FORT WORTH — The city has appointed a transportation czar to oversee major transportation projects and policies as the city continues to focus on transportation needs, said Mayor Betsy Price.On Thursday, in her third State of the City address, Price told the crowd of about 1,200 that Bryan Beck, previously the regional transportation coordinator for the city’s planning and development department, will take over the position of regional transportation coordinator. His salary will be $134,000. “This young man will get up every day and come to work with only transportation on his mind,” Price said, adding in an interview that she had been pulling for the position for about a year and a half. City Manager Tom Higgins said that with the many moving pieces in Fort Worth transportation, such as the I-35W expansion, the opening of the Chisholm Trail Parkway, TEX Rail, potential high-speed rail and other projects, that a single person to manage all the transportation components within the city is vital. “We believe that the public, the elected officials, people like Bill Meadows and Victor Vandergriff, they need to have one person in the city they can go to and either get an answer or that person will get them the answer. It has got to be seamless,” Higgins said. Beck has been with the city for 18 years, working for over a decade as the city’s lead on the Chisholm Trail Parkway project, which is scheduled to open by May. “I think it is important for our partners to have a singular voice and I think when we speak in that way and are able to consolidate our viewpoints, that is what makes us more effective,” Beck said. Price brought up several issues during her address, including technology, transportation, growth and jobs during a 20-minute talk and 20-minute question-and-answer period with Susan Halsey, chairwoman of the Board of the Fort Worth Chamber of Commerce. In her address last year, Price announced a $50 million funding shortfall in the budget, which was ultimately bridged by eliminating 113 positions, projected gains in property and sales taxes and a use of one-time savings. But Price said Thursday that employees are on track to meet a goal to look for $5 million in savings across city departments, which could fund the first raise for city employees since fiscal year 2011. “We have to be fiscally sound and fiscally responsible,” Price said, optimistic for the budget for fiscal year 2015. Customer service and technologyOn technology, Price said the city is woefully behind other cities and is calling 2015 the year of technology and innovation. For example, she said while most major cities are doing between 10-15 percent of city business online, Fort Worth is doing less than 2 percent of it sbusiness online. Several Texas cities were ranked among the most digital cities in the country in 2013 by the Center for Digital Government, a national research and advisory institute on technology practices for local and state governments, but Fort Worth did not make the cut.For cities with a population of 250,000 or more, Corpus Christi took 5th place and Austin took 6th. Irving won first place in its population category, with Richardson also making the top ten for its category.The center analyzed transparency and open government initiatives, as well as access to city services via mobile apps and the cities’ ability to eliminate waste through technology.“We will get better and we will move toward a single customer service number. … Whatever you need,” Price said to the audience. She said Fort Worth will add an online report card, so that residents can grade the city on its services.Bond packagePrice briefly talked about the $292 million bond package that council approved on Tuesday; the bond issue primarily focuses on the city’s transportation needs.“Get educated and go vote on May 10. We need your support,” Price said, adding that the bond package will help address the city’s growing transportation needs. “We are going to do everything we can to stay ahead of the growth that Fort Worth experiences. Our opportunities far outnumber our challenges, but the challenges are real, and we have to be realistic in managing them,” Price said.The Fort Worth Chamber of Commerce sponsored the event at the Fort Worth Convention Center’s Grand Ballroom. The event is available for viewers to watch at http://fortworthtexas.gov/fwtv/.
Caty Hirst, 817-390-7984 Twitter: @catyhirst