The Texas A&M Transportation Institute (TTI) hosted the first-ever hybrid Transportation Short Course Oct. 11–13 both virtually and on the Texas A&M University campus. This year’s event marked 95 years of commitment by TTI and TxDOT to present the latest research innovations from the department’s research program to practitioners around the Lone Star State and beyond, thanks to the online option. This year’s event hosted 1,538 in-person and 1,878 virtual attendees.
“It’s the state universities’ mission to help TxDOT implement the next generation of transportation innovations,” said TTI Agency Director Greg Winfree during the opening session. “Collectively, we’re TxDOT’s state transportation solutions providers … [which] provided the impetus for the first Highway Short Course — as it was called back then — hosted at Texas A&M College in 1926.”
With that university mission toward enhancing workforce development as background, Winfree highlighted an upcoming online Master of Engineering degree in engineering for transportation professionals that TTI and Texas A&M’s College of Engineering will offer beginning in the fall 2022 semester. The two-year program is designed specifically for transportation professionals currently in management or who desire to achieve a management position and provides the background and skills to become better managers or launch their management careers.
Drilling down on the topic of leadership, Texas Transportation Commissioner Alvin New gave the keynote address and included details from his own life story as inspiration for TxDOT employees. Citing the modest means of his early childhood, New encouraged TxDOT employees to focus on serving those Texans who need them most and encouraged them to help others by being there for one another within and outside the department.
“The best thing you learn over time is interdependence. … I finally started understanding — if I want to be effective at senior leadership, I need someone who can do that or this better than me, who I believe in and trust,” New said. “You need this team of people to make things happen. And you can’t jump to the end without going through the stages.”
Marc Williams, TxDOT’s new executive director, addressed attendees at the opening session. Williams praised TTI and TxDOT for winning a 2021 National Roadway Safety Award for the “Safer by Design” spreadsheet tool sponsored by the department and developed by TTI. The tool helps roadway designers assess the pros and cons of adding specific safety interventions to roadways to help them create the safest roadway possible before it’s ever built. During his discussion of his five priority areas for the department, Williams cited an increase in traffic-related fatalities and injuries over the past year and reiterated TxDOT’s #EndTheStreakTX campaign, which seeks to end traffic deaths in Texas by 2050. Getting there will rely not only on changing driver behavior but also TxDOT employee dedication to doing the best job possible for Texans. Williams seemed to have no worry on the second score.
“During these [district] trips, I’ve enjoyed the opportunity to speak with — and, more importantly, listen to — the women and men serving in our districts,” Williams said, referencing his commitment to visiting TxDOT districts since becoming executive director June 1. “The dedication and commitment of these employees at TxDOT are tremendous.”
After the general session, attendees had their choice of breakout sessions to attend related to alternative delivery programs, bridges, construction, environment, maintenance and pavement management, materials, traffic operations, consultant management, design, hydraulics, planning, project management, and right of way. Learning from one another is a key part of Transportation Short Course.
“As we look at the many transportation challenges and opportunities before us, it’s clear that the need for innovation is as strong as ever. And we expect you to have high expectations of us in this endeavor,” acknowledged Winfree. “To everyone at TxDOT, we promise to continue our commitment to helping you achieve your mission to advance a safe, efficient and resilient transportation system for Texas and to share our collective expertise with the world.”