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Williams Leads TxDOT Through Record Funding, Emerging Technologies, and Safety and Supply Chain Challenges

by: Julie Devine
Marc Williams
Marc Williams
Statewide, the Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT) has more than $30 billion worth of projects under construction – the largest amount in state history.

That number could soon increase.

“With the passage of the federal Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, Texas is poised to receive up to $28.7 billion over five years for roads, bridges, and other vital multi-modal projects,” said Marc Williams, P.E., TxDOT’s Executive Director. “That means federal funding could increase from more than $4 billion each year to as high as $5.5 billion during the next five years. We plan to quickly put those funds to work to accelerate projects already in our 10-year plan.”

Although Williams is fairly new to the position of Executive Director (he started that role on June 1, 2021), he’s already been involved in TxDOT’s planning for upcoming projects, serving as Deputy Executive Director since 2016. He joined TxDOT in 2012 as Director of Planning.

Before that, Williams served as Commissioner of Highways for Kentucky. He also worked extensively with private-sector organizations involved with the planning, development, and implementation of transportation infrastructure projects across the U.S.

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Although he grew up in west Texas, Williams was born in Bryan, Texas, and considered himself an Aggie from birth. He graduated from Texas A&M University in College Station, Texas, with bachelor’s and master’s degrees in civil engineering.

In his interview with Texas Contractor, Williams shares lessons he learned throughout his career and highlights of TxDOT’s 2022 plans.

Why did you choose a career in engineering?
The desire to look at, plan, and think about our transportation system has always been in my DNA. At a young age, my art projects would often be imagined cities drawn on large rolls of paper with roads and freeways.

Who has been the biggest influence on your career?
While working for two different state DOTs, I served under five different executive directors, two of whom were retired military generals. I learned from each of these individuals. However, most influential are the thousands of employees within these organizations. I do my very best to listen and learn from every person I get a chance to hear from. Each offers a unique and important perspective, and they make me better.

What lessons have you learned in your professional life?
Sometimes we find ourselves getting hung up with the old way of doing things. As engineers, we have the ability – even the obligation – to use our training, expertise, and understanding of situations to rethink and challenge the status quo when it comes to how we get our work done.

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What’s the best advice you’ve received?
A guy named Paul (in the Bible’s second chapter of Philippians) challenged me to not do things out of my own ambition or conceit, but to be humble and consider other people more significant than myself, looking out for their interests and not just my own.

What professional achievement makes you proudest?
Leading this incredible department and serving the citizens of Texas is an honor. We’re able to be involved in so many people’s lives to make a positive difference.

What are some of the most significant projects you’ve worked on?
Early in my career, I was involved in the initial planning and feasibility studies for two future interstate corridors in Texas – I-69 and I-27. Even in Kentucky, I had the opportunity to help advance the I-69 project in that region. Building transportation infrastructure is definitely more of a marathon than a sprint. It takes planning, preparation, and persistence, but that makes it more rewarding when you cross the finish line.

What are TxDOT’s priorities for 2022?
I’ve had the opportunity to speak with, and more importantly listen to, the women and men serving in many of our District, Area, and Maintenance offices. I’ve had the benefit of getting input on five of the priorities I’m focused on as Executive Director:

  • Safety
  • Project delivery
  • Performance
  • Technology
  • Diversity and retention of talent

What are the biggest challenges you’re expecting in the next year?
Safety, logistics/supply chains, and improving mobility are some of the main challenges we face as a state when it comes to transportation. I believe advancing emerging technologies is both an operational and economic necessity for the future and will enable us to meet those challenges. In addition, we must make progress as an industry to reverse the tragic rise in highway fatalities that we’ve seen over the past two years. As the state continues to experience tremendous growth, the demands on the Texas transportation system increase daily. We know that this growth brings challenges, but also great economic development opportunities.

What are TxDOT’s most significant projects this year?
For fiscal-year 2022, we have more than 2,000 projects planned, including major enhancements to I-820 as part of the Southeast Connector project in the Dallas-Fort Worth area. That nearly $1.6 billion project was awarded in November 2021.

Two major projects aimed at improving I-35 in Austin will let in the coming months. The first project, which will make improvements from U.S. 290/SH 71 to SL 275, will let in February 2022 with an estimated project cost of $397.4 million. Another project to improve segments of I-35 from SH 45N to FM 1825 will let in April 2022 with an estimated cost of $376.9 million.

In the San Antonio region, work has begun along LP 1604 from SH 16 to US 281. The over $285 million of improvements and expansions includes a major reconstruction of the I-10 and LP 1604 interchange. Another major project is the I-35 NEX, which will be broken into three segments. This spring, TxDOT will begin construction for the $1.5 billion central portion.

There are many other projects in the schedule across the state, and our district teams are working hard to make this a very busy year for TxDOT and the industry.

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