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Missouri's Road Director Wins Two Prestigious Awards

Shirley Ybarra
February 1, 2010, 11:44am

The Director of Transportation in Missouri  Pete Rahn has recently won two prestigious awards and rightly so. 

He won the Governing Magazine “public official of the year”and the Lester Lamm Award from the Road Gang at their annual lunch duting the Transportation Research Board meeting in Washington DC in January.  Pete deserves both awards for his forward thinking on how to do more with the money coming in to the highway department….in other words, how to get more bang for the bucks.

Pete has been changing the way Missouri does it roads business since the day he arrived from New Mexico Department of Transportation   (where he did the first road warranty project in US. I first met him then when I was Secretary in Virginia)

In his speech to the Road Gang (worth viewing see link below)  Pete"s focus is on thinking about the system rather than doing the “perfect project” which most highway departments find themselves doing….to great expense.   A good example he gives is replacing a bridge with a “project” that is over-designed and frankly a waste of money.   (Too wide, too many lanes, too long etc)   The  department re-thought the project and found a solution that delivered the same (or better) benefits without overbuilding the project and wasting money.

This forward thinking concept is called “practical design” and  he wants his folks to  think about the highway system performance   This concept does not always sit well with the designers and engineers since their inclination is to design and build the “perfect” project, which often is larger and often overdone.

This concept has not been to the detriment of the roads in Missouri.  Road conditions in the Show Me State have been steadily improving since 2004 when only 47 percent of highways were in good condition.  According to new figures released by the Missouri Department of Transportation (MoDOT) , 86 percent of the state's busiest roads are now in good condition.  Rahn admits that making such a transformative change can be "incredibly difficult" for a state DOT, but he said, "In today's tough economy, practical design is helping MoDOT to do more with less. We're building the right projects, on budget and on time, that are creating maximum benefits for the people of Missouri."

The video (with slides) of his speech to the Road Gang is here.  It is a thoughtful presentation that every state highway official should watch as well as those of us who  hold highway departments accountable.

We can get more "bang for the bucks" from both the the state transportation departments as well as the federal government if we all pay attention to innovative suggestions such as practical design


Shirley Ybarra is Senior Transportation Policy Analyst


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