Faster, Better, Smarter
As Representative John Mica [R-Fla] as incoming chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee moves to draft a new reauthorization bill, Mendez is ready to respond, and leaves little doubt one of his most prized goals, and one he shares with Mica, is any move to speed up project delivery.
“Our hope is that maybe by March, or I should say maybe spring, we may actually have a reauthorization proposal. I know Mr. Mica has been talking about his ideas. One of his great ideas is improving project delivery.” FHWA had the same idea, says Mendez, which was “let’s cut project delivery time by 50 percent. If its 13 years, let’s cut that to six-and-a-half to seven years. If we can do that, I think we show the American taxpayer that we give them great value for their investment, plus it shows that we know what we’re doing.” Mendez says he received feedback from a meeting where Mica said that he wanted major projects that take 14 years cut by 50 percent in start-to-finish delivery time. “So great minds think alike,” he says with a smile. He adds that he expects Mica to ask him: “Victor, do you think you can reduce this [delivery time]?”
FHWA initiatives in trying to find ways to shorten delivery time has lead to the creation of a toolkit that includes ideas for using flexibilities in the law and not duplicating efforts in the planning and environmental review process. Topics addressed in that toolkit include Planning and Environmental Linkages, Legal Sufficiency Enhancements, Expanding Use of Programmatic Agreements, Uses of In-Lieu Fee and Mitigation Banking, Clarifying the Scope of Preliminary Design, Flexibilities in Rights of Way, Flexibilities in Utility Accommodation and Relocation, and Enhanced Technical Assistance on Delayed EISs.
“I think at the end of the day, because you are being more efficient, innovative contractors will deliver quicker if you engage them in the process.” Mendez cites a single example: “If you can build a major project in half the time, that means half of your traffic control costs alone will be saved. Control is really a major cost issue within any [large] project. Just that one simple element gives you an idea of what’s possible.”
Mendez’s core point here is that innovation cannot wait for the economy or a political process; it must constantly evolve from idea to adoption.
“We have a lot of great ideas that probably already exist out there that we simply do not use, and there’s ideas we haven’t thought about that will be somehow created by somebody,” he says, “and when we latch on to those, we need to drive them forward quickly. We cannot wait decades to implement new ideas in our field.”
Our House and Theirs
It is also worth noting that Mendez is absolutely passionate about anything that will improve safety and lower road deaths, and he will surely look to put some teeth into safety initiatives via reauthorization. On this day, he is particularly impressed by a bumper sticker from Rhode Island that reads: DRIVE NOW TEXT LATER.
Mendez is also a jealous guardian of America’s lead in the world of road and bridge technology. The world, he says, looks to us and wants to learn from us, and we must maintain that premier position. As we spoke, a delegation from Asia was in the building asking for technical help. “You get so engaged working with people and talking with people. [At an international conference several years ago,] it was a Cuban delegation and the leader was talking with me – and we connected because we’re half chatting in Spanish and all that. He wanted a copy of the Green Book and I’m like, ‘Sure, not a problem,’ and then he was surprised because it kind of caught me, ‘Oh, wait a minute. We can’t give you this stuff because we have diplomatic issues,’” he bursts out laughing. “I’m sure he got one.”
One of the “front lines” he wants to see leading the way to change involves an internal initiative in FHWA workplaces called “going greener.”
“You’re sitting in it. Notice I didn’t turn on my lights; I have plenty of light. I tell them to minimize their carbon footprints: recycling , turning off lights when you don’t need them, any other ideas. I think it’s important for us an agency to look to the future and conserve resources and, at the end of the day, maybe even save money for the taxpayer.”v
Déjà Vu All Over Again. All Over Again.
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