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Engineering better laws

Parrott brings engineering mindset to General Assembly

 

Posted December 13, 2017

Del. Neil Parrott is something of a rarity. Among the legion of lawyers that fill state legislatures, Del. Parrott is one of just a few engineers currently elected to Maryland’s General Assembly.

His dual and diverse career paths require Parrott to alternate between devising traffic management strategies for new developments to dissecting proposed legislation before the House Judiciary Committee. Yet Parrott, the Republican representative of District 2a in Washington County, says his engineer’s mindset provides a distinctive and potent approach to tackling legislative issues. In fact, the same revelation that inspired him to become a traffic engineer also compelled him to run for office. 

As a civil engineering student at the University of Maryland College Park, Parrott focused on water resources management. Upon graduation, however, he landed a job at the State Highway Administration (SHA) in its traffic department.

“I was able to see that decisions we made effected people very directly and relatively quickly,” he said. “Once you implemented a decision about a new signal or changes to an intersection, you were able to help people dramatically. Crashes could be reduced. The number of injuries and fatalities could be reduced.”

That satisfaction combined with the creative challenges of developing effective traffic solutions prompted Parrott to remain with SHA for 13 years, become the deputy director of engineering for the City of Frederick, and ultimately start his own company, Traffic Solutions Inc. in Hagerstown. 

“There are so many creative solutions you can come up with that will help the motoring public, improve safety and achieve capacity goals,” he said.

For example, the addition of acceleration and deceleration lanes on US 15 in Frederick reduced both congestion and collisions. State adoption of roundabouts has improved flow through many intersections, cut accident rates (especially of T-bone collisions) and ensured that the greatest danger typically facing drivers in such locations is a slow-speed side-swipe. 

Parrott, who occasionally interrupts a family vacation to involve everyone with a quick exploration of a novel traffic solution, said new traffic designs, such as contra-flow interchanges, are proving effective. Such interchanges funnel traffic along unconventional paths, but eliminate left turns and improve capacity and safety.

By 2010, Parrott was convinced that an engineer’s methodical approach to developing smart, creative solutions could benefit people in other ways, so he ran for a seat in Maryland’s House of Delegates.

“Engineers are trained to think about projects in a certain way, using logical methodology, thinking things down to the least common denominator and finding what is really going to make a difference,” Parrott said.

As a legislator, he has applied that approach to a wide variety of legislation, including measures that directly impact the engineering community. He has authored legislation that enabled the state to place ‘exempt’ signs at roadway intersections with disused rail lines. The measure freed school buses and hazardous materials trucks from making previously mandatory and unnecessary stops, and improved traffic flow. 

He has helped pass legislation that removed indemnity clauses from contracts, which could saddle engineering firms with large and unreasonable legal expenses.

He has also resisted regular attempts to create a shared-liability law in Maryland, which would leave engineering firms vulnerable to increased and costly lawsuits.

“Working with the Maryland Society of Professional Engineers and your lobbyist, Chris Costello, has been very important so we can not only fight off bad bills but also introduce new bills that would help the engineering community,” Parrott said.

Maryland’s engineering community could face interesting opportunities in the near future if some initiatives receive political support, he said. Gov. Larry Hogan has proposed a multi-billion-dollar project to ease congestion on I-270, I-495 and the American Legion Bridge. Elon Musk is preparing to begin tunneling for his proposed  hyper loop from Baltimore to New York City. And self-driving automobile technology is advancing rapidly and presenting additional changes to transportation infrastructure. 

“As engineers, our biggest challenge and our biggest opportunity currently is keeping up with technology and realizing how to best use it to benefit our clients,” he said. 

 

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