VDOT Improving on Project Completion Record

Wed July 21, 2004 - National Edition

RICHMOND, VA (AP) The Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT) is improving on its record of completing road projects on schedule.

In the just-ended 2003-04 fiscal year, 36 percent of Virginia highway construction projects finished on time, up from just 20 percent in 2001.

For the first time in its history, VDOT is demanding that all the contracts it signs have a fixed, no-fooling completion date, rather than allowing contracts a certain number of days to do the work.

“We learned last year that fixed-date contracts tend to finish on time more so than calendar-day projects,” said state Transportation Commissioner Philip Shucet. “This year, every new project will be a fixed-date contract.

“If we meet or beat that date, it’s on time,” Shucet said. “If it takes a day longer, it’s late.”

VDOT plans to finish up more than 100 projects this fiscal year.

The policy on completion dates has not been universally greeted.

“If they pick good dates, we’re all for it,” said Richard D. Daugherity, executive vice president of the Virginia Road and Transportation Builders Association, representing the state’s highway contractors. “If they don’t, then it presents a problem.”

For years, VDOT had a history of underestimating the cost and time for highway work.

With a budget this year of about $3.1 billion, VDOT is responsible for the nation’s third largest network of state-maintained highways.

Some state leaders are willing to go to bat for additional transportation revenues, Shucet told his employees recently, though many worry whether VDOT can be trusted to perform: “All eyes are watching our on-deadline and on-budget performance for the construction program.”

Since Shucet took over as state transportation chief in April 2002, VDOT’s on-time and on-budget performance has been generally on the upswing.

VDOT also noted that 64 percent of its projects in fiscal year 2004 were finished within 90 days of the scheduled completion date that fiscal year.

VDOT has been doing better on hitting its project budgets on the money than making schedules. This fiscal year, Shucet said VDOT expects to complete 80 percent of projects within the contract price.

In the memory of employees, VDOT had been using two types of contracts for highway work: the fixed-date type that is now the standard, and calendar-day contracts.

“With a calendar-day project, you may take 600 days to do 200 days’ work,” the commissioner said. “You just lose all sense of managing that type of contract.”

VDOT had considered a project finished on schedule it if were completed by the last approved completion date. “Boy, that’s a high bar,” the commissioner said.

During the current fiscal year, Shucet has raised the department’s goal for bringing in projects by the original contracted end date to 60 percent for construction work and 70 percent for maintenance projects.

“Why am I really being so hard on VDOT in terms of defining ’on time’ so strictly?” Shucet said. “The answer is pretty simple. I don’t want us to just look good –– I want us to be good.”