The Texas A&M Transportation Institute (TTI) hosted the 93rd Annual Transportation Short Course, held at the Texas A&M University Campus, Oct. 14–16, and attended by a record-breaking 2,848 transportation professionals.
“We’re defined by our traditions here at Texas A&M,” stated Levi McClenny, student regent on The Texas A&M University System Board of Regents, during the opening session. “On behalf of the state of Texas, thank you for all of your work. It’s important.” McClenny invoked a moment of silence for the late Laura Mooney, TTI associate transportation researcher and Texas A&M class of 1982.
TTI Agency Director Greg Winfree presented the Big Five awards, and several award winners mentioned the closeness of their Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT) family.
“Together, we (TTI and TxDOT) are taking steps to be good stewards of our resources, such as by researching the latest innovations in recycled asphalt, which reduces our environmental impact and saves millions of dollars annually,” said Winfree. “We, the state universities, are TxDOT’s state transportation solutions providers, working alongside our partners in the industry, our contractors and our suppliers.”
This year’s Short Course premiered the TxDOT video Grow Your Career with TxDOT recruiting new employees and emphasizing positive employee engagement.
“In 1997, the year I gave my first talk [at Short Course], the two-year budget that we were in was $6.3 billion. This session, the budget was approved at over $31 billion,” noted Texas Senator Robert Nichols, chair of the Senate Transportation Committee and former member of the Texas Transportation Commission. “These two decades of change were referred to by some national magazines as a period of transportation activism — I kinda like that — for Texas. … The legislature would not have been able to accomplish these things had it not been for the consensus of the state and the good work of the men and women of TxDOT. I truly believe that.”
In September, TxDOT adopted a new mission statement, “connecting you with Texas,” to embody all that TxDOT employees do for Texas.
“TxDOT isn’t our goals; it’s not our programs; it’s not our plans — it’s our people. It’s you,” stated TxDOT Executive Director James Bass as he looked out at familiar faces. He also noted TxDOT’s #EndTheStreakTX campaign: “We call it the Road to Zero. While on-the-job work fatalities dropped to zero [this past fiscal year], as Texans, we’re losing another war. It’s the war on traffic injuries and deaths.” Bass shared the story of newlyweds Harley Joe Morgan and Rhiannon Boudreaux Morgan, who lost their lives in a crash minutes after saying “I do.”
Tragedies like the Morgans’ death compel TxDOT and its state university research partners to collaborate in making transportation safer for everyone.
“It will take all of us collectively contributing research and field expertise in a nimble fashion to leverage our resources and take the necessary actions to address the radical evolution of our transportation system,” noted Winfree in his remarks. “The universities will provide the talented engineers, economists, policymakers, lawyers and other professionals who will enter the workforce at TxDOT and elsewhere and become the future innovators and custodians of our transportation system.”
Is this next generation ready to lead? During her keynote address, former U.S. Department of Transportation Intelligent Transportation Systems Joint Program Office Director Shelley Row highlighted storytelling’s value to the transportation industry.
“I was eager to tell [my boss] about the program I was managing so she’d continue to fund it. … She said, ‘Yeah, but Shelley, what’s the story?’,” recalled Row. The key, according to Shelley, is to understand your audience and compose a story that’s visceral and vivid. Short Course’s opening session concluded with TxDOT’s Extra Mile awards, which are presented annually to TxDOT workers who helped save a life or prevent a life-threatening situation from happening.
Row reminded the audience: “Whatever it is that you’re selling, you’re not the only one [who needs to understand its value].”