Mike Alford

Houston district engineer, Texas Department of Transportation

Editor's note: Coffee with Impact is a quarterly forum in our Houston office featuring leaders in various sectors who are making a difference in the Houston area and beyond.

Mike Alford is the district engineer for the Houston District of the Texas Department of Transportation overseeing operations in Brazoria, Fort Bend, Galveston, Harris, Montgomery and Waller counties. He is responsible for managing all district operations and an annual budget in excess of $1 billion.

The Houston District has the largest population, number of registered vehicles, vehicle miles traveled and roadway maintenance budget in the state. It oversees the Green Ribbon Project, an innovative landscaping enhancement program and Houston TranStar, the largest freeway traffic management system in the United States.

Alford took his post in November 2011, but has been with TxDOT since 1982. He has spent his entire career in the Houston District, starting as a summer employee in 1979. Prior to his appointment as deputy district engineer in February 2009, he was director of maintenance, where he was responsible for maintenance contracting, operations, Galveston/Port Bolivar Ferry Operations, facilities maintenance and emergency management.

Is TxDOT looking at any new revenue sources?

The final decision on the funding mechanisms that we are going to have lies solely on the state legislators and members of congress. We don't advocate any one of these solutions and it may be a combination of solutions that will do it. If the state raises the vehicle registration fee by $10, the state will get $250 million more dollars to build with.

Gas tax-wise, 1 cent a gallon increase in gas taxes brings more than $100 million. Indexing the gas tax, based on consumer price index, if you go up 1 percent the state will get about $20 million more dollars. Then, you can look at vehicle miles traveled.

We have some vehicles out there now [that are so efficient that] as the vehicle drives down the road all that TxDOT receives from them is their vehicle registration fee. They go home, plug their car in and there is no gas tax associated with them. So with vehicle miles traveled, drivers would pay a fee of so many cents per mile that they drive down the highway. We also have to look at other things that we can leverage and use.

There is also talk about us using some of the taxes that the state gets off of oil and gas revenue.

Explain how a public-private partnership, as laid out in Senate Bill 1420 and House Bill 2255, works?

What you have in a public-private development is that the developer will go in and design, build, finance, operate and maintain [the project]...but everything is still owned by TxDOT.

What effect do groups like the 249 Partnership have on moving projects forward?

The 249 group provides this continuity between the community. Most of them live and work in that area, so they can go out and talk to their employees and their coworkers and say, 'This is an important project and we need you to support it.' They also keep [TxDOT] focused on what we need to do. Unfortunately, we go around and just talk to a lot of the industry. The industry knows we have a funding problem. The important thing is that we have to get this out to everybody.

These groups can disseminate information to a whole lot more people, probably better and faster, than we can. It's amazing to meet with these groups, and they know the right people to talk to a lot of times.

For instance, we may be trying to purchase a right of way and they will say, 'you need to go talk to this guy. He owns this property. And I will set up this meeting.'

What is the status of Hwy. 242 flyover project?

That project is being developed by Montgomery County and has passed through our funding program. Right now, it is anticipated that it will go to construction in August of this year. There are still some issues that it will have to go through like getting the construction plans and forms back to us.

What is the plan for widening FM 2978?

We've got two projects coming up. The first project [widens FM 2978] from Conroe Huffsmith Road up to Dry Creek. It is about a $4.2 million project. It widens from two lanes to four lanes. The next project goes from Dry Creek to FM 1488. There is no funding identified on it right now. It also widens from a two to four lane road. It is a $12.4 million project. As funding becomes available, I think it is a project that is needed for the neighborhood.

Are there other ways to alleviate traffic besides major road projects?

A lot of people think that the only way you are going to address congestion is that you have to add lanes. When we start out, we look at the simpler ways to do it. Can we do it from an operational standpoint? Can we go out there and interconnect signals and put those together to get some flow of traffic?

That works well until you get really heavy peak traffic—that's a fairly simple and fairly cheap [solution].

Things as simple as courtesy patrol and our Motorist Assistance Programs when cars break down on the roadway are cheaper alternatives. There are other things as simple as adding a right turn lane to an intersection allowing for a lot of right turn movements. That can really increase the flow of traffic.


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