2017 is the TxDOT Centennial. After one hundred years on the job, the department has plenty of accomplishments to celebrate—and plenty of plans for the future.
When the earliest incarnation of TxDOT was launched in 1917, the state was still adjusting to the advent of the automobile. The department got to work right away and began construction on a 20-mile road linking Falfurrias and Encino. That highway, now known as US 281, was the first of many.
Farmers and ranchers needed to get their goods to market and TxDOT helped usher in a new era of motor vehicle transportation, where goods move quickly from one end of the state to the other and people enjoy the freedom and convenience of traveling the open road. “Our ability to connect communities and keep people and goods moving efficiently is a goal we take to heart each and every day,” says TxDOT’s Information Specialist Mark Cross.
The department has achieved a number of benchmarks throughout its century-long journey. “Building and maintaining more than 80,000 miles of state roadways is a huge accomplishment,” Mr. Cross points out. “In fact, we have more miles of state-maintained roadways than any other state in the nation and, in many cases, more than some countries.”
Another point of pride is the “Don’t mess with Texas” anti-litter campaign. “The campaign—which recently turned 30 years old—not only helps reduce litter across our beautiful state, but also is widely recognized as one of the world’s most famous public service campaigns and slogans.”
The Texas Adopt-A-Highway program has been a crucial player in the fight to keep the state’s highways litter free. “The program saves Texas taxpayers about $3 million a year in litter pickup,” Mr. Cross says. “It was the first of its kind and has since become a model for successful public-private partnerships.” The popular concept has spread all over the world. “Almost 90,000 Adopt-A-Highway programs are now found in 49 states, Puerto Rico, Australia, Canada, Great Britain, Mexico, New Zealand, Ireland and Japan.”
The TxDOT Wildflower program is another success story. “It dates back to the 1930s and got an added boost in the 1960s when Former First Lady ‘Ladybird’ Johnson helped bring it into the national spotlight,” Mr. Cross says. “These days, the program helps spread about 30,000 pounds of seeds each year along our highways to help beautify our landscape.”
To commemorate a century of successful programs, TxDOT is sending a refurbished, 27 foot long, 1918 Liberty Truck across the state. The traveling exhibit tells the district-by-district story of the agency’s 100-year history and includes photographs as well as a timeline to highlight significant dates and achievements. The public can “Track the Truck” on the TxDOT website as the exhibit winds through the state.
Over the last century, the challenge has shifted from creating a highway system from scratch to controlling congestion along the state’s bustling roadways. TxDOT has a new strategy for a new era of highway transportation. The 2017 Unified Transportation Program (UTP) is the largest transportation plan in TxDOT’s history. Seventy billion dollars have been allocated to address congestion and improve driver safety over the next decade. Many UTP projects involve the roadways named on the state’s 100 Congested Roadways list.
In the latest UTP update, $2.5 billion is being proposed for 19 projects that will relieve congestion in Texas’ five major metropolitan areas: Fort Worth, Dallas, Austin, Houston and San Antonio. “Over the course of 10 years, we expect to fund $28.9 billion in congestion relief projects for Texans,” Mr. Cross says. The proposed projects will deal with 230 lane miles of current congestion and 516 lane miles of future congestion in urban and metro areas. “A total of $2.5 billion is specifically earmarked for Texas Clear Lanes initiative, which focuses on congestion relief projects in the five metro areas. But when more money is added from different funding categories that are not solely dedicated to congestion, that number for congestion relief increases up to $7.3 billion.”
TxDOT aims to tackle the gridlock problem statewide, so that every Texas driver benefits. “To deliver on this commitment, we are putting Texans’ money to work,” says Mr. Cross. In November of 2014 and 2015, Texas voters approved extra funding via two amendments: Proposition 1 directs a portion of oil and gas tax revenues into the State Highway Fund, while Proposition 7 directs a portion of the state’s general sales and use tax, as well as motor vehicle sales and rental taxes, to the State Highway Fund.
“With this additional funding and collaboration with local transportation leaders across the state, TxDOT has dedicated $1.3 billion to the state’s major metropolitan areas in an effort to address congestion. These projects have now been approved and included in the state’s Unified Transportation Program (UTP), our 10-year project development plan.”
Several major, anti-congestion projects are already underway. In April, TxDOT launched the highly anticipated Southern Gateway Project, which should make a real difference for Dallas area drivers. The $565 million project will rebuild and widen I-35E. This interstate runs south of downtown Dallas and is the 17th most congested roadway segment in Texas, according to the Texas A&M Transportation Institute and the TxDOT. In March, TxDOT broke ground on another exciting project to help alleviate congestion. Located in the Austin area, the US 281 expansion project will add non-tolled express lanes over two construction phases.
The Mobility35 Program aims to transform I-35 into a more efficient roadway. The region-wide effort will improve mobility and safety along 79 miles of I-35 that pass through Williamson, Travis, and Hays counties. “Since 2011, TxDOT, the Capital Area Metropolitan Planning Organization (Austin), regional partners, and the community have been working on a plan for improvements to the I-35 corridor to safely and effectively move goods and people throughout the state and beyond.” Construction along the I-35 corridor has already begun and is expected to continue for the next 15 to 20 years.
“Many Mobility35 projects are not yet funded, but they remain a priority to the region and we will continue to work with our transportation partners and the community to design, develop, identify funding and construct these projects,” Mr. Cross says. “This effort will improve mobility and connectivity for all modes of transportation — cars, transit, trucks, emergency vehicles, pedestrians and bicycles — along and across I-35, as funding is identified.”
In addition to clearing congestion, TxDOT is thinking ahead to ensure Texas roads are ready for smart technology. “TxDOT is leading the way by working with transportation researchers to make Texas the first “Smart State” for automated and connected vehicle testing,” Mr. Cross says. “TxDOT recently co-signed a Memorandum of Understanding with the Texas Transportation Institute (TTI), outlining the guidelines that would allow TTI to test lab-proven technologies in a real-world environment.”
Also notable, TxDOT has just begun a major bridge project that will create a new, iconic structure that connects Corpus Christi to North Beach. “We also are building a legacy of accomplishments for the future with projects like the new Harbor Bridge in Corpus Christi that will be the longest cable-stay, concrete-segmental bridge in the United States when it is complete,” Mr. Cross remarks. The $809 million dollar project broke ground in late March and will be completed by 2020.
After a century of groundbreaking initiatives, TxDOT is ready to continue its legacy and complete another round of high-profile projects. From congestion-clearing expansions to smart roads and record-breaking bridges, the department knows how to get Texans from here to there—no matter how far the distance.