Change is good
MaineDOT’s new and improved work plan
David Bernhardt, P.E., MaineDOT Commissioner
For anyone familiar with the thick document MaineDOT produces every two years containing a list of capital projects we plan to build throughout the state, you know that the MaineDOT work plan has been through a number of iterations over the last decade.
The document has been previously known as the Biennial Transportation Improvement Program (BTIP), the Biennial Capital Work Plan (BCWP), and the Capital Work Plan. The work plan has been the principal document by which the department has communicated its two-year capital improvement program. Traditionally, the work plan is shared with the Maine Legislature’s Joint Standing Committee on Transportation and with the full legislature in the spring of calendar odd-years, though the legislature does not vote on the work plan. MaineDOT also sends notice of its availability to municipalities and other transportation stakeholders.
In many respects, the work plan has remained the same over the years in that it was a program of capital projects we expected to build over the course of two state fiscal years running from July of one year to June of the next year. So, why change? Why rock the boat? In short, we want to increase transparency, make it more customer-oriented, and ensure it is in sync with our new strategic plan. As such, we have made some significant changes to this new work plan.
The new plan will be different in three big ways. First, it will be based on the calendar year, and, as such, will be published in January. It also will contain three years of projects, as opposed to two years as it has in prior work plans.
In the past, the work plan has been based on the state fiscal year that begins in July. The change to a calendar year just makes good logistical sense, if you think about it. It better aligns the work plan with our construction season, that for all intents and purposes, begins when the frost is out of the ground. It should also make the work plan more user-friendly for our customers and eliminate confusion between state fiscal years (July - June) and federal fiscal years (October – September).
With the new work plan containing three years’ worth of projects, we also provide our customers with more certainty. The first year of projects will contain specific details showing actual construction projects and the delivery schedule. The second and third year projects will likely be projects for which funding recently has been allocated and will have fewer details associated with them. Those details will get filled in as soon as funding becomes available. Basically, this means that first year projects are locked in and will get done that year, while second and third year projects will get done – but the timing is not as certain as it is contingent on funding availability.
The new three-year work plan will then be updated annually, increasing our ability to make changes based on policy fluctuations at the federal level (e.g., the new federal authorization called Moving Ahead for Progress in the 21st Century or “MAP-21”), changes in infrastructure condition and changes in funding. This should give our customers more confidence in terms of project outcomes and schedule because they will know what to expect.
The second difference is that work plan project selection will be based on highway corridor priorities (HCP’s) and customer service levels (CSL’s). As stated in a prior MaineDOT column in Maine Trails, MaineDOT will be prioritizing projects like never before, due in large part to significant fiscal constraints. In order to make the best practical use of all transportation resources, MaineDOT will use HCP’s to target scarce resources to the most critical infrastructure needs. For instance, the Maine’s interstate network that carries tens of thousands of vehicles daily is considered to be more crucial for Maine’s overall economy than a roadway that carries a few hundred cars per day. While each road is important to someone, most can agree that there is a need to use objective and understandable criteria to determine roadway priorities throughout Maine.
MaineDOT gathered and analyzed straightforward, common-sense factors to classify all 23,400 miles of Maine’s public highways by priority levels 1 through 6. MaineDOT also established easy-to-understand customer service levels (CSLs) on an intuitive A-F scale by using data on each highway’s safety, condition and service. In 2011, the Maine Legislature codified this concept by establishing specific priorities, service levels, capital goals and reporting requirements.
Third, unlike prior work plans that focused solely on capital projects, the new work plan will present a comprehensive assessment of all planned expenditures. This will include maintenance (plowing, ditching, etc.) and support functions as well. Our goal is to increase transparency of expenditures in all areas of MaineDOT’s operation. While the essence of the new work plan will continue to be project lists, it will also include a narrative describing funding, organization structure and work projections (miles paved, miles ditched, bridges replaced, etc.). It also will include location-specific project listings, work descriptions, and anticipated budgets. Lastly, it will include a section depicting typical annual expenditures in a much more transparent fashion than prior capital work plans. That is, the work plan will provide detail in non-project activities, such as legal services, metropolitan transportation planning and well mitigation.
We have worked hard to produce a work plan that better aligns with the construction season and provides a more definite schedule for project delivery; prioritizes spending in a way that makes sense in a period of financial uncertainty; and offers transparency, adaptability and responsiveness.