Your Link in the Chain – Beyond the Core Offering – TxDOT

On Ocotober 29, Carlos Swonke, Director of Environmental Affairs at TxDOT presented at Texan by Nature’s first annual Conservation Wrangler Summit & Celebration at the George W. Bush Presidential Center in Dallas, Texas. This important event brought together over 200 Texas leaders to engage in a thought-provoking summit exploring the beneficial connection between conservation and business. The event culminated in a gourmet meal and celebration of the 2018 Texan by Nature Conservation Wrangler projects.

txdot summit
Carlos Swonke, Director of Environmental Affairs, TxDOT. Photo by Grant Miller

Often, conservation is part of our mission and everyday operations unbeknownst to our customers and partners because it’s not our core offering or industry. Many people know TxDOT for highways, however, they work daily to restore habitats, preserve archaeological findings, and more. Carlos filled the audience in on how TxDOT addresses their conservation strategy both internally and externally and shared their role in Texas beyond their core offering.

TxDOT’s Mission: 

Through collaboration and leadership, we deliver a safe, reliable, and integrated transportation system that enables the movement of people and goods.

TxDOT has 12,000 employees and annual construction accounts for $7B. They have Central/Division offices in Austin and 25 Regional/District offices, with Environmental Program Staffing: Environmenta Affairs Division – 78 District and District Environmental Staffing – 92.

Goals and Objectives:

Deliver the Right Projects – Implement effective planning and forecasting processes that deliver the right projects on-time and on-budget.

  • Use scenario-based forecasting, budgeting, and resource management practices to plan and program projects.
  • Align plans and programs with strategic goals.
  • Adhere to planned budgets and schedules.
  • Provide post-delivery project and program analysis.

Focus on the Customer – People are at the center of everything we do.

  • Be transparent, open, and forthright in agency communications.
  • Strengthen our key partnerships and relationships with a customer service focus.
  • Incorporate customer feedback and comments into agency practices, project development, and policies.
  • Emphasize customer service in all TxDOT operations.

Foster Stewardship – Ensure efficient use of state resources.

  • Use fiscal resources responsibly.
  • Protect our natural resources.
  • Operate efficiently and manage risk.

Optimize System Performance – Develop and operate an integrated transportation system that provides reliable and accessible mobility, and enables economic growth.

  • Mitigate congestion.
  • Enhance connectivity and mobility.
  • Improve the reliability of our transportation system.
  • Facilitate the movement of freight and international trade.
  • Foster economic competitiveness through infrastructure investments.

Preserve our Assets – Deliver preventive maintenance for TxDOT’s system and capital assets to protect our investments.

  • Maintain and preserve system infrastructure to achieve a state of good repair and avoid asset deterioration.
  • Procure, secure, and maintain equipment, technology, and buildings to achieve a state of good repair and prolong life cycle and utilization.

Promote Safety – Champion a culture of safety.

  • Reduce crashes and fatalities by continuously improving guidelines and innovations along with increased targeted awareness and education.
  • Reduce employee incidents.

Value our Employees – Respect and care for the well-being and development of our employees.

  • Emphasize internal communications.
  • Support and facilitate the development of a successful and skilled workforce through recruitment, training and mentoring programs, succession planning, trust, and empowerment.
  • Encourage a healthy work environment through wellness programs and work-life balance.

Carlos elaborated on how environmental review is plays a huge role in constuction be providing an example of environemntal review in highway project development: Planning – Environmental – Design – Right-of-Way – Construction

Carlos also provided examples of the many projects that TxDOT works on in regards to environmental stewardship. TxDOT owns/manages 1.1 million acres in the State. In 1934, the Texas Highway Department decided to delayed all mowing, unless essential for safety, until spring and early summer wildflower seasons were over.  This practice has stayed in place since then and is today part of TxDOT’s roadside vegetation management program. TxDOT buys and sows about 30,000 pounds of wildflower seed each year.


TxDOT has established Pollinator Waystations in Safety Rest Areas along IH-35 Corridor:

  • Cooperative agreement between USFWS and Native Plant Society of Texas
  • Included native nectar, host-plants and interpretive signs to highlight the projects main features
  • Completed Four Safety Rest Areas on I35: Hill County Safety Rest Area (paired) & Bell County Safety Rest Area (paired)

Signatory to the Monarch Highway Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) in cooperation with six other states to adopt and maintain pollinator activities.

They are a partner for pollinator habitat creation, education & promotion with US Fish & Wildlife Service and Texas Parks and Wildlife Department.

TxDOT also uses sustainable and conservation-minded approaches when constructed Safety Rest Areas across the state:

  • Context Sensitive Design
  • Native Landscaping
  • Energy Efficiency


The audience had the pleasure of hearing about some little known facts about TxDOT as well! Did you know that TxDOT owns preserves? TxDOT’s Conservation Lands include:

  • 52 acre wetland preserve in Montgomery County
  • Eight acre preserve for the Navasota ladies tress in Brazos County
  • One acre cave preserve for a threatened cave beetle in Williamson County
  • 107 acre wetland preserve in Aransas County
  • One acre turtle pond in Presidio County

To end the session Carlos shared TxDOT’s 2017 environmental acheivement awards video with the audience.

Learn more about TxDOT at: