Transportation Summit: Navigating the road ahead with insight and vision

Gary Fickes at the Tarrant Transportation Summit. (Photo by Mike Lewis)

By Gary Fickes
Tarrant County Commissioner

Our 12th Annual Tarrant Transportation Summit delivered on its promise to bring insights and vision for the future that would astound our estimated audience of 600 attendees on Thursday, Feb. 10, at the Hurst Conference Center.

The primary purpose of this year’s summit was to discuss not just transportation but also the process of the economic development that follows the infrastructure of a new road or highway.

A typical project involves community input, interaction with local, state, and (sometimes) federal stakeholders, the Texas Department of Transportation, the Regional Transportation Council, the North Central Texas Council of Governments (NCTCOG), and Tarrant County.

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The new construction attracts development, whether residential, retail, commercial, or a mixed-use format. Attractive development is the catalyst that delivers value to a community through quality-of-life elements and tax-generating revenues.

Texas State Comptroller Glenn Hegar was our keynote speaker. He formed the Broadband Development Office last year and helped us further appreciate the benefits of providing internet capabilities for underserved areas that many call internet deserts.

He emphasized that expanded broadband can provide superior technology in the form of telemedicine and public education and general use in rural areas.

Glenn offered a very optimistic forecast for the state of Texas, saying that our economy is strong and that all signs promise growth in jobs, company expansion, and attracting new companies to Texas. He sees record sales tax collections to fund state budgets and grow the State of Texas’ Rainy Day Fund.

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One of our most exciting projects discussed was a proposed $3 million to design and provide broader internet access along Rosedale Street and Lancaster Avenue in Fort Worth. As a member and past chairman of the Regional Transportation Council, I have worked closely with Michael Morris, who presented the project at the summit.

Michael serves as Transportation Director for NCTCOG and has been dedicating a significant amount of time to this project, funded through federal grants.

The agency is studying the value of electrifying roadways that can wirelessly charge electric vehicles while in motion, thus removing the need for such cars to stop and re-charge. This is a discussion that began at our transportation summit four years ago, and now it is closer to becoming reality. NTCOG is considering a test along State Highway 360, and this project will capture the attention of transportation leaders nationwide.

Two more intriguing presenters were BNSF and the Trinity Metro. Trinity Metro CEO Paul Ballard announced plans to start a bus route with a guaranteed schedule starting late this year or early next year. “If for any reason the bus is late, you get refunded your fares,” he said. He called the concept a win-win situation that should help attract a lot of ridership.

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Ballard said the route will use battery-powered buses and travel from East Fort Worth to downtown and then to Alliance. Trinity is coordinating logistics with the NCTCOG on the route, and the buses will use managed lanes on I-35W to have more predictable travel times.

Tom Williams, BNSF Vice President of Consumer Products, quoted a U.S. Department of Transportation study that expects freight traffic across the United States to increase by 50% in the next 30 years.

He added that railroads deliver 50% of all long-haul cargo shipments domestically and that BNSF has taken great strides to leverage technology to accommodate timely deliveries.

To reduce wait time at intermodal shipping sites, BNSF has provided truckers with an app so they can track when their shipment is arriving in real-time. Gate wait times have been reduced from minutes and hours to just 30 seconds.

The 2022 Tarrant Transportation Summit experienced a highlight when I presented the first-ever Lifetime Achievement for Excellence in Transportation Award to Tarrant County Judge Glen Whitley. Judge Whitley has been a true champion of transportation and an inspirational leader during his 15 years as Tarrant County’s chief executive, following his 10 years as my predecessor as Precinct 3 Commissioner. We are indeed fortunate to be benefiting from his service, and we will miss him since he has chosen not to run for re-election.

This year’s summit featured some of our most high-powered speakers, including: Victor Vandergriff, Executive Director, Tarrant Regional Transportation Coalition; Russell Laughlin, Executive Vice President, Hillwood; Michael Morris, Transportation Director, North Central Texas Council of Governments; Jeff Williams, Chairman, Tarrant Regional Transportation Coalition and former Mayor of Arlington; Paul Ballard, President/CEO of Trinity Metro; Thomas C. Lambert, President/CEO of Houston Metro; Nadine Lee, President/CEO of DART; Johann Petterson, Principal, DEC; Chad Sparks, Director of Strategic Campaigns & Business Development, Bell; Brant Ring, CEO, ITS ConGlobal; Tom G. Williams, Group Vice President, Consumer Products, BNSF; Lloyd B. Potter, PH.D., State Demographer, State of Texas; Alberto Gonzalez, President, Cintra, U.S. Region; Glenn Hegar, Texas State Comptroller.

Gary Fickes is the founder and organizer of the Tarrant Transportation Summit and the driving force behind the program’s continuing success. He has been a member of the Tarrant County Commissioners Court since 2006 representing Precinct 3, which includes two major airports and a number of major freeways. He is a former mayor of Southlake, and past chair of the Tarrant Regional Transportation Coalition and Regional Transportation Council through the North Central Texas Council of Governments.