One of the most interesting but also daunting aspects of starting any new job involves absorbing not just the day-to-day happenings of the workplace but also finding out who the employer collaborates with on a regular basis beyond our own office walls and membership and why.
I learned that lesson quickly not long after I came on board AASHTO back in 1996. As the assistant to AASHTO’s deputy executive director at that time, I found myself responding to various questions and information requests involving an array of publications that stood apart from those developed exclusively by AASHTO. Those publications existed in the first place thanks to something called the AASHTO-AGC-ARTBA Joint Committee.
Now AASHTO I was definitely familiar with, but – as somebody basically new to the whole transportation universe -- I had to sift through the alphabet soup that seems endemic here in the nation’s capital to find out more about those two other acronyms. I discovered that AGC stands for the Associated General Contractors of America and that ARTBA is the American Road & Transportation Builders Association. I have since developed both a stronger knowledge of each organization and an appreciation for the pivotal role each plays on the national level. I also gained an interest in learning more about when that joint committee encompassing all three organizations came into existence in the first place and its evolution over the decades.
The committee’s origins can be traced to the 1920s. In 1921, a joint committee between AGC and what was then AASHO was established to examine issues of interest and concern to both state highway officials and contractors, and to provide a venue for the resolution of various highway construction challenges. Warren R. Neel, who had been the highway engineer for the Georgia State Highway Department since 1918, served as the committee’s first chairman until 1930.
In 1926, AASHO formed a joint committee with what was then the American Road Builders Association (ARBA) to similarly focus on highway priorities of mutual concern. Fred R. White, who served as chief engineer of the Iowa State Highway Commission from 1919 to 1952, became the committee’s first chairman.
AASHO records confirm that there were some meetings held and projects undertaken during the first couple of decades for each of those joint committees, but true momentum for both groups began to take place in 1949. That’s when AASHO, seeking to foster increased activity and cooperation between the state highway departments and industry, focused more than before on the roles and responsibilities of those joint committees. In an effort to better synchronize its work with ARBA and AGC, AASHO named the same person – Clifford M. Hathaway, chief engineer of the Illinois Division of Highways – as the association’s co-chairman of each division.
Over the next several years and in particular once the Interstate Highway System was authorized, the importance of both of those joint committees grew even more. In 1972, a merger was approved that brought together both groups and created the current AASHTO-AGC-ARTBA Joint Committee.
For more than four decades now, that joint committee has continued to address and advance a broad spectrum of priorities on behalf of its member organizations as well as the larger U.S. transportation community.