Students in transportation engineering programs learn about the design of highways, airports, traffic flow and civil engineering materials. While courses in transportation engineering can be found within undergraduate civil engineering programs, programs specifically focusing on this area are most common at the graduate level. Program options include a transportation engineering graduate certificate or master's degree in civil engineering with a concentration in transportation engineering. Those who wish to become licensed transportation or civil engineers will want to look for programs that are accredited by ABET. Doctor of Philosophy in Civil Engineering programs are also available; they prepare students for research or teaching careers. Certificate programs are commonly available online, but master's and Ph.D. programs are rare.
Applicants to the certificate and master's degree programs are required to have a bachelor's degree, and some schools may require the degree to be from an ABET-accredited civil engineering program. Some Ph.D. programs admit applicants who only have a bachelor's degree, while other schools require students to have a master's degree as well. A specified GPA is also required for entry into all programs.
Transportation Engineering Graduate Certificates
These one-semester programs teach students to solve problems in transportation regarding availability and capacity. Graduates are prepared to evaluate systems of traffic control and analyze crash frequency information to improve safety. Not all programs require the completion of a final research paper, but some do.
Some programs require admission seekers to have earned a 3.0 grade point average (GPA) - on a 4.0 scale - in an undergraduate civil engineering program. Other programs admit applicants regardless of their undergraduate academic discipline.
Students prepare for careers collaborating with other professionals by learning about the selection of construction materials and pavement design options. Programs offer courses such as:
- Economics of design
- Land development
- Mass transit systems
- Safety analysis
- Traffic flow
Master of Science in Civil Engineering
Civil engineering students - able to focus their studies in transportation engineering - learn to build, design and maintain airports, highways, tunnels and bridges. These 18- to 24-month programs teach the planning and management of resources, as well as the optimization of transit efficiency with regard to both freight and people. Quantitative analysis, planning and economics are all emphasized as relevant topics of study.
Not all programs require applicants' majors to have been an engineering discipline. Admission seekers are generally required to have a minimum GPA of 2.75 or 3.0 on a 4.0 scale.
Using quantitative methods to analyze traffic patterns and existing infrastructure, students learn to anticipate and plan for public transportation needs. Training includes coursework such as:
- Construction methods
- Planning policy
- Risk analysis
- Transportation facility design
- Uncertainty modeling
Doctor of Philosophy in Civil Engineering
Students specializing in transportation engineering use advances in artificial intelligence, nanotechnology and global positioning to design pothole-proof roads and smart traffic flow systems. Transit system engineers also need to be concerned with freight transportation, urban planning and demand forecasting. Those matriculating with no further training than a bachelor's degree can expect to spend five to six years in these programs, including the writing and researching of a dissertation.
Applicants are required to have completed a bachelor's degree program. Additionally, students may need to submit graduate test scores, such as the TOEFL and GRE.
Intelligent transportation system design requires knowledge asset management and cost analysis of a given material over the course of its life, as well as technological advances. Doctoral programs in the field offer coursework in:
- Geographic information systems
- Soil mechanics
- Research methods
- Transportation policy analysis
Popular Career Options
Transportation engineering professionals collaborate with architect, construction and design professionals to solve projected or existing problems in transportation infrastructure. Graduate degree holders are qualified to find work as:
- Transportation engineers
- Transportation planners
- Traffic engineers
Doctoral graduates hold the highest level of education in this career. They are qualified for advanced level engineering positions, as well as careers in secondary education. Job titles for doctoral graduates may include:
- Signals Network Specialist
Employment Outlook and Salary Information
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the engineering field as a whole was projected to see 4% growth from 2014 to 2024 (www.bls.gov). Demand for civil engineers according to the same source was forecast to jump 8%, due to population growth combined with the need to improve the country's infrastructure. The 275,210 professional civil engineers earned a median annual salary of $82,220, according to the BLS report, from May 2015.
Continuing Education and Licensure
Licensure as a professional engineer (PE) is only required of professionals offering their services directly to the public. Candidates must have earned a bachelor's degree from a program accredited by the ABET (formerly the Accreditation Board for Engineering and Technology). PE licensure is administered by the National Council of Examiners for Engineers and Surveyors. Candidates are required to complete a four-year work experience term, supervised by an existing PE, in between passing two written exams.
Requirements vary by state, but the renewal term for PE credentials is generally one to two years. Renewing engineers must be able to prove that they have completed a certain number of continuing education credits.
Most aspiring transportation engineers can get the training they need to study transportation systems and develop safer systems that can handle large capacities or traffic from a graduate certificate program in transportation engineering or an M.S. in Civil Engineering program. Those who wish to explore the application of advanced technologies in transportation engineering may pursue a Ph.D. in Civil Engineering.