Gary Fickes, commissioner for Tarrant County Precinct 3, answered some transportation questions the week before the ninth annual Northeast Tarrant Transportation Summit, which will be held Feb. 16 in Hurst.
What was the genesis of the Northeast Tarrant Transportation Summit?
We first considered this type of event in the late fall of 2009 after learning the North Tarrant Express was approved and would be going to contract.
Shortly thereafter, we confirmed that the DFW Connector was also going to contract, meaning both projects would begin in 2010. Each was taking place in Precinct 3, which covers Northeast Tarrant County, with the DFW Connector on the northern end and the North Tarrant Express on the western and southern ends.
My staff and I realized that having two major road construction projects taking place concurrently would inconvenience residents, commuters and business travelers over the next four years. We created a forum that brought together key stakeholders – our business and community leaders, as well as residents – to hear complete details from the contractors themselves and from Texas Department of Transportation officials.
Our message dealt with the upcoming disruption of traffic flows, potential inconveniences, alternate routes and the long-term benefits of the projects once they were completed. We wanted our attendees to understand the construction crews would work around the clock, 24/7, for four years – which had never been done on a road project in North Texas – to expedite the solution.
We held our initial Northeast Tarrant Transportation Summit breakfast on Feb. 17, 2010, at the Grapevine Convention Center. Immediately following our meeting, hundreds joined us for the DFW Connector groundbreaking ceremony less than 1,000 feet away on Highway 114.
List the top local transportation developments since the Summit started.
• DFW Connector
• North Tarrant Express, which includes five different projects: Airport Freeway, North Loop 820, I-35W from I-30 north to Loop 820, the I-35W/Loop 820 interchange and I-35W from Loop 820 to Basswood
• State Highway 360 South from I-20 to Mansfield
• State Highway 360/I-30 interchange at Six Flags Over Texas
• Although not in Tarrant County, LBJ Freeway to I-35E in Dallas feeds an extensive flow of traffic into Tarrant County and Airport Freeway
What are the most exciting new developments we’ll hear about on Feb. 16?
Uber Elevate is one of the most dramatic innovations, as it combines Bell Helicopter technology and the convenience of Uber. The first-generation testing will fly up to eight riders at a time from Alliance to various locations in the DFW area, which is the only test market in the United States. Uber projects the company will operate close to 1,000 of these airborne taxis.
Smart Cities continue to make news with innovation in city infrastructure that touches transportation, communications, utilities and recreation.
Autonomous vehicles are being developed by all the major manufacturers, including Frisco-based Toyota.
And Hyperloop One, conceived by Tesla and Space-X founder Elon Musk, will move people and goods in low-pressure metal pods at speeds approaching 670 miles per hour, meaning a trip from Fort Worth to Houston would take less than 30 minutes!
How is technology is impacting transportation?
The shared thread among the technology platforms is to generate the ultimate congestion relief system for mobility.
Technology is driving the future of transportation with landmark discoveries each year. It’s important to consider that autonomous vehicles will consist not only of cars, but also of small delivery vehicles, large freight trucks and even mobile self-serve retail stores. One recent concept, for example, was an autonomous Pizza Hut delivery vehicle.
Car share companies such as Uber and Lyft are moving into the autonomous vehicle segment as well. Lyft has already ordered over 1,000 autonomous vehicles for high-density population areas, and the company featured driverless ride-hailing technology at last month’s Consumer Electronics Show.
Uber Elevate will create new layers for the air traffic system, particularly near airports, as these flying taxis compete with airplanes, helicopters and drones for airspace.
High speed rail is still forging a strong presence with its plan to serve major population centers across Texas. Industry leaders are researching the latest technological advances to maximize efficiencies.
Waze shows us how to route and re-route our travel to provide the most efficient travel from point A to point B.
Tell us about your keynote speaker.
Robert T. Hastings Jr., executive vice president of Strategic Communications and chief of staff at Bell Helicopter, will keynote our Summit. He previously served as Vice President of Communications for Northrup Grumman.
Earlier, he was appointed by President George W. Bush to serve as Assistant Secretary of Defense for Public Affairs, where he was the senior public affairs official and spokesman for the U.S. Department of Defense. Robert’s U.S. Army career sent him throughout Europe and the Middle East.
Today, he is chairman of the North Texas Commission and serves on the Board of Directors for the General Aviation Manufacturers Association and the Advisory Council for the University of Florida master degree program in global strategic communication.
Ninth Annual Northeast
Tarrant County Transportation Summit
Friday, Feb. 16
8 a.m. to 1 p.m.
Hurst Conference Center
1600 Campus Dr.
$50, reservation required