Unveiling the state’s key two-year transportation initiatives and an overview of the historic investments currently being made in Ohio’s multi-modal system, the Ohio Department of Transportation (ODOT) Jan. 6 released its 2010-2011 Business Plan by highlighting a “faster and smarter” way to advance the state’s major transportation projects.
The 2010-2011 business plan also projects a reduction in ODOT’s long-term programming deficit by $2 billion through better management and planning, new federal funding, and lower-than-expected inflation.
“During this biennium, ODOT is delivering on time, on budget, and at the highest level of quality, the largest construction program in Ohio history — 30 percent larger than at any other time — with personnel levels at a 30 year low,” said ODOT Director Jolene M. Molitoris, noting that with federal stimulus funding and ODOT’s dedicated federal and state gas tax dollars combined, the department is investing more than $4 billion into capital and construction projects over the next two state fiscal years.
In the plan, ODOT details the actions taken over the past year to transform the department into a “21st Century ODOT to meet Ohio’s 21st Century multi-modal transportation needs.” Those actions include the creation of a new ODOT Office of Maritime, which advocates for Ohio’s 716 mi. of navigable waterway and is leading the U.S. Maritime Administration’s Interstate 90/Marine Highway Corridor Program and the Ohio River “Marine One” Corridor.
Other changes include a new Office of Innovation, Partnership and Energy charged with exploring and implementing new transportation technologies, policies, and public-private partnerships; a first-ever ODOT Economic Development Liaison focused on connecting transportation investment and business development opportunities across the state; and a new Division of Equal Opportunity at the forefront of the department’s efforts to promote diversity, eliminate discrimination, and encourage more disadvantaged and minority businesses to do work with the state.
With this new Business Plan, the state’s Transportation Review Advisory Council (TRAC) will pursue what it calls new “FAST TRAC” procedures to quickly advance major new transportation projects that are economic drivers and have statewide or regional significance.
The members of the TRAC — the nine-member independent council that assists ODOT in selecting the state’s largest transportation investments — called for this regulatory reform to “cut red tape” and capitalize on the lessons learned during ODOT’s expedited project development process under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act.
To support this FAST TRAC initiative, ODOT will designate $100 million over the biennium and a total of $400 million in the financial plan. In the coming months, the TRAC also will establish criteria to determine how these FAST TRAC major projects (capacity-adding projects more than $5 million in cost) advance to construction quickly, including those projects that simply need state approval and not state funding.
“Because of the lessons ODOT learned from the Recovery Act, working faster, more collaboratively, transparently, and multi-modally have become the norm not the exception,” Molitoris added.
Among the other initiatives unveiled in the business plan is ODOT’s “Target: Zero” — a renewed focus on safety in the workplace, on construction sites, and with the traveling public to assure zero tolerance for any safety hazard.
On Ohio’s highways, ODOT’s increased safety efforts — combined with reduced traveling by motorists — have already resulted in 16 percent fewer fatalities through the end of November 2009. Under the plan, ODOT will establish an annual goal of reducing employee injury and equipment incidents by 20 percent and reducing total crashes on Ohio’s roadways by 5 percent.
Over the next two years, ODOT plans to use new technology to increase safety, including piloted use of new edge line and centerline rumble stripes that reflect oncoming headlights, use of reflective back plates on traffic signals — designed to make stop lights easier to see, and increased use of cable barriers to prevent cross-median crashes.
ODOT also is committing to “Go with Green” by implementing new environmentally-sensitive practices in its operations. In 2009, ODOT’s highway maintenance crews reduced spraying of herbicides by 98 percent and ODOT’s snow plows earned the state’s first “Ohio Green Fleets” certifications by reducing diesel emissions and using alternative fuels.
Over the next two years, ODOT plans to upgrade many of the department’s traffic control devices with LED technology — replacing old incandescent signal lights — which will use less energy (a 90 percent power reduction at a traffic signal) and improve reliability.
ODOT’s 2010-2011 business plan also offers a review of the department’s high ethics and accountability standards, a strong financial plan for the biennium, and the departments’ performance and quality assurance measurements.
“For the first time, we also put in writing our commitment to those we serve: Ohio’s citizens and businesses,” said Molitoris. “With the gravity of the challenges facing our state and its transportation system, only by working together as a team — focused on our mission and our commitments with integrity — can ODOT succeed.”
In the previous 2008-2009 business plan, the department revealed that the cumulative effects of high construction cost inflation and past over-programming, along with other factors, created a forecasted deficit of $3.5 billion through the year 2015.
During the past two years of the Strickland administration, ODOT has cut the projected shortfall by $2 billion through 2017 — a 57 percent reduction in just two years. Among the cost-cutting practices, ODOT reduced operating expenses by operating at 95 percent of anticipated costs. This effort will continue through 2017, saving the department $400 million.
ODOT reduced un-bid emergency contracts and costly change orders on major construction projects, producing at least $250 million in savings through 2017. The department experienced lower-than-expected construction cost inflation, which helped to reduce costs. And by making smart Recovery Act investments, ODOT was able to advance the completion of important “ready to go” projects and provide an additional half-billion dollars toward future financial planning.
The 2010-2011 business plan also stresses the importance of securing a vibrant federal transportation authorization bill for the next five years.
“Federal funding aimed at developing a safe, efficient, multi-modal transportation system will help position Ohio to compete in the global economy,” commented Molitoris.