DOT is facing massive changes

Published 5:40 pm Friday, December 14, 2007

By Staff
Robespierre said, “Omelettes are not made without breaking eggs.”
Lyndo Tippett, secretary of the North Carolina Department of Transportation, is going to have to break more than a few of them.
Tippett spoke with DOT workers in Williamston earlier this week as part of a statewide tour to spread his message. Some of his comments may not sit well with everybody, but at the very least they show a vision of where Tippett wants the department to go.
DOT is in the process of transformation, in part because of $3.6 million study that was conducted this year. It pointed out flaws in how DOT operates and showed that many of the department’s employees are frustrated. Workers complained about low morale and a lack of vision. The department was also accused of having a lack of accountability and being “too political.” One employee wrote that it seemed like no one was in charge.
Tippett shouldn’t be totally surprised at the findings. He worked for DOT for eight years as the chairman of its Audit and Contract Committee before being named secretary in 2001. It’s no secret that DOT has problems, and as secretary, it’s Tippett’s job to fix them. He, frankly, has no other choice. The sheer volume of work that needs to be done has backed DOT into a position where it simply can’t do business the same way, even if it wanted to.
Field Operations Director John Nance, who was with Tippett in Williamston, said a priority should be making transportation projects more efficient. That may mean crews don’t run out and patch every single pot hole they hear about, but, instead, focus on broader issues that will benefit more people for less money.
Nance said he would like to see the department move from paving dirt roads to doing more paved-road improvements. That’s bad news if you live on a dirt road, but good news for motorists who use more heavily traveled roads. Nance said that goal matches DOT’s objective of making the state’s infrastructure last longer and require fewer repairs overall.
Roberto Canales, a 24-year DOT veteran, was appointed by Tippett to head the transformation team.
Mark Foster, with DOT’s Financial Management Division, said the state and its departments are in a “very unusual situation right now.
Admitting there is a problem is the first step toward solving it. As much as we cringe at the idea of spending $3.6 million on a study, remember DOT operates with a $3.9 billion budget. If the McKinsey report results in a 2-percent savings, that means $7.8 million will be saved.
That won’t happen so long as the department operates as it has operated.