The first 14 TXDOT projects ever to use the new Road to Zero safety funding should be let today at the monthly meeting of the Texas Transportation Commission (TTC). Yesterday, at the December 11, 2019 TTC workshop, TxDOT staff presented updates on various programs and projects currently underway, including details on progress made by the Safety Task Force on the $600 million additional safety funding approved as part of the 2020 Unified Transportation Program (UTP) back in July.
Staff also provided updates on rural and statewide connectivity, the other $600 million investment in the “Permian Promise” allocated in the 2020 UTP, and the long range 2050 Texas Transportation Plan.
New Safety Funding Progress
Traffic Safety Division Director Michael A. Chacon reported on TxDOT’s approved projects for the first round of $300 million in funding for FY2020. 122 projects were submitted to TxDOT and 90 were approved, with a total cost of $207 million. Of note, 13 of these approved projects were change orders, i.e., new thinking about safety caused staff to suggest adding additional safety treatments to existing projects.
According to Chacon, this first round of projects are primarily low-cost measures, data-driven actions that reduce crashes. Changes will focus on roadway lane departures, intersection improvements, and pedestrian safety. There will be another request for project proposals – available only to TxDOT Districts – for the remaining $93 million in funding, as well as for the $300 million slated for 2021 at a later date.
A Cultural Shift at TxDOT
Beyond the Safety Task Force’s activities and projects, Director Chacon gave special emphasis on the agency’s conscious efforts to shift their perspective and standards, such that safety truly does garner top priority in all their efforts. Chacon reiterated to the Commission, “safety is TxDOT’s number one priority.”
One dramatic part of this shift is that TxDOT is moving from focusing mostly on Nominal Safety to also giving a high priority to Substantive Safety. Director Chacon stressed that TxDOT always builds projects safely and will continue to meet and exceed safety standards. But in the past, meeting a set of standards may have been seen as the only requirement.
While they will continue to build all projects up to standards, criteria, and guidelines, they are developing methodologies – with the assistance of the Texas A&M Transportation Institute – to identify the most effective additional safety treatments to optimize risk reduction on every project.
Another part of the shift is identifying and focusing on crash frequency and severity to systemically reducing risk for all users. Part of this shift is empowering Districts to proactively identify and solve high risk situations. All of TxDOT’s 25 Districts across the state are in the process now of creating their own four-year safety plans to most effectively use this new funding and continuously improve their approach.
Meeting Agenda, Texas Transportation Commission Workshop, Dec 11, 2019
Here is video of the safety agenda item being presented and discussed: