Short Course Long on History, Achievements

With the theme “one DOT,” the 84th Annual Transportation Short Course attracted more than 1,800 professionals for the two-day event at Texas A&M University Oct 12-13. Rich with history — the first short course occurred when President Calvin Coolidge occupied the White House — short course is co-sponsored by the Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT) and the Texas Transportation Institute (TTI).

“It’s fascinating to think of the knowledge that has been disseminated here, the networking that’s taken place, the decisions that have been made, and the impacts they’ve had on transportation in this state and this country over the last eight-and-a-half decades,” TTI Agency Director Dennis Christiansen told the crowd during the opening session. “TxDOT has always been our most important customer, our most valued partner.”

Texas A&M University President R. Bowen Loftin — introduced as being part of the TxDOT family because his father worked 40 years for what was then called the Texas Highway Department — welcomed the attendees.

“Many of our faculty works jointly with TTI and the department so we can educate the next generation of civil engineers along with the kind of research TxDOT needs to make our highways better, cheaper and safer over time,” Loftin said. “We are all here today to celebrate the partnership between TxDOT, TTI and Texas A&M.”

Many of the opening session comments centered on the recent challenges at TxDOT, including legislative criticisms of the department, funding concerns and several substantial new projects. Much of short course focused on teamwork and all that has been accomplished.

It’s been frustrating at times, but success is here,” TxDOT Executive Director Amadeo Saenz told the crowd. “In spite of all you have been asked to do, you’ve done it. In spite of the changes you’ve been asked to make, you’ve made them. I’ve never been more proud of the people in this department.”

Similar sentiments were expressed by members of the Texas Transportation Commission.

From Chair Deirdre Delisi: “It’s not easy to hear or read the criticisms that come our way. You continue to surprise me every day by standing up and accomplishing the tasks and any challenges brought before you. As a result we are considered the model for the rest of the country.”

From Commissioner Fred Underwood: “Let’s not get discouraged by this process. Regardless of what happens during the legislative session, we need to stay focused on doing the right thing. In part, that’s improving the lives of the men and women around us.”

As part of the proof that TxDOT has made a difference, Saenz pointed to last year’s fatality statistics showing that “388 fewer Texans died on our highways.” He told employees that the 11 percent decline was due, in part, to the work they did.

As part of each opening session, TxDOT highlights employees who risked their own lives to save others. This year, five employees received an “Extra Mile Award” in cases that involved a car crash explosion, a high water rescue and subduing a suspect who attacked a state trooper.