Midwest states collaborate on equity and inclusion initiative

Podcast features heads of three Midwestern DOTs

Release date: January 11, 2021

How can our transportation systems promote the goals of greater diversity, equity and inclusion? The heads of three Midwestern state transportation agencies discuss that topic in the third of a special three-part edition of Transportation Connects Us, the official podcast of the Wisconsin Department of Transportation (WisDOT).

The episode features Wisconsin Transportation Secretary-designee Craig Thompson, Illinois Transportation Secretary Omer Osman and Minnesota Commissioner of Transportation Margaret Anderson Kelliher. The three states are members of the Mid America Association of Transportation Officials (MAASTO), which has launched an effort to help member states collaborate on issues of equity and inclusion.

“It's important to every employer across the country right now to be working on these issues, the stress that people, especially Black Americans, feel as they're traveling throughout their day,” said Anderson Kelliher, who chairs MAASTO’s Equity and Inclusion Committee. “The other part of this is the acknowledging the history of the transportation system, and the impact it’s had on communities of color and low-income communities across our country.”

Secretary Osman noted that the national protests against social injustice over the spring and summer of 2020 helped refocus state governments, including transportation agencies, on ending racism and promoting policies that contribute to a more just and fair society.

“It was a wakeup call for all of us, “Osman said. “I know, every state has been doing the work behind the scenes, you know, perhaps a one off here and a one off there. But since George Floyd, and since MAASTO as a group came together, it reoriented every state, and it brought a focus to this issue. We have been directed by our governor to look at each facet of what we do as an agency, to look at our policies from the perspective of equity and inclusion. And that's something we are doing with the help of MAASTO.”

In addition to the impact state transportation agencies have as major employers, Secretary-designee Thompson, who serves as the current MAASTO president, pointed out that the planning and design of the transportation system itself can promote or hinder equal opportunity.

“We can definitely learn from our neighboring states that are doing a much better job of providing mobility options. We need to change some of our attitudes here in Wisconsin hearts and minds about non-driving options like transit and other connections, because it is a social justice issue. It is a racial equity issue and it’s about jobs and connecting people to jobs,” Thompson said.

The MAASTO mission is to foster the development, operation and maintenance of an integrated and balanced transportation system that serves the transportation needs of its member states. MAASTO member states include Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Ohio, and Wisconsin.

Transportation Connects Us, the official WisDOT podcast, covers the many ways transportation touches our lives, and the efforts of WisDOT and its partners to provide safe and efficient mobility options for the people of Wisconsin. The latest episode will be available for download January 11. Stream or download the podcast at wisdot.libsyn.com.

For more information, contact:

WisDOT Office of Public Affairs
(608) 266-3581, opa.exec@dot.wi.gov