Tuesday, January 17, 2012

The Slow Decline of State DOT Services

I listened in today to a webinar run by the State Smart Transportation Initiative called “Small Buckets of Savings and Revenues for State DOTs.”  (They promise to post the slides on their website.)  Some of the DOT presentations included interesting ideas (such as Michigan DOT reducing salt usage through better application techniques) and some were more along the lines of straight budget cutting (Rhode Island imposing a highway lighting “curfew” late at night).  What was of more interest to me, however, was observing the signs of the continuing, slow decline of services provided by state DOTs.
Actually, most of the DOTs participating in this webinar are in better shape on the operations side than many others.  Some DOTs whose operating budgets are sheltered within highway trust funds are only just beginning to feel the pain.  DOTs who have to “live off the land” – with operating funds coming out of the general budget – are usually far worse off.
New Jersey DOT, where I spent many years, has faced steady declines in operating budgets for years.  Innovative budgeting ideas are long since past and now everything that can be shut down is shut down – rest areas have closed, dead deer carcasses litter the highways, bills go unpaid for months, and voicemail is no longer available at DOT offices.
Sometimes a “haircut” can sharpen up an organization’s planning and budgeting.  I’m afraid we are way past that in many states and headed in that direction in others.

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