TxDOT’s First Great Century

Written by  BY BILL HALE, P.E. CHIEF ENGINEER TEXAS DEPARTMENT OF TRANSPORTATION

100 Years

This year marks TXDOT's 100th anniversary. Even from the first day this agency was signed into law – April 4, 1917 – we were destined to leave an indelible mark on Texas and the nation. But that may have been hard to determine from our beginnings.

The department was created at a time when the state’s system of roadways was, to put it mildly, in rough shape. Most roads served local areas and needs, and were so bad that one turn-of-the-century Bell County farmer lamented, “come to Texas if you want to see good roads – good and sandy, good and rough, good and muddy.”

For years before the department was created, Texans had been angling for a more coordinated system of roads. In 1903, legislation was introduced to create a Texas Bureau of Public Highways. Two years later, the office of “state expert engineer” was proposed. In 1907, a bill was introduced in the Legislature for the appointment of a state highway engineer. And so it went for several years, bills were proposed and bills failed.

The movement got traction with the Federal Road Act of 1916 when Congress dangled the financial carrot of giving federal aid to states that created “an organized, expert engineering agency.”

A year later, HB 2 was signed into law. It created the State Highway Department and a three-member commission. The legislation also put vehicle registration under the department’s purview to provide the state’s match of federal funds.

The governor at the time, Jim Ferguson, appointed Curtis Hancock, an attorney from Dallas, to be the first chairman of the commission. The other members were T.R. McLean, a banker and farmer from Mount Pleasant, and H.C. Odle, a farmer and rancher from Meridian. Their first meeting was on June 4 in a corner of the House Chamber of the Capitol.

It was then that the commission appointed the department’s first state highway engineer, George Duren.

Not long after the ink dried on the legislation, TxDOT was in business with 10 employees, including three divisionengineers- at-large (today, we call them district engineers) setting up shop in Mount Pleasant, Abilene and Austin. And soon after, the Highway Commission established an 8,800-mile network of state highways.

Turn the page to 2017. Today, nearly 12,000 employees in our divisions and districts are in service to the citizens of Texas, creating and maintaining the state’s massive and impressive transportation system – a system that has more than 195,000 lane miles, about 3,400 miles of interstate and more than 53,000 bridges.

Today, Texans drive more than 515 million miles on our state-maintained system, a number that I’m sure our early TxDOT employees would have never imagined possible when they laid out our first highway network.

While the Highway Department of 1917 concentrated on building a road system that served mostly to get farmers out of the mud, today’s Department of Transportation moves people and products millions of miles and contributes to the state’s economy.

While vehicle registration has been passed to our sister agency, the Department of Motor Vehicles, TxDOT now helps the state’s general aviation airports secure funding. We promote and support the 379-mile Gulf Intracoastal Waterway, and marine infrastructure and operations. We work with transit providers in rural and urban areas to encourage and support public transportation. We oversee rail planning and safety, and manage the South Orient Railroad for the state. We even manage ferry operations at Galveston and Port Aransas to provide round-the-clock, all-year service to drivers in those areas.

TxDOT employees don’t just get Texans to and from their homes or schools or jobs, they’ve been entrusted with the lives and livelihoods of millions of their neighbors. As Gov. Greg Abbott wrote in his recognition of the department’s centennial: “Through 100 years of collaboration and leadership, TxDOT has helped connect communities to commerce and people to opportunity by building and maintaining the backbone of our healthy economy.”

I think that says a lot about the caliber of employees who’ve passed through the department over the years, and the partnerships we’ve developed with our contracting and consulting community.

TxDOT has accomplished much during its first 100 years. We have an interconnected system of roads and rails, planes and ports that rival – if not best – other state systems. We’ve enjoyed a successful first century of service and we share much of that credit with you.

Here’s to the next great century.



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