Learning to Drive

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Rhonda Oaks
Rhonda Oaks is the Public Information Officer for the nine-county Lufkin District of the Texas Department of Transportation. A Lufkin native, she is a graduate of Hudson High School and Angelina College. She has a background in print journalism and worked for many years as a newspaper reporter and a freelance writer. She has received eight Associated Press awards. Her articles have been published in many publications over the past 25 years.

I remember the day my Dad taught me to drive. I know now that he must have been nervous on that two-lane narrow farm road with me behind the wheel. His hand was never far from the steering wheel.

I put that old Impala into reverse and backed out of the driveway at breakneck speed – straight through the neighbor’s fence across the street. All the while, Dad kept calmly saying, “Turn, turn, turn.” I didn’t turn. I didn’t really know which way to turn. I only knew forward and reverse. After the proper apologies to the neighbor and a promise to fix the fence, he still let me drive out on the road.

It took another year before I mastered the art of driving a vehicle. I quickly realized to expect the unexpected (so did he) and that moving slowly forward, looking backward and turning when appropriate would get me safely where I wanted to go.

I thought of that again recently as I sat in the Texas Transportation Forum held in Austin. I could barely keep my mouth from dropping open as I listened to travel industry leaders speak about what future travel could look like in Texas within the next few decades.

The innovations and new designs ahead that will move vehicles, freight, rail, aviation and port traffic at a much faster and safer pace and the technology designed to make that happen is awesome. They referred to vehicles as “deathless” and “autonomous.” Faster rails, bullet trains, freight systems designed for large loads and “driverless” cars are appearing on the future’s horizon.

Those “deathless” days can’t come soon enough for many parents and grandparents worried about a teen driver on Friday night, or the one teaching them how to drive and hoping they remember the lessons when they are out on their own behind that wheel.

As I watched a video recognizing TxDOT’s 100th birthday, I realized that our ancestors probably thought they were living “high on the hog,” sporting their futuristic Model T’s along bumpy dirt roads. Looking back at how they traveled then is antiquated to us today.

From the original 26 state highways that included SH 7 through East Texas, to the newly approved section of I14 and future I69, both of which will traverse through the Lufkin District, it doesn’t take much to realize how far we have come in building roadways.

From being literally stuck in the mud in the early 1900’s to modern day six and eight lane interstates, farm to market roads and state highways that are maintained year round, we are proud of where we have come from and where we are going.

You can read all about our journey and catch some great state history in the special section published this month by Texas Highways Magazine that chronicles our journey as an agency. You can also view it here. You will likely get a kick out of viewing the old photos and reading some great well-written articles.

Looking back, making turns, as they were needed and moving forward as an agency is a lot like learning to drive, but way more complicated. TxDOT’s journey over the last century has been collaboration between many people. As early leader, Dewitt C. Greer said, “It never hurts to remind ourselves that we who build highways work under a public mandate. If we do not have the public’s confidence, we cannot do our work.”

Holding your trust and advancing at a steady, sure pace is still a goal as we move forward into our next 100 years. We hold your confidence in high regard. As we see the future unfold, we want to look back and learn. Make a turn when we need to. Move forward in a steady sure pace, with our hands never far from the steering wheel. All while keeping it between the lines. Be safe and enjoy your ride into the future.

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