2021 Project Achievement and Leadership Award Blog Series: A Conversation with the Honorable Oliver G. Gilbert III

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For his tremendous leadership abilities and continued success working on transportation projects in the Miami-Dade area, NARC is pleased to recognize the Honorable Oliver G. Gilbert III as the recipient of the 2021 Tom Bradley Leadership Award. Chairman Gilbert has served the Miami-Dade area in a number of capacities, including as the Vice Chairman of the Board of County Commissioners and the Chair for the Miami-Dade Transportation Planning Organization (TPO), the Southeast Florida Transportation Council (SEFTC), and Vice Chair of the South Florida Regional Planning Councill. During his time at the Miami-Dade TPO, Chairman Gilbert oversaw the passage of 50 transportation planning-related resolutions during 2020 — resolutions that advanced critical projects and promoted access to multimodal transportation for residents and visitors.  

 Chairman Gilbert has been a champion of regional cooperation throughout his time working in the Miami-Dade area. Under his leadership, the SEFTC adopted the 2045 Regional Transportation Plan (RTP), a collaboration between Miami-Dade, Broward, and Palm Beach Counties that aims to provide resilient and equitable transport across southeastern Florida. This RTP will help proactively address the transportation needs of a growing region and further integrate the industries that allow local communities to thrive. To meet the crisis of the pandemic, Chairman Gilbert also oversaw the approval of a study investigating telecommuting as a means of reducing congestion and improving mobility within Miami-Dade County. The study resulted in the creation of a pilot program that aims to maximize telecommuting opportunities and recommend policies for implementation.  

To further highlight the tremendous work done throughout the Miami-Dade region, we asked Chairman Gilbert about his leadership style and the role he sees for regionalism in government — both today and in the future.   

1.) What role has regional cooperation played in your successes with the Miami-Dade TPO? 

As the second-term Chairman for both the Miami-Dade TPO Governing Board, as well as the Southeast Florida Transportation Council (SEFTC), regional cooperation has been key to the success of the Miami-Dade Strategic Miami Area Rapid Transit (SMART) Plan/SMART Region. We have created SEFTC as a  forum where we engage to address regional issues and implement policy in a collaborative manner with agencies across southeast Florida.  The SEFTC is comprised of the membership from the Miami-Dade TPO, Broward Metropolitan Planning Organization (MPO), and Palm Beach Transportation Planning Agency (TPA), all within the U.S. Census designated Miami Urbanized area.  

Our region is currently collaborating on strategies for mass transit that will enable us to sustain growth and address issues of sea-level rise and housing. The goal is for long-term sustainability in the southeast Florida region, which is a key component to position Florida as a major global competitor.  

2.) What lessons have you learned about encouraging people to cooperate on important projects? 

I have learned that the public is a key partner for our regional projects to be successful. Through the development and adoption of our 2045 Regional Transportation Plan, we have ensured community engagement and strong stakeholder partnerships. The 2045 Regional Transportation Plan created one regional voice in support of a resilient and equitable transportation for the region’s residents, businesses, visitors, and economic growth. This plan identifies the most significant transportation investments needed for future growth and demand throughout the southeast Florida region. 

3.) During your time at the Miami-Dade TPO, how important has familiarity with the people in your community been in addressing issues?  

Through the transportation planning process, we are constantly engaging the public and community stakeholders, which has been key in gaining consensus to advance the region’s transportation priorities. Familiarity with the core needs of our community regarding transportation, workforce housing, economic development, education, and special needs has helped us understand the diverse views and perspectives, which in turn forms the basis of a successful planning and decision-making process.  

4.) What is something you know now that you wish you knew when you first began your career?  

I wish I knew that the box is imaginary. We hear the phrase “think outside the box”. In most instances, the box is a social norm that we created, that we use to limit our ability to change. We are limited by the laws of physics, everything else is changeable.  

5.) How has the shape and scope of regional cooperation changed throughout your career?  

Regional cooperation has evolved throughout my career from basic agreements to regional consensus and collaboration between counties and governmental agencies. Today, we function as a unified region with strong collaborative partnerships.  

6.) What traits — in both yourself and others — do you think are most important to being an effective community leader? 

I believe creativity and resilience are important traits that allow me, and others, to think outside the box to effect change and bring innovation to our region. As a community leader and Chair of the TPO Governing Board, collaboration is a key element to build a common vision and advance our transportation priorities. We always embrace different and diverse perspectives on our board, which opens us up to new possibilities and allows us to advance our priorities and work with the community. It has been critical to move forward with our Strategic Miami Area Rapid Transit Plan (SMART) which has enabled to directly address the region’s mobility needs for today and the future.  

7.) What future role do you see for regionalism in government?   

Regional collaboration is important to address complex regional issues that affect millions of citizens, including transportation and mobility, safety, and economic development. There is a necessity to promote strategies that will lead to efficient, effective, and consistent regional collaboration. Given our region’s expected growth, we continued to proactively explore partnerships in transportation funding as well as working across boundaries. Through our coordinated long-range planning efforts, we have made great strides in identifying policies, transportation facilities, and services that will strengthen our region and the competitiveness of our nation on the global level.  

8.) How has the COVID-19 pandemic impacted the way you view your work?  

In March 2020, the COVID-19 pandemic reshaped daily life, making significant changes in how people operated. While the pandemic presented a range of challenges, it also presented opportunities to showcase resilience. The Miami-Dade TPO Governing Board is aware that we need to be at the forefront of how we address traffic and congestion in our region, and how we respond to any crisis that come our way. Telecommuting is one example of that resilience, reflected in a growing trend in many industries, to comply with social distancing guidelines.  

In mid-summer 2020, the TPO Governing Board approved a study focusing on the concept of telecommuting as part of a long-term overall strategy to reduce congestion and improve mobility in Miami-Dade County. We worked collaboratively with our partners to complete the most comprehensive study to date regarding telecommuting to understand trends and the possibility of telecommuting as a traffic mitigation strategy to “flatten the congestion curve” post-COVID-19.  

A significant outcome of the study is the advancement of a series of policy actions, including a Pilot Telecommuting Program. We have partnered with the South Florida Commuter Services to implement the program. 

9.) What impact has coordination with like-minded colleagues had on your own leadership abilities?  

Collaboration with our partners at the national, state, regional, and local levels has afforded us the opportunity to adapt to critical changes. During COVID-19, our priority was to continue providing vital, safe, seamless, and reliable travel across modes within our southeast Florida jurisdictions. In these unparalleled times we must have a sense of urgency to transition our future to be more economically and environmentally resilient. We will be successful if we can achieve this together. 

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