Give VDOT Some Credit

The Virginia Department of Transportation is way ahead of the public and the politicos in dealing with traffic congestion. For all the grief it gets, VDOT is one of the more technologically progressive transportation departments in the Country. In the latest example, the department has hired Open Roads Consulting Inc., of Richmond, to help the Virginia State Police respond more quickly to traffic accidents. (See press release.)

Open Roads’ computer-aided dispatch system (CAD) distributes information to all the regional Smart Traffic Centers, the 511 Virginia Clearinghouse, the Transportation Emergency Operations Center and local 911 dispatch centers. Explains David Sutton, a VDOT project manager: “One of the critical needs of traffic operations is to discover incidents quickly. The operators receiving real-time CAD data have significantly improved their ability to detect and respond to incidents. This enables the incident to be cleared sooner, traveler information is provided quicker, and traffic gets moving again faster.

Makes a lot more sense than punishing speeders and reckless drivers with excessive fines that they’ll fight to the death in court.

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5 responses to “Give VDOT Some Credit”

  1. Jim Bacon Avatar
    Jim Bacon

    After tinkering with the original post, I had to add this comment back manually. — Bacon

    Jim – I agree. In fact, there are some stats (which I do not have at hand) that indicate VDOT has vastly improved its on-time/within budget performance in recent years. So, why all the VDOT bashing on this blog site by posters? Leo Wardrup says, VDOT is “impervious” to human intervention. For some “fair and balanced” analysis, continue the thread. A search of this blog found your post of 7/21/05 “VDOT Sets the Pace for State Productivity.” How long will the House of Delegates and James Atticus insist that increasing transportation funding is a waste because VDOT can’t do the job?

  2. Jim Bacon Avatar
    Jim Bacon

    Anonymous, The problem isn’t with VDOT employees. The problem, as in so many dysfunctional organizations, is the system they work in: (1) lack of coordination between state transportation and local land use planning; (2) funding formulaes and decision-making processes that do not prioritize transportation projects on the basis of Return on Investment and congestion mitigation; (3) a mindset that VDOT’s job is not just to oversee the state’s transportation system but to operate it.

    I agree totally with JAB that pouring more money into this broken system is a waste of time and money. But that’s not a reflection upon VDOT employees, who, working within tight political constraints, are doing some very innovative things.

  3. Jim Bacon Avatar
    Jim Bacon

    Another post lost in transition…

    Bashing will probably continue until VDOT gets a clear report from the Auditor of Public Accounts. In his December 2005 report, Commonwealth Transportation Fund, Agencies of the Secretary of Transportation we find this:

    The Commonwealth lacks a statement of clear objectives regarding
    transportation plans. Most of the plans designed and implemented were
    in response to a specific problem rather than part of an intricate
    statewide plan with specific and measurable objectives. Specific
    objectives for improving the Commonwealth’s transportation system include providing a seamless transportation network throughout the state by improving interconnections between all transportation modes. Coordination between all Transportation agencies is an integral part
    to the future success of the Commonwealth’s Transportation system. …

    The development of transportation project priorities includes making a long-term assessment of transportation needs in the Commonwealth and then converting these needs into projects. The long-term process, VTrans2025, intends to provide a long-term assessment of transportation needs through 2025 and set priorities to address those needs. The Six-Year Improvement Program (SYIP) is the mechanism that the Commonwealth Transportation Board uses to schedule and program projects. We discuss VTRANS 2025 and the SYIP in more detail below. The lack of coordination between transportation agencies is evident in the preparation of individual agency Six-Year Improvement Programs.

    There is a disconnection between the preparation of VTRANS 2025
    objectives and the programmed SYIP. Although Transportation
    agencies cooperate at the general planning objective level through the development of VTRANS 2025 goals, they have responsibility to
    individually develop a program of projects unique to their respective
    agency. The programming of projects, like the development of overall Transportation goals and objectives, should be a consolidated effort on the part of all Transportation agencies to ensure that all the agencies
    evaluate every possible alternative before allocating funding to a new project. More.

  4. Larry Gross Avatar
    Larry Gross

    Bashing VDOT is putting a deserved light on a broken process that must be fixed.

    As pointed out Mr. Bacon – the report by the Virginia Auditor of Public Accounts – and a previous JLARC report lay out in ugly detail what VDOT does NOT do that it MUST do if we are to obtain performance, accountability and VALUE – cost-effectiveness from that agency.

    Here are some examples:

    1. – VDOT does not estimate the costs of projects with respect to their anticipated build date but rather in today’s dollars.

    No wonder – the projects get pushed further and further out and exist only as words on a document.

    2. – VDOT – does not use industry-standard contingency funds for projects – which means when such circumstances actually occur due to scope/scale changes and/or inflation in the costs of materials – they have no recourse but to further delay the project.

    3. – VDOT still does not fully incorporate inflation is the annual updating of it’s projects.

    4. – VDOT “lowballs” construction costs so that projects can be put on a 6-yr plan and then later drops the other shoe as to the real costs.

    I can go on .. but these are not unsubstantiated claims – they are, in fact, in the Auditor of Public Accounts Report.

    And here is another Prime Example.

    When VDOT got into the business of electronic tolling – rather than join the existing multi-state EZ-Pass network that had a centralized Management and IT function – they decided to set up their own Virginia-only redundant system that was INCOMPATIBLE with EZ-Pass.

    It took them a while to realize the mistake and it took millions of dollars of taxpayer money (diverted from other projects) to backfit their system so that it DID integrate.

    Want More? HOw about tunnels whose protection doors are not tested on a regular basis and then when they are tested -found to not work?

    How about drawbridges that don’t work and VDOT’s refusual to put simple status signs to warn those approaching the bridge that they are about to be “trapped”.

    In other words.. refuse to warn people BEFORE they get trapped.

    moving on: VDOT takes no ownership in TRANSPORTAION which includes… integrating roads and transit… we have two separate agencies and neither truly addresses multi-mode facilities that integrate the two.

    Commuter Lots – which take cars off of road – are black sheep in the VDOT hierarchy.. relegated to “oh by the way.. we have no money for this” status .. “and besides this is a local issue”.

    The list goes on but this horse is so dead that sticking a fork in it… results in even more odors.

    JLARC recommended that VDOT’s mission be restricted to ONLY roads of state-wide significance for it’s own good because it is incapable of keeping up with regional and local jurisdictions planning and construction needs both financially and operationally.

    It SHOULD continue to maintain roads but not with it’s 9000 employees but rather by contracting out the entire process to be run by reputable company(s) who are run using sound business practices that VDOT, essentially refuses to do.

    I WILL get credit to Phillip Schucet who did make major inroads to VDOT accountability with his “Dashboard” that accurated reflects the current status of projects and makes clear when they are behind schedule and/or over budget but even the “improved” statistics are breathtaking in terms of failure.

    Imagine if WalMart FAILED to get 10% of it’s new stores built on time and on budget.

    Well.. that’s the “fixed” version of VDOT according to advocates – and keep in mind – Schucet is gone – is the legacy VDOT culture still alive and well and on the rebound?

    Increasing taxes on all Virginians and sending that money to Richmond/VDOT to continue their current operations is a no go.

    I will admit that the public is left with scant alternatives to any agency that fails it’s mission – (aka FEMA) but to put more money into such ventures seriously begs the question.

  5. Larry Gross Avatar
    Larry Gross

    I’m outta here for about 3 weeks for another river trip.

    See ya’ll at May.

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