Creating Tomorrow Today

Written by  Bill Hale

Three Dudes

Craig Morgan of Hunter Industries, Aaron Cabaza of Aaron Concrete, and Johnny Weisman of Hunter Industries happily gather at the Chapter Office following the October Board of Directors meeting, September 30.

2020 has brought unprecedented challenges for Texas. From the global pandemic called COVID-19 to hurricanes threatening our state’s coastline, Texans have had to manage and master a lot. Throughout it all, TxDOT remains committed to our mission of “Connecting You With Texas.”

Recognizing the enormous scope of COVID-19 and our commitment to keeping employees safe, TxDOT took swift action to protect our workforce of nearly 12,000 employees.

In mid-March, we made the decision for office employees to telework until further notice. Employees who volunteer to come into the office to manage TxDOT business must follow certain protocols, including adhering to occupancy limits, using face coverings, social distancing and submitting to temperature checks.

Front-line employees, like our construction and maintenance crews and our traffic and ferry operators, continue to show up to our facilities — albeit with safety precautions. Employees across the state are encouraged to follow the 3Ws: wash your hands, wear a face cover and watch your distance.

We may have altered the way we do business, but we’re still very much in business. Roads are still being maintained. Ferries are still operating. We’re still assisting general aviation airports and transit operators. We’re still promoting the intermodal connectivity of Texas ports and waters. We’re still supporting rail transportation throughout Texas. We’re still doing what Texans need from us.

An integral part of serving Texans is the recently approved Unified Transportation Program. In August, the Texas Transportation Commission adopted the 10-year, $74.7 billion plan for 2021. The funding will improve metro and urban corridors, statewide connectivity corridors and build projects that help shore up our energy sector. While the UTP is neither a budget nor a guarantee that TxDOT will fund and build every project, it gives us direction for the next 10 years of anticipated funding and a plan to allocate that funding to transportation projects while balancing the needs of rural, urban and metropolitan regions.

One of the biggest initiatives continues to be the Texas Clear Lanes program. A total of $26 billion in the UTP is tapped for non-tolled projects in the Austin, Dallas, Fort Worth, Houston, San Antonio regions and other congested areas in Texas over the next decade. The state’s metro areas represent 67% of Texas’ population. Clearly, these are areas of the state that need congestion relief. And we’re still addressing that need.

While TxDOT is in the business of moving people and products, we can’t deny the effects that COVID has had on our operations — and our bottom line.

Our traditional sources of revenue, motor fuels taxes and vehicle registration fees, are down. Even one of our non-traditional sources of funding, Proposition 1, is expected to come in lower for the current biennium.

While this is not good news, it is something we’re managing through, and to offset those lower revenues, we’re covering as much of the gap as we can by taking some key steps.

With limited exceptions, vacant positions will be reviewed for posting — and some may not be filled until we see a recovery in our revenues. That doesn’t mean we won’t be hiring. It just means that we’ll be even more strategic about the jobs we fill and when.

The use of management consultants will need executive director approval. Note that management consultants are not engineering and ROW firms.

And we’ll keep looking to lower debt service costs for our borrowing programs.

By taking these steps and others, we’re cutting costs and putting these savings back into projects.

These are actions concentrated on managing today’s funding. Like you, we’ll be watching the actions and decisions of legislators when they meet beginning next January. We’ve already submitted our Legislative Appropriations Request for $30.5 billion for the FY 2022-23 biennium. If approved, the bulk of that — about $26 billion — will go to project development, project delivery and highway maintenance.

Despite all the challenges and changes of 2020, our constant is our dedicated employees across the state. They are the “boots on the ground” making things happen and meeting the demands of the time. Our employees are resilient and eager to rise to the challenge, and Texans can be assured that we will continue to meet our mission.

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