The last session of the conference is the district engineer panel. Here, Randy Hopmann (left) moderates his last, as he announced his retirement shortly after the event. From right to left, Lauren Garduño (Project Advisor), Elias Rmeili (Brownwood), Mario Jorge (San Antonio), Valente Olivarez (Corpus Christi), Mo Bur (Dallas).
For more than 50 years, the annual AGC of Texas Administrative Conference has brought together highway contractors, suppliers and key players from the regulatory and political arenas to discuss industry issues in an informal environment.
The attendance of children and families has steadily risen over the years, providing AGC members and spouses an opportunity to mix business and fun.
“The fact that they are so family-friendly is priceless. Having four kids and being able to take them and include them in all the activities is so wonderful,” says Jaime Farias (Foremost Paving), who attended his fourth straight Administrative Conference.
The three-day July (2019) conference at the J.W. Marriott Hill Country Resort & Spa drew another AGC record— over 400—with a focus on issues affecting the industry, including public record requests, TCEQ matters, workplace incidents, railroad cooperation, IT technology, DBE highlights, and Texas Department of Transportation funding and programming updates.
David Casteel has been attending the conference for more than a dozen years, starting as a high-ranking TxDOT official and recently as a vice president for Williams Brothers Construction.
“The networking opportunities with TxDOT and other industry participants is the main benefit of the conference. The conference has grown through the years - and for that reason,” Casteel says. “The informality of the format leans to more open communication with presenters. I hope the informality continues.”
The panel discussions and presenters are designed to give AGC members the latest insight and information on all facets of the construction industry. Casteel said he appreciated the panel discussion on TxDOT’s DBE goalsetting process. The TxDOT review of the 10-year United Transportation Plan “and what they are looking for in improving how they do their job allows contractors to prepare for their expectations,” Casteel said. “For example, the move to alternative delivery projects ($2.3 billion in FY 2020) and the trend to even larger conventional projects ($300 million-plus in Dallas) is something firms need to know in order to plan for the future.”
Congressman Will Hurd, R-San Antonio, and State Represtatives Armando “Mando” Martinez, D-Weslaco, and Ernest Bailes, R-Shepherd, shared political perspectives. Hurd represents a swing district that includes a huge swath of the border running along the Rio Grande. Shortly after the conference, Congressman Hurd announced he would not seek reelection but would continue to advocate outside of political life.
He encouraged the crowd to remember to promote dialogue and discussion on issues important to the industry such as immigration and highway funding. “Advocates must educate people,” Hurd said.
It’s a similar message conveyed by the two state legislators, who also urged AGC members to stay involved and to keep developing relationships with elected officials.
“It’s easy to hear from somebody when you need something. Have a relationship beforehand. Meet your members (state legislators). Know your members and have a relationship before you need something,” Bailes said. “I don’t understand your industry near enough. Help me understand so I can make the most informed decision.”
Both he and Martinez emphasized current highway funding sources are inadequate to meet future needs. Bailes believes toll roads are necessary to build new roads along with other funding streams to compensate for more electric vehicles and more fuel-efficient cars. The state gas tax of 20 cents per gallon has not changed since 1991.
Citing a comptroller report, Martinez told members that gas tax and vehicle registration revenue will start declining from current levels within a dozen years. Martinez favors an extra fee of up to $200 for electric vehicles but conceded an interim study will be necessary to gain legislative support. Mileage-based fees also must be considered.
“Funding is the biggest issue that we have to look at. It’s going to get bigger and bigger,” Martinez said.
The two state legislators also repeated what some of their colleagues warned AGC members at the annual Management Conference one month earlier in Florida. Bills restricting aggregate production will return in the 2021 legislative session. There will be efforts to minimize dust and pollution, but industry must take the lead to prevent unintended consequences.
“Understand their arguments. Help them understand. Start working with them now,” he said. “Aggregate bills are definitely coming back. It has negative consequences for the industry.”
David Casteel (Williams Brothers) plays a giant game of beer pong at the conference’s wrap party.
Attendees of the 2019 Administrative Conference were glad to see TxDOT Executive Director James Bass provide a legislative review of the department. Bass commended AGC for its tireless legislative efforts and open spirit of partnering with the department.
Contractors have an opportunity to better protect themselves from work-place incidents through an AGC of America-supported app that makes it easier to record such events – including accidents or utility line strikes. Workplace incidents should be recorded within four hours, Adee Feinstein, CEO of Compatica, Inc. told members. His presentation showed how the system works. It’s designed to record any type of workplace incident.
“When we don’t report and record in a timely fashion, costs get out of control. We help you defend against fraud and fraudulent lawsuits,” he said.
Up to 80 percent of job site damages involving utilities are a utility’s fault, not the excavator, Feinstein said.
Contractors will be able to better defend themselves against utility strikes because of documentation that utility lines were inaccurately located, he said, noting that Foremost Paving and AR Daniel Construction subscribe to the service. AGC of America negotiated a discounted fee schedule for AGC members, which costs roughly $1,800 a year for 10 users.
For more information: www.compatica.com/agc.
A very good-natured special guest greets attendees at the conference wrap party. The two-toed sloth was among several animals presented by Zoomagination, a local area rescue group who also brought a baby racoon, bearded dragon, python, and more.
Shifting from the job site to the office, attorney Elizabeth Hadley briefed members on changes in the state’s open records process (SB 943) requiring greater scrutiny of government contracts, including those awarded by TxDOT.
An early version of the bill would have essentially required contractors to employ public information officers. But lawmakers realized the undue hardship and agreed to put TxDOT in charge of public information requests involving highway construction contracts.
The law allows exemptions for confidential and propriety information, but Hadley suggested that claiming all information is confidential “usually doesn’t work.” Contractors will have to “…pinpoint the most important things that you really don’t want to get out.”
In the past, public information requests typically did not apply to bids not resulting in a final contract. The new law will allow fewer exemptions; more information will be disclosed and even bids not resulting in a contract could be subject to public scrutiny, she said, because open record advocates “want to know what the government entity looked at to make their decision.”
TCEQ Commissioner Emily Lindley emphasized to conference attendees that air quality monitoring remains a priority for the agency. More than 80 percent of the agency’s funding comes from fees.
She also encouraged AGC members to improve communication with the public.
“We have to educate the public on what it is you are doing and why it’s important what you do. What they don’t know, they don’t understand. You have to be friendly with your neighbors. You have to start that relationship before you actually start construction,” she said.
One of the panel discussions highlighted TxDOT’s most recent DBE disparity study. Colette Holt, a lawyer specializing in diversity issues, told the conference: “The overall objective is to make sure that everyone has a full and fair opportunity to do work for TxDOT and to be successful” The goal: “What you would expect to see absent a discriminatory system.”
Congressman Will Hurd (left) fields questions from the audience during Jimmy Christianson’s session on federal affairs.
Foremost Paving’s Farias always appreciates the conference’s update from TxDOT leaders “because it gives contractors a good idea what’s coming down the pipe regarding money and work. Having TxDOT personnel there is always valuable, because it shows that we are trying to further the working relationship that we have with them. Because I am a project manager, I don’t get too much into the estimating and getting work. But hearing that our company has plenty of work to bid on in the future gives me comfort knowing we should be busy for the foreseeable future.”
TxDOT Executive Director James Bass told the conference the agency had a good legislative session – getting 313.5 new full-time employees and a 10-year extension for Prop 1 funding that gives planners a better idea on money available for road projects.
“We can’t manage this all alone. We had a very good session working together with contractors, suppliers, and vendors,” he said.
He also emphasized TxDOT’s priority focus on safety, explaining the agency’s “End the streak by 2050” campaign to reduce road fatalities. Nearly 3,650 people were killed on Texas roads last year.
Children got a turn handcranking Jeff Smith’s (Anderson Columbia) antique ice cream maker. Past President Chad Clark directs traffic.
Construction Division Director Gina Gallegos and Materials and Tests Division Director Buddy Williams participate in a panel discussion with Director of Engineering and Safety Operations Michael Lee (not pictured).
A professional juggler attracts a mob of fascinated youngsters as he meanders through the event space, juggling glowing balls, knives, and more.
“These are people. They are not just numbers. They are spouses, parents, siblings, and children. It leaves an impact,” Bass said.
“People need to stay off their mobile phone, decrease speed, and designate a driver to avoid drinking and driving,” he said.
TxDOT Chief Engineer Bill Hale reported a 10-year UTP of $76.2 billion. The agency will let $8.68 billion worth of projects this year and a projected $9.39 billion next year.
The conference typically closes with a panel of TxDOT district engineers assessing industry issues. Moderator Randy Hopmann (director of district operations) drew crowd laughter while tossing questions at the DE’s that he characterized as secret queries from highway contractors – and then attaching names to the respective questions.
One of the issues reflected the ongoing matter of answering contractor questions before bidding on projects.
“Things can get dicey with last-minute questions on the morning of lettings. Those are very difficult to answer. Do we want a cutoff? It’s a learning process. We will get better at it,” San Antonio district engineer Mario Jorge said.
One of the discussion themes emphasized that contractors and TxDOT are partners, which means they share success – or failure.
AGC President-Elect Robert Adamson (Longview Bridge & Road) thanked all conference presenters for contributing “quality information and discussion.”
The first AGC Administrative Conference in 1968 simply focused on informing company owners and supervisors on how to properly complete and mail paper forms to TxDOT, noted AGC of Texas President Trey Pebley.
AGC families gather to watch “Ring the Bottle” in action. Adults and kids alike played the carnival games for a chance to win prizes.
Government Affairs Director Steven Albright (left) moderates a panel discussion between two notable House transportation leaders: State Representatives Ernest Bailes (middle) and Mando Martinez (right).
The conference celebrated with a modest Commodore boat ride on the Colorado River.
The conference’s long history “tells me that AGC is a group that has been going strong for half a century and has no plans on slowing down!” Foremost Paving’s Farias said.
This year’s gathering welcomed over 400 people at an indoor welcome night reception with a festive atmosphere—carnival game booths, jugglers, cotton candy machines, a seafood bar, and more. The final Saturday afternoon event had children taking turns cranking Jeff Smith’s (Anderson Columbia) homemade ice cream machine, exotic wildlife encounters, airbrush tattoos, air hockey, and other lawn games. Members migrated over to the pool following the wrap party.
It’s been at least five years since any signature AGC event failed to beat its own attendance record.
“The secret of AGC’s success is right here in this room – member involvement,” Pebley emphasized at the final business session.
The Chapter is already at work coming up with new ideas to bring the community together in 2020. Save the date for July 16-19, 2020 at the JW Hill Country Marriott Resort. We hope to see you and your family there.