CTR Deputy Director Rob Harrison Retires after 30 Years
CTR is bidding a fond farewell to our esteemed Deputy Director, Rob Harrison, who is retiring this fall after 30 years at CTR. He joined us after first working as an academic in his native United Kingdom, then as an economist in Brazil, and finally as a consultant to the World Bank. In all, he has worked as a transportation economist for over 52 years.
“Everyone should have a mentor and I got two,” said Rob. “Sir Alan Walters showed me how to undertake cost-benefit analysis on World Bank projects and recommended that I join a large research project in Brazil. There I met Dr. Ronald Hudson who led the work and who later invited me to join him at CTR in 1988. Both resulted in career-changing steps. I worked at CTR when transportation research was expanding from the provision of infrastructure—materials, pavements, and structures—to include multi-disciplinary system solutions, economic and [policy impacts, campus-wide contributions, and a recognition that transportation systems should internalize all external costs to be sustainable”.
A critical partnership was established through collaborations with Dr. Leigh Boske at the LBJ School of Public Affairs, which allowed him to participate in over 20 Policy Research Projects that introduced transportation to a completely new set of graduate students, some of whom later selected transportation as their profession. Rob states, “Another highlight was joining Dr. Machemehl and CTR faculty to work on the Southwest University Transportation Program (UTCP Region 6) where I developed a longstanding friendship with Dock Burke at TTI.”
The most recent TxDOT work with Leigh Boske assesses the influence of the new locks on the Panama Canal—a development that impacts international trade flows and freight supply chains and thus significantly influences the success of both Texas imports and exports. “When we began the work, some experts were predicting a tsunami of import containers at Gulf ports,” Rob said, “and while container volumes have increased, energy and chemical exports now dominate Texas port strategies.” Undertaking this TxDOT RTI research project allowed the Department to monitor trade flows and highway impacts, showing that pipeline systems are now playing an increasing role in moving energy off highways as it moves to Texas refineries and deep water ports.
An understanding of the long-reaching and practical implications of transportation economics is the hallmark of Rob’s contribution to the people of Texas and to the field in general. The CTR-RTI library contains over 200 contributions over a wide range of subjects—reflecting collaborations with all four CTR directors since we were established. But Rob’s influence goes well beyond CTR and Texas, as he co-authored a book for the World Bank entitled Vehicle Operating Costs: Evidence from Developing Countries, which was used in evaluating World Bank highway design and maintenance strategies for over two decades.
“My fondest memories at CTR came from working with the exceptional faculty, staff, students, and TxDOT engineers,” Rob states. However, the one thing he won’t miss in his retirement is commuting on Loop 1. He’ll still have to make that trek from time to time, though, as he will be contributing to a few continuing projects.
CTR Director Chandra Bhat commented, “I personally have benefitted in innumerable ways from his advice and guidance, and I will miss him tremendously, as we all will at CTR.” Fortunately, another strong contributor with deep TxDOT roots has agreed to assume the role of Deputy Director: Dr. Mike Murphy. Mike notes that Rob is distinguished by the breadth of his contributions. “Rob developed an enviable level of expertise, knowledge, and insights in multiple disciplines. He mentored many researchers and students over the years and we look forward to working with him for years to come.”