Young Professional 2021: Erin M. Braich

Erin Braich

Erin M. Braich

Transportation Planning Manager
Benton-Franklin Council of Governments

Favorite music?
Common Kings

Favorite thing to
do in Tri-Cities?

Ride bikes along the river with my fiancée (Kayla), dog (Edgar), and cat (Kona – in his cat backpack).

Favorite Tri-City restaurant?
Dovetail Joint (best chicken
sandwich in town) and Family
Garden (best garlic chicken)

First thing you check on
your phone in morning?
Text messages (I am in a lot
of group chats)

Age: 27

Current city of residence: Richland

How long have you worked for the council of governments?
Since December 2018 (2.5 years)

Briefly describe your organization.
The Benton-Franklin Council of Governments (BFCG) was established in 1966 as a voluntary association of the units of government in Benton and Franklin counties.

The organization is structured as a regional planning commission, a council of governments and a regional transportation planning organization under state law and as a metropolitan planning organization and an economic development district under federal laws.

BFCG’s focus is on economic development, community development and transportation planning by providing a regional forum for multi-jurisdictional decision making and provision of multi-jurisdictional programs.

Education and certifications:
University of Hawaii at Manoa: Master of Arts, Urban and Regional Planning. Certificate in Disaster Management and Humanitarian Assistance.

Eastern Washington University: Bachelor’s in urban and regional planning. Certificate in Geographic Information Systems.

Briefly describe your job and how you got into it: I was sold on becoming an urban and regional planner through free pizza at a major fair at Eastern Washington University.

Originally, I wanted to be an architect. However, Eastern Washington did not have an architecture program, so through free pizza and being convinced that urban and regional planning is architecture at the city scale, I found my passion.

Urban and regional planning combines collaboration, problem solving, data analysis and no two days ever being the same.

I was hired by BFCG out of graduate school in December of 2018 as a transportation planner and was promoted to senior transportation planner and then transportation planning manager by September of 2020.

While working at BFCG, I consistently find myself as the youngest professional in the room when discussing planning projects. However this does not discourage me from standing up for the highest and best use of resources. During my time at BFCG I have accomplished the following:

  • Project lead for the update of the Congestion Management Process (CMP) and Regional Active Transportation Plan for the Tri-Cities region while coordinating with representatives from local jurisdictions and implementing industry best practices.
  • Restructured the Geographic Information System on BFCG’s website to display updated regional traffic count, Title VI, CMP, active transportation and travel demand model data.
  • Oversaw the 2019 Benton-Franklin Council of Governments Call for Projects (BFCG allocated over $15.1 million to local jurisdictions for transportation projects) and wrote the Call for Projects Guidebook outlining the procedures and funding sources of the call for projects process.
  • Updated BFCG’s Title VI Report and implemented Title VI emphasis area methodology into all planning processes and documents.
  • Developed the Unified Planning Work Program for the transportation department of BFCG for the previous two fiscal years and a total budget over $2.5 million.
  • Created and administered a request for proposals for travel demand model improvements and technical assistance for the land use update in the long range transportation plan.
  • Coordinated with local jurisdictions to conduct Growth Management Act reviews of the transportation element within their comprehensive plans.
  • Worked with colleagues to create professional development plans and identify their individual strengths, goals and needed skills to obtain their professional objectives

Today, as the transportation planning manager, managing a team of four, we work to solve regional planning issues through collaboration and multimodal solutions. The Tri-Cities region is growing very quickly and being a part of shaping the future of the place I grew up is an amazing opportunity and privilege daily.

How long have you lived in the Tri-Cities?
22 years (moved away for undergrad and graduate school, then moved back.)

How did you earn your first dollar?
Umpiring Little League games at Richland National Little League.

Did the pandemic affect your daily work life? If so, how?
Yes, the pandemic moved my workstation from the office to my spare bedroom and cut my commute time drastically (12 minutes by bike to 10 steps).

I enjoyed my daily commute of biking to and from work as my warmup and decompression of the workday. Now, I have made it a part of my daily routine (and Edgar’s, my border collie,) to walk in the morning and run after work to maintain my warmup and decompression of the workday.

Also, I have made it a point of emphasis to do weekly check-ins with each member of my team to see how they are doing with their work and working from home.

Working from home has its benefits, but it does not allow for coworkers to see one another every day, so making sure to highlight mental health and asking, “How can I help you be a better transportation planner?” every day to ensure the team members that there is someone there for them.

What was your dream job as a child?
Starting pitcher for the Seattle Mariners

Tell us about your community involvement/community service
• Freshman boys basketball coach at Hanford High School. Before, during, and after the season, I worked with students in player and skills development through physical and mental training, while supporting the head coach.

  • Board member on the Bike Tri-Cities Board of Directors. Bike Tri-Cities is the cycling advocate for the Tri-Cities leading the community in promoting cycling as a safe, healthy, sustainable and fun form of transportation and recreation. I assist in providing technical assistance and professional knowledge of upcoming and ongoing multimodal transportation projects in the Tri-Cities area.
  • Speaking at Hanford High School about urban planning. Over the past three years, I have spoken in the Freshman Advanced Placement Human Geography class discussing urban and regional planning in the Tri-Cities, Washington state and about current developments/projects.

During my time in the Richland school system, I never learned about urban and regional planning, so being able to discuss this subject with the next generation of professionals in the community is an amazing and fulfilling opportunity.

  • President for University Students of Urban and Regional Planning. I was elected student leader of the Department of Urban and Regional Planning and communicated regularly between the department faculty and the student body to arrange and organize guest speakers and department events.
  • Graduate trainee for the University of Hawaii Sea Grant College: West Kauai.

I conducted and transcribed interviews of government officials and community members relating to the impacts of flooding in West Kauai. Also, I organized and facilitated community workshops on flooding inundation and best practices. Having deep and meaningful conversations about how one’s community should rebuild after a disaster or flooding taught me many lessons that I call upon in my work today to be the best empathic planner possible.

How do you achieve work-life balance? I make it a point of emphasis for myself and everyone in my team to take time for yourself and detach from work. Daily, I bring my dog (Edgar) into the office to offer relaxation and a break from their work for other employees.

Also, I organize organization-wide bicycle rides that take place around the Tri-Cities to help improve our on the ground knowledge and build a connection to the region’s active transportation system. Building team camaraderie is important to maintain a work-life balance, especially during times when most of our interactions are via Zoom and Teams.

I try to cultivate a fun work environment where people want to show up and work hard and are happy with their individual and team outputs.

Do you have family? Pets?
My mom and dad live in the Tri-Cities and my older brother lives in Bandon, Oregon. My fiancée (Kayla) and I have one cat (Kona, tuxedo cat) and one dog (Edgar, border collie).

What brought you to the Tri-Cities?
Did you grow up here?
I grew up in the Tri-Cities and then moved away to Walla Walla to play baseball for my freshman year of college.

After breaking my foot during the baseball season, I transferred to Eastern Washington University to finish my bachelor’s degree in urban and regional planning.

Seeking further knowledge in planning and regional decision-making and sick of the Eastern Washington winters, I moved nearly 3,000 miles away to Honolulu, Hawaii, to attend graduate school at the University of Hawaii at Manoa.

Once completing graduate school, I looked to move back to the Tri-Cities to apply my knowledge gained during my education to assist one of the fastest growing areas in the state in sustainable land use and transportation planning.