The opening session of the 81st Annual Transportation Short Course highlighted past achievements of the Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT) while acknowledging the challenges ahead for Texas transportation professionals. Dr. Dennis L. Christiansen, director of the Texas Transportation Institute, and Dr. Michael D. McKinney, chancellor of The Texas A&M University System, welcomed TxDOT and members of the Texas Transportation Commission to campus.
The ceremony was marked by the passing of the TxDOT torch from Michael Behrens to Amadeo Saenz, who recently assumed the role of executive director. Behrens helped transition the department through demanding times over the past few years, and Saenz and other speakers acknowledged the department’s debt of gratitude to its latest retiree. Also acknowledged were TxDOT personnel from across the state, who were awarded recognition for outstanding service to Texans over the past year. Awards were presented by Mr. Lawrence Olsen, executive vice president of the Texas Good Roads/Transportation Association, and TxDOT Deputy Executive Director Steven E. Simmons.
Throughout the ceremony, speakers emphasized the need for change as they looked to the future of Texas transportation. Reduced funding due to tighter federal budgets and the diversion of state tax dollars to non-TxDOT programs will challenge transportation professionals charged with enhancing and maintaining the Texas transportation system in the future. Commissioners Fred Underwood, Ted Houghton, Jr., and Hope Andrade emphasized that Texas would have to do more with less to meet the needs of its citizens as the population grows while funding resources shrink. Commission Chair Ric Williamson acknowledged that these were the “challenges of America” as the entire nation struggles with fulfilling the needs of more citizens with less money.
Acknowledging this reality, Executive Director Saenz reiterated his colleagues’ commitment to TxDOT’s strategic plan, which strives to reduce congestion, enhance safety, expand economic opportunity, improve air quality, and increase the value of transportation assets. Saenz recognized the tough road ahead but assured everyone in the room that they were up to the challenge. “Together we’ll make it better,” he promised.