With a new executive director, chancellor, chairman and commissioner sharing the same stage, change was the dominant feature of the 85th Annual Transportation Short Course’s opening session. Short Course was held at the Brazos County Expo Complex October 11-12.
Hosted by TTI, the Texas Department of Transportation’s (TxDOT’s) yearly gathering began with a 10-minute video that discussed the agency’s new “modernization effort,” which includes a different leadership approach, organizational structure and work process. The changes were enacted following a Sunset Advisory Commission review prompted by the Texas Legislature and designed to improve the agency.
“We are in the seed-planting process of our modernization effort,” TxDOT Interim Executive Director John Barton told the crowd. “This shift in thinking will be a new approach in all of our business aspects. The bottom line is that the modernization effort will help us improve the way we do our job every day, and it will help us deliver transportation assets quicker and more efficiently.”
Barton, who was named interim executive director when Amadeo Saenz retired Aug. 31, urged employees to be patient, saying “this agency will be better than it is today and [one] that we will all be proud of.”
Phil Wilson, who becomes executive director for TxDOT Oct. 17, told employees, “I have a sense of how big we are and how large our challenges are.” Wilson, a former secretary of state for Texas, pointed out that one thousand people move to the state each day. “It’s incumbent upon us to tell the story of the great work being done and the challenges before us, because those people are still coming. Whether we build the roads or not, they are still coming and we have to be ready for it.”
Wilson said he will enact some changes within the agency and will have an open-door policy that encourages new ideas from employees.
Wilson and Barton thanked TTI and Agency Director Dennis Christiansen for presiding over the event.
“Short Course is always a highlight of TTI’s year and a visible example of the continuing partnership between TxDOT and the universities,” Christiansen said, pointing out that the TTI/TxDOT partnership began over 60 years ago. “[It] remains a model the rest of the country tries to emulate. It’s led to enumerable transportation advances and innovations not only for Texas but for the world.”
In one of his first appearances as the new chancellor for The Texas A&M University System, John Sharp applauded both TTI and TxDOT for the work they do. “It is my pleasure to be with the two finest state agencies in Texas and the country,” he said, continuing Christiansen’s theme that TxDOT and TTI have been models for Texas and the country. “No two agencies in this nation have saved more lives or produced more economic development.”
Sharp credited TTI and TxDOT for helping to save his life years ago after a car he was riding in hit a roadside safety device called a sand-filled attenuator. “Speaking as someone who is here because of the work of these two agencies — thank you.”
Later, during a luncheon, Texas A&M President Bowen Loftin (whose father worked for 40 years for TxDOT’s predecessor, the Texas Highway Department) also highlighted the unique partnership between the two agencies. Turning his attention to TTI, Loftin also noted how the Institute is an example for the rest of the country. “I applaud Dennis and your entire team. TTI is an exemplary organization — you have saved so many lives here in Texas.”