As Gov. Kathleen Blanco’s DOTD secretary, I have read with interest recent articles that suggest our transportation system would be in better shape if we changed DOTD’s governance model to a commission form, like Mississippi. Theoretically, this proposes to remove politics from transportation decisions and could stretch our tax dollars further, thus improving our roads and bridges. I respectfully disagree with this theory for two reasons.
First, DOTD has undergone significant improvement in the past 14 years, starting with my predecessor’s success in implementing the nonpolitical highway priority program. When I took over as secretary in 2004, many talented and dedicated individuals (including the governor and Legislature) helped me to execute a comprehensive change management effort to make the department more accountable and efficient.
Through that system, DOTD’s organization was reduced considerably, while re-engineering its processes and reprioritizing its work, all with the goal of maximizing the investment of taxpayer dollars. Through subsequent years and up to today, DOTD has built on these improvements and is making the most of its resources.
To prove the point, the current DOTD leadership has institutionalized the process improvement process and maintained the integrity of the priority program. Through good times and bad times and across several administrations, DOTD is a better department today.
While we can all agree that there is always room for improvement and there should always be efforts in place to right size and stay focused on continuous improvement, the last thing Louisiana needs now is to have a leader or state executive who will invest an inordinate amount of time and resources into changing processes or organizations that already are improved.
The second reason I disagree with a new governance model is that it obscures the real problem — lack of money. We all know that transportation investment drives the economy and improves our quality of life.
A good transportation infrastructure means jobs, mobility and additional investment in our economy and in our communities. Unfortunately, we have not made the necessary investments to properly maintain, much less grow, our infrastructure. We are trying to meet today’s needs with a funding allocation developed a quarter of a century ago. That’s like trying to buy groceries today for what they cost in 1990. It simply doesn’t/can’t work.
DOTD has placed itself in a position to effectively meet its mission. Now, it is time for Louisiana to make the financial investments we all deserve to make a positive difference for its citizens, businesses and industries. Our future depends on it.
former secretary, Louisiana Department of Transportation and Development