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Traffic Engineer Job Description, Career as a Traffic Engineer, Salary, Employment

Definition and Nature of the Work, Education and Training Requirements, Getting the Job

Education and Training College

Salary Median—$64,230 per year

Employment Outlook Good

Definition and Nature of the Work

Traffic engineers are transportation engineers who specialize in the design and maintenance of safe roads and highways. They determine what kinds of roads are needed to make traffic flow smoothly and then find the most economical ways to build and maintain them.

Many engineers work in the highway or street departments of state or city governments; others work for federal highway agencies or county highway departments. Engineers can also work for private consulting firms, educational institutions, or industries.

Traffic engineers who work for state governments are mainly concerned with interstate highways or primary state roads, which carry heavy traffic over long distances. They do "need studies" to determine how many trucks, buses, and cars can be expected to use new roads and then work with highway engineers and location engineers to figure out the safest, most economical paths for them. Interstate turnpikes require careful planning of overpasses, exits, cloverleafs, and rest areas.

Traffic engineers who work for city governments try to solve parking problems and traffic jams and to choose the best public transit routes. In some large cities several traffic engineers may have the sole responsibility of timing the traffic lights.

To predict street and highway use in the future, engineers use statistical methods to analyze data about population, housing, commercial development, and existing traffic patterns. They are particularly concerned about accidents, so they keep records to identify possible causes. They may design new intersections, put up new signs, or remove trees that block vision.

Because highways and streets are funded by tax money, traffic engineers must present their plans to government officials for approval. They must prove that their new designs can benefit the public.

Education and Training Requirements

Traffic engineers must have bachelor's degrees in civil engineering. Some colleges offer specific traffic engineering programs. Courses should include transportation,

Traffic engineers design roads, highways, and public transportation systems that allow traffic to flow smoothly. (© Martha Tabor/Working Images Photographs. Reproduced by permission.)

statistics, city planning, highway economics, physics, systems analysis, computing, and computer-aided design. Graduate degrees may help in the search for employment. Advanced programs include courses on traffic-flow theory and freeway-exit design. Large highway departments sometimes have training programs for employees who have completed their degrees.

Getting the Job

School placement services may be able to help graduates find jobs. Civil service commissions can provide information about the tests required for government jobs and job listings. Job seekers can also apply directly to engineering consultants, public transportation companies, and automobile manufacturers. Newspaper classified ads and Internet job sites may offer employment leads.

Advancement Possibilities and Employment Outlook

Advancement depends on education and experience. Traffic engineers may start out by counting traffic or making charts and get promoted to traffic control, such as the regulation of stoplights. With experience they can become chief engineers or administrators of highway departments. Some start their own consulting businesses, while others take high-level jobs with automakers, redevelopment authorities, or safety commissions.

Employment of traffic engineers is expected to increase as fast as the average for all occupations through 2014. As the population increases and continues to move to suburban areas, demand should grow for traffic engineers who can design better roads and plan transit systems. New technologies, such as electronic toll collection and fiber optics, may also spur employment of engineers.

Working Conditions

Traffic engineers usually work forty hours per week, although extra hours may be required for special projects, such as studies of weekend traffic patterns. They usually have comfortable, well-lighted offices for preparing plans and analyzing data, but they also spend some time out on the roads, examining the sites of accidents or checking road conditions. Sometimes they observe traffic flow from helicopters. They often go before government officials to present plans and proposals, so they should be able to speak clearly and write precise reports. Some traffic engineers change employers frequently to work on highway projects in different parts of the country.

Earnings and Benefits

In 2004 the median salary for experienced traffic engineers was $64,230 per year. Many chief engineers or experienced consultants earned considerably more.

Where to Go for More Information

American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials
444 N. Capitol St. NW, Rm. 249
Washington, DC 20001
(202) 624-5800

American Society of Civil Engineers
1801 Alexander Graham Bell Dr.
Reston, VA 20191-4400
(800) 548-2723

Institute of Transportation Engineers
1099 Fourteenth St. NW, Ste. 300 W.
Washington, DC 20005-3438
(202) 289-0222

Benefits usually include health and life insurance, paid vacations, and retirement plans.

Additional topics

Job Descriptions and Careers, Career and Job Opportunities, Career Search, and Career Choices and ProfilesTransportation & Logistics