The Local Government Point of Contact: Who are they?

In this blog I have tried to explain the dance required to make use of the State and Federal funding available through the Tennessee Department of Transportation (TDOT). Everyone has their own moves in this dance to get the project to happen: the public, the local government, the TDOT pre-qualified engineering consultant group, and TDOT.

I have posted a couple of blogs about the role of the local government, but I don’t think I have talked about the specific people who fill this role. There are the usual suspects who actually get the work done at the local government level: the mayor, county executive, city administrator, city recorder, public works director, highway superintendent, grants administrator, highway commissioner, or City engineer. It is usually a mix of several of these groups involved with managing a local programs project, but there may be other key people like secretaries and administrative people who are deeply involved.

There can be so many people involved with a project at the local government level that a breakdown of communication on who is responsible for what can happen. To help clear things up here are a few ideas to keep in mind.

Project Manager There needs to be at least one person in the local government who is the “go to” person who is responsible for the project and keeping things moving along. If it is everyone’s responsibility, then it is no ones responsibility. Now this project manager does not need to be the mayor, a city planner, or an engineer. They can be the secretary, and more often than not that is who ends up in this role anyway. By having one person who is clearly in  “Project Manager” role it makes accountability for everyone much easier.

The Project Manager needs to know what step the project is in now, how long that will take, and what the next steps are, and how long those steps will take. They also need to know about the financial payments, and reimbursements from TDOT. They don’t need to be the ones actually submitting them, but they do need to be aware of them.

Hint: This person should be fairly organized, and good at communicating what is going and on why. If they get sick it is nice if there is someone else who is somewhat trained and understands what is going on enough to be the “second in command”. 

Part I of a Project: Project Selection This is the part where the mayors, city engineering staff, public works directors, or other “chiefs” come into play. This is where the executive decision makers come up with the scope of the project, and decide what will happen. Done right this can make the whole project much easier all the way through. Done without the right information and guidance and this process can become a nightmare for everyone.

Part II of a Project: Project Implementation This is the part of the project that is not as “sexy”. This is where the real work happens. This is where you need really need a Project Manager who is getting the contract from TDOT, selecting and managing the consultants, and making sure that everyone is clear on what they should be doing and is actually doing it. You need to know what the project timeline is, and keep up with where things stand now.

For a typical TDOT Local Programs project there may be weeks that go by where there is nothing to do. Waiting for approvals, permits, or submissions that are being reviewed are common. I think that it is a good idea to have someone at least once a week who reviews where things stand and follows up with their consultant or TDOT to make sure things are still on track.

The reason I am writing about this is because I have seen several projects just sit, with no work being done because of breakdown in communications.

  1. The City and consultants may think they are waiting on something from TDOT, where TDOT thinks that they are waiting for something from the City or the consultants.
  2. The people at the executive level of the local government have completed “Part I: Project Selection” and dumped it off to untrained staff who were not involved on the front end and don’t know where to start.

There are several other ways that a project can be held up unnecessarily. Most of these breakdowns in communication can be solved with a Project Manager in the local government. Yes, there are times where TDOT should follow up on some things. The reality is that TDOT has too few staff to do the follow up. Yes, the consultant groups should be following up too.  I like to think that for the most part the engineering consultant community does stay on top of their projects (I try to stay on top of mine). However, the bottom line is that at the end of the day it is the responsibility of the local government to manage their projects.


About arran375

I work for Askew, Hargraves, Harcourt and Associates, Inc. here in Nashville, Tennessee. The short version of what I do is that we help local governments spend the Federal funds they get from TDOT on road, and bridge projects.
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