Houston Transportation Series: Monthly Member Feature

In our Houston Transportation Series: Monthly Member Feature, YPT Houston introduces one of our members who make differences in our community. This month’s feature is Payton Arens of Kimley-Horn.

Tell me a little bit about yourself.

I’m Texas-born-and-raised and my parents live in The Woodlands. My Dad started a company when I was 10 and my Mom took care of me and my two sisters. I grew up on a street with 6 boys my age that became my best friends; we played every sport there was. I took a liking to math and enrolled in a science and technology academy. After graduating in 2009 I attended The University of Texas where I chose to study Civil Engineering.

I like the look of the skyline and how it feels to stand on the roof of massive buildings. I joined the Ultimate Frisbee club and played sand volleyball every weekend. I got a business minor and audited a number of classes in the colleges of Communications and Natural Science. I chose traffic engineering because it has a behavioral aspect that is neglected in most engineering divisions; that is, traffic patterns are dynamic and less predictable than stresses in a beam and properties of materials.

I got an offer from Kimley-Horn the spring of my senior year which included a flexible start date. I traveled Europe before starting work September of 2013. Then I moved into an apartment in Houston with my best friend and soon after became a member of the Sojourn Heights church.

After about a year and a half at Kimley-Horn I’ve expanded my technical skills, acquired an in depth knowledge of traffic engineering, roadway design, and urban planning. And, because half of the young professionals in my office are Aggies, I learned to dance and this past month I spent most evenings at the rodeo.

What are your current projects?

As of mid-March I am tying up loose ends on a commuter rail study for the Gulf Coast Rail District (GCRD) while Sam Lott (the PM) begins coordinating the next phase of work. My team and I are evaluating the mobility of an area in Sugar Land where they are redeveloping the Imperial sugar mine. In Galveston we are looking forward a few years and proposing intersection improvements based on LOS and capacity analysis under future conditions. Recently, Kimley-Horn was awarded the latest TxDOT signal timing job for our district and effort on that will start soon.

How do you feel your projects are affecting mobility/transportation?

Our aim is to improve mobility. When and how much we improve an area varies by project. The GCRD project is a feasibility study and it will take years before a benefit is realized. Of course, when commuter rail is implemented it will have unparalleled impacts on transportation within Houston. The impacts of other projects will be less widespread. Furthermore, there are always tradeoffs: financial or otherwise. We can’t do anything unless someone is willing to pay for it. With the right lever Archimedes could move the world but funding projects has never been easy and 2,000 years later the Earth’s in the same spot.

What do you love most about what you do?

Working in the field of transportation allows me to be an expert in something I experience each day. I sit in traffic and marvel at the opportunity we have to reduce congestion on our freeways and I appreciate that somebody took the time to analyze the intersection outside my office and decided that a dual-left-turn lane and a right-turn-overlap phase would save me a few minutes on my way out. On top of that, who doesn’t love hitting every green light when you’re driving through downtown? Our industry is awesome and Kimley-Horn affords me the freedom and resources to be great at my job.

What role does YPT play in your professional life?

The transportation community is small and in a few years the young members of YPT are going to be managing projects. Getting to know each other helps to form teams and will be beneficial for completing contracts down the line. There is also an exchange of ideas that occurs at YPT that can’t happen anywhere else. Because each member has a knowledge of the industry (as a whole) with a specific expertise, in one discussion you have multiple informed perspectives.

If you need to bounce a transportation-related idea off a peer, then YPT is the place to do it. We are on the brink of a transportation revolution and the brightest of ideas don’t happen at your typical 9-to-5 (progressive companies know this). There’s something about having your mind on your work when you’re outside your structured environment that allows you the freedom to see past the standard and find the breakthrough you’d been missing.

In addition to the professional aspects, having a group of people who actually know what it is that you do 40+ hours a week is relaxing. I have friends that know me but when I show up late to dinner because a client pushed a deadline or the survey used for the signal design was wrong, they can’t quite empathize.

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