The Bee's Nees
Transportation Authority Katherine Nees
Shares Her Knowledge of Texas Toll Roads and Highway Funding
Katherine "Katie" Nees
has never been a prisoner of convention.
As the newly appointed vice president
and program manager of the transportation programs division
for Fort Worth-based Carter & Burgess Inc., the 44-year-old
Nees plans to continue to push the envelope.
One of only two females in a graduating
class of 250 from Purdue University's civil engineering program
in 1982, Nees defied the acceptable standards for women and
insisted on pursuing a career in project construction.
"I interviewed with a lot
of contractors and design firms because I knew I wanted to
go into construction, but everyone kept encouraging me to
do something else," Nees said. "I finally went to
the Texas Department of Transportation and they agreed."
Nees worked in various management
positions at TxDOT for 17 years and then served as deputy
executive director for the North Texas Tollway Authority for
more than five years. She has managed numerous complex, multiagency
toll projects, including the President George Bush Turnpike,
Southwest Parkway and the Dallas North Tollway Extension.
Nees transformed the NTTA into
a recognized leader in the toll industry. "When I started
with NTTA, it was a small toll agency, with two facilities
in 1997," she said. "In less than five years, we
brought on four facilities.
Do you consider yourself a pioneer in the construction industry?
Nees: I am absolutely a
pioneer, especially when you consider how things were 20 years
ago when I graduated. I kind of broke the mold. I was the
first female engineer in the Dallas District. I became an
assistant engineer and area engineer and hired a few more
women out in the field, but I don't think the statistics have
changed much since then.
TXC: What is your role
as vice president and program manager with Carter & Burgess?
Nees: A lot of states are
looking at new ways to bring transportation projects online
quicker, and they need help with financing. There is simply
not enough funding to meet needs in the region. My experience
with TxDOT as well as with NTTA gave me a wonderful mix of
knowledge of owner services. I clearly know the challenges
that come with new RMAs and am familiar with alternative funding
methods as well as advisory and program management services.
TXC: What is the biggest
challenge facing transportation departments nationwide?
Nees: There just isn't
enough funding to meet needs. That is a challenge shared by
all states. Another thing certain states have in common is
population growth, most notably California, Florida and Texas,
which results in congestion in larger urban areas. Those states
are also facing right-of-way costs and challenges. When they
want to expand, it's very difficult, so they have to look
at alternative ways to bring service within the region.
TXC: What are some of those
Nees: The Katy Freeway
tolled interstate highway, the result of a partnership between
TxDOT and HCTRA (the Harris County Toll Road Authority) is
a creative, innovative alternative. Another alternative is
hot lanes, also called managed lanes or express lanes. This
is a new concept to allow users to pay to have an express
ride from one point to another.
The George Bush was scheduled to be built around 2015. By
using toll revenues, bonding, financing and building as toll
facility, we were able to expedite the project and have portions
of it opened in 1999, 2000 and 2001. The last segment will
open 2006. Currently, between 200,000 and 250,000 motorists
use that turnpike every day.
TXC: Innovative financing
seems to be the latest buzz phrase at TxDOT. In regards to
tolls, what is unique and different about working in the state
of Texas and the department's eagerness/willingness to embrace
Nees: Texas is one of the
leaders in looking at alternative financing and project delivery
methods, including CDAs. There are very few states that are
doing public/private partnerships. A lot of states are watching
Texas. Texas has managed funds, shadow or pass-through toll
agreements and toll equity.
TxDOT is progressive in searching for new ways to bring on
project delivery. There are a couple other states that are
very innovative as well. Colorado and Florida have a lot of
the same legislation.
TXC: What effect has the
Texas Mobility Fund had on the increase in toll roads?
Nees: It's a fabulous tool.
One of the things about toll roads is the user fee and that
people can choose to pay or not. The mobility fund gives transportation
project managers another tool to bring needs to an area. Another
benefit is that once monies start coming in from bonds and
additional revenue, they can be reinvested in the region.
Those funds can be used for the expansion of current projects
or the building of new projects.
TXC: Currently Texas has
two county-operated regional mobility authorities. Do you
think these have been successful?
Nees: RMAs are another
opportunity for each region to meet their transportation needs.
It's another tool, once again. I think they have some challenges
ahead of them. The Central Texas RMA in Austin is doing a
fabulous job of moving forward with the 130 project.
State Highway 130 wouldn't be where it is if the DOT and
RMA hadn't decided to do tolling on that project.
TXC: Are you excited to
see these projects come to fruition?
Nees: It's very rewarding
to see projects get started, financed and actually built.
I remember going to public hearings and many people would
say, "Not in my lifetime." Then I would see them
later and they'd say, "It really happened in my lifetime.
I don't believe it."