To go faster, use a spotlight

To go faster, use a spotlight

In the world of major transportation projects, the potential for delays abound.

Funding is often a source of the problem, and while this is not always an easy problem to address, at least we know where to place our focus.

In the case of major highway construction projects, the environmental regulatory approval process can be cumbersome and arduous. And lengthy.

This does not mean that the goals of the process, or even the process itself, is flawed. Or at least that is not a given.

Still, projects do take too long. I would prefer to have good projects move forward more quickly - so that the taxpayer sees results sooner. And, I would like to see lousy projects shelved sooner, so that taxpayer funds can either be redirected to a better project, or remain in the private sector to create jobs.

As the Economist noted in a March 2017 article, "Infrastructure projects are frequently bogged down in endless environmental reviews and consultations... Big highway projects approved in 2015 took an average of a decade to clear every bureaucratic hurdle, according to one study."

What is the correct amount of time for a study? Well, ten years is definitely too long to wait for a needed project, particularly in a fast-growing market. But what is reasonable? We know that the public wants speed, and the public also wants environmental protection.

How can we know when a process has gone from detailed to bogged down?

Here is my simple suggestion for agencies large and small: shine a spotlight, and the public will tell you the answer.

Create a online dashboard of the expected duration of every major step in the process, and do not change the original start and ending date if delays occur during the process.

Let's let the public see the true process. My sense is that this will create accountability and a sense of urgency to deliver good projects faster - by all parties and partners - both transportation departments and resource agencies.

To be clear - there can be very valid reasons why projects or individual review steps take longer than anticipated. Document those reasons. But do not remove the original ending date on your dashboard. 

Bottom line:  if you don't like the pace of project delivery, then first make sure that the process is advancing better projects (and killing lousy ones), and then shine a spotlight to keep good projects moving.

And then the public, helped by various media channels, can dig into those dashboards from time to time to provide a more complete picture. With an accurate dashboard, the public will pass judgement on whether something is taking too long or not.

As the Scripps corporate motto says, "Give light and the people will find their own way."



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