WTS Transportation Academy Day 3: Caltrans and UC Irvine

This week wraps up the second and final week of the WTS Orange County Transportation Academy.

It’s been really fun and I’ve certainly learned a lot so far from real transportation professionals and in actual sites where real transportation work is performed.

(Catch up on my first three days from Day 1, Day 2 and Day 2.5)

On Wednesday, I toured a Caltrans Maintenance Facility in Irvine as well as a hydrogen fueling station at UC Irvine. Because there were a lot of technical details discussed, this post will be relatively short.

In the morning, we listened to presentations from Caltrans District 12 (Orange County) officials who discussed the important elements and steps that go into construction of its projects. Caltrans, known officially as the California Department of Transportation, is mainly overseeing and funding freeway projects but also deals with other public works projects such as rail.

Officials shared details about planning for projects, managing projects, environmental planning, designing what the projects will look like and the eventual construction of projects.

Another topic one official went more in depth about concerned real estate issues such as when properties need to be acquired to build projects and assessing the value of those properties. He talked about the entire process including acquisition of these properties, handling any legal challenges that may arise, determining the value of the property, eminent domain and working with residents and property owners to reach an agreement of some sort.

At the end of the session, we took a brief glance at the Caltrans traffic control center, a large room where freeway traffic camera feeds from all Orange County freeways are streamed in real time in the large monitors while state officials and California Highway Patrol officers on the floor monitor local freeway traffic conditions.

In the afternoon, we headed over to UC Irvine for a session at the university’s National Fuel Cell Research Center. The university leads the way in developing and deploying advanced power and energy systems.

UC Irvine officials associated with the research center discussed its efforts to develop clean fuel technology to power hydrogen-fueled cars. It also maintains its own hydrogen-fueling station, regarded as one of the busiest in the world with 50 hydrogen-fueled cars roaming through the streets of Irvine alone.

In association with Southern California Edison, the university also works on technology to develop a smart grid system that can help replace the nation’s aging electrical grid with state-of-the-art technology that powers communities with advanced computer and telecommunications technology. Officials pointed to a test community in the city that is using a smart grid system using different forms of power such as solar power.

Our tour concluded with a visit to the hydrogen fueling station near John Wayne Airport. A university official demonstrated the procedures to fuel a hydrogen-fueled car using an actual pump and vehicle. The process generally takes a bit longer than what most people take to fuel their cars at their local gas stations. Researchers are still developing ways to expedite the process to cut the wait time while still being able to fully fuel these cars.


Finally, I got together with some of the students in our academy to snack on some delicious pastries at 85 [Degrees Celsius] Bakery, a Taiwanese-based bakery in Irvine that is known for its pastries and bread delivered fresh off the oven every few minutes. The chocolate-filled croissant was delightfully good as was the giant coffee bread. What’s even better was getting together with these fine people who share the same interests in going into the transportation industry, realizing that we all have unique but amazing stories to tell.

The academy wraps up Thursday with a boat ride through the Ports of Long Beach and Los Angeles. Check back on Friday for details on the fourth and final day of this academy.