Houstonian Corner (V13-I45)

November 3, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

Needs Outweigh Resources for State Infrastructure

Former Transportation Secretary calls report ‘blinding flash of the obvious’

The message was clear from two committees reporting to the Texas Transportation Commission on Thursday – there are no one-size-fits-all solutions to the state’s infrastructure needs and the wants and needs for creation and maintenance of highways throughout the state are much greater than the state’s ability to finance them.

In addition to the committee reports, the Commission also heard an update on the Texas Department of Transportation’s (TxDOT) ongoing modernization plan. “The process is beginning to move forward,” said Eric Gleason, TxDOT’s Director of Public Transportation. He said implementation of some of the projects is coming into focus and “the pace is quickening.” However, Gleason, noted that human resource availability to put some of the recommendations into place timely while continuing to fulfill day-to-day operations of the agency is a concern.

Three members of the Strategic Research Program Advisory Committee testified before the Commission Thursday. According to Rick Collins, director of the Research and Technology Implementation Office at TxDOT, the committee is charged with making recommendations to TxDOT regarding research topics that should be explored relating to transportation in the state. Those research projects will be awarded to universities throughout the state who respond to an upcoming request for proposals. Through these topics and the research, the committee will help prepare the department for some of the challenges the state and TxDOT will face in the future.

The committee held its first meeting in August and told commissioners this week that they quickly realized there was a lack of sustainability for maintaining and creating new infrastructure.

Committee member Mary Peters, former U.S. Transportation Secretary, said the committee’s report might appear to be a “blinding flash of the obvious.” She said it would be important not to reinvent the wheel but to “bring data to bear and focus on where this industry and the state can get more money” for its transportation infrastructure needs.

Another committee member, Ken Allen, told commissioners that as the committee was putting together its “wish list” for research projects that might result in a better way to use transportation funding for more projects, it narrowed the scope to three subjects, which he said were “deliberately kept very broad for the researchers.”
 
Among the topics was what he called “demand leveling,” or getting the most out of existing infrastructure, as well as innovative financing options and “managing the decline,” or prioritizing the use of limited funds. Regarding funding, Hall said the question becomes “how to best spend the money we have,” which he said would have to be “spent incredibly wisely.”

Similar messages were brought to the commission by Tim Brown, Bell County commissioner, who serves on the I-35 Advisory Committee.

Brown told the Commission that his group initially came up with little more than a list of projects. However, he said that illustrates that there is no one-size-fits-all solution because the solution changes from one geographic region to another.

Saying a variety of rail components will have to be part of the future solutions for the I-35 projects, the county commissioner said it became glaringly obvious that “we’ve got to find some more ways of funding those projects.

“Funding seems to be the common denominator we keep coming back to,” he said. Brown noted that the committee came up with “appropriate solutions, but no funding stream.”

The challenge for the committee, he said, is to “identify what needs to be done” and then come back to try to find ways to fund it.

“Transportation is so important that we’re going to have to get serious about funding,” said Brown.

In other action, the Transportation Commission took action to add Interstate 69 to the state highway system, allowing TxDOT officials to label the first Texas stretch of the nearly 1,000-mile interstate since I-69 received federal high-priority route designation more than a decade ago. This action will allow TxDOT to add the concurrent designation of I-69 to a 6.2-mile section of US 77 between I-37 and SH 44 in Nueces County without additional funding, right-of-way or construction because the existing highway already meets interstate standards.

Well Attended ICNA South Central Region Conference

Theme: Quran – The Scripture That Saved The World

picturehouston

Sheikh Omer Suleiman Speaks at the Sixth Annual ICNA-MAS Conference at University of Houston

Thousands of Muslims from the US South Central Region (Texas, Louisiana, Oklahoma, Kansas) attended the 6th Annual Conference of the Islamic Circle of North (ICNA), and the Muslim American Society (MAS) at the University of Houston, on Saturday October 22nd.

Theme of the conference was: Quran- The Scripture That Saved Humanity. A parallel Youth Conference was organized by Young Muslims (YM), on the subject of “Peer Pressure – Peer Power”.
Prominent speakers and scholars spoke, including Sheikh Nauman Ali Khan, Sheikh Omer Suleiman, Imam Khalid Griggs, Qari Qasim Mazhar, Dr. Mohammad Yunus, Mustafa White, Hafiz Tauqeer Shah, Dr. Shahid Rafiq, Dr. Mohammad Shalaby.

Speakers were quite interactive and their presentations were practical, inspirational, and made the people happy.

Some of the subjects that were discussed and presented included: “Islamic Sharia: A Divine Legal Framework for a Prosperous Society”; “Speaking to Your Lord”; “Quran: Theory and Practice”; “The Vision & Mission”

In the Youth conference, the various themes that were touched included: “Jumping on the Bandwagon”; “A change is gonna come”; “What about you?”; “Take-home Message”; and “Will you be Missed?”

At the eve of Eid-AL-Adha, the bazaar at the conference had many Islamic Garments and Gifts stalls.

By the Grace of God, a successful fundraising for ICNA was done by Sheikh Omer Suleiman, where around $100,000 were raised for the Learning, Dawah and Community Services funds of ICNA.

For more information, one can visit www.ICNASouth.Com

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Houstonian Corner (Volume 13 Issue 36)

September 1, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

AWAM Makes Houston a Leader in Traffic Technology

Houston, Texas (Jalopnik): A massive wall of video screens displays real-time images from a network of cameras, while employees look at a million points of data on their own computers. It’s Houston’s other mission control, and they’ve now got a new tool to combat congestion: your Bluetooth device.

Companies such as Trapster and Google use cell phone GPS information to monitor traffic conditions, with varying results, but no one has tried snatching real-time data directly from Bluetooth devices along a network of sensors the way Houston’s cutting edge TranStar traffic monitoring center is currently doing it.

Anonymous Wireless Address Matching (AWAM) takes the individual MAC address on Bluetooth-enabled systems like phones, hands-free devices, computers, and even Sony PSP Go gaming devices and tracks them as they enter a roadway equipped with a sensor.

If you’ve got your iPhone in your pocket and you drive along Interstate 45 leaving downtown Houston the system records a version of your MAC address.

When you cross another sensor it records you again, recognizing you as the same vehicle. It then takes your speed between the two points and averages it with everyone else passing through the same two points.

This new approach provides Houston with a cheaper, more accurate, and more detailed traffic view than other car monitoring systems such as Automatic Vehicle Identification (AVI) technology, which the region also uses to monitor traffic.

“[AWAM is] dirt cheap!” said David Fink, with the Texas Department of Transportation Houston District. “If our current multi-lane AVI sensors cost $75,000 on the cheap end to install, the most expensive version of the AWAM with solar power and Wi-Fi costs $8,000.”

The costs get even cheaper when the sensor can be added to a normal traffic box, averaging around $1,000 a piece, or 75 times less than a cheap AVI sensor. This potential savings was the main impetus for creating a new system, although it provides other advantages as well.

“Unlike other sensor methods, this system is asynchronous (continually asking and receiving information,” said Texas Transportation Institute Research Scientist Darryl Puckett. “Every (MAC) address detected is processed instantaneously.”

They’ve attempted to overload the system with MAC addresses but, at 6,000-per-second, the system still works. The more data, the more accurate, and the first set of sensors rolled in West Houston and along I-45 have produced a lot of data.

“The accuracy, once we developed an algorithm that eliminated the outliers, has been consistent because the accuracy of the data is absolute,” said Puckett, who says the system learns when a Starbucks or Verizon store is nearby skewing the data.

Houston TranStar says the data is also doubly secure from privacy invasion because the MAC addresses are given anonymous numbers in the system despite the fact that a MAC address on a bluetooth headset, for instance, isn’t something as simple to track like an IP address.

For individuals driving through the Houston area this means they can get up-to-the-second information on travel times between two points, either via the the TranStar website on the device that, itself, is giving information to TranStar, or on transportation information signs located along major interstates that spit out detailed information like “Travel time to 1960 from Betlway 8 is 13 minutes at 4:46 pm.”

While AWAM makes Houston a leader in traffic technology, the area’s strong economy, sprawling layout, and crazy accidents still makes Houston a leader in needing it.
Necessity is the mother of invention and Houston’s traffic is one big mother…

AWAM

Photo Credit: Eschipul, Houston Transtar

Bereavement: Inna Lil Lahae Wa Inna Illahae Rajioun

Houston, Texas: It is being informed with much sorrow and pains that eldest sister of Director of the Islamic Society of Greater Houston (ISGH) Southwest Zone Brother Moon Khan, has passed away in Pakistan. May God Bless her with Mughfirah & Janat-ul-Firdous and Give Immense Strength to the whole family to bear this immense loss (Aameen). One can reach Brother Moon Khan at 1-713-530-8034.

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TxDOT Modernization Plan Promises ‘Long-Term Change’

July 7, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

give_us_a_brake_highway_sign_sticker-p217232068090971362qjcl_400The main theme of the presentation was short and  pointed: “Execution will be the key – and execution starts today.”

That is how consultant Scott Kaeppel described the road to success in the modernization initiative being undertaken by the Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT). Kaeppel’s firm has been hired to help the agency, as it seeks to remake itself into a performance-driven organization.

Kaeppel and TxDOT Assistant Executive Director John Barton briefed members of the Texas Transportation Commission Thursday on the TxDOT Modernization Plan. With a lot of input at all levels, Barton said those involved in the initiative came up with this modernization statement:

A disciplined approach to implementing change that will deliver an improved leadership model, opportunities for innovation and increased collaboration with employees and stakeholders.

As a result, said Barton, TxDOT will become an agency recognized for being performance-driven, a good place both to work and to work with and one that is committed to quality customer service. That is the theme, he said, that will be carried out in all projects and initiatives related to the modernization over the next 12-18 months.

Barton said the last three weeks have been spent in developing the plan for modernization and that plan was submitted Thursday to the Texas Legislature as a “roadmap” for activities to guide the initiatives and projects. Those involved in the agency overhaul started with some 78 recommendations, which they have pared down into 37 specific projects. Barton said the same methodology and approach for the modernization initiative will be followed for all those projects.

“Modernization will be a very important chapter in the history of this agency,” said the TxDOT official. He described the keys to the success of the initiative as being listening to and including customers, making the modernization a TxDOT-led effort, employing the use of a consultant with expertise and experience in working with others and coaching on best practices through a disciplined and time-proven approach to success. The effort also must continue into the future “as a long-term change.”

When completed, the modernization will lead TxDOT to “be the leaders of transportation that you’ve asked us to be” and what the people of Texas deserve, said Barton.

Kaeppel told the commissioners that his work with TxDOT over the last three weeks has revealed that “the core of this agency is very solid” and that as a result of working with those in the agency, it is “easy to recognize the quality of the transportation system we have in Texas.” Although solid at the core, he said, there is still an opportunity for looking at modernization.

In addressing the 78 recommendations regarding modernization of the agency, Kaeppel said the questions asked about each were, “What is the change? For whom? And Why?” He said the work on the initiative must be prioritized and a process put in place for governance. “Everyone has to know their role,” he said, noting teams would be empowered to come up with solutions for the project, with the result being “establishing change.” The key then becomes execution.

“Changes are already occurring,” said Barton and the plan being put in place will provide a blueprint for the operating model of the agency.

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