NCSITE Technical Retreat 2012

I’ve recently become more involved in the North Carolina Section of the Institute of Transportation Engineers (NCSITE), a fantastic group of people from the industry. I attended a NCSITE lecture and meetup last month and played a lot of catch-up with professionals I know but don’t widely see on a day-to-day basis.

“So, you’re going to the technical retreat in August?”

This is the question of the hour. The thought crossed my mind, but I had such a busy month ahead, I was hesitant to make plans. NCSITE needed commitment early to reserve the facilities they planned to use, and holding off on registration for too long was going to make things difficult for the event.

With some shuffling, it was feasible to adjust my work schedule to get the time off I needed. Peer pressure is the strongest around those who’s careers you admire, so what do you say? You say “Yes.”

Monday, August 27th

11:35 PM

I carpooled with Dr. Reza Jafari of RSTS, Inc., and driving to the retreat was an experience by itself.¬†Never having visited the Caraway Conference Center before, we almost passed it. Reza and I share a curious look turning into the driveway. “Camp Caraway” couldn’t possibly be where we were going, but the name matched the driving directions. From the road, it looks more like a boyscout summer camp.

“I didn’t pack a sleeping bag,” says Evan in the back seat, half-smiling, half-serious. Neither did I.

Following the drive through dense woods, we eventually pull up to a building that could’ve been a stand-in for the Overlook Hotel, so I make a mental note to stay clear of Room 237. After a brief check-in, we meet with other attendees in the conference room, have lunch, and sit down for the afternoon sessions.

Scott Lane, Don Kostelec, and Ram Jagannathan all had wonderful presentations covering decision-making, the design of the human environment, land use, and alternative intersections and interchanges.

6:30 PM

After dinner, we had the opportunity to listen to terrific NCSITE stories and experiences of some more prominent and senior members of NCSITE. But what made the retreat truly special were the team building and learning exercises Camp Caraway staff engaged us with afterwards. Climbing aboard some tractor-transit, we took a ride to another side of camp with fields lit for the evening’s activities. The irony of the game titles was not lost on me: transit-trains, red-light / green-light, and a game involving subway cars making roundabouts.

There was more fun, learning, and leadership coming from these activities than I knew what to do with. So I pocketed as much as I could for future reflection, and before I knew it, it was time for s’mores at the campfire.1

Tuesday, August 28th

6:00 AM

There was an optional morning jog scheduled. I briefly saw the clock out of one sleep-encrusted eyeball. I then proceeded to close said eyeball and dream about jogging instead.

7:30 AM

A light breakfast in the cafeteria and on to more sessions. I especially liked Pete Nicholas’s planned signal design activity. This session was my favorite. Complete with a design scenario, blank plans, and an answer sheet to check once completed, our groups were able to look at a proposed signal location and locate signal poles and heads around utilities and property lines. We then had an introduction to isolated timing and an overview of signal cabinet hardware.

This was followed by an introduction to ITS by Kevin Smith and coordinated signal timing by Denys Vielkanowitz. After a group discussion on the retreat as a whole, it was time for lunch and the ride back home.

Lasting Impressions and Memories

One thing that was especially neat about this retreat: it really held my attention. I rarely found myself compulsively checking my iPhone.2 Yes, Camp Caraway is in the middle of nowhere. But that’s kind of what made it special. We couldn’t just drive home for the night, or separate and go to different restaurants. We were stuck with each other for better or worse, and it allowed us to get to know one another much more than I expected.

I shouldn’t have waited so long to register. If registration was open today for a 2013 retreat, NCSITE would have my money already. Special thanks to the NCSITE members who did all the hard work planning everything, you all did a fantastic job. To students, professionals, and others who couldn’t make it this week: there’s no way around it. You truly missed out.


  1. Yes, it was a little warm to have a campfire. But after forming trains of sweaty engineers and running around in a soccer field, a seat on a log in front of a fire with marshmallows is as good as any.
  2. Of course, this could also have been affected by the complete lack of cell signal anywhere near Camp Caraway.

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