Column: The Wild, Wild West of transportation is here

Texas Transportation

10th Annual Northeast Tarrant Transportation Summit

Friday, Feb. 8, 7:55 a.m.

Hurst Conference Center

1601 Campus Drive

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Hurst 76054

The Wild, Wild West of transportation promises more surprises than an old Wild West Show in the 1800s. The 2019 version – the 10th Annual Northeast Tarrant Transportation Summit on Feb. 8 – will feature everything from electric scooters and electric-assist bikes to self-driving (autonomous) cars, flying taxis, high-speed rail and aircraft that can eclipse the speed of sound, but with no sonic boom. Don’t be surprised if you run into a cowpoke or two!

All these emerging innovations convene to create what I believe is a new golden age of transportation – with passengers enjoying ground, transit rail, high-speed rail, Hyperloop and air transit, much of which will also impact freight.

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The summit will take place once again at the Hurst Conference Center, with continental breakfast at 7:30 a.m., followed by the program at 7:55 a.m.

Drayton McLane Jr., chairman of Texas Central Railway, will be the keynote speaker during the luncheon. Known as an innovator in logistics, distribution, warehousing and sports venue operations from his past ownership of McLane Co. and the Houston Astros, he will share insights on why high-speed rail is good for Texas and the United States.

Key presentations will include:

· The Long (and Short) Riders: How “first-mile” and “last-mile” riders will reach their destinations after traveling by high-speed rail or commuter trains such as TexRail.

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The discussion will address the transformation of transportation from “owning” to “calling for a service.” The panel will discuss how Uber, electric bikes, scooters, autonomous vehicles, air taxi and rail options will change the ways we think, live, work and play. Included in this panel will be a representative of the pilot program in Frisco and Arlington, which will provide on-demand self-driving passenger car service.

· The Big Sky: A representative from Dallas Fort Worth International Airport will discuss the future of air travel for passengers and goods in North Texas. He will share how rapidly progressing automation, speed and technology will upgrade the innovation of airport design. Lockheed Martin will present information on its new X-59 QueSST (Quiet Supersonic Transport) that will travel at Mach 1.4 without creating a shock wave as it breaks the sound barrier. Then, Bell will present its latest developments in its alliance with Uber to create the air taxi called Uber Elevate. These developments will dramatically impact the way we travel and how products are shipped and delivered.

· Once Upon a Train: This will update the status of this $16 billion Texas Central High-Speed Rail program from environmental impact study and route selection, stations, schedule and 200 mph speed, to the challenges faced at the federal, state and local levels to bring this project to fruition. The presentation will also detail the benefits of high-speed rail and the program’s benefit to North Texas and the state. The DFW-Houston corridor will serve an area already populated by 14.5 million residents.

· A Fistful of Dollars: Ten years ago, our area had access to several billion dollars for urgently needed highway construction for the Dallas-Fort Worth region. We put those dollars to excellent use, accomplishing our goals through partnerships involving federal, state and private sectors. We had access to a great number of tools in our tool box to facilitate this task of creating new infrastructure with the North Tarrant Express, the DFW Connector, LBJ West, Interstate 35W and Interstate 35E. With those tools no longer available, we’re looking for innovative ways to fund our future generations’ transportation projects.

This summit has become one of the largest free-standing (not part of an overall convention) transportation events in Texas because we are able to assemble the policy makers and decision makers in the same room with business leaders, constituents, engineering firms and public officials.

Mobility also translates into the dynamic business environment and the outstanding quality of life that we enjoy in Northeast Tarrant County as transportation is the driving engine of our economy.

Speaking of mobility, here is the status of some of our major projects in the area:

· I-35W: The segment of the NTE Texpress Lanes on I-35W allows drivers to zip from the Interstate 30/downtown Fort Worth interchange north to just past North Tarrant Parkway. The final segment between North Tarrant Parkway and Alliance should be started soon.

· East Loop 820: The Texas Department of Transportation broke ground in August on this project, which will reconstruct Loop 820 between Randol Mill and Pipeline roads and build additional lanes in each direction, replace the Trinity River bridges and create new direct connectors to and from State Highway 121. We expect the project to be completed in 2022.

Gary Fickes is commissioner for Precinct 3 in Tarrant County.