Lisa Nungesser: A Legacy of Transportation and Environment Innovation

Nungesser’s four-decade career as a transportation and environmental planning leader has set the stage for more sustainable transit and highway development.

In July, Lisa Nungesser’s career at WSP USA came to a close as she bid farewell to her colleagues, coworkers and friends at a retirement party in Sacramento – her final stop on what has been a long and successful journey with the firm.

Since joining the firm (then Parsons Brinckerhoff) in 1987, Nungesser has worked as a transportation planner, project manager and an area manager on a wide range of planning and development projects across the U.S., most recently serving as a senior vice president and senior technical manager for the firm.

“Lisa is a consummate professional, and her planning and environmental work have made a significant impact on transportation projects in the U.S.,” said Joe Pulicare, WSP USA president for transportation and infrastructure. “Her expertise has been invaluable on transit and transportation projects, where she has applied her expertise on environmental justice and community impact issues on major infrastructure projects.”

High-Speed Rail

For the past 4 years, Nungesser has led the environmental team for the California High-Speed Rail Authority, responsible for the delivery of eight federal environmental documents covering over 500 miles of new high-speed rail infrastructure from San Francisco to Anaheim.

As deputy director of environmental planning in support of the development of the high-speed rail passenger service, she recruited more than 50 senior environmental professionals to support this work. Her work included overseeing the completion of more than 100 environmental re-examinations supporting the three design-build contracts on 119 miles of rail construction in California’s Central Valley, between Madera and Bakersfield.

“This included managing the natural resources and cultural resources programs to deliver compliance with numerous federal and state regulations and guidelines, such as the U.S. Clean Waters Act, the National Historic Preservation Act, and the U.S. and California Endangered Species Act,” Nungesser said.

Prior to her move to Sacramento to work on the California High-Speed Rail project, some of her other notable projects included:

  • deputy project manager/environmental manager for the Texas Department of Transportation’s Dallas/Fort Worth to Houston Core Express Passenger Rail preliminary engineering/environmental impact statements;
  • environmental manager for the Oklahoma Department of Transportation’s I-40 Crosstown Expresssway Relocation Program PS&E, the largest highway and bridge construction project undertaken in the state’s history; and
  • principal-in-charge and project manager to prepare the Oklahoma 2010-2035 Statewide Intermodal Transportation Plan; and
  • leading, winning and implementing a major Mexico City Water mapping project.

Her influence has extended beyond the Texas and California regions. From 2000-2007 she served as the Atlantic district manager in Baltimore, covering a 10-state region that experienced significant growth in its major bridge practice, and expanded its core transit practice with significant wins from multiple new transit clients.

She also served as the Hawaii area manager from 1990-93. While in Honolulu, Nungesser spearheaded staff expansion on Hawaii’s Interstate H-3 construction management program, and managed the second phase of the Honolulu Rapid Transit Program. Staff size increased from under 50 to more than 110 people under her leadership.



Lisa Nungesser led the environmental team for the California High-Speed Rail Authority, covering more than 500 miles of high-speed rail infrastructure.

Early Independence

A graduate of the University of Texas, Nungesser earned her bachelor’s degree from the honors program in 1977, a master’s degree in environmental management in 1979, and a doctorate in community planning and philosophy in 1989.

She started her career as a planner for the City of San Antonio and the Texas State Department of Highways and Transportation, but in 1981 decided to strike out on her own and founded L. Nungesser Inc., a planning firm involved in transportation planning, public involvement and health care facility location planning. During this stage of her career, she provided research and project management support to Texas Transportation Institute, one of the nation’s largest university-based transportation research institutes.

Six years later, Nungesser sold her company to WSP and remained with the firm for the next 32 years. She began her career as the Austin Area Manager, where she made an immediate impact, integrating the Govalle Wastewater Project and the Transitway Corridor Analysis project offices into an integrated Austin practice. From there she launched the firm’s border planning/engineering practices with three new international bridge assignments at the U.S.-Mexico border crossings in Brownsville and Laredo, which eventually expanded into New Mexico.

Nungesser has also taught graduate courses in transportation and environmental planning at the College of Architecture at the University of Texas-San Antonio.

Lifelong Aspirations

During her retirement party, Nungesser spoke fondly of her achievements in growing the Texas practice and her work on projects with the Oklahoma DOT, with whom she still maintains contact. She also shared her many experiences in working on projects that helped to identify creative solutions for clients on difficult issues.

“This is what brought Lisa to her final project for WSP with the California High-Speed Rail program,” said Barbara Gilliliand, WSP vice president and a co-worker during Nungesser’s time in the Sacramento office. “Over her four-year tenure she helped Caltrans apply for its first NEPA [National Environmental Policy Act] assignment outside of a highway project. She brought this idea to the agency and steadfastly pursued it and, on the eve of her retirement, the U.S. Department of Transportation granted the State of California this approval. This is a testament to her dogged persistence and ability to get a job done.”

Nungesser credited her mother and two sisters as the biggest inspirations to her career.

“My mother, a single mom, raised three daughters to think and act professionally and pursue careers where they could make a difference,” Nungesser said. “She was a project manager who travelled to jobs as far as Alaska, which was very unusual for a woman in those days. This had a tremendous influence on me and my sisters.”

Gilliland is grateful for the time she has had working with Nungesser.

“It has been an honor to work with someone as professional and knowledgeable as Lisa,” Gilliland said. “It’s been an adjustment to not see her in the office every day, but the influence she had on staff and projects during her tenure remains strong, and will be felt for years to come.”

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