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The agency is working to improve the way it tracks projects being funded by a statewide transportation package

PAMPLIN MEDIA GROUP: FILE PHOTO - The Oregon Department of Transportation is gearing up to increase transparency and improve reporting related to projects that will be paid for with a $5.3 billion transporation package approved by state legislators in 2017.David Kim has been with the Oregon Department of Transportation for 14 years, but he recently found himself tapped to fill a new role at the agency.

The position of statewide project delivery manager, Kim's new title, was created by ODOT in response to what is expected to be a flood of transportation projects resulting from House Bill 2017. Passed by the Oregon Legislature during its session last year, HB2017 is designed to provide as much as $5.3 billion for projects to improve safety, maintain existing infrastructure and ease congestion. The money will come from a variety of sources, including a ten-cent-per-gallon gas tax increase scheduled to be phased in over six years.

Before a single mile of roadway is paved or a shovel of dirt is overturned, though, Kim and ODOT have a lot of work to do to prepare to award contracts.

Efforts to outsource

Transportation contracts usually fall into two categories: those related to architecture and engineering services, and those connected with the actual construction of projects.

Prior to the passage of HB2017, ODOT was handling between 50 percent and 70 percent of architecture and engineering design work for projects. By 2024, however, the agency expects to tackle only about 30 percent of that work in-house and outsource the remainder to outside firms.

COURTESY: ODOT - David Kim"By 2024, if all of the gas tax increases take place, (ODOT) will be primarily a sourcing agency," Kim said.

That will leave the agency's staff free to do more reviewing of work to make sure it's meeting new quality standards that were set in place by legislators when they passed HB2017.

A section of HB2017, for example, placed 11 reporting requirements on ODOT that require greater accountability and transparency. The agency must complete two Interstate 205 projects — the addition of an auxiliary lane and the installation of an active traffic management system — by specified dates in order for all of the gas tax incremental increases to go into effect. In addition, ODOT is expected to maintain a tracking website for all of its projects as well as information pages that detail scopes, timelines and progress.

The agency also is changing the way it communicates with design and engineering consultants at the front end of projects. Project forecasts will now be provided to give firms advance notice about what's coming online so that consultants have enough time to build the strongest design and engineering teams possible.

Hampered hiring

Requirements in the transportation bill won't be the only factors ODOT will consider as it prepares to send projects out for bid.

"We've heard from contractors that there are challenges with workforce," Kim said. "There's more work out there than capacity, both in the design realm and the construction realm. Rather than throwing all the work out at once, we're looking for a continuous stream to maintain a flow of work. We're trying to balance it out."

ODOT understands the pinch that engineering and construction firms are feeling when it comes to finding good talent. With so many projects planned for the future, the agency is going to need to ramp up its in-house staff, and

HB2017 includes money for the agency to do so. But increasing employee numbers is already proving to be difficult, Kim said.

In addition to supporting state projects, the transportation package is providing money for cities and counties in Oregon to tackle their own transportation projects. That means ODOT will have competition when it comes to attracting talent. However, in Kim's opinion, working at the state level offers an opportunity that might not be found at a city or county level.

"One advantage for working for a state (department of transportation) there's a lot of opportunity to own a project," he said.

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