August 20, 2002
Dear Mr. Smythe,
As you invite viewers to do at the end of each of your ViewPoints, I would like to take the opportunity to make a few comments regarding your recent ViewPoint on the Missouri Department of Transportation (7/18/02 - Proposition B) .
We at MoDOT hear much said about our organization. I feel I owe it to my employees to respond when things are said that are misinformed or misleading.
First, I thought it was somewhat refreshing to hear you say that we have too many construction projects occurring at the same time. Most Missourians would say we should be doing more. Putting more manpower into fewer projects is a creative plan to speed up construction of projects. However, it is not that simple. MoDOT requests bids from contractors for construction projects. The contractor with the lowest bid is usually awarded the contract. By awarding a contract, we are paying a specialized construction company to perform the work. Therefore, most of the workers are not MoDOT employees. We could not pull workers from one project to work on another because there are different contractors working on each project.
Do I wish we could get projects done faster so drivers don't have to experience as many work zones? You bet I do. We don't like to have traffic restricted any longer than we must, but projects must be built safely and accurately-lives depend on it. MoDOT continually investigates innovative methods to take as much time off projects as possible. Sometimes we can accomplish that, other times we can't. For example, we must weigh shortening a project by a few weeks or months versus the cost involved in doing so. As you stated, many of us feel we already pay too many taxes and MoDOT has limited funding. So, we have to make the most improvements possible with funding available and get the best value for our tax dollars. We do use incentive/disincentive contracting, and where it makes sense, we are looking more toward a "get in, get out, stay out" philosophy.
Secondly, I would be very interested in seeing some of our "dangerous, poorly designed construction areas." Again, we have strict regulations we must follow when working on our roadways. We also are blessed with a very talented and professional engineering staff who designs these work zones, and a very talented and professional maintenance and construction staff who carry out that work when it is not a contractor job. Closing lanes is in no way a matter of ease and convenience. It is about safety-for our workers and the driving public. The worst part of my job is going to one of my employee's home to tell that family that their husband or wife or mom or dad won't be coming home.
Are our work zones perfect? Not always. Do we sometimes have lanes closed for a time while concrete cures with no workers present? Yes, but this is necessary for the longevity of the pavement. By far, most work zone accidents happen while work is ongoing and the warning signs are clearly placed and ignored.
I invite you to come to one of our work zones and experience this first hand. I would be happy to explain why the zones are set up the way they are. It is surprising for most folks to see what it is like to work just inches from heavy traffic. Fifty miles per hour may not seem like a lot, but trust me, it is when only a traffic cone separates you from the traffic blowing by you. Those are tough working conditions. It may not seem like we design this work with the "people paying the bill" in mind, but they are what all the restrictions are about. Reducing your speed from 70 to 50 miles per hour may seem like an inconvenience, but it is much less of an inconvenience than you or a loved one never coming home.
I do welcome citizens, the media, and legislators watching to make sure we deliver what we should. I want to give the best service possible to the taxpayers of Missouri and all those who travel our transportation system. I think few people realize it, but we have many processes in place to ensure that. MoDOT is the most audited state agency. MoDOT presents our annual legislative reports to the public and state legislature, detailing all our revenue and expenditures, project activity, and other operations. Not only are we subject to review by the state auditor, but we also have an independent audit of the organization and our business practices. We also have an Inspector General within the Department who investigates allegations of waste, fraud, and abuse with contractors and within the Department.
We are entering a new era at MoDOT. I'm very excited with the direction we will be going. The governor and the legislature recently repealed the sunset on the six-cent gas tax with the understanding that all MoDOT could do with the funding is take care of the roads we have. This is also the position that the Missouri Highways and Transportation Commission has taken. We must spend more of our resources on maintaining our existing system. With the defeat of Proposition B, Missourians told us that they, too, want MoDOT to focus on maintaining our system rather than new construction projects. We are all in agreement of the course MoDOT should take and the department will continue to deliver the best possible transportation system with available resources.
I would like to make one side note about your recent report on the defeat of Proposition B meaning projects would be done in 35 years instead of 10. I believe the director was referring to Prop B projects that had no funding secured. Projects currently underway like the Diversion Channel Bridge already have funding secured and the contract has been awarded. The only factors influencing the completion are weather and floods.
Again, thank you for the opportunity to comment and answer your questions. MoDOT really does believe our work is a partnership with the public that we serve. We welcome the opportunity to explain why we do what we do. I would be happy to answer any additional questions you may have or talk about our practices and procedures any time. Please contact me at (573) 472-5340 or toll-free at 1-888-ASK-MODOT (1-888-275-6636). And I wasn't joking about visiting a work zone. It's an experience you won't forget. Thank you.
Scott Meyer, P.E.