The U.S. Department of Transportation Gulf Region SBTRC hosted their fifth annual Small Business Transportation Conference at the Bill J. Priest Institute on Tuesday morning, Dec. 11. During the event, the Department of Transportation announced plans for advancing transportation around the Dallas/Fort Worth area.
Nearly 150 people filled the conference room for the event, which featured four keynote speakers, an Exhibitor Expo, and nine workshops.
The U.S. Gulf Region SBTRC’s primary goal is to help small businesses. The program educated small contractors about industry challenges and assisted them in their efforts to obtain security bonds and to increase their bond capacities.
Tony Arps, project director for U.S. Gulf Region SBTRC, explained the Small Business Transportation Conference is important to the community.
“We bring together small businesses, prime contractors, and government agencies,” Arps said. “We disseminate information as well as offer workshops that assist small businesses by addressing some of their deficiencies, but also helping them build their capacities, and letting them know about the resources out here.
“We bring in different information to these businesses to assist them with getting what they need in order to partake in some of these infrastructures. There are going to be more and more infrastructure projects around the country, but the contractors must be prepared.”
The keynote speakers discussed their plans for increasing transportation in the industry. One of the speakers, Stephanie Nellons-Paige, the managing director-workforce for Texas Central Railroad, spoke about the new bullet train, which will transport people from downtown Dallas to Houston in under an hour-and-a-half.
“This train is really going to change how we do things here between these two mega entities [DFW and Houston],” Nellons-Paige said. “You’re going to be able to get from North Texas to Houston in under 90 minutes. Anybody that has been down I-45, one of the most dangerous highways in this country, knows it is good that it’s going to take people off of that [highway].”
Texas Central Railroad provided an update on how they are making the railroad reality.
“We conducted about 10 public hearings earlier this year, and all those comments are now being looked at,” Nellons-Paige said. “We have hired our primary project management consultant firm, Bechtel. We are now in the development phase.”
If the train is approved, it is expected to be running as soon as 2024. The railroad would create around 10,000 jobs. Texas Central Railroad’s management is working to assure they will be able to acquire qualified people.
“We are working with the school districts and community colleges to develop the coursework that’s going to be needed for those employees to do the work we need,” Nellons-Paige said. “I have seen first-hand how transportation affects the social and economic vitality of an individual, community, and businesses. On the business aspect, it offers opportunities people have been looking for.”
John Rhone, vice president of capital design and construction for DART, spoke to the crowd about DART’s plan to make transportation more reliable. DART works with small and large businesses to create opportunities for them to grow along with DART.
Rhone vowed to change the face of Dallas by diving into DART’s 2030 Transit System Plan, specifically the Cotton Belt Rail Line Project. The 26-mile commuter rail would operate from the suburbs of Plano, Richardson, and Adison to DFW International Airport Terminal B.
“The Cotton Belt is a commuter rail project,” Rhone said. “It’s one of the top commuter rail systems in the United States of America. It performs at 98 percent rate on time performance, so the bar has been set.
“In Plano, we will build a brand-new station. That station will be part of a multi-mobile station that will allow our customers to transfer and get to different places they want to be.”
Rhone and DART are confident the Cotton Belt Project will work. In June 1996, DART opened their 20-mile light rail system (now the largest light rail system in North America) on time and on budget.
“We have a bar that’s been set with our projects,” Rhone said. “In 1996, the light rail system really changed the region and the surrounding areas of Dallas. We typically used to set goals at 30-35 percent for D/M/WBE rules, but now it’s 45 percent. This commuter rail line project will continue that.
“Many years ago, there was a goal set, $1.35 million. As inflation occurred and as many different things impacted the market that affected materials, supplies, workforce and labor, we held to that goal. We have a project that we have brought in under budget.”
Overall, along with the planned opening of the rail system in Plano, DART also plans to have a total of 10 commuter rail stations that Rhone says will “change how we travel across the region.”
The Cotton Belt Project will also create opportunities for small and large businesses. Originally, The Cotton Belt was expected to be opened in 2035, however, it’s new expected to open in December 2022.
The nine workshops included: Doing Business with DFW Airport, DART, TxDOT, Texas Central, bonding and insurance, and Access to Capital.
However, the only private workshop was the Women in Transportation Initiative Workshop (WITI). WITI is a program by the U.S. Department of Transportation to help girls in high school become interested in transportation-related careers. In the workshop, the young women worked to build bridges as that could carry up to five pounds of weight.
“Transportation as regarded to the infrastructure, not moving goods and services, but building and maintaining the transportation infrastructure,” Diana Flores, bonding coordinator for U.S DOT Gulf Region SBTRC said. “Currently, there are not enough women in this sector. The U.S. Department of Transportation has this program to encourage women to enter these careers.”
Written by Mike Flores