With a near record number of attendees, the 91st Annual Transportation Short Course — the Texas Department of Transportation’s (TxDOT’s) annual employee gathering — was a time of reflection and celebration for a historic and extremely challenging year. TxDOT is 100 years old this year, and dozens of TxDOT employees who went above and beyond to help their fellow Texans during Hurricane Harvey were honored for their humanitarian and lifesaving efforts.
“By the time we called our initial response and recovery efforts, nearly 4,000 employees from every district and many divisions had participated in the TxDOT response,” James Bass, TxDOT executive director, told the more than 2,500 Short Course attendees.
In addition to providing high-water rescues, repairing downed street signs and inoperable traffic signals, reopening many of the 500 flooded roads, and inspecting 4,500 bridges that were impacted by the storm, TxDOT crews have, to date, “removed more than 8.2 million cubic feet of debris from 20 cities and counties,” Bass revealed. The cleanup effort alone required more than 600 TxDOT employees.
TxDOT’s Short Course has been held on the Texas A&M University campus for 91 years and hosted by the Texas A&M Transportation Institute (TTI) since the Institute’s founding in 1950. Short Course reflects a history of teamwork between the two agencies. Its primary purpose is to bring together TxDOT district and division personnel with university researchers to discuss the latest innovations in transportation research. Lessons learned and best practices were shared in sessions ranging from design and environmental concerns to construction practices and pavement maintenance. Researchers also presented findings on advances in traffic operations (via, for example, intelligent transportation technologies), and relatively new topics like alternative delivery methods were discussed.
“This partnership, now 67 years old, remains the model for the rest of the country,” TTI Agency Director Greg Winfree said during the opening session. “It will take all of us collectively contributing expertise and resources to get our state’s transportation infrastructure recovered, renewed and made more resilient following our recent state of emergency.”
Many of Winfree’s comments centered on the value of the relationship between the state universities and TxDOT as they both work to improve transportation through the introduction of new technologies.
“TxDOT and the universities have laid a solid foundation of trust and teamwork over almost seven decades,” Winfree noted, reminding the crowd of the mission state universities have to help TxDOT implement the next generation of transportation innovations. “Working together, we can be good stewards of our existing infrastructure, while also focusing on developing improved infrastructure going forward when we truly will experience smart transportation in the context of connected and automated vehicles and infrastructure.”
Numerous TxDOT employees received Harvey Hero awards in recognition of their work in helping to rescue southeast Texas residents impacted by floodwaters. As it does at every Short Course, the department also recognized employees who went the extra mile in helping or saving lives of motorists during the last year.
“As we enter this next 100 years of service, let the strength of our diversity, our differences, continue to make us a better agency,” Bass said, closing the opening session. “Let’s continue to look for ways to embrace newcomers to TxDOT, employees that have new ideas, new thoughts, new ways of improving on the business of moving millions of people and products millions of miles across our great state. The future of transportation in Texas — our future — is depending on it.”