Lt. Gen. Joe Weber (Ret.), TxDOT Executive Director, talks about his early months leading the agency

 

 

 

 

 

 

Weber Sees Big Needs in the Oil Patch

 

September 20, 2014

 

On a recent visit to a Permian Basin oil and gas company, TxDOT Executive Director Joe Weber saw a PowerPoint slide showing that the company anticipates their oil field truck traffic to be 10 times greater in 2024 than it is today.Eagle Ford


“Can you imagine that?” he asked members of the Transportation Advocates of Texas at a recent meeting.  “You used to go to a drill site and there would be three or four pickups.  Now you can go to a drill site and see 300 vehicles out there.”


Weber, a retired Marine Corps lieutenant general, took over the top job at the Texas Department of Transportation in April and has been spending his time since getting to know more about the state’s transportation challenges.


 General Weber said the activity going on in the state’s energy exploration and development sector is one of his biggest concerns – the one thing he loses sleep over.


He said TxDOT and its contractors are continuing to fall further behind in the South Texas and Permian Basin counties where oil and gas activity is intense.  Much of that activity is running over roads that were never meant for the kind of traffic they are seeing with thousands of heavy truck trips required for each well completion.


Weber said that his concern would not be nearly as great if the energy development activity were going to subside in two or three years as some had previously suggested.


“What they are telling us now is 10 to 15 years, maybe even 20 or 30.  So I am trying to get a feel for that out in the field – talking to contractors and our people.  That has to do with what our policy toward the energy sector is going to be  -- and it ain’t going to be gravel roads, I’ll tell you right now,” he said.  “I think TxDOT can do better than that.”


He said that if the level of activity in the oil patch is going to go on for decades then it is necessary to look at the problem and solutions in an entirely different way than if it were going to be over in a couple of years.

 

COMPETITION FOR WORKFORCE


Just one of the problems TxDOT and highway contractors are facing in areas where the energy sector is very active is the competition for qualified manpower.  Some TxDOT districts are seeing workforce attrition rates of 25% to 30% a year because those with commercial drivers licenses can earn much more driving trucks for energy-related companies compared to a TxDOT paycheck.

 

Weber predicted that the expansion of economic activity in Mexico in the coming years will be dramatic and that it will mean substantially more truck and rail traffic in Texas.  “The floodgates are going to open in Mexico.  It is coming -- just wait.  Are we going to be ready for all of that traffic?”

 

CONSTRUCTION COST INFLATION

 

He said that one of the most significant problems faced by TxDOT today is highway construction cost inflation which has run far ahead of general inflation or interest rates.  Concrete, steel and asphalt prices are all impacted. A $500 million highway project let in 2010 would cost about $665 million today and by 2018 is estimated to cost $870 million.


“Pretty amazing,” Weber said. “We better be generating more revenue.”


He said he understands there will never be enough money to do everything and that what is important to him as TxDOT’s executive director is that available funds be put in the right place with the right priorities.

 

He also said he has concluded that while more road and bridge projects are essential, the state will never be able to fully build its way out of the congestion problems created by a potential doubling of the Texas population over the next 30 years.  “We’ve got to figure out a way and it is going to require a cultural change.”