PHARR, Texas – Rio Grande Valley lawmakers have praised the appointment of two regional leaders to the The Texas A&M Transportation Institute (TTI) Advisory Council.

TTI is an agency of the State of Texas and member of The Texas A&M University System. For 70 years, the agency has addressed complex transportation challenges and opportunities with innovation, objectivity and unmatched technical expertise. TTI’s Advisory Council comprises high-level transportation and business professionals from across the state of Texas and from every sector of the transportation world. 

Sergio Contreras

The two Valley leaders appointed to the TTI Advisory Council are Sergio Contreras, CEO of Atlas, Hall and Rodriguez, LLP, and former CEO of the Rio Grande Valley Partnership, and Pete Sepulveda, Jr., executive director of the Cameron County Regional Mobility Authority and an administrator with Cameron County.

“I applaud TTI for adding Sergio and Pete to its Advisory Council,” said state Sen. Juan Hinojosa of McAllen. “Their leadership and knowledge of the border and South Texas will further strengthen the great work already being done by TTI. I appreciate the research and investments under way in the RGV and look forward to even more being done to further improve the safety and efficiency of our border transportation network to benefit our communities and the Texas economy.”

Hinojosa said TTI is recognized as one of the premier higher-education-affiliated transportation research agencies in the United States. He said its research and development program has resulted in significant breakthroughs across all facets of the transportation system for more than 70 years. 

Pete Sepulveda

State Rep. Terry Canales of Edinburg chairs the Texas House Committee on Transportation. He welcomed the appointment of Contreras and Sepulveda to the TTI Advisory Council.

“As the chairman of the House Committee on Transportation, I have worked closely with TTI to address our state’s complex transportation challenges and have always found TTI’s technical expertise to be unmatched,” Canales said. “The addition of Sergio and Pete to the board demonstrates the importance of our border communities in helping develop solutions to our state’s supply chain challenges. The Rio Grande Valley is an economic engine for the state, and TTI is at the forefront of helping us harness the full economic potential of our region.”

Canales pointed out that TTI research is widely known as an excellent value with a proven impact of saving lives, time and resources. He noted that the Institute conducts over 700 research projects annually with over 200 sponsors at all levels of government and the private sector.

State Rep. Armando Martinez of Weslaco said the appointment of Contreras and Sepulveda to the TTI Advisory Council shows that the agency is growing its research footprint in the Valley.

Greg Winfree

“Congratulations to Pete and Sergio for being appointed to TTI’s Advisory Council. Both individuals have the knowledge and understanding of the unique needs of South Texas and the Rio Grande Valley,” Martinez said. “Their ability to relentlessly search for solutions to transportation problems and find innovative ways to solve them will be a significant benefit for TTI. TTI, South Texas and the entire state of Texas are very fortunate to have Mr. Sergio Contreras and Mr. Pete Sepulveda on TTI’s Advisory Council.”

Greg Winfree, TTI agency director, welcomed the new appointments.

“TTI is committed to continuing to grow our research program in the Valley, and we are pleased that Mr. Contreras and Mr. Sepulveda are on our advisory council to provide input on the greatest transportation challenges and opportunities in the region,” Winfree said. “Our team of transportation researchers is ready to help the region prosper for years to come, and that depends on safe and reliable methods of transportation.”

Radio-Frequency Identification 

Winfree said TTI continues to partner with stakeholders in the Valley to provide innovative solutions to key transportation-related projects. From implementing radio-frequency identification (RFID) and Bluetooth technologies to measure traffic congestion at the border, to planning for emergencies such as train derailments, TTI addresses complex transportation challenges and opportunities with innovation, objectivity and unmatched technical expertise, Winfree explained.

One example of innovative work TTI is doing in the RGV and along the U.S.-Mexico border, Winfree said, is using RFID readers to measure border wait times. TTI, along with the Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT) and U.S. Customs and Border Protection, developed and implemented the Border Wait Time Measurement System at seven of the most heavily traveled commercial border crossings in Texas — including the Pharr-Reynosa International Bridge and Veterans Bridge at Los Tomates in Brownsville — to gather information from RFID tags and Bluetooth devices. The system provides researchers with the time it takes a commercial vehicle to travel from point A on the Mexican side to point B on the Texas side. The system provides data that can be turned into tools to help ease traffic congestion and strengthen Texas’ supply chain.

TTI’s work on hazardous materials

Winfree said TTI also advises schools and colleges on how to deal with hazardous materials. Hazardous materials travel daily by road, rail, pipeline, waterway and air throughout the Lone Star State. This includes the RGV, where regional and national railroad companies have operations in Edinburg, McAllen, Weslaco, Harlingen, Brownsville and nearby communities. Most rail hazmat cargo shipments arrive safely. But when things go wrong — like a hazmat incident or train derailment near a school — advanced planning and preparedness save lives. Texas Education Code Section 37.108 mandates that school districts with any property line within 1,000 yards of a rail track have a train derailment policy in their emergency plans. In 2021, TTI researchers developed the Hazardous Materials and Train Derailment Emergency Planning Guide for School Districts and Community Colleges, which provides recommendations for hazmat and derailment emergency planning practices, and supplements standards and protocols published by the Texas State School Safety Center.

TTI researchers have also worked with the Texas Division of Emergency Management (TDEM) and many Texas communities on hazardous materials transport studies, emergency plan reviews, and incident risk assessments for hazmat transportation by road, pipeline and rail. This coming year, TTI researchers will be working with TDEM, Local Emergency Planning Committees, and local emergency managers and responders in South Texas on workshops to improve hazardous materials response coordination and mutual aid in the event of a train derailment or major hazmat incident.

TTI’s work on crash data analysis

Another way TTI supports safety initiatives in the RGV, Winfree said, is through ongoing crash data analysis using TxDOT’s Crash Records Information System. He said TTI recently analyzed a decade of crashes related to wrong-way driving (WWD) on freeway corridors across the RGV for the TxDOT Pharr District. The study revealed WWD crashes on freeway main lanes tended to occur on weekends and in the late-night hours, while crashes on corridors in general — which include frontage roads — were evenly spread across days of the week and more likely to occur in the middle of the day. Several safety improvement countermeasures were suggested for TxDOT, including increased use of one-way signage for larger commercial land uses in the Harlingen metropolitan area and the application of a safety checklist to ensure freeway exit ramp signage (Do Not Enter and Wrong Way signs) and pavement markings are present and well maintained across the RGV. This safety improvement effort mirrors similar initiatives to reduce WWD supported by TxDOT and TTI in San Antonio, Houston, Fort Worth, Austin, El Paso and Dallas.

Excellence, Value and Thought Leadership

The TTI website says the agency’s staff delivers excellence, value and thought leadership to ensure our research sponsors achieve their goals.

“We are a diverse, interconnected group of 700 professionals, students and support staff from 38 different countries. TTI staff are recognized state, national and international leaders known for their credibility, technical expertise and reputation for objectivity. TTI also plays a key role in educating the next generation of transportation professionals, training students both in the laboratory and in the classroom.

“With expertise in engineering, planning, economics, policy, public engagement, landscape architecture, environmental sciences, data sciences, social sciences and more, TTI professionals are thought leaders in their fields. They produce practical, implementable products and strategies, and ensure that our sponsors have the research-based results they need to make informed decisions.”

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