Transportation Summit urges infrastructure improvements

Infrastructure funding was at the forefront at the annual Irving Transportation Investment Summit held at the Irving Convention Center Aug. 15 and 16.

Designed to bring together private sector investors as well as local and national government officials, the summit hosted discussions promoting the growth of the infrastructure market in North Texas. Topics included solutions for infrastructure funding, the condition of Texas’ roads, highway projects, and new transportation technology such as high speed rails. Irving Mayor Rick Stopfer spoke on the importance of bringing both the government and the private sector together to improve infrastructure.

“It is our hope that by engaging with government at the local, state, and federal levels, private investors and agency leaders, we will encourage collaboration and future partnerships,” Stopfer said. “Building upon previous years, we have brought together innovative leaders and stakeholders from the transportation, water and economic development industry to convene with government officials. The purpose of this 2017 summit is to provide a venue for policy makers and stakeholders to collaborate with each other.”

During the summit, the Honorable R. Dan Matkin, former mayor of Irving, received the Lifetime Infrastructure Champion Award for his contributions to the economic growth of Irving. During his time as mayor, Matkin helped to not only expand infrastructure for the city’s water system, but also helped establish the Las Colinas residential and commercial district. He was thrilled and surprised to be receiving such an award for his work.

“It was pretty exhilarating, and it was pretty unexpected too, which made it even more enjoyable,” Matkin said, after receiving his award. “I had a great group of people I worked with over the years.”

Congressman Pete Sessions, who was not in attendance at the time, was also awarded the Lifetime Infrastructure Champion Award.

Although many of the topics discussed dealt with infrastructure and economic development on the state level, infrastructure is not just a local or state issue. Rather, it is a nationwide issue. On Tuesday, Aug. 15t, President Trump signed an executive order to eliminate and streamline certain regulations in order to speed up the construction of roads and bridges and pipelines. Finch Fulton, the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Deputy Assistant Secretary for Transportation Policy, was one of the keynote speakers at the summit. He spoke about the new executive order and the impact it would have on completing construction projects.

“As many of you know, to build a single highway you must obtain 16 different approvals from 10 different agencies, governed by 29 different statutes and at least 5 executive orders,” Fulton said. “The process was never intended to be so complex. After years of laws and regulations and guidelines piled on top of each other to make a big, complicated mess. This wasn’t the way it was supposed to be. That is why the President, with the Secretary of Transportation, signed an executive order to start the process of bringing sanity back to this area.”

Throughout the various panels and speakers, however, the overarching theme of the summit was how to fund transportation and infrastructure, from the local rural roads to nationwide freeways and rail lines. Walt Humann, a prominent businessman and the “Father of DART,” was another of the summit’s keynote speakers, and spoke at length on this issue, once more stressing the importance of both the private and public sector working together to build a “superior” infrastructure system.

“The DFW region deserves a superior transportation system, as does the state of Texas, and as does the nation,” Humann said. “To get the superior system costs money. To get that money, we’re going to have to have leadership and us all pulling together, but it will be worth the effort.”