Expanded ’Dashboard’ Aids VDOT Contractors With Public Perception

Wed July 20, 2005 - Southeast Edition
Jeff Cronin

The honeymoon was a shaky one, but contractors have come to accept the viability of Dashboard, Virginia Department of Transportation’s (VDOT) on-line project monitor, an industry trade association official said.

VDOT in June expanded the program, which first came on-line in March 2003. They’ve dubbed Dashboard a “leap toward open government.”

At first, said Dick Daugherty, executive vice president of the Virginia Transportation Construction Alliance, there were some “bugs” in the program that didn’t take into account change orders when judging if a project was on-time and on-budget.

With those issues resolved, “I can’t understand why other states haven’t jumped on board already,” he said.

Dashboard now details the latest performance of road maintenance, plans, studies, safety, finances, operations and environmental compliance.

The expansion of Dashboard is the latest move to improve public relations by VDOT and the engineer and contractors who work on its projects.

In the early part of the millennium, VDOT’s public persona was in shambles. Department officials said fewer than 20 percent of its projects were completed on time.

The designs “ranged from bad to horrible,” Daugherty said.

But in the past three years, he said VDOT has turned around its philosophy of how it works with contractors and the public. Now, he said the agency better manages its projects and is more realistic about its expectations.

This, in turn, has sparked VDOT contractors to open up to the public.

“I think the contractor knows that his owner is the public,” Daugherty said.

While the desire is there to get the job done as quickly as possible, he also said it’s important, especially with bigger jobs, to keep the public informed on its progress.

“The bigger the job, the more opportunities the contractor has to meet with the public,” Daugherty said.

With the large projects, contractors make extensive efforts to make sure people know what’s going on and ease their frustration, which makes job sites safer for motorists and workers alike.

Dashboard has sparked a lot of people to e-mail the project manager with questions, “rather than just sit there and fume in their cars,” he said.

In addition to improving dialogue with the public, Daugherty said communication with designers and engineers has gotten much better. Now, contractors play a larger role in the design phase and help to determine if crews are able to perform the work.

“With VDOT spending about $3 billion of public money every year, taxpayers have a right to know how their money is being used,” said VDOT Commissioner Philip Shucet. “Increasing the level of transparency is absolutely essential for the success of VDOT to improve its bottom line. The closer citizens can watch us in all areas of our business, the better we will do.”

For more information, visit www.virginiadot.org. CEG