RALEIGH— 2013 was a historic and impactful year for the North Carolina Department of Transportation. Under the leadership of Secretary Tony Tata, the 12,000-member NCDOT team helped improve quality of life and expand opportunities for North Carolinians through three key areas of focus:
· Improving customer service;
· Leveraging the state’s infrastructure to create jobs and support economic growth; and
· Increasing efficiency to make better use of existing resources.
“First and foremost, NCDOT strives to serve the people of North Carolina, not just by connecting them to physical destinations, but by opening the door to new opportunities and contributing to an improved quality of life in our state,” Tata said. “I am extremely proud of the hard work our team does every day. Transportation is intrinsically linked to nearly every aspect of life in North Carolina, including job creation and economic development, the attraction and retention of business and industry, education and technology, access to healthcare, environmental protection, military and logistics, and tourism and recreation.”
Improving Customer Service
When Gov. Pat McCrory appointed Tata as the state’s Transportation Secretary, his first instruction was to improve customer service, particularly at North Carolina’s Division of Motor Vehicles. The department responded by introducing extended and Saturday hours at a total of 19 driver license offices across the state. As a result, more than 85 percent of the population statewide is now within a 30-mile radius of a DMV office with extended hours, and more than 30,000 people have been served during Saturday hours.
DMV also piloted several other customer service improvements, including a customer greeter to help triage needs, kiosks and free Wi-Fi. So far, these improvements are making a measurable difference, with the average wait time at two of the state’s busiest driver license offices, Cary and North Raleigh, cut nearly in half.
“North Carolina’s DMV offices are retail operations, and we’ve got to treat them as such and put the customer first in everything we do,” Tata said. “We’ve spent the past year studying the operations of other state DMVs, as well as various retailers, to get an idea of what works and what doesn’t and figure out what we can implement here in North Carolina to improve the customer experience. These measures are also important to our agency in terms of increasing efficiency and potentially cutting costs. It’s a win-win.”
NCDOT is also improving customer service in other aspects of its operations. Last year, the North Carolina Turnpike Authority made it easier for customers who travel through multiple states to utilize toll roads by securing interoperability between NC Quick Pass®, North Carolina’s electronic toll transponder, and both E-Z Pass® and Florida’s SunPass®. North Carolina is the first state to implement interoperability agreements with these two systems, allowing customers to use their prepaid NC Quick Pass® electronic toll collection accounts in a total of 16 states.
Beyond the implementation of new technology, NCDOT employees are always working hard, often around-the clock, to make sure that North Carolina’s transportation system is running smoothly and people are staying connected.
“There are so many factors beyond our control—the weather, traffic accidents, the wear and tear that results from the demands of a rapidly growing population on an aging infrastructure—you have to be prepared for anything,” Tata said. “Our team is incredibly skilled and willing to go above and beyond the call of duty to do what it takes to serve this state.”
One of the most notable examples of NCDOT’s commitment to this type of service during 2013 was the department-wide efforts following December’s emergency closure of the Bonner Bridge in Dare County, the only highway link between Hatteras Island on North Carolina’s Outer Banks and the mainland.
After engineers discovered nine of the bridge’s 10 pilings had reached scour critical level resulting from severe erosion around the support structure, Secretary Tata and his team made the decision to immediately close the bridge to traffic. The Ferry Division set up emergency ferry service that same day from Rodanthe to Stumpy Point. NCDOT worked with Gov. McCrory to secure an emergency declaration and expedite a contract to make repairs to the support pilings. NCDOT contracted a dredge already stationed in Oregon Inlet to pump sand around the bridge pilings to further fortify the structure. The dredging allowed crews to reopen the bridge on Dec. 15, but repair work continues to help prolong its life while NCDOT awaits the resolution of legal proceedings that prevent it from replacing the bridge.
Leveraging North Carolina’s Infrastructure
The centerpiece of NCDOT’s efforts to leverage the state’s infrastructure to support jobs and economic development was the passage of the Strategic Transportation Investments law (House Bill 817). The law establishes the new Strategic Mobility Formula, which uses a data-driven approach to provide more efficiency in funding transportation improvements on the statewide, regional and division levels with the goal of meeting the state’s top priorities while still addressing individualized local needs. By maximizing the state’s available resources, the formula will also allow the department to complete more projects and support more jobs, achieving the ultimate goal of lowering unemployment and putting North Carolinians back to work.
“This landmark legislation is essential to our continued ability to meet the changing needs of a rapidly growing state,” Tata said. “The previous funding formula, the Equity Formula, was implemented in 1989 when our state had very different demands on its infrastructure, and it did not allow us to strategically align our transportation investments with the overall direction of our state.
“This new formula supports our efforts to think beyond division borders to determine the improvements that will be of greatest benefit on a regional and statewide level. Its data–driven process helps eliminate political decision making, while its emphasis on local input at the regional and division levels helps ensure that our communities still play an active role in establishing our priorities.”
Since this new legislation was enacted, NCDOT has focused on educating everyone involved with implementing the new formula, including the engineers who oversee its 14 transportation divisions across the state, as well as the regional Metropolitan and Rural Planning Organizations, who are tasked with submitting projects under the new process and assigning local input points to those projects. Public outreach has also played a major role, and residents will continue to have opportunities to provide comments as the department moves forward with implementation.
Another major component of fully leveraging the state’s infrastructure is maximizing the potential of assets like the State Ports in Wilmington and Morehead City and the Global TransPark in Kinston to complement the state’s other transportation efforts, support business and commerce needs, and position North Carolina for future economic growth. These efforts include moving forward with three public-private partnerships at the state’s ports that will enable North Carolina to better meet the needs of its key industries by creating a cold storage facility at the Port of Wilmington and wood pellet storage facilities at both ports.
“In less than a year, we’ve established three multi-million dollar port deals that will bring hundreds of jobs and large investments to our state,” Tata said. “These public-private partnerships are a prime example of the work we’re doing across the state to make the best use of our existing resources and take full advantages of the opportunities they offer to make our state more competitive and responsive to the needs of business and industry. We want to do everything we can to encourage future economic growth and create jobs for North Carolinians.”
Along with these efforts, Statewide Logistics Director Rudy Lupton is leading the department’s efforts to reposition the Global TransPark to better meet some of the state’s vital needs and attract new businesses in 2014.
NCDOT is also making strategic investments in all its transportation modes to create new opportunities for North Carolina. Of particular note are the gains made in train ridership and revenue over the past year. According to Amtrak’s 2013 federal fiscal year report, the state-supported Piedmont and Carolinian trains continue to be among the most rapidly growing in the Amtrak system. Ridership on the Piedmont service increased by 4.7 percent to 170,266, and revenue increased 8.1 percent to more than $3.3 million. Similarly, ridership on the Carolinian increased by 3.6 percent to 317,550, and revenue increased by 6.4 percent to more than $19.8 million during that same period. This is the fourth consecutive year of positive growth for both routes.
“We’re proud of the progress that has been made in all our transportation modes, and we will continue to make investments that better connect our people to jobs, healthcare, education and other opportunities,” Tata said. “Our entire system needs to be aligned to achieve these goals and promote the overall well-being of North Carolina.”
Efforts to improve customer service and maximize existing resources also fold into the department’s third focus area of increasing efficiency in all its operations.
Alternative financing such as tolls, Grant Anticipation Revenue Vehicles (GARVEE Bonds), and public-private partnerships, as well as alternative delivery methods such as design-build and design-build finance that allow the state to complete projects more efficiently, also continue to play a large role in stretching limited dollars.
For example, Grant Anticipation Revenue Vehicles, or GARVEE bonds, allow NCDOT to borrow against future federal funding to pay for improvements of statewide significance, helping complete projects sooner and reducing inflated-related costs. To date, the department has realized net inflation-related savings of $540 million. Similarly, under the design-build method, a single team is responsible for the simultaneous design and construction of a project, which not only expedites completion time, but often results in cost savings due to project innovations and avoidance of inflation-related costs. Low bids received on design-build projects to date are about 8.7 percent below NCDOT’s total estimates, and innovations have cut an average of three to six years off project completion times.
“North Carolina is expected to add 1.3 million people over the next decade, and at the same time, we anticipate that the effectiveness of our transportation revenues will decline by about $1.7 billion,” Tata said. “This infrastructure gap necessitates that we not only use what we’ve got as efficiently as possible, but also that we identify additional money for transportation improvements that will help us address our state’s growing needs. It’s a significant problem with no easy solution.”
Goals for 2014
In the year ahead, Tata has laid out four major goals that build on the department’s success in these focus areas and move forward with additional efforts to further improve operations:
· Strategic Transportation Investments (STI) law implementation—new projects can be submitted from mid-January to mid-February to compete under the Strategic Mobility Formula. During this time, the MPOs/RPOs and division engineers will reach out to stakeholders in their areas for feedback. Local input points will then be assigned May through July, and separate public outreach opportunities will be held during this step, as well. The new formula will take effect July 1, 2015.
· Development of “Moving People and Moving Products”—this 25-year vision for mapping North Carolina’s future builds off the framework established by STI and will help the state continue to fully leverage its transportation infrastructure investments to grow the state’s economy.
· Additional revenue for transportation—with STI helping make more efficient use of existing resources, the focus will now turn to identifying new revenue sources for transportation funding. Collaboration among all transportation stakeholders will be necessary to devise feasible solutions.
· Continued DMV reform—introducing additional technology and business practice changes, as well as proposed legislative changes, to allow further improvements to customer service.
“We’ve worked hard over this past year to lay the groundwork for an efficient and effective transportation system that supports the larger goals of our state,” Tata said. “Now, we’re ready to take this success to the next level and provide North Carolina with even better service, resulting in improved mobility, better connectivity, and ultimately, more opportunities and an improved quality of life. We want to capitalize on all our state has to offer and use it to benefit communities throughout North Carolina.”
More information regarding NCDOT’s recent performance and achievements is included in the department’s 2013 Annual Performance Report.
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