On Monday, Ferbruary 20, 2012, the Civic League for New Castle County will host Delaware Trasportation Secretary Shailen Bhatt for a presentation on his plans for DelDOT moving forward. After today's front page News Journal report, this should be a rather informative event.
Secretary Bhatt will speak from 7-8 PM.
Thereafter we will hear a presentation from the Red Clay School District committee on their referendum plans in the near future.
This meeting will start at 6:45 PM, in the Paris Community Room, Delaware State Police Troop 2, 100 LaGrange Ave, Bear.
The public is urged to attend.
Prepared by Chuck Mulholland
President, Civic League for New Castle County
The state of DelDOT: Looking back on seven months
Written by SHAILEN P. BHATT
Feb. 5, 2012
When I was appointed Delaware's ninth Secretary of Transportation in July, Gov. Jack Markell directed me to take a close look at how DelDOT operates. As a former executive with the Federal Highway Administration, I was asked to examine the Department with "outsider's eyes," and to bring a fresh perspective on how to make DelDOT a world-class transportation agency.
I can report that although DelDOT still faces significant challenges, much of what I found is positive. Our road network is also in good shape, with 89 percent of our pavements in fair or better condition and 94 percent of our non-interstate bridges in fair or better condition statewide. On our interstates, 100 percent of our bridges are in fair or better condition. Our transit and DMV services are well-regarded nationally for delivering services efficiently and safely. And I am especially proud of DelDOT's ability to mobilize in the face of emergencies, exemplified by the dedicated way our team responded to Hurricane Irene.
In transportation construction, DelDOT continues to deliver major new projects, including the new highway-speed toll lanes on I-95 last summer and the new Indian River Inlet Bridge. Major work is under way on the heavily traveled Del.1/I-95 interchange and the U.S. 202/I-95 interchange.
Over the past seven months, we have also been working to create a culture change within the department. This new culture is embodied by the acronym "TEAM DELDOT" -- meaning that we want to create a department that is transparent, efficient and accountable, and that measures results. With the help of our new senior management team and our many dedicated employees, we are making great progress.
That said, DelDOT still faces several challenges. On the budgeting side, instead of "business as usual," we began a new approach, which we unveiled with Gov. Markell and OMB Director Ann Visalli two weeks ago. In years past, the size of DelDOT's capital program was often based on how much we could borrow, not what we could actually spend. This resulted in increased debt service, as well as projects being authorized but not built. Although DelDOT's debt is well-structured (with 60 cents of every dollar going toward principal), 36 percent of our proposed fiscal year 2013 budget is for debt service. DelDOT did not borrow this year, saving $10 million in debt service, and we need to continue to reduce this percentage over the next few years.
This year, we have proposed a $180 million capital program. This program is robust, in that it will create jobs while meeting Delaware's growing transportation needs. It is realistic, in that is in line with what DelDOT has been able to spend over the last five years. And it is responsible, in that it minimizes borrowing costs.
How can we maintain a robust, realistic and responsible budget in future years? First, we will determine the cost of maintaining our existing infrastructure in a state of good repair. Second, the remaining funds will be used to create the capital program. Third, because a responsible budget distinguishes between needs and wants, DelDOT is engaging in a top-to-bottom review of authorized projects to determine which projects should proceed and which projects can wait.Budgeting aside, other challenges remain. We must do better in the permitting process for new projects. Turnaround time and the precision with which we review plans needs to improve, so those who want to invest in job-creating projects can move forward with increased efficiency and certainty.In addition, despite recent improvements, we still must do better with real estate transactions. I remain deeply concerned about the agency's recordkeeping and its ability to process complex transactions. Safeguarding the interests of taxpayers must be paramount. For this reason, we will be expanding on reforms that began just prior to my arrival in records management, appraisals and legal review.Because financial accountability is a key to establishing and keeping public trust, I am completing my search for a new director of finance who will apply stricter accounting controls, which should result in lower costs and enhanced revenues.We will be working hard in coming months to deliver the projects and services the state needs and can afford. We will also be putting in place management practices that ensure greater transparency, efficiency and accountability. And we will be measuring our performance and sharing it publicly. As we do this, Delawareans can expect to hear of difficulties and challenges within DelDOT. We will find problems and fix them. This is what reform is about.Our goal is a world-class transportation agency that the public and our employees at Team DelDOT can take justifiable pride in. My pledge as Delaware Transportation Secretary is to hold DelDOT fiscally, materially and managerially accountable to a standard that gives Delawareans confidence in us.
Shailen P. Bhatt is Delaware's Secretary of Transportation.