HURST -- As he introduced a panel of five experts to about 500 attendees at the Northeast Tarrant Transportation Summit on Friday, the moderator couldn't help noting the group's diversity.
"You're seeing the best and the brightest," said Michael Morris, transportation director for the North Central Texas Council of Governments. "Three of the five are women. That's no coincidence."
The panel was there to talk about several huge road projects.
Getting a road built still requires lots of networking with an alphabet soup of agencies that control the big dollars -- the council of governments, Texas Transportation Department, North Texas Tollway Authority, Fort Worth Transportation Authority.
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But it's no longer the good ol' boys' club it used to be.
Among the speakers at the summit: Elizabeth Mow, who is in charge of project delivery for the tollway authority; Christie Gotti, a senior program manager at the council of governments; and Renee Lamb, Tarrant County transportation director.
Gotti, who holds a master's degree in public administration from the University of Texas at Arlington, didn't necessarily expect the transportation industry to be a man's world. Her initial interest was in environmental work before her path at the council of governments led toward highway funding issues. But she has noticed a difference in not only the gender but also the ethnicity of her counterparts.
"If you look around the council of governments, it has always been a diverse group, but now you're seeing a bigger difference the last few years outside our agency," Gotti said.
The longtime member of WTS, an international group that seeks to advance the role of women in the transportation industry, attributed the change partly to work by universities to get more women and minorities interested in fields such as engineering.
Nonetheless, WTS reports that much remains to be done to achieve a balance in the workplace. For example, the number of females studying computing has declined 13 percent the past 10 years. More than 60 million women are in the labor force, but women make up only 8 percent of engineers, 18 percent of engineering technicians and 30 percent of natural scientists, according to a WTS fact sheet.
Still, it's a new era in many other ways. Several huge transportation projects are now under construction in Tarrant County, and many others are being planned. Projects touched on during the summit Friday include the proposed Texas 170 toll road near Alliance Airport, Texas 26 in Colleyville, and the relocation of Farm Road 156 and BNSF rail lines in and around Haslet.
Regional planners say the key is learning to use alternative forms of funding and creating multiagency partnerships to spread the pain and responsibility.
In Grapevine, the $1 billion reconstruction of Texas 114/121, known as the DFW Connector, is 68 percent complete and nine months ahead of its scheduled completion in 2014, spokeswoman Kristen Schropp said.
Phil Wilson, hired last year as executive director of the Transportation Department, told summit attendees, "Texas is in many ways the test place for big ideas, because of our innovation."
Wilson, at the helm for about 100 days, said he is conducting the agency's first major internal reorganization since World War II.
The department has an annual budget of about $10 billion and 11,000 employees -- 1,153 of whom are engineers.
"This summit today is not really about transportation," Wilson said. "It's about economic development. It's about jobs. It's about moving people day to day to work. It's about moving goods."
Gordon Dickson, 817-390-7796