With humor and a straightforward approach, the new director of TxDOT’s Research and Technology Implementation (RTI) Office, Shannon Crum, conducted a question-and-answer session with TTI employees Feb. 8. The much-anticipated visit comes three months after Crum took over RTI amid rumors about major changes within the TxDOT research program — many of which were addressed in the Q&A.
“We have a goal to make sure that TxDOT’s research program maintains its place as the most-respected program in the country,” Crum said at the beginning of her presentation. “I think that TxDOT has a really strong program in place, and that’s due in large part to partnerships with TTI and the other universities around the state. But there is always room to make it better, and I think we can take it to the next level.”
Crum — who has been with TxDOT since 2004 and was the director of data management in the Transportation Planning and Programming Division — replaces Rick Collins, who retired after 29 years with the department.
Addressing the rumors swirling around changes to the research program, Crum addressed the criteria for research project selection. She said expert panels will replace Research Management Committees so that the panel members can be more focused in reviewing each of the problem statements. All project statements should answer the questions: “Is it a problem? Is it doable? Can it be accomplished and has the research already been done?” She added that the titles of project director and research engineer have been eliminated, saying that the new system will create more accountability for each individual project. In other major changes, Crum announced that:
- TxDOT will speed up the cycle on deliverables, with the final report due before the contract expires.
- Only those projects that support agency goals and priorities will be selected (maintain a safe system, address congestion, connect Texas communities and help TxDOT become a best-in-class state agency).
- One administrative project manager will be assigned to each project from RTI.
Crum said that a big part of the research project selection process will involve the potential return on investment, making sure that the project will save Texas money in the long run.
“We spend $20 million a year on research and $4 million on implementation activities,” she said. “I want to get that $20 million figure up to $25 million next [legislative] session. We have to convince the legislature that we are delivering value for every dollar we spend.”
As part of her visit, Crum toured various Institute facilities and was treated to a TTI overview presentation by Agency Director Dennis Christiansen.