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Women in TransitTech: Julie White.

In honor of International Women’s Day and throughout the month of March, Via is proud to profile a number of changemakers driving real innovation in their communities. Enjoy the story below, and then check out the rest of the series.

Via Transportation •
Challenging the status quo takes diligence, determination, and vision — especially when it comes to an industry that hasn’t seen a seismic shift since the automobile was invented. And, as it turns out, it’s often women who choose to challenge these norms. In honor of International Women’s Day and throughout the month of March, Via is proud to profile a number of changemakers driving real innovation in their communities and inspiring their peers. Enjoy the story below, and then check out the rest of the series here.

Julie White is the Deputy Secretary for Multimodal Transportation at the North Carolina Department of Transportation (NCDOT). In this role, Julie oversees the Rail, Public Transportation, Aviation, Ferry, and Bicycle and Pedestrian Divisions — including 800+ employees and $570 million a year in state and federal funds. With more than two decades of public service in state and local government, Julie has been awarded the WTS Women in Transportation Community Advocate Award, the NCDOT Road Gang Award, and the Triangle Business Journal's Forty under Forty Award. Julie earned a Master of Public Administration from N.C. State University and is a graduate of the Leadership North Carolina program and the North Carolina Institute of Political Leadership. 

What did 10-year-old Julia want to be when she grew up? How did you evolve from there to your current position in transportation? My parents were public servants and I aspired to do the same. I began my work in transportation, in earnest, when serving with the N.C. Metro Mayors Coalition, as transportation and transit were among their mainstays. After a decade in that capacity, I was asked to join the N.C. Department of Transportation as the Deputy Secretary for Multimodal Transportation. 

What do you think are the most important qualities in a leader? Are there any leaders in particular you look up to? A leader must inspire, build, and resource a diverse team. A leader also strives to remove obstacles from the team’s path, develops and communicates clear expectations, and holds themselves and members of their team accountable. I admire women who shatter glass ceilings and those who aren’t afraid of change.

What are the big transit challenges in your community that your team is solving with innovative mobility projects? People who lack access to transportation lack the ability to fully participate in our economy. This is especially true in the rural parts of our state, where we can offer assistance in a meaningful way through innovative mobility solutions. For example, we announced in late January that my team at NCDOT would be working with the N.C. Department of Health and Human Services to distribute $2.5 million in federal Coronavirus Relief Funding to local transit agencies to help pay for rides for people who need transportation assistance to receive a COVID-19 vaccine. We estimate we will be able to provide essential transportation services for about 30,000 people who might not have otherwise been able to get vaccinated.      

In your view, what’s the biggest challenge the transportation industry as a whole will have to tackle in the next 2-5 years?   The world is changing rapidly, and we need to be preparing for it now. At the NCDOT we are testing autonomous shuttles, piloting microtransit, expanding passenger rail to better connect urban and rural communities, and changing our planning to a multimodal approach. All of these efforts will inform how we invest in our transportation network in ways that make sense for how we travel in the future.

Tell us about a defining moment in your professional life that has helped guide you on your path. In 1999, I visited with families in eastern North Carolina after Hurricane Floyd. Seeing first-hand the devastation and loss and knowing that I could play some part in assisting in their recovery through my work in government furthered my belief that public service is my true calling. 

And finally, what drives you? (Pun intended!) I love the state of North Carolina and her people. I work every day to identify new ways to make peoples’ lives better — and that is the most rewarding work there is!