WSDOT implements reforms for a more efficient, effective agency

By Secretary of Transportation Lynn Peterson width=242

Editor’s note: With a transportation-funding package being debated in Olympia the issue of reforms regarding how transportation dollars are spent is front and center. We asked WSDOT Sec. Lynn Peterson (photo) to describe the steps that WSDOT has already taken to make the department more efficient and we thank her for her response.

Talk of a transportation revenue package is gaining momentum in our state. It’s recognized among communities transit partners and businesses that transportation investments are crucial to keeping Washington’s economy strong and our communities thriving.

It’s no secret many believe that along with a need for transportation investment there is also a need for reform within the Washington State Department of Transportation. I agree.

That’s why when I arrived at WSDOT I initiated several internal reforms. These efforts are aimed at strengthening the agency’s management direction and quality assurance protocols for greater accountability. They reward innovation in cost-effective design and increase opportunities for disadvantaged businesses. They include efficiency measures such as practical design and Lean to stretch limited transportation resources further.

We’re well on our way to full implementation putting these reforms into action.

But that’s not all. During the last session legislators introduced House Bill 2070 which included reforms that would help us streamline processes and reinforce environmental responsibility while at the same time achieve greater efficiency and cost savings. Although the bill did not make it into law we felt it was important to pursue these good public policies.

We’re also making good progress on implementing those initiatives. We’ve had success in our efforts to reduce duplication utilize programmatic approaches to permits and deliver environmentally sensitive transportation projects.

For projects that require an environmental impact statement HB 2070 called for greater use of best practices for documentation with a focus on greater community engagement. In response we’ve increased our agency’s emphasis on coordinating with citizens communities and agencies throughout EIS development. To accomplish this we’re using a variety of communication tools to inform and seek input from people including project Web pages and online “open houses” along with more traditional public involvement methods.

We have renewed our commitment to producing environmental documents written in plain language. They’re designed so that people can clearly grasp the benefits and impacts of the proposed projects and see how their concerns were considered.

We continue to consult with tribes to avoid minimize and mitigate project impacts to sensitive resources. With proactive consultation we’re able to develop projects that help us avoid costly delays.

Through a collaborative effort with state and federal resource agencies we’re able to expedite the review and approval of environmental assessments of projects using programmatic agreements. This means instead of having to applying for a permit each time we do specific types of highway work such as pavement overlay or replacing a culvert we’re able to use the programmatic agreement. This environmental streamlining tool reduces costs associated with delay while ensuring environmental requirements are met. As an example Endangered Species Act approvals for fish barrier removal projects have been reduced from up to 288 days for a permit down to two days.

We continue to implement the most up-to-date best practices for ensuring environmental compliance through ongoing staff training by working with regulatory agencies to establish a shared understanding of requirements and by tracking our commitments and compliance protocols.

With a focus on increased agency accountability and per a proviso in ESSB 6001 we’ve developed policies and procedures for reporting engineering errors that result in a change order in excess of $500000. Any such errors are reported to the Legislature.

To increase efficiency and cost-effectiveness we are applying a Practical Solutions approach to project development. This means we’re targeting transportation solutions for the lowest cost and engaging local stakeholders on defining the project’s scope. This ensures their input is given at the right time during the right stage of project design. With an agency executive order in place since last August we’ve established cross-functional teams to review our agency’s unfunded priorities list to identify opportunities for achieving the same project function more cost effectively. On average we are seeing a 40 percent reduction in project costs when we apply practical solutions which translates to more projects for more communities.

We appreciate the hard work that’s been done by our state’s elected officials business and community leaders and transportation organizations to gain momentum for a new transportation revenue package. We’ll continue to do our part to earn the public’s trust through accountable cost-effective innovative and environmentally responsible project delivery. Together we can keep Washington moving forward!