Rae Furlonge. BSc., PhD., FASCE, FITE, FAPETT, R. Eng.

A Chat with Engineer, Dr. Rae Furlonge, APETT’s Career of Excellence Awardee.

Engineer Dr. Rae Furlong is a recipient of APETT’s most distinguished award, that of “Career of Excellence Award”, conferred on a member in recognition of exceptional contribution to the engineering profession and who, among other thing, has provided service to APETT for advancement of the Association’s objectives. The Awardee would have completed a distinguished career in engineering which has significantly involved or resulted in working on  unusual or complex projects or situations, built engineering capacity   and  capability, developed  engineering solutions  to  complex  situations,  executed broad  and  in-depth  application  of  engineering which has impacted positively on the society, demonstrated technical leadership on engineering projects and has achieved recognition from his/her peers and the engineering fraternity for his/her engineering work.

Engineer Furlonge, in many ways, has more than fulfilled these criteria by his outstanding professional practice, entrepreneurship, exceptional contribution to the profession and advocacy through his writings and publications on both technical matters and matters of public interest within the purview of his technical competency as a transportation planner and traffic engineer.

Engineer Furlonge has over 38 years in engineering practice, an avid writer, publisher and presenter on subjects in his field of practice, a Fellow and Past President of the Association of Professional Engineers of Trinidad and Tobago, a Registered Engineer with the Board of Engineering of Trinidad and Tobago and a strong believer and supporter of Continuing Professional Development, exemplified by his attendance at numerous international professional conferences and his regular local participation and contributions at APETT and the Project Management Institute Southern Caribbean Chapter Conferences.

Q1. Congratulations on receiving the Career of Excellence Award from the Association of Professional Engineers of Trinidad and Tobago! Can you share some highlights of your journey in transportation and traffic engineering that led to this prestigious recognition?

For me it has been a long journey in engineering practice and advocacy on matters of transportation and traffic engineering planning and infrastructure in which I have challenged the lack of justification and professional ethics in the decision making and implementation processes of transportation studies and projects in the transportation sector. Some of these go back to the debate on the Trinidad and Tobago Rapid Rail Project, and many others projects, pursued with little evidence of feasibility and limited utility and applicability in charting our people’s future transportation mobility and accessibility. Thus, compromising our entire national transportation planning processes.

My journey includes over 38 years practice and familiarity with the complexity of transportation and associated infrastructure issues, and the processes and theoretical framework to respond to these in small island development states, and in particular Trinidad and Tobago. As a consequence, I have been actively involved in Government, state enterprises, academia, and consulting practice over the years.

My involvement in national transportation policy matters includes being the Lead Consultant for the preparation of a policy framework for implementation of major transportation projects in Trinidad and Tobago; Public Transportation planning and development; Land use -transportation connectivity; Consultant to the Caribbean Development Bank (CDB) to determine the adequacy of legislation, regulations, enforcement, equipment and organisational arrangements pertaining to vehicle weight control in its 18 Borrowing Member Countries (BMCs); then making recommendations and develop potential strategies for CDB support; Preparation of  the Terms of Reference for the study of a Strategic Investment Plan for the Piarco Estate; Membership of a Cabinet-Appointed Committee for the pre-feasibility study of the Carenage area for the development of a marina and fishing port facilities; Chairman, Advisory Committee to the Honourable Minister of Works and Transport for the preparation of a comprehensive internal transportation policy for Trinidad and Tobago.  

I have also been involved in the practice of land-use transportation modelling, with some examples of these being; Saint Vincent and the Grenadines Regional Disaster Vulnerability Reduction Project; A consultancy to design, operationalize and evaluate a demonstration Pilot Project of a Park-and-Ride initiative for the greater Port of Spain area along the main East- West and North-South transit corridors;  A consultancy to provide an assessment of the urban mobility situation in Belize City and to support the formulation of the Action Plan that will address the city’s critical challenges in the sector; Preparation of a preliminary major road network plan for the Ministry of Planning and Development.

My involvement in training and academia includes; Senior Lecturer Part-Time, Transportation Planning – MSc Urban and Regional Planning, Faculty of Engineering, University of the West Indies, 2006 to 2022; Trainer in the Fundamentals of Traffic Management for Traffic Management Inspectors, Ministry of Works and Infrastructure; Part-time adjunct faculty at the University of Trinidad and Tobago in the BASc programme in Civil Engineering; Facilitator at the second seminar for the Royal Grenada Police and Public Works Officers on the importance of traffic management for a developing society; Facilitator at the first seminar for the Royal Grenada Police Officers on the Importance of traffic management for a developing society; Instructor of Geometric Design in a course, participated in by professionals from several Caribbean countries, entitled “The design of Roads for Mountainous Terrain”, at the University of the West Indies, St. Augustine.

I have written more than 440 articles in a weekly business supplement on traffic and transportation matters for the Trinidad and Tobago Newsday daily newspaper and have made several presentations and peer review publications too numerous to mention.

My Contribution to APETT and the Engineering Profession include the creation of the APETT Engineering Legacy Project in 2011 which is a Project about the recognition, documentation and honouring of the contribution of those individuals and organisations who have pioneered and developed the profession locally. A review of the country’s National Awards reveals that less than one percent of the 2,000-plus recipients to date (since 1969) have been engineers. This project was therefore an effort on the part of APETT to recognise and honour its own. I have already completed sixty (60) video interviews which include APETT’s Career of Excellence recipients, APETT Past Presidents, and some other members who thus far have made significant contributions to the profession. In addition I am a recipient of the RVS Aleong Award for Sterling Service to APETT 2017; facilitated and coordinated several APETT Free Public Seminars, served as APETT President 2011-12; Led the APETT Philanthropic Project: Planning and Implementation of Flood Mitigation Measures at Princess Elizabeth Centre (PEC).

Q2. What initially drew you to specialize in transportation and traffic engineering, and how has your passion for this field evolved over the years?

Civil engineering was boring for me until I encountered the specialist field of transportation engineering, and in particular travel demand modelling and the social engineering engaging a multi-disciplinary approach to this field. After a few years working in construction and associated contracting for various companies, I got the opportunity to pursue this dream through higher education studies.

I have been involved in professional practice in transportation planning and traffic engineering in both the public and private sectors within Trinidad and Tobago and the wider Caribbean Region. My firm is primarily engaged in transportation planning studies with priority on travel demand management; traffic impact assessment studies; highway geometric design, including roundabouts; and, road safety auditing, including traffic incident expert witness contributions. When I started my private consulting in 1998, very few persons recognised the role of the private consultant in traffic and transportation engineering, as these activities were traditionally done within a Department or Ministry of Public Works. That is when I began a contracting firm doing road marking installations, which continues to the present time.

My priority in the practice has been for promoting cost-effective, people-centred traffic management strategies, with emphasis on preferential treatment for high-quality, affordable and convenient bus and mini-bus transit, integrated with suburban and remote-parking, park-and-ride systems, safe and convenient pedestrian facilities, and effective public information and education. It advocates the coordination and integration of land use and transportation to discourage private car-dependent travel, with flexibility to accommodate ongoing changes in transit preferences, and recognition that most persons will not give up their autos, but they could reduce the number of private trips they make.

Q3. Throughout your career, what have been some of the most significant challenges you’ve faced in the realm of transportation and traffic engineering, and how did you navigate through them?

I was at one time the highest qualified engineer in the Ministry of Works and Transport, yet my highest attainment there was Acting Engineer II. The Permanent Secretary at that time promised to provide a better opportunity but it never came. I received permission from the Permanent Secretary to lecture part-time in the Civil Engineering Department at UWI St Augustine and did so for a couple of years. When I had served the term of my scholarship I decided to move on. I was offered several academic positions abroad during my time at the Ministry but declined because I had made a decision to contribute here.

I started my business in transportation planning and traffic engineering in 2002 and since that time I have never received a single consulting contract from the Ministry of Works and Transport. This ministry has awarded hundreds of millions of dollars of contracts in my specialist field of engineering, but my practice has always been excluded, due to unsuccessful attempts but also many times because of no knowledge of the project, and no invitation. In 2010 I presented a technical paper for the Institute of Transportation Engineers conference in Canada on how to analyse non-circular roundabouts and used the example of the Roxy Roundabout and it was well-received as none of the guidebooks then (and even today) had addressed that problem. The attendance was so high that the doors had to be opened to allow more persons into the room – I had attended several conferences before as well as after, but I have never seen such a situation.

I am recognised as an expert by several of the top academic and practising transportation engineering professionals in India, and in 2020 I was invited to do a technical presentation to the Transportation Research Group of India in their webinar series on Environment and sustainability in transportation. I have also served as a PhD examiner for 8 civil engineering candidates from some of the IITs.

Yet, despite all of the above, I do not think I have been permitted to contribute adequately locally. I could explain why I think so in this interview.

Q4. Can you discuss some of the most notable projects you’ve been involved in as a transportation and traffic engineer, and how they have impacted communities or the transportation system in Trinidad and Tobago?

I can identify two projects which potentially can impact the transportation system in Trinidad. These are:

  • A consultancy to design, operationalize and evaluate a demonstration Pilot Project of a Park-and-Ride initiative for the greater Port of Spain area along the main East- West and North-South transit corridors using parking infrastructure (e.g. sporting stadia facilities) and tools of behavioural economics in order to modify commuters’ choices. The results of this “proof of concept” project could be evaluated to inform a broader mass transit strategy through recommendations for scaling up and lessons learned, and
  • Preparation of a preliminary major road network plan for the Ministry of Planning and Development, entitled A Systems Approach to National Road Planning. Applied land-use allocation and travel demand modelling using the Lowry Model, and employed the concept of inaccessibility indices for ranking access to zones. This report was co-authored with Mr. Haven Allahar.

Q5. As a leader in this field, what do you consider to be the most critical issues facing the transportation sector in Trinidad and Tobago?

The Ministry of Works and Transport (MOWT) has the key responsibilities with respect to transportation planning, although there is no specific function for transportation planning. Their primary focus continues to be road expansion and maintenance. There is the Highways Act which gives exclusive responsibility to the Minister; there is no technical specialist named in that act. The key responsibilities concerning spatial and transportation planning with the MOWT are:

  1. Highways Division
  2. Drainage Division, with some contribution to roadside issues
  3. Traffic Management Branch (TMB) which was formed because of a loan arrangement in the late 1970s for traffic management and associated road markings and traffic signs, but which still does not have its own formal legal status, but which has been loaned the legal status of the Transport Division (Licensing Authority)
  4. Public Transport Service Corporation (PTSC), a State agency under the MOWT. Under its legal structure (Chapter 48:02), “it shall be the duty of the Corporation to carry on the business of operating public service vehicles under this Act, so as to ensure the provision of a safe, adequate, economic and efficient public transportation system, adapted to the needs of the country …”, with this there are a lot of opportunities and possibilities.

The context of the national spatial planning has to be integrated with the current issues of the relevant entities mentioned earlier, as well as the future land-use transportation planning policies and directions, and the future approach to governance, such as whether traffic and transportation matters should be under a separate Ministry for Transport, etc., where transportation planning, public transportation, and traffic management would be given priority.

Q6. How do you stay updated with the latest advancements, technologies, and regulations in transportation and traffic engineering?

I continue to read and subscribe to relevant online journals, engage in discussions with other experts, especially in other fields and write articles in conferences and groups social media platforms

Q7. What skills or qualities do you believe are essential for a transportation and traffic engineer to excel in their career, especially in today’s rapidly evolving landscape?

Many people do not know that I was a shy, reserved person. I sought to change that by investing heavily in personal development through books, cassettes, CDs and DVDs. If you visit my home study you would note that I have a very large study with a lot of self-development material, among the other engineering and planning stuff.

I was determined to be a strong and influential character. I recognised that the field of civil engineering with its ups and downs economically due to construction booms and busts, as well as its high likelihood for interference in physical development by politicians, made it necessary for engineers to be robust both professionally and ethically.

One of my favourite motivational speakers has been Les Brown, and my credo today is from one of his examples: What I do vs Who I am.

You see, who you are directly controls and influences what you do. Many people will make assumptions about you based on what they know you to have done, and of course, what others tell them that you could do. But the real you primarily comprises who you are, not what you do.

Where am I going with this?

Accountability. If you give priority to accountability, then you will be a person with responsibility for your investment in skills development and of those under your care. You will be fair, predictable and consistent in your administrative decisions. In other words, there would be equity in your choices.

Inequity. However, if you are willing to compromise your role as a professional, you will not be able to provide sound engineering solutions, and you will eventually be viewed as mediocre. Mediocre persons evade the promotion and encouragement of meritocracy. Mediocrity is easily influenced by corruption, as an easier path to advancement. In order words, inequity breeds mediocrity and mediocrity is influenced by corruption.

Over the last 30 years of Government administrations, accountability has not been a priority. Consequently, there is severe inequity in the application of Government investments, and super-technocrats have been at the centre of them all.

An example of a suggested improved strategy: Public-private partnership in the road and associated infrastructure has never transferred the risks and liabilities of the project implementation from the public sector to the private sector as traditionally intended.

Good governance requires major improvement in accountability beginning with the provision of equity in decision-making. If engineers compromise their standards and quality, the results would be non-resilient. If contractors continue to function without engineers, then we would end up without robust and sustainable products.

Les Brown stated: what you do is not who you are. As long as mediocrity and corruption continue to be rewarded, sound engineering solutions will always be optional.  You need to know who you are!

Q8. Reflecting on your journey, what advice would you offer to young professionals aspiring to pursue a career in transportation and traffic engineering?

Find out what you are passionate about, and therein would be found your purpose. Deeply pursue your purpose and seek out a mentor or mentors to support you. Please note most mentors would not be simply standing by to help you. You might have to aggressively be a pain and bother to them, until they relent.

The new valuable inputs to the field of traffic and transportation engineering now include: Geographic Information Systems; Climate Change Information and Climate Resilience Issues; Gender and Social Inclusion; Disaster Risk Management; Coastal Protection and Monitoring; Inland Waterways Transport and Recreational Activity; etc.

Q9. Finally, receiving the Career of Excellence Award is a significant achievement. How do you envision continuing your contributions to the field in the future, and what goals do you hope to achieve?

I will continue to add value when and where I can. However, I need to say that if I were to be permitted to live life again knowing what I know now, I would not pursue the field of traffic and transportation engineering, because every person who drives a car thinks he/she knows all the answers. I have thus had to justify and defend everything always; and thus it has been a thankless and intolerant field.

Our current situation therefore needs to be transformed accordingly in order to assure us of a hopeful future