Texas Department of Transportation:
An Inventory of Transportation Commissioner Robert Nichols Correspondence and Speeches at the Texas State Archives, 1997-2005
The Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT), in cooperation with local and regional officials, is responsible for planning, designing, building, operating and maintaining the state's transportation system. This involves planning, designing, and acquiring right-of-way for state highways and other modes of transportation; researching issues to save lives and solve problems; constructing bridges and improving airports; and maintaining roadways, bridges, airports, the Gulf Intracoastal Waterway, and ferry systems. Other functions carried out by TxDOT include public transportation, vehicle titles and registration, vehicle dealer registration, motor carrier registration, traffic safety, traffic information, and auto theft prevention.
The Texas Highway Department was created in 1917 (House Bill 2, 35th Texas Legislature, Regular Session) to stimulate the building and improvement of roads throughout the state. The Federal Aid Road Act of July 11, 1916 (39 Stat. 355; 16 U.S.C. 503; 23 U.S.C. 15, 48), signed into law by President Woodrow Wilson, initiated federal aid for highways with the requirement that each state receiving aid have a state highway department that controlled the building of roads. The Department was to administer federal funds to counties for state highway construction and maintenance and to provide for state motor vehicle registration, fees from which were to generate the state's required matching funds. The department began operation on June 4, 1917. After gathering information at public hearings over that summer, the commission proposed an 8,865-mile state highway network. Further influence from the national level came with the Federal Highway Act of 1921, which required state highway departments to control the design, construction and maintenance of roads rather than follow Texas' practice of allowing counties to undertake the work themselves with oversight from department engineers.
In 1969 the Legislature created the Texas Mass Transportation Commission (House Bill 738, 61st Legislature, Regular Session) to develop public mass transportation in Texas. This agency was merged with the Highway Department in 1975, creating the State Department of Highways and Public Transportation (Senate Bill 761, 64th Legislature, Regular Session). An executive order of May 1976 transferred the Governor's Office of Traffic Safety to the Department. The Texas Department of Transportation was created in 1991 (House Bill 9, 72nd Legislature, 1st Called Session), merging the Texas State Department of Highways and Public Transportation, the Texas Department of Aviation (created as the Texas Aeronautics Commission in 1945, name changed to Texas Board of Aviation in 1989); and the Texas Motor Vehicle Commission (created in 1971). In 1997 the Texas Turnpike Authority merged with the Texas Department of Transportation (Senate Bill 370, 75th Legislature, Regular Session).
The Texas Department of Transportation's governing body is the Texas Transportation Commission, originally composed of three members, increased to five in 2003 (Senate Bill 409, 78th Legislature, Regular Session). Commissioners are representatives of the general public appointed by the governor with advice and consent of the senate for overlapping six-year terms. Since 2003, one of the members must represent rural Texas. The positions are part-time salaried positions, and the chair (appointed by the governor) was originally called the commissioner of transportation; since 2003, each member is referred to as a commissioner.
(Sources include: Guide to Texas State Agencies, 11th edition (2001); An Informal History of the Texas Department of Transportation, by Hilton Hagan (2000) (previously available on the TxDOT website, the link has since been removed); and divisional information, found on the agency's website ( http://www.dot.state.tx.us/about_us/) accessed March 2009.)
Robert L. Nichols was born in 1944 and was raised in Jacksonville, Texas. He received a degree in Industrial Engineering from Lamar University in 1968. He was a successful small businessman and served for a time as the Mayor of Jacksonville, streamlining government and cutting property taxes during his tenure. Governor George Bush appointed Nichols to the Texas Transportation Commission in 1997. He was reappointed in 2003 by Governor Rick Perry and served until June 30, 2005, when he resigned to run for the Texas Senate. In his resignation letter, Nichols listed accomplishments of the Commission during his tenure: tripling the number of roadway construction projects built each year without raising taxes, establishing regional mobility authorities, accelerating the reconstruction of deteriorating bridges, establishing and accelerating the construction of corridors throughout the state on the Texas Trunk System, passing rail legislation, signing working agreements with major railroads for the relocation and preservation of rail corridors, and beginning the implementation of the Trans Texas Corridor. Robert Nichols began serving as state senator for District Three in 2007. He also serves on several local boards, including Lon Morris College, the East Texas Medical Center, and the Nan Travis Hospital Foundation.
(Sources: Texas Senate website article on Senator Nichols (http://www.senate.state.tx.us/75r/senate/members/dist3/dist3.htm), accessed March 2009; Senator Nichols personal website (http://nicholsforsenate.com/about/), accessed March 2009; and the correspondence files in his records.)
The Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT), in cooperation with local and regional officials, is responsible for planning, designing, building, operating and maintaining the state's transportation system. The Texas Transportation Commission is TxDOT's governing body. These files consist of administrative correspondence and speeches of Transportation Commissioner Robert L. Nichols, dating 1997-2005. The files cover a wide range of TxDOT issues, including changes to highway routes, road and bridge construction, funding, allocation of vehicle registration fees, proposed legislation, motor carrier rules, construction of corridors through the Texas Trunk System, toll roads, fuel theft, traffic congestion, rail corridors, and the creation of regional mobility authorities.
The bulk of the records is incoming and outgoing administrative correspondence between Commissioner Nichols and legislators, congressmen, local and state officials, civic and community groups, TxDOT officials and staff, etc. The remaining files are speeches given by Commission Nichols to civic and community groups, professional associations, and state agencies; also presentations at the annual Texas Department of Transportation conference; and testimony given before the Texas Senate and House of Representatives or legislative subcommittees.
To prepare this inventory, the described materials were cursorily reviewed to delineate series, to confirm the accuracy of contents lists, to provide an estimate of dates covered, and to determine record types.
Restrictions on Access
Because of the possibility that portions of these records fall under Public Information Act exceptions including, but not limited to, email addresses (552.137), an archivist must review these records before they can be accessed for research. The records may be requested for research under the provisions of the Public Information Act (V.T.C.A., Government Code, Chapter 552). The researcher may request an interview with an archivist or submit a request by mail, fax, or email including enough description and detail about the information requested to enable the archivist to accurately identify and locate the information requested. If our review reveals information that may be excepted by the Public Information Act, we are obligated to seek an open records decision from the Attorney General on whether the records can be released. The Public Information Act allows the Archives ten working days after receiving a request to make this determination. The Attorney General has 45 working days to render a decision. Alternately, the Archives can inform you of the nature of the potentially excepted information and if you agree, that information can be redacted or removed and you can access the remainder of the records. This restriction applies only to the Speeches series.
Materials do not circulate, but may be used in the State Archives search room. Materials will be retrieved from and returned to storage areas by staff members.
Restrictions on Use
Most records created by Texas state agencies are not copyrighted and may be freely used in any way. State records also include materials received by, not created by, state agencies. Copyright remains with the creator. The researcher is responsible for complying with U.S. Copyright Law (Title 17 U.S.C.).
(Identify the item and cite the series), Texas Department of Transportation Commissioner Robert Nichols correspondence and speeches. Archives and Information Services Division, Texas State Library and Archives Commission.
Accession number: 2009/053
These records were transferred to the Archives and Information Services Division of the Texas State Library and Archives Commission by the Texas Department of Transportation on November 20, 2008.
Processed by Laura K. Saegert, March 2009
Detailed Description of the Records