Mark Ball has spent the past 20 years of his life improving Texas Department of Transportation’s (TxDOT) reputation by making travel on the state highways safer and a more positive experience for all Texas travelers. Ball uses innovative approaches in tackling new and old TxDOT problems.
One recent example of his unique approach to problem solving is the Precious Cargo Program. This program was born as a result of a child fatality from an automobile collision. The child was killed on his way to school. After the accident, communities in the Dallas area demanded immediate changes in speed limits and the addition of traffic signals in areas where they were not justified by law. The problem this program faced was not a result of highway design flaws or operations issues, but it was a result of schools being built in once-remote rural areas on highways that were not intended for the traffic volumes associated with a school. Ball set out to find a way to prevent the same problem from occurring again.
The Precious Cargo program was set up to improve traffic safety near schools by ensuring TxDOT’s involvement. TxDOT is a part of the early stages of new school planning and construction. By creating this partnership with schools and communities at an early stage, the Department is able to recognize and address potential traffic hazards before they result in more tragedies. The program works in three ways: TxDOT plays a role, each community plays a role, and the two work together to accomplish what they cannot do as separate entities. The Precious Cargo program allows TxDOT staff to review site plans and make recommendations, and they can also note that unbudgeted road improvements requested by school districts may be accomplished through a partnership – a community providing materials while TxDOT contributes labor and equipment. Their concept has become a favorite with the Texas Legislature. They are excited about combining scarce local and state resources to solve a critical safety problem.
Since the program’s inception, more than 180 schools in 70 various school districts have improved traffic safety conditions for students, teachers, and parents. None of this would be a reality, had it not been for the foresight and ingenuity of Mark Ball. This program has also relieved the burden of taxpayers. In recognition of this success, TxDOT’s leadership adopted a Precious Cargo for statewide use on its entire 79,000-mile roadway system. Shortly thereafter, the program won the Transportation for Livable Communities “Best in State” award from the Trans Texas Alliance. Ball’s program has also earned awards from AASHTO, WASHTO, the National Quality Initiative, the Texas Quality Initiative, and the International Association of Business Communicators.
Mark Ball’s efforts have been so successful that they have been duplicated outside of the Dallas area where they began. Most of the districts throughout the state of Texas have implemented the Precious Cargo Program and more than a dozen state’s are now considering it too.