TRENTON, NJ (AP) The New Jersey Department of Transportation (NJDOT) is changing the way it does business. The novel approach? Focusing on drivers.
Commissioner Jack Lettiere unveiled a new program March 8 in Newark that will give construction workers and contractors more stringent deadlines for bridge projects. The timelines will cut years off some projects and save the state hundreds of millions of dollars, he said.
“Most people want to know why does it take five years to get a project done,” he said.
Lettiere said his “hyperbuild initiative” is about changing the department’s culture and improving its image with frustrated New Jersey drivers by getting bridge projects done faster.
“It’s about time we started considering people’s time,” he said. “It’s the Nordstrom’s approach to engineering.”
The DOT’s turning point came with the work done on a two-lane, 90-ft. bridge damaged by heavy rainfall over the summer, which was rebuilt in less than 100 days. The $6-million project for the Route 70 bridge in Burlington County was completed by early October.
With the route vital for traffic from the Philadelphia area to the Jersey Shore, Lettiere told engineers he needed the bridge rebuilt in 90 days.
His wish was granted, give or take a few days.
“We just built a bridge in 100 days and maybe we should be able to do this over and over again,” Lettiere said he thought to himself after the Route 70 project. “We found out we could do it.
“We’re going to have bridges that typically would have taken two to three years to build,” he said. “We’ll have them done in eight to nine months.”
Lettiere, who took his post approximately three years ago, said he viewed the way the DOT did business before he arrived as a problem. While the department did consider Garden State drivers and their safety, the focus was on building projects and not the people they serve.
“There’s a difference in focusing on your product than from what the customer wants,” he said.
Lettiere on March 8 released a list of 14 projects the DOT has targeted to be completed faster, including the Route 280 Stickel Bridge in north Jersey to a Route 38 pedestrian bridge replacement at the Cherry Hill Mall in the southern part of the state. The department also intends to hold project designers to similar standards as contractors: If they don’t meet deadlines, they lose money from their contracts.
“You shift your focus on the driver and their time. The motto in my department is, ’It’s about their time,’” Lettiere said.