A blog for better streets and public spaces in Portland, Maine.

Sunday, January 27, 2008

Hidebound Departments of Transportation

This editorial from today's New York Times is ostensibly talking about Connecticut, but the subtext to Mainers should be obvious:

With the state’s highways inching ever closer to gridlock in recent years, a major project was undertaken to install a new drainage system and widen Interstate 84, which enters Connecticut from upstate New York and winds through Danbury, Waterbury and Hartford. It made traffic a nightmare, but commuters looked forward to clear roadways when it was done.

Well, not quite. It turns out that the state Department of Transportation, a notoriously hidebound agency, had arranged for contractors to both build and inspect the system. Surprise! When everything was finished, virtually every detail was constructed wrong... The state is suing, the F.B.I. is investigating, and Gov. M. Jodi Rell called for a top-to-bottom study last year of how the D.O.T. conducts business.

Preliminary results of the study are in, and they are not pretty. The department, decimated by early retirements several years ago, has a management model based on the Soviet Union’s. It takes as long as seven months to hire a low-level clerk. Any attempt to innovate, or even attend a meeting on innovation, requires the permission of so many higher-ups that few employees bother. Information on the agency Web page is years out of date. The department lets itself be pushed around by little towns that fight change and dole out commuter parking permits like country club memberships.

The good news? Ms. Rell is searching for someone to head the agency, and we encourage her to be bold so the transportation apparatchiks learn revolutionary thinking. Maybe Mikhail Gorbachev is available.

A hidebound DOT? I don't know what's more surprising, the fact that the Times considers this news, or the fact that they singled out Connecticut instead of Maine.

Speaking of which, you can read the latest repulsively stale widening proposal from Maine's DOT on the agency's I-295 corridor study website, which, like Connecticut's, contains "information" that is mostly two to three years old. But not without its arch humor: "Your opinion and feedback is [sic] important to us," they tell us. Rim shot!

But seriously, folks. We all have a chance to meet these jokers live and in person this Wednesday, 7 pm, at City Hall. If you'd like to spend $100 million (an amount equivalent to the state's entire budget shortfall this year) on a six-lane, New Jersey-scaled freeway running through the middle of Portland, here's your chance to congratulate MDOT on a job well done.

And if you think that this might not be the greatest idea, here's a rare chance to hold some Augusta bureaucrats accountable.

If you have a strong stomach, you can take a look at MDOT's recommendations for I-295 here. Just try not to think too much about how much time and money our "public servants" in Augusta wasted on this pile.

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