The biggest change for TxDOT was the change of the guard at the very tip-top. James Bass became the department's new executive director at the start of the year. He's a life-long TxDOT guy (a departure from the Texas Transportation Commission's prior two selections as our head) with a background in finance and accounting. He's a money guy - which is pretty critical when folks look at the influx of money coming to the agency through Propositions 1 and 7 and the growing demand for us to do more with less. His changes have been subtle, but the leadership and direction is clear. We're all glad to have him as our boss (and no, we're not just saying that).
Why mention Mr. Bass here? Because of the emphasis he places on managing our financial resources well. So many folks seem to look at government agencies with skepticism regarding the way money is managed. Well, we take it really seriously here. Mr. Bass is a testament to that.
We also had a major initiative, Texas Clear Lanes, launched by our Transportation Commission. (By the way, did you know we have a local representative on that board? J. Bruce Bugg, Jr., was appointed in 2015 and has quickly become the commission's leader on congestion initiatives.) For more on the impact and influence of the Texas Clear Lanes initiative, check out what Mr. Bugg had to say in the Express-News just last week.
Some other quick things that happened:
- Our iconic "Don't Mess With Texas" campaign, regarded as one of the most successful media and public awareness campaigns in the country, turned 30. We even released a commemorative coin to celebrate. And we'll lay odds you didn't even realize that phrase started here, with TxDOT, as a way to get you to remember to stop littering....
- The commission announced about $1.3 billion in projects funded through the legislature's moratorium on diversions from transportation coffers. This included funding for the interchange of US 90 and I-410 as well as money to purchase needed right-of-way along US 281 between Stone Oak Parkway and the Bexar-Comal county line.
- Our commission approved the largest-ever Unified Transportation Program, identifying about $70 billion in projects needed to help the state's growing transportation needs. The new 10-year plan is twice the size of the previous plan, which is updated annually to serve as a guide for how decisions are made in transportation planning.
- While we've maintained our slew of safety campaigns, we also established Safe Phone Zones at most safety rest areas across the state. The idea is to get people who want to use their phones off the road while doing so by offering free wifi at select locations - including on I-10 east of Seguin, I-35 north of Devine and US 90 between D'Hanis and Sabinal.
Projects that wrapped up
Perhaps the biggest project to finish in 2016 was the expansion of Loop 1604 between Bandera and Culebra roads. What was once a four-lane divided highway with traffic signals at Braun, New Guilbeau and Shaenfield roads is now a limited-access expressway with continuous frontage roads servicing local traffic. Here are some other highlights:
- Most of the intersection of Loop 1604 and Hwy 151 have opened as well, though that project isn't set (quite yet) to wrap up.
- Our Walnut Avenue expansion in New Braunfels finished up as well, matching Walnut Avenue (Business 46) to the city's portion south of Landa Street and our own portion north of Kerlick.
- We installed raised medians on Culebra Road inside Loop 1604, which received mixed reviews but have enhanced safety since their installation.
Projects that kicked off
2016 was the year that started a domino effect of several years with a ton of work that starts. With the influx of funds from Prop 1, Prop 7, the ended diversions and some local funding options that are taking effect we should see a lot of additional work get started over the next few years. That doesn't mean we don't have need for more - we do! But some of those mid-sized jobs everyone talks about needing to see done will get going soon. In 2016, we started:
- Fair Oaks Parkway bridge
- Loop 1604 Hwy 151 to Potranco
- Loop 1604 Potranco to US Hwy 90
- I-10 East (Foster to Graytown Road)
- FM 306 between Hoffman Lane and River Chase
- Replacement of the New Braunfels Ave bridge over I-35
That's just the big stuff, but all told we accepted bids on nearly 40 projects locally (meaning within our 12-county district), totaling more than $390 million in work. That doesn't count the work we already had on the books, by the way (like I-35 SAMMC, 151-410, I-10 Leon Springs and other big'ns).
Next year promises to hold more, but we'll talk more about that later this week.
What do you think? Did we miss any highlights?
What do you think? Did we miss any highlights?