New RIDOT signs at project sites will track progress for taxpayers

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) – Ever wondered how long it was going to take for the R.I. Department of Transportation to finish repairing a local bridge you see every day on your ride to work? Pretty soon you’ll be able to check each time you drive by.

RIDOT Director Peter Alviti said Monday his agency plans to put up signs at all its project sites that will display their estimated cost and completion date, as well as colored traffic-light symbols to show whether they’re on schedule. He said the signs will start going up within two months.

“The transparency is unprecedented here,” Alviti told reporters. “This sign is an indication of the responsibility that we take for our actions and for the way that we spend taxpayer dollars.” He called the signs a “real-life, real-time, in-your-face” performance dashboard.

Alviti acknowledged that he expects the signs to sometimes show red or yellow “lights,” saying projects can be impacted by problems such as weather and unexpected underground conditions. “Construction is a messy business,” he said. But he insisted the agency will be upfront about delays.

A rendering of the new signs RIDOT will install at construction sites.
A rendering of the new signs RIDOT will install at construction sites.

The new signs are part of a broader effort by RIDOT leaders to build public confidence in the agency as it prepares to spend hundreds of millions of dollars authorized under the new RhodeWorks truck-toll law. On Tuesday the agency also released the first of the quarterly tracking reports required under the law.

“This is a very important day for us here,” Alviti said, adding: “We share the concern of people in knowing exactly how it’s spent and how it’s performing. … The times have changed permanently here.”

The RhodeWorks law calls for 90% of Rhode Island’s bridges to be structurally sufficient within a decade, and boosts spending significantly to accomplish that. The agency’s construction program will rise from $128 million last year to $143 million this year and $219 million next year, the highest level since 2009, when spending hit $268 million thanks to President Obama’s stimulus law.

“Between March and September of 2016, RIDOT will advertise twice as many bridge projects as we could have without the additional funding provided by RhodeWorks,” Alviti wrote in the new quarterly report. Nearly $50 million of this year’s $143 million in construction projects reflect money added under RhodeWorks, he said.

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One of the factoids from the 100-page report that RIDOT officials proudly cited on Monday: pothole claims are down this year more than 70% compared with the five-year average, which Alviti credited to the use of a new “pothole killer” system to tackle repairs. Officials said the drop was not caused by the relatively mild winter, which they said was in line with the five-year average.

Alviti also highlighted various operational changes being made at RIDOT, including a new organizational chart at the senior level that partly decentralizes oversight and a new project-management system that gives individuals ownership of a project from start to finish. Alviti said he is trying to change what he termed a “pass-the-buck culture” that previously existed at RIDOT.

David Fish, RIDOT’s chief engineer and a holdover from the agency’s pre-Alviti regime, said he thinks the changes are energizing veteran employees. “I really haven’t worked this hard since I first got out of college,” Fish said.

Alviti said Rhode Islanders will see evidence of the changed culture at RIDOT over time. “We’re going to be conducting ourselves in a way that’s transparent, so that people will know what our performance is,” he said.

Ted Nesi (tnesi@wpri.com) covers politics and the economy for WPRI.com. He hosts Executive Suite and writes The Saturday Morning Post. Follow him on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram

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