As I get older, I find myself celebrating milestones more often. Some of those, like my wedding anniversary, are certainly welcome, though at my age, I’d just as soon forget about birthdays. Other folks tend to remind me of those anyway, and that’s okay. Celebrating a birthday certainly beats the alternative, right?
We close out this 53rd volume of the Texas Transportation Researcher by celebrating a number of milestones the Texas A&M Transportation Institute (TTI) has reached with a wide array of our research sponsors. TTI was founded at Texas A&M University as a research support arm for the Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT), which remains our principal sponsor. Now, 67 years later, TTI has served sponsors in 50 states and 48 countries, helping to make the world’s transportation network safer, more efficient and more reliable.
As you’ve seen in this issue, the Institute has built longstanding relationships with sponsors like the TranStar partnership and the American Road and Transportation Builders Association, and we’ve expanded our service beyond TxDOT to other state departments of transportation nationwide. As a former assistant secretary of the U.S. Department of Transportation (USDOT), I take particular pride in TTI’s 50-year history of supporting the various agencies of USDOT.
So, how did TTI achieve its reputation for research excellence? Innovative approaches fed by the professional curiosity of our transportation experts were essential, to be sure. But there was something else at work too, an element we tend to take for granted as we go about our daily working lives: the personal relationship. When I was at USDOT, we knew we could trust TTI’s research results to be truthful and arrived at without bias for one product or procedure over another. We knew that TTI, as part of The Texas A&M University System, brought intellectual independence to the table.
But trust isn’t built between agencies. It’s built between people. At the end of the day, all business is a “relationship business,” even the business of transportation research. In an era of diminishing dollars, government agencies aren’t able to invest as much in the research process, so when they do, they want to know what they’re getting for their investment. That’s why the personal relationships TTI has built over the years working side by side with sponsors matter so much.
Those one-on-one connections between TTI researchers and sponsors will prove even more important in the coming decades. For example, as advanced technologies like connected and automated vehicles come online, we’ll have to troubleshoot issues of technology integration, policy formation, and how public versus private responsibilities will shake out, to name a few. The confidence we’ve built over seven decades enables TTI to have difficult conversations about these complex issues with sponsors and stakeholders alike.
We’ll continue to work hand in hand with sponsors in the best interests of our shareholders — you, me and the rest of the driving public. Together, we’ll produce the smartest, safest, most reliable transportation network in the history of the planet.