An Occasional Series: One 2 One with some of the most interesting people in the business
Better Roads Staff
Q You have been very proactive at telling the states to go ahead and adopt innovations.
A Absolutely. We are here to help state and local agencies adopt new innovations to provide better transportation faster. Under round two of EDC, we’re implementing 13 new ideas. The EDC strategies come from the states, and we choose to focus on the top ideas that we can share nationwide to make the biggest impact. However, not all ideas can be used in every state or city – we realize that. The states pick and choose which strategies work best for them at this point in time based on their needs and resources. I think the key factor here is that this is what we’re calling the state-driven approach.
Q You’ll have different state reactions.
A Absolutely. One thing that I’ve been very clear about is that participation in the EDC initiative is voluntary. If I were to hear that a state didn’t want to participate, I’d certainly give them a call, but that hasn’t been the case at all. We all have to do more with less these days and be smarter, better, faster. All agencies are the same in that way and that will continue. I’m proud to say every state has participated in EDC.
Q What about design/build?
A We have been promoting design-build very strongly through EDC. Design-build contracting, an accelerated project delivery method that combines the design and construction phases in one contract, has been used on 196 projects. The North Carolina Department of Transportation used it to replace seven bridges in 74 days on Ocracoke Island – that is real progress.
Q You’ve had experience before with design/build.
A Yes. In Arizona we started with design-build more than a decade ago. The industry was unsure, ADOT had never done it before, and some of the state legislators were not comfortable, so we started with a pilot program. We asked for the opportunity, and if it didn’t work, we’d come back and modify it. ADOT successfully used design build on two major projects in the Phoenix area, and everyone saw how fast and efficiently they were completed. Traffic never slowed down.
Q We saw in years leading up to MAP-21 that the public was not broadly aware of how transportation infrastructure was funded or how it worked.
A The things that we build are visible. I think it’s really, really important for the public to see these things actually happening. There are a lot of Every Day Counts strategies that are included in MAP-21. Congress didn’t just decide one day to include strategies like the Construction Manager/General Contractor (CMGC) process. They didn’t just think it up. They are seeing what the industry is doing and what FHWA is doing within USDOT. So we know EDC left an imprint.
Q What are the issues that you see as the most important right now?
A Our highest priority at FHWA/USDOT is safety. Setting other priorities depends on where you sit. I believe they’re all equally important. You have to deal with the sustainability issue, the environmental issue, mobility (none of us wants to get stuck in traffic) and the need to move freight nationally is addressed in MAP-21.
A (laughs) Yeah, funding’s a big issue.
Q Your view of MAP-21?
A There is never a perfect law. But this law actually did provide us with what we believe are transformative policies. Is it perfect, is everybody happy? Of course not. The big question is did we fully address the funding issue? The answer is no. But Congress did support the innovative reform approaches like the TIFIA program where they see real benefits. The TIFIA program was bumped up dramatically, funded close to $2 billion over two years in MAP-21 when it was only $122 million per year previously. It is a good program, but again it is a loan program not a grant program, so states are going to have to pay the money back.
Q You’re suggesting that the more you can show people this is where your money is going, the more they may be willing to give you?
A Sure. I’m all for accountability and if we’re not being held accountable or not wisely using the funding, then I can understand the public saying, “You’ve got to do better and until you do, we can’t help you.” And that’s why it’s important for all of us within the industry to continue exploring ways to innovate our industry.
Q There was some criticism, heard a lot during the SAFETEA-LU extensions, that “we used to” have the world’s best transportation system and “we were” world leaders.
A Let me just say, I’m not ready to concede our leadership. Okay? We still have a world class interstate system. I won’t say I’m biased, I mean I am biased, but I know it for a fact that it is world class, and will continue to be. I think it’s just a matter of us continuing to focus on how we can think better.
Q It seems almost by definition you must have some degree of risk or there isn’t really any innovation.
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