FORT WORTH — Nearly 12 years and several billion dollars worth of road work later, the state’s leading highway official on the western side of Dallas-Fort Worth is ready to drive off into the sunset.Maribel Chavez is retiring after 31 years at the Texas Department of Transportation —including the last dozen years as the agency’s Fort Worth district engineer. Her last day in the office was Friday.She leaves behind a legacy of overseeing some of the biggest, most expensive and complicated projects in the state’s history. Among them: the $1 billion makeover of Texas 114/121 in Grapevine known as the DFW Connector; the $2.5 billion North Tarrant Express on Texas 121/183 in Northeast Tarrant County; and the $1.6 billion Chisholm Trail Parkway.The latter is a partnership with the North Texas Tollway Authority. It involves construction of a 28-mile toll road from Interstate 30 near downtown Fort Worth to U.S. 67 in Cleburne that’s scheduled to open early to mid-next year.Chavez said that over the years she didn’t dwell on the prospect of retirement, except to tell herself that she wouldn’t leave until certain projects were completed. But more recently, she said she realized that the list of projects needed to keep up with the incredible job and population growth in Tarrant, Johnson and seven other counties in her district is seemingly infinite.“I really tried hard not to think beyond today,” said Chavez, who has four children and two grandchildren. “I really never set a retirement date for myself. When I was thinking about when I might go, I always said it would be when we finished Southwest Parkway, which is now Chisholm Trail Parkway. Then it was West Seventh Street, and that project is almost done, too. There’s always another project.”“In the end, it wasn’t about that. You just get ready,” she said. “Last week, I woke up on Thursday morning, and said it’s time. I talked to Daniel, my husband, and said it’s time. You just know.”Texas Transportation Commission members thanked Chavez for her work during their regular monthly meeting Thursday in Austin.Commissioner Victor Vandergriff of Arlington noted that Chavez was tasked with negotiating several particularly difficult contracts, including an unusual financial arrangement for Chisholm Trail Parkway and a public-private partnership with for-profit companies who are now building the North Tarrant Express.“I have gotten a chance to watch her up close and personal in tough, very challenging situations, when we met with stakeholders and interested citizens in road projects where we didn’t have enough money to get them done, or you’re clogging their neighborhood,” Vandergriff said. “ She has always dealt with every one of those not only with professionalism, but with great charm and a smile. You’ve been a tremendous face of TxDot and a good voice for a solid way of doing business, including saying ‘this is a bad idea’ when it’s appropriate.”Commissioner Jeff Moseley of Houston added: “There aren’t very many engineers in the world who have had a chance to oversee billions and billions of dollars that you have very successfully seen to completion.”Chavez is a Pecos native who started at the agency’s area office in her hometown. She worked her way up to the position of area engineer, a job that involves overseeing multiple projects in a wide area of a transportation district.She then worked as an executive assistant to transportation commissioner Ray Stoker Jr. of Odessa, before becoming district engineer in Abilene district in 1992, and El Paso in 1998.She started as Fort Worth district engineer in January 2002.Chavez said she is tired of moving and intends to keep her home in southwest Fort Worth.Also, although she is no longer on the clock, Chavez said she will keep a handful of previously scheduled appointments during the next few weeks, including an appearance Wednesday morning at the Tarrant Regional Transportation Coalition in Fort Worth.She joked that, since she will no longer be appearing in an official capacity, she might wear jeans and flip-flops to that meeting.
Gordon Dickson, 817-390-7796 Twitter: @gdickson