Creating Tomorrow Today

Written by  Billy Hale, P.E. Chief Engineer, Texas Dept of Transportation

As a state agency, TXDOT must be responsible stewards of the funding that we receive. That’s even more important in light of the passage of Propositions 1 and 7 in recent years. Both of these voter-approved amendments to the Texas Constitution devoted more money to transportation to put more projects in the pipeline and on the ground. We don’t take our obligation lightly because it is given to us with an implied trust – a trust from the people of Texas that we will use those resources wisely, efficiently and effectively.

That trust is not misplaced. We are fiscally responsible, and we always look for ways to be more cost efficient. That is standard operating procedure for us, but there are always opportunities to improve, to make the most out of every dollar that is invested in our transportation system.

To that end, we recently set an initial department goal to identify $613 million in cost savings, efficiencies and innovations through the Unified Transportation Plan period by August 2019. Any savings we target will be funneled back into project delivery and to offset debt service.

So, how do we meet that goal? First by reviewing some of our current processes, and looking for any ways that we can cut costs, improve procedures and save time. And who better to know how we can do that than our employees? That’s why we’re encouraging employees at every level to get involved by bringing their ideas to the table. We think that’s a smart move because, truthfully, that’s how employees approach their jobs anyway.

As a routine matter of business, our employees look for better ways to do their jobs, from developing some common-sense internal processes that save time to building new tools or equipment that make applications work smoother. Let me give you an example.

We know that winter weather can be tricky for drivers, so the crews in our El Paso District decided to do something about it. Like other districts around the state, El Paso pretreats its roads ahead of a storm with a mixture of sand and salt. Over time, they noticed that the two-way mixture wasn’t breaking down the ice on the roads fast enough so they started experimenting with other substances. It took some time, but they eventually came up with a foursubstance mix that combines traditional salt and sand, aggregates and a granular deicer. The result is a mixture that not only melts the ice, but it accelerates deicing, prevents refreezing and creates traction on the roads for drivers. The mixture works better, is more efficient to use, makes the roads easier to treat and saves money.

Even some of our other districts are now using the mixture for their winter programs.

While the crews in El Paso have been using the new treatment for about eight years, they’ve stepped it up by adding a preventive measure for their salt-spreading equipment. This year, crews started treating their spreaders with a protective coating to prevent them from corrosion. The result? Equipment that is better maintained and lasts longer.

Ideas like these translate into real savings, especially when deployed throughout the department. We know intuitively that employees across the state have more ideas that can pay off in big ways for the department so we’ve set up a central repository for them to submit those suggestions. Those ideas, as they’re submitted, will be reviewed, studied and, if merited, considered for implementation department wide.

We’ve already put together a work group to lead this effort. Group members are creating a mechanism to identify and clarify the suggestions that are submitted. They’ll also coordinate and track the progress of those ideas as they are vetted for implementation.

We’re looking forward to the outcomes from this effort. It not only gives us an opportunity to make improvements, but it helps us meet our commitment to be good financial stewards. We owe the citizens of Texas nothing less.

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