A few months ago, I told you about some innovations TxDOT employed during our relief efforts following Hurricane Harvey. In this column, I want to focus on the specific work that many of our employees participated in during this disaster. Harvey certainly tested the mettle and fortitude of Texans and of our infrastructure. All any of us – responder, rescuer or resident – could do was wait it out. And after Harvey had done its worse, TxDOT stepped in, cleaning up, mopping up and righting the wrong the storm had left in its wake.
As many of you probably saw, President Trump released his longawaited $1.5 trillion infrastructure plan on Feb. 12 and later that same week publicly backed a 25-cent federal gas tax increase to help make the Highway Trust Fund solvent. While both developments are significant, the fact is that it will take a lot of pressure from members of the construction industry on Congress to get them to enact any significant new infrastructure measure.
A grinning Seth Schulgen apologized for the manufactured story necessary to trick Tom Johnson to show up for a surprise party and the unveiling of the Thomas L. Johnson AGC Building to honor the retiring industry legend. Nearly 100 people attended the Tom Johnson tribute dinner Jan. 3 at the Austin Headliner’s Club intended to cast a final spotlight on the longtime executive vice president for the Associated General Contractors of Texas. Johnson stepped aside from his day-to-day duties last fall after more than 50 years with the association.
Doug Pitcock remains in the driver’s seat for the company he help found 63 years ago, but the “godfather” of the state’s highway construction industry is slowly turning over Williams Brothers to trusted understudies. After all, he turns 90 on April 21. He’s still the chairman and CEO for one of the state’s most prominent highway construction companies, which serves as a testimonial for longevity and successful leadership in both his company and the industry. “I’m just hanging around now because I don’t have anything better to do,” Pitcock says, laughing. “I don’t have anything wise to say at 90. No question, it’s a milestone in my life. One reason you don’t just walk away is - you will die. At least, I would. This is as much for me as it is that the company needs me. They would do fine without me.”
Hurricane Harvey rammed into the Texas coast on August 25, bringing devastating winds and relentless rainfall. The hurricane and subsequent flooding were responsible for 68 direct deaths in Texas--over half of which occurred in the Houston metro area—and an additional 35 “indirect” deaths, caused from electrocution, vehicle accidents, and isolation from medical treatment. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) estimates Harvey’s price tag at around $125 billion. It is the most significant tropical rainfall event in US recorded history. Hundreds of thousands of homes and business suffered serious damage or were totally destroyed.
The First Quarter of 2018 continues to be busy, but we are beginning to see the results of all the Chapter’s challenging work over the past six months. The New Year started out with a series of briefings with TxDOT leadership on the progress of efforts to see the monthly highway lettings improve. In January the Texas Transportation Commission held a workshop to discuss letting schedules and funding for the balance of the biennium. I had the opportunity to appear before the Commission and share the industry’s perspective on where the market stands.
My last article detailed the Chapter’s Priority One to increase the lettings for fiscal year 2018, and just one month later, I am happy to report real progress. The Highway Funding Task Force, under the leadership of Chairman Johnny Weisman, met with TxDOT Administration to examine a way to accelerate projects. The task force asked TxDOT Administration and the Texas Transportation Commission to consider accelerating projects in advance of Prop. 7 deposits.