the agriculturist

End of a Dirt Roadroad

Story and Photo by Nickelynn Bays


The dusty, dirt roads that farmers and ranchers travel each day rarely cross the minds of Texans living in the most populous cities of the state.  Thankfully for these agricultural producers who provide the nation with food, fiber and energy, the Texas Department of Transportation Commission is making the transportation of these commodities an easier task. A local resident is making sure it stays that way.

Fred Underwood was born and raised around farming and ranching. He knows all too well how important it is to maintain the roads which farmers and ranchers use daily.

Underwood is also a commissioner of the Texas Transportation Commission, which oversees statewide activities of the Texas Department of Transportation. Underwood was appointed commissioner by Governor Rick Perry January 8, 2007.

As a young man, Underwood worked for his father's business, Trinity Cotton. Trinity is a cotton bale storage facility that offers storage to farmers, and provides a system to track and identify each bale.

Trinity has been in the Underwood family for more than one hundred years. The company started in East Texas, but as cotton farming became less popular in that region, his family moved to Lubbock, Texas.

Underwood said he recalls working for Trinity meant doing anything and everything for the business. He said he has gone from cleaning toilet bowls to now being the president and CEO of the company.

"I may have been born with a silver spoon in my mouth," Underwood said with a grin, "but my dad jerked it out before I had teeth."    

Underwood said because of his background, he not only represents Lubbock on the commission, but also represents the rural areas of Texas. Each member on the commission is from and represents a highly populated city in Texas, except Underwood.

Underwood said it is important for the Texas Department of Transportation to maintain the roads in major cities such as Dallas, Fort Worth, Houston and San Antonio.

"Texas has been growing about half a million per year and 83 percent of the people are moving to the major cities," Underwood said.

Underwood said it is equally important to maintain the roads in rural areas of Texas to secure the transportation of agricultural goods.

"We want rural areas to get out of the mud and onto the pavement," Underwood said, "so we can bring the least expensive food, fiber and multiple energy sources to market."

Norma Johnson, vice president of legislative affairs at the Lubbock Chamber of Commerce, said since bringing the railroad to Lubbock in 1913, transportation has been a major priority for the Lubbock Chamber of Commerce. While other areas of the state suffer from congestion issues, ensuring transportation connectivity is just as important in terms of getting agricultural and energy resources to consumers in other parts of the state and nation.

"Having Fred Underwood from Lubbock on the Texas Department of Transportation Commission is a huge help to those of us in the less populous, but vitally important agricultural and energy corridors of Texas," Johnson said.

Underwood is very humble when people credit him with the work the department has done. The people of rural Texas may think Underwood is a knight in shining armor to the farming and ranching communities, but he insists it is a group effort. He said he is just thankful he is able to work with an outstanding group of individuals who ultimately want to achieve the same goals. 

"It's not me," Underwood said, "it's all of these men and women at the Texas Department of Transportation working together."