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Freese and Nichols: Infrastructure key to continued economic development

Alan Greer of Freese and Nichols. Photo by Scott Nishimura

Scott Nishimura
snishimura@bizpress.net

Fort Worth’s Freese and Nichols engineering firm is riding high these days, having managed an $80 million Parker County bond program to virtual completion over five years.
The program included the construction of the Ric Williamson Memorial Highway through Weatherford, and the levering of the $80 million in voter-approved funds with another $37 million in funding from the North Central Texas Council of Governments, Texas Department of Transportation, Aledo city and schools, and Springtown.
Freese and Nichols, as program manager, was responsible for design of more than 20 projects, sending them out to bid and choosing contractors, and ensuring the projects were built within budget.
“It was really a turnkey process,” Alan Greer, the transportation practice leader at Freese and Nichols, said.
Freese and Nichols is helping Kaufman County put together a potential capital project today. Greer is also advocating for Texas voters’ passage in November of a ballot measure that would divert tax money from the state’s rainy day fund to pay for transportation projects.
“We’re continuing to see the influx of people and the stress on our infrastructure,” Greer said. “Transportation is a key component of that. The challenge has become the funding to make that happen. [The Texas measure would be a] good first step in making that happen.”
Greer, a 50-year Tarrant County resident and graduate of Arlington High School, sat down for a recent Q&A with the Business Press.

How optimistic are you for the election outcome?
I’m very optimistic. I think Texans believe the roadway network is what’s helping spur our economic development. I do think you’ll see strong support. The only derailment (that could happen) is certain groups tying all this together from (an anti) tollway standpoint. People don’t see that as a big a positive.

You’ve said the Parker County program goes to the future of transportation projects.
The Parker County story really is looking at partnerships. How do you work with the city, the county, [the Council of Governments], the state and feds to leverage as much as you can to meet your local transportation needs. They had a plan people could see and could buy into, they went out to a bond election. There wasn’t a whole lot of sale that needed to happen. And then the component that’s made it really successful is we didn’t just talk about it. We got the jobs done.

How transferable is this approach to larger entities that have big staffs that manage these projects?
The program management approach can be used at a city or county level. Most of the time the counties typically have limited staff. The program management approach works well, because they have limited staff. The big counties may have three, four, five people who work on transportation projects.

Fort Worth brought in the Jacobs Group to help accelerate its delivery of projects because the city didn’t have the capacity. Will we see more of this in the future?
I do think you’ll see cities as well as counties take a more comprehensive approach. I think some of your larger transportation jobs will look more like [construction manager at risk] or design-build, different types of delivery.

What’s the difference between the way Freese and Nichols managed the Parker County program, and the way that might have been managed 10, 15 years ago?
Ten, 15 years ago, people looked at individual projects, and you’d hire consultants or whatever and you’d complete individual projects and then you’d go onto the next project. Cities and counties (today) are looking at it much more of a comprehensive system and what do I need to accomplish the needs rather than just an individual project.
 

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