New TxDOT Leader, Meeting Place for Short Course
The 81st Annual Transportation Short Course provided the transportation community with a chance to hear from recently appointed Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT) Executive Director Amadeo Saenz in his new role. The first Hispanic leader of TxDOT rose through the ranks in the Pharr District, beginning in 1978 as an engineering laboratory assistant, to become the 19th director in the department’s 90-year history.
Saenz takes the TxDOT helm at a challenging time. Throughout the opening session of Short Course, 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.
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.
This year’s Short Course had a record attendance of 2,799 people. “Despite the logistical problems of changing locations from Rudder to Reed Arena, all of the comments from TxDOT have been positive,” says TTI Director Dennis Christiansen. “The credit goes to the employees who made this a priority.”
The Gallaway Golf Tournament, which took place the day before Short Course, was also considered a success. There were 152 golfers, which set a new record for participation.
Reilly Named 2007 Research Champion
The 2007 TTI/Trinity Research Champion Award was presented to Robert J. Reilly at a luncheon in the Texas A&M University System Board of Regents Quarters in College Station on October 3.
“Bob Reilly is much deserving of this award,” says Director Dennis Christiansen. “Bob served as director of the Cooperative Research Program at the Transportation Research Board for 22 years. Under his leadership, the program has grown dramatically. Bob established the hallmarks of the program, which include high-quality research, tangible and valuable results, usable products, integrity and impartiality, and close coordination with sponsoring agencies and organizations.”
“It is an honor to receive this award from TTI,” Reilly said during the presentation. “TTI is one of the premier university-affiliated research groups in the country, and it is a privilege to be recognized as a research champion.” While in College Station to receive the award, Reilly presented a seminar on the Cooperative Research Program to TTI staff and students.
“The Research Champion Award recognizes individuals who provide significant contributions to advancing transportation research, technology transfer, implementation and professional development,” notes Associate Director Katie Turnbull. “The award is presented on an annual basis to an individual selected by a committee that includes members of the TTI Advisory Council and the leadership team from nominations submitted by staff and Advisory Council members.”
Chang-Albitres Elected to IRF Board of Directors
Texas Transportation Institute (TTI) Associate Transportation Researcher Carlos Chang-Albitres was recently elected to the International Road Federation (IRF) board of directors for a three-year term.
Founded in 1948, the IRF is a non-governmental, not-for-profit organization with members from both the public and private sectors in 90 countries worldwide. IRF promotes the development and maintenance of better, safer roads and road networks throughout the world, using technological solutions and management practices that provide maximum economic and social returns from road investment.
“In his leadership role, Carlos will help shape our strategic vision of building safer roads around the world,” says Patrick Sankey, chief executive officer of IRF. “He is a key component to reaching the people of the Latin and Caribbean region through his vast network of contacts and provides us with continued relations at the highest levels of government.”
The IRF will also award a fellowship to a Texas A&M engineering student in the upcoming year.
“Since 1949, we have put 1,166 students from 114 countries through our fellowship program,” says Sankey. “The program has been a remarkable success, and it’s a way for young people to return to their native countries and apply their transportation knowledge.”
“The need for transportation improvements is not only great in the United States, but in every country I’ve visited,” says Chang-Albitres. “Being elected to the IRF board of directors is a big honor and can open many doors for the TTI. The IRF will increase our international visibility and expand contacts for potential sponsors.”
TTI Joins Consortium to Improve U.S. Infrastructure
Texas Transportation Institute (TTI) asphalt researchers are working on a multi-million dollar contract to improve the nation’s infrastructure as part of the Asphalt Research Consortium (ARC), which officially started this summer under the direction of the Federal Highway Administration.
ARC received funding of $27 million for five years through SAFETEA-LU. The consortium is headed by the Western Research Institute, with TTI, the University of Wisconsin-Madison, The University of Nevada at Reno and Advanced Asphalt Technology as partners.
“Although the project is getting under way now, we’ve been working for the last five years to get involved in this type of group effort,” said Senior Research Fellow Dallas Little, who is leading TTI’s efforts along with Research Engineers Robert Lytton and Eyad Masad. “This research is imperative in order to improve our nation’s pavement infrastructure, which is predominately asphalt. I am very pleased that the work is beginning.”
TTI will focus on preventing two of the primary causes of pavement problems—moisture damage and fatigue cracking. “We have to find ways to make pavement last longer. It is a resource that should be cherished and preserved,” Little said. “Our consortium includes some of the best asphalt chemists, rheologists and performance modelers anywhere to address these problems.”
Annual TTI Council Meeting One to Remember
A crisp day in mid-September and the rolling hills of the massive Circle T Ranch set the stage for this year’s annual TTI Council meeting. The Council, comprised of 31 influential transportation leaders in Texas, met at the Perot family ranch located on a 17,000-acre, master-planned development called AllianceTexas.
Chaired by David Cain of DC Consulting, the meeting began with a welcome and introduction by Tim Ward, Council member and president of Alliance Air/Aviation Services. Ward introduced Ross Perot Jr., chairman of Hillwood Development Corporation, the firm responsible for AllianceTexas. The development features the world’s first 100 percent industrial airport, BNSF Railway’s Intermodal Facility (the 4th largest intermodal yard), the Texas Motor Speedway and the massive American Airlines Maintenance Base, which can accommodate up to six 777-aircraft wingtip-to-wingtip.
TTI Council members were taken in groups of five on a brief helicopter flight to explore AllianceTexas and to see the interlink between air, rail and roadway transportation elements within the massive development. Members also took an afternoon tour of the American Airlines Maintenance Base.
TTI Director Dennis Christiansen introduced Council members and gave an overview of the Institute’s progress and future goals during his tenure in leadership. New funding initiatives, new leadership at the Texas A&M president and A&M System chancellor positions, and the new TTI state headquarters building were among the topics highlighted in his presentation.
Associate Agency Director Ed Seymour gave an overview of TTI international research endeavors, and Assistant Director Steve Roop discussed developments between TTI and Zachry American Infrastructure on the freight shuttle concept. The afternoon concluded with a roundtable discussion and brief talks about transportation issues in Texas and ways TTI can serve as a catalyst for economic growth.
2007 TTI Council Meeting
The Circle T Ranch
TDS Leads News Conference on Nighttime Driving Dangers
Most teenage driving fatalities happen at night, and, based on a survey by TTI researchers, teens are in the dark about the dangers associated with nighttime driving. That was the message of an Austin news conference conducted by the Teens in the Driver Seat (TDS) Program October 30, just days before the end of daylight saving time.
“The teen driver safety problem has reached epidemic proportions—here in Texas and around the world,” TTI Director Dennis Christiansen told members of the news media gathered in the Texas Capitol. “It’s an urgent public health crisis, and TTI has been working for years to better understand it. Now, we not only know more about what causes the problem, we also know more about how to address it.”
TTI researchers surveyed more than 4,400 teens at 17 Texas high schools to determine how much they know about driving risks and how often they engage in dangerous driving behaviors. The findings highlight the reasons why driving is the No. 1 cause of death for teenagers in the United States:
- Less than 1 percent of Texas teens understand that driving at night is unsafe, while almost half say they routinely drive after 10 p.m.
- Only a third of teens recognize that it’s dangerous to talk or text on a cell phone while they drive, and roughly half admit doing so frequently.
- 72 percent of teens think drug and alcohol use is the No. 1 risk factor, even though it ranks fifth on the list of crash causes.
The survey also determined that teen drivers in rural areas are twice as likely to talk or text message and three times more likely to have received a speeding ticket. The study revealed that rural teens are more likely to drive at night than teens in urban areas.
After the news conference, officials with State Farm Insurance presented TDS with a check for $500,000 representing the company’s commitment to funding the program for the next five years. State Farm Insurance representative Ronnie Vandiver spoke at the news conference, as did other proponents of TDS, including Texas Transportation Commissioner Hope Andrade and Texas Senator Kirk Watson.
One of TTI’s fastest-growing initiatives, Teens in the Driver Seat is led by Russell Henk, TDS program director, and Bernie Fette, TDS public affairs director.
TRB Best Paper Award for TTI
The Transportation Research Board (TRB) has notified the co-authors of a Texas Transportation Institute (TTI) research paper they are the recipients of the D. Grant Mickle Award, which is given each year for the best paper in the area of operations and maintenance. The paper is titled “License Plate and Telephone Numbers in Changeable Message Sign Amber Alert Messages.”
Conrad Dudek, Steve Schrock and Brooke Ullman will be honored during the TRB 87th Annual Meeting in Washington, D.C., January 14. In response to the news of the award, Director Dennis Christiansen says, “This reflects so well on the quality of our work and our researchers. Thank you for making all of us look good.”