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Although he has only been on the job about a month and a half with the Texas Department of Transportation, Joe Weber is already urging change for the future of transportation in Texas, including railway, transit integration and research into new technologies.
“I know that multi-modal, some people don’t like to hear that, but there’s a reason that our great legislature said in Austin in the 1990s, ‘You’re not the Texas Highway Department anymore. You’re the department of transportation,’” Weber said. “Because [in] transportation, we have to think multi-modal. That means a culture change.”
Recently named the new executive director of TxDOT by the Texas Transportation Commission in April, Weber spoke to dozens of transportation stakeholders in the Greater Houston area at a Transportation Advocacy Group meeting June 12. After serving 36 years in the military, the retired lieutenant general of the Marine Corps spent the last six years serving as vice president of student affairs at Texas A&M University.
Working at the university was an eye-opening experience, Weber said.
“The biggest culture shock I had was spending six years at [Texas] A&M [University] and having students come into my offices,” he said. “A lot of them [did not] care whether they had their driver’s license or not or whether they own a car or not. It’s common. It’s that kind of generation, and we have to think about that.”
Although Weber praised the roadway projects currently ongoing across the state, he said he questioned whether adding more lanes to major thoroughfares, such as I-45, I-10 and I-35, would address the needs of the state 40-50 years in the future. Weber said integration of roads, rail, port and transit will be key to the future of transportation across the state.
He urged attendees to envision the future in 40 years and what the transportation needs will be for a state that could double in population during that time.
“I don’t know that we’re going to be slapping pavement down on roads 40 years from now,” he said. “There may be all these photovoltaic cells down there with the censors or high speed rail for freight and stuff. I don’t know, but those are the kind of things TxDOT also needs to be looking at for the future. And it’s hard. It’s hard to get people to fund that kind of stuff, but we need to think about that as we continue to do the great things we do now.”
The new executive director did not mention Proposition 1—a proposition by state legislators that could disburse $1.4 billion for state transportation funding this year if approved by voters in November—but he did address transportation funding.
Weber said he has been astounded by the work TxDOT has done to form federal, state, local and private partnerships. However, in spite of growth in the energy industry and what it has meant for the region, he admitted TxDOT will never have enough money.
“That’s why it’s so important to me that TxDOT continues to work with our legislature—federal and state—[and] our local communities to figure out how we can do it,” he said. “And you’ve done that. This is the model for this community.”
Regarding public and private partnerships, Weber said they are going to continue to become more prevalent and can be used to help finance transportation projects.
“You’re going to see more of them, and you’re going to see more creative and imaginative types of those kinds of partnerships,” he said. “I’m not sure if we can make it without them. Look at the size of some of the projects. They’ve got $12 billion in projects going on in the Metroplex. You’ve got $4 [billion] or $5 billion of projects going on here. Who’s got that kind of money by themselves?”