winning environmental compliance manager.
“One of the most valuable aspects for me has to do with information flow. COMTO provides access to invaluable information across every transportation mode. And folks make themselves very accessible, both locally and on a national level. That’s a big advantage to being a COMTO member. But for me it comes down to this. I’m a transportation veteran, so now it’s about giving back to the next generation. And I see three reasons why every young transportation professional should join COMTO: training, exposure, and participation.
“Because there’s such a phenomenal national resource pool to draw from, the training and mentoring available is without equal. As an active member you are exposed to national figures, congressional representatives, consulting firms, state agencies—the list goes on. Finally, COMTO provides many different activities for people to participate in, at every level of the transportation spectrum. It also offers support at the local level combined with exposure on the national level for groups that have been traditionally excluded. This is a very powerful combination.”