News & Press: Member Update

March Matters, TxDOT & Transportation

Friday, January 26, 2018  
Posted by: Michael Hancock
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Member Update

January 26, 2018

 

MARCH MATTERS!

 

Primary elections in Texas are March 6, less than 40 days away, with early voting beginning February 20 and continuing through March 2. Every ACEC Texas member should be aware of these dates. Although citizens sometimes think they do their civic duty if they vote in November, the vast majority of races are determined in the party primaries.

In recent years, primary elections have often been dominated by extremists – because reasonable people don’t vote in March.

You can do two things:

INVEST – Become a member of ACEC Texas’ Public Policy Council by contributing $500 to the Consulting Engineers PAC, which goes to support both state and national efforts to identify and support pro-business and pro-infrastructure candidates. You can find this information at www.acectx.org under the Political Advocacy tab.

LEARN & VOTE – Be aware of which candidates in your area support road and water funding, education, and jobs as opposed to focusing on social issues and slogans. CEPAC and the PPC will distribute a list of endorsements prior to the start of early voting. Then vote in March. And encourage your friends and employees to vote. If you don’t, you are ceding your voice to others.

 

TxDOT/TRANSPORTATION

 

It is fair to say that there is a great deal of concern in construction industry circles currently about the pace of TxDOT’s work program in FY2018.Construction lettings in the traditional program (exclusive of any design-build contracts) averaged less than $250 million per month in the first five months of the fiscal year. By contrast, the fiscal year goal of $6 billion would require $500 million in lettings each month. Although planned letting levels have not been met, there was no discussion at the Commission’s workshop this week as to the reasons for that (PS&E, right-of-way delays, etc.).

TxDOT staff told the Commission this week that they are working to move forward projects from FY19 into FY18, with lettings in July and August planned to be closer to $1 billion per month. However, AGC told the Commission in a workshop on this subject that a more level month-to-month letting would be much more beneficial to both contractors and the Department and encouraged the Department to work harder on this goal.

There was also discussion regarding the fact that, especially with moving more projects forward, the cupboard - projects with plans on the shelf - is getting fairly thin and that PS&E work will be moved up.

It would be helpful for us to get some feedback from our membership about what you are experiencing in this market currently. Is the path of getting to work authorizations once a contract is executed getting any better/faster?What are the stresses and inefficiencies?Are you being asked to expedite more work once it is assigned? What are you hearing from colleagues in the Districts about the demands on them?

It is difficult to put this in a survey but any anecdotal information or observations would be helpful. Email Steve Stagner at steve@acectx.org or call 512.472.5620. Responses will be kept confidential.

On a different TxDOT subject, ACEC Texas has been in discussions with TxDOT regarding the agency’s administrative qualifications process and particularly issues related to indirect cost rates. There have been concerns that the agency is disallowing costs that should be allowable under federal rules and AASHTO/FHWA guidance.

One of the questions that has arisen concerns TxDOT’s standard treatment of survey equipment and supplies. We are also gathering some information on this. If your firm does survey work for TxDOT and you would be willing to answer a few questions, contact Steve Stagner (see above) and we will send you a brief questionnaire.Replies will be kept confidential.

Finally, most observers were baffled at the Transportation Commission meeting this week by the decision of the Commission (or at least the Chair) to defer action on an order to initiate a procurement process to select a design-built team for the reconstruction of IH-635 East with non-tolled managed lanes. The original plan to construct the project with tolled managed lanes was derailed by the decision by the Commission in December to move away from all toll managed lanes, but at this week's meeting there was broad support (even from anti-toll groups) for initiating the procurement of a design-builder for an altered project. Chairman Bugg cited "too many unanswered questions" about financing the project without toll components.

 

OTHER

School Finance - One of the sleeper issues of this legislative interim is school finance. Amidst stark differences between the House and Senate last session, the Legislature set up a special commission chaired by former Supreme Court Justice Scott Brister. The commission met for the first time this week. Its charter is broad, potentially encompassing both changes in accountability/delivery and funding. This issue overlaps with current concerns over property taxes, since the largest proportion of property taxes are levied by school districts. The easiest way to lower property taxes is to increase the proportion of school funding provided by the state, which has been in significant decline in recent years. However, this almost certainly requires significant new revenue from new taxes. This potentially affects the professional services industry in that the likeliest source to be discussed, if the search for an alternative to the property tax gets traction, is a broadening of the sales tax base.

Federal Infrastructure Plan - An outline of a potential Trump infrastructure plan circulated in Washington this week. The outline suggests that federal grants could not exceed 20 percent of a project's cost, relying on using this to leverage new, non-federal revenue, both public and private. The plan potentially creates problems for Texas in that the state's political leadership have not been supportive of either public-private partnerships or enhanced local government discretion to raise money.

 

ACEC TEXAS ANNUAL MEETING

Registration is open for ACEC Texas' Annual Membership Meeting and Conference, to be held in Houston March 25-26. The annual membership meeting will be Sunday afternoon, with a reception Sunday evening. Monday's events include business practices sessions presented by Mark Goodale of Morrissey Goodale ("How to Achieve a Growing, Profitable Business" and June Jewell of AEC Business Solutions ("Six Steps to Increase Profit"). The afternoon will feature a Political Update Panel with James Henson of the University of Texas, Richard Murray of the University of Houston, and Erica Grieder of the Houston Chronicle. The meeting will conclude with the Engineering Excellence Awards Dinner, with the keynote by the noted journalist and author Lawrence Wright.

 

 

Calendar of Events

  • January29-30 (Houston) and February 5-6 (San Antonio) - ACEC Texas Project Management Training (Note these sessions are full but we are looking at adding a session in Houston later in the Spring)
  • March 25-26 (Houston) - ACEC Texas Annual Membership Meeting and Conference
  • April 16-18 - (Washington, DC) - ACEC National Annual Meeting

In The News

Go to www.acectx.org for current articles on construction, engineering, public works, transportation, politics and more including:

  • Potholes ahead for Trump's public works proposal
  • Energy business is in a treacherous transition
  • Toll agency board seats once again a Travis County toss-up
  • Northside ISD voters to decide record bond proposal
  • Turner proposes stricter development rules to boost flood control in Houston
  • City of El Paso vows to move forward with arena project
  • Houston ISD considering asking voters to approve billion dollar bond
  • Bond session puts focus on neglect of East Austin infrastructure
  • Belton considers southern sewer options as growth looms
  • Prospects for Houston flood control projects uncertain amid Washington politics
  • and more . . . .

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6/14/2018
2018 TxDOT Audit Issues Review and Training Seminar - DFW