Every Day Counts – Report from the Midwest Meeting

Quote from EDC participant

Yesterday, I had the opportunity to participate in a Peer Exchange workshop on Project Delivery as a representative for APWA. The meeting was one of four regional meetings organized and hosted by AASHTO to facilitate dialogue between federal, state, and local agencies. By encouraging discussion and building partnerships, they are hoping to provide guidance for streamlining project delivery.

I’m not sure if anything like this has been done before in our industry where all levels of government meet to work out the process of getting a job done. The workshop was exciting and yet, as you can imagine, frustrating at times as I wondered if federal and state agencies could really understand the local perspective. However, the end result was a great meeting where all of us had the chance to share the view from our level and hear and understand the experiences and ideas from other agencies. I’m not sure if it was because we had such a great facilitator or there was just a great group of people focused on making things better, but everyone showed passion and dedication to moving this initiative forward.Quote from EDC participant

It’s unfortunate that more people could not have taken part so I was hoping to share my observations below and encourage anyone interested to visit the Every Day Counts (EDC) website.

The day started out with a welcome from Peter Plumeau, the facilitator, and representatives from the partnering agencies: NACE, APWA, and AASHTO. Everyone introduced themselves and shared some thoughts about what they hoped to accomplish. Then Victoria Peters, special assistant to the deputy administrator of FHWA, explained the EDC program.

Every Day Counts Program

I won’t go into the details of this session because you can read all about it at the EDC website. The basic idea is that EDC was launched in November 2009 to identify and deploy readily available innovation and operational changes that would enable us to become faster, better, and smarter. Peters emphasized that the program was intended to work within existing laws. She quickly went through the program’s sixteen initiatives including ten that would shorten project deliver and six that are categorized as technical innovations. She explained how state implementation teams established at the state DOTs have developed final action plans to carry out these initiatives. And she mentioned there will be 2011 discretionary grant programs highlighting EDC initiatives. Peters also encouraged people to visit the EDC site and submit more ideas in their “innovation box.”

Quote by EDC Participant

Federal Programs and Project Delivery Initiatives

The next panel presented several programs already in place that can be used to shorten project delivery. These included programmatic agreements, Construction Manager/General Contractor or CM/GC, and flexibility in utility accommodation and relocation.

The Wisconsin Factor

Over lunch Daniel Fedderly, executive director of the Wisconsin County Highway Association, shared with the group some of the ideas Wisconsin has used to shorten project delivery. Wisconsin seems unique in that the counties in that state take care of all the county and state roads. (One county engineer told me later in the day his county has its own hot mix plant!) So perhaps it’s this extensive history of cooperation between local 

and state government that provided the impetus for Wisconsin agencies to begin this type of effort many years ago. Fedderly explained how they pre-scope projects to help discover any red-flags or additional or alternate funding sources early in the process. He also discussed the use of project exclusions and project tiering – a method of recognizing an overlay does not require the same level of scrutiny that a new bridge construction project might require.

Barriers and Obstacles

After lunch we broke into four groups that included members from each agency or organization. First we identified major barriers or obstacles to achieving our goal of shortening project delivery. Although there were many identified, most fell into the following basic categories or issues:

  • The perception of high risk when there isn’t any
  • The failure to focus on what matters
  • The failure to be consistent
  • The lack of federal flexibility
  • The number and control of regulations
  • The lack of education of people at all levels – those reviewing at the state and federal level and those working at the local level
  • Lack of trust between agencies and an “us vs. them” attitude

Recommendations

After we highlighted the issues or problems present in the current system, we moved on to think of recommendations or solutions. Below are the highlights of our findings.

  • Form partnerships – form early and reinforce often
  • Move beyond us and them and focus on a win/win perspective
  • Pre-scope but understand changes will need to be accommodated if necessary
  • Ask questions and manage up through all levels of government
  • Educate – Educate – Educate!
  • Scale the process to the needs – adopt a risk-based approach
  • Build on EDC – provide groundwork for structural changes
  • Keep the momentum going
  • Enhance and use existing resources like LTAP to promote and deliver these solutions
  • Develop a forum and other communication opportunities on the EDC website
  • Host state, regional, and national dialogues between all partners
  • Make use of a Federal Fund Exchange Program similar to that offered by the Kansas DOT

Summary of the Day

Overall, my final impression was that we are on the right track. We learned that many states have already been working in this direction and using these initiatives for some time. At our sessions representatives from these states were able to share positive outcomes and success stories. Now, it just seems to be a matter of working with the other states and locals to incorporate these ideas and recommendations within their own process. Plumeau said there will be two more regional workshops held over the next month or so then his group will summarize the results of all meetings and send out a report.

Plumeau also pointed out near the end of the day that almost all of the issues we identified and solutions we came up with could be applied to just about any industry or situation. Based on his observation, I have to think it’s obviously not just a transportation issue – it’s more of a people issue. And this seems to emphasize our need to continue building the partnerships and dialogue that has been started with these summits.

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Every Day Counts Peer to Peer Networking

Over the summer, FHWA is hosting Peer-to-Peer Exchanges in partnership with AASHTO, NACE, and APWA for the purpose of highlighting and promoting best practices in implementing the Federal-aid program by local governments. I'll be attending the meeting for the midwest region on July 19th in Cincinnati, Ohio, to participate in discussions with people from all levels of government. So if anyone has any suggestions, comments, or ideas, you'd like to share, I'd be interested in hearing them. You can either enter them in the comment section here or send them to me at pwg@publicworksgroup.com.

These meetings are part of the Every Day Counts (EDC) initiative. EDC is "FHWA's effort to provide National leadership in the quest to meet the transportation demands of the 21st Century." Three objectives make up the foundation of EDC: Shortening Project Delivery,  Accelerating Technology and Innovation Deployment, and an internal effort to make FHWA a greener Agency and reduce our carbon footprint. Of these objectives, streamlining project delivery and embracing innovation seem to be dominating most transportation-related discussions coming out of Washington. Rep. Mica, Chairman of the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, recently presented the Transportation Reauthorization Proposal embeded below. In it, his committee also stressed the need to work on improving project delivery and implementing innovative changes.

 

A New Direction – Transportation Reauthorization Proposal

 

 

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From the Floor at APWA Congress 2010

Due to budget cuts I was only able to attend the APWA Congress for one day since I was speaking on a panel at the show. Normally, I try to attend the entire event because I always come away with many valuable insights and opportunities to reconnect with fellow professionals. This year, in the short time I was able to spend there, I was able to find a contractor who performed sawcutting of sidewalk trip hazards. My division was already familiar with Precision Concrete Cutting and have used their services to eliminate trip hazards. But in order to expand the project, we needed to have more than one proposal for the work. Fortunately Sidewalks Plus was at the show, and I was able to speak with a representative about their process and get their contact information. This allowed us to investigate two bidders and move our project forward. I also was able to discuss a few other pressing issues with representatives from a few other companies. So in addition to speaking, networking, and researching products, I was able to also conduct some business related to existing projects. 

While checking out the products on the floor show, I was also able to video tape a few interviews with vendors. Willie Urish with Tower Sign and Signal had contacted me prior to the show to discuss his product. So we made some time to meet so I could see his product in person. He also allowed me to video tape his product demonstration. His company, based in Illinois, manufactures and sells portable traffic signals for construction jobs.

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Celebrate Public Works Week

This week, we celebrate public works week – a time to stop and think about the people who take care of all those things we don’t normally even think about. Like making sure roads are safe and in good repair, making sure the water comes out when we turn on the faucet, and making sure our garbage gets picked up when we put it out at the curb. They even pick up the dead animals from the roads. So in honor of these unsung heroes, I want extend my own thanks. And I posted a video created by the American Public Works Association to help promote understanding about public works.

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We Are Public Works Network


Visit We Are Public Works
Last month, the American Public Works Association (APWA) launched an online network for those of us working in the public works industry. Since beginning late in February, WEAREPUBLICWORKS.ORG has grown to over a hundred members. And even though APWA launched the site, you don’t have to be a member of APWA to join. You don’t even have to live in the U.S. Like any other Ning-based, online, open network, anyone can sign up for an account, join in, and start networking with other public works professionals. Hope to see you there!

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How Attending an APWA Workshop Saved Our City $1M

As management teams work on their budgets over the next few weeks, some might look at trimming expenses by cutting back on staff training. But my experience has been that a little bit of education can go a long way. Come, travel down memory lane with me, and I will show you how one workshop ended up saving our city $1,000,000 . . .

Many years ago, our city, like most, had meter readers who would travel from home to home or business to business reading the water meters. The meter reads were entered into a book; then office staff would transcribe these reads from the book into the computer. From there, water bills would be generated and sent out to users.

Eventually, the water industry began to offer products designed to automate this meter reading process. Through a long and involved journey, our city arrived, poised to implement a major change in our system involving water meter replacements and installation of an automatic meter reading system. The company offering our city the package quoted a price tag close to $2,000,000. Unfortunately, I was concerned that our city would not be able to afford this, and we would have to cut back and eliminate the portion of the package involving a fixed network system and instead choose a drive-by read system that the company quoted at $1,500,000.

During the time period in which our city was considering this company’s proposal, I attended a workshop hosted by the American Public Works Association (APWA) to learn about their accreditation program. One of the side benefits of these workshops is the chance to meet and talk with others involved in public works. So at the morning break, I had the chance to meet and visit with the person sitting next to me, Kevin Weaver, from Oakwood, Ohio. Oakwood was a city similar in size to LaSalle, and Kevin was their city engineer. We discussed the projects going on in our communities, and Kevin told me how his city was going through a water meter replacement project involving the installation of a fixed network. I told him how I wanted to implement something similar in our city, but told him I didn’t think we could afford the $2,000,000 cost. Well, imagine my surprise when Kevin told me his community was only paying about $900,000.

Kevin went on to explain how he had approached the bidding and implementation of his project. But with two cities of almost exactly the same size and number of meters, I still could not understand why our quoted price was so much more. Fortunately Kevin followed up after the workshop by sending me the bidding information so that I could try to figure out where the cost difference was.

At that point I shared this information with our council, and they approved allowing the project to be split into three contracts: one for supplying meters, one for supplying the fixed network components, and one for installation. Then, after getting cost proposals for each, we arrived at a project expense very close to that of Oakwood’s, about $1,000,000.

My cost to attend the workshop and conference that immediately followed was about $2,000. So for $2,000, not only was I able to gain experience and training, but because of meeting Kevin, I was able to find a way to implement the project we wanted at half the cost, saving $1,000,000.

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