The Business Case for CSD/CSS

Agencies that have institutionalized CSD/CSS confirm that real, measurable benefits accrue to the agency and ultimately the taxpayers and constituents of their states.

The Business Case for CSD/CSS

Business organizations, whether they are public or private, for-profit or non-profit, make changes for reasons. The reasons can be to survive in a changing business climate, or to improve their standing and grow. In the case of transportation agencies, the compelling reasons for embracing CSD/CSS may vary depending on how well (or poorly) they are performing their jobs as measured by the following:

* Customer satisfaction (the traveling public, business community, state, and local elected officials)
* Productivity or value produced (number of projects completed, constructed dollar value of projects, fatalities and injuries reduced, number of person trips served on the system, surveys of conditions of the assets of the system components)
* Cost of doing business (total agency costs to deliver all services)

In discussions and interviews with senior and middle management of DOTs, there is a common concern about the organizational implications of CSD/CSS. "CSD sounds expensive" is a theme often heard when discussing how an organization might need to change. A variation of that at the project level is "all that stakeholder and environmental stuff makes sense for complex projects, but we can't afford (or don't need) to do that on the routine projects." This latter point is usually driven home by noting that the current business climate for state DOTs forces them to do more with a smaller and in many cases less experienced work force.
Agencies that have institutionalized CSD/CSS confirm that real, measurable benefits accrue to the agency and ultimately the taxpayers and constituents of their states. The benefits can be broadly categorized as reducing agency costs of doing business, as delivering projects on schedule (avoiding delays or project halts that were previously common), and as improving the relationship with their customers.

"If we could do everywhere what we did here, we would waste fewer resources."
Jim Byrnes, Commissioner, Connecticut DOT

Many of the presentations highlighted in the national CSD/CSS conferences feature projects that had been stalled for years (Paris Pike in Kentucky is a notable example). On a lesser scale, every agency has their list of projects that have not been completed, or have been started and stopped multiple times, for any number of reasons. Each such project represents a drain on the staff time and other resources of the DOT. In some notable cases, the cost of planning and environmental studies and re-studies ends up exceeding the construction cost of the project! To the extent that business as usual can be expected to result in a continuation of such project failures, not addressing the underlying reasons (which are invariably related to one or more aspects of CSD/CSS) will result in continued inefficiencies.

Efficiencies and savings are also evident in the development of processes established by context-sensitive organizations. For example, the Minnesota DOT investment in MnModel, a GIS-based tool to help predict or identify potential archaeological sites, has saved millions of dollars by enabling Mn/DOT to find alternatives that avoid conflicts in alignment location studies. This is a considerably less expensive proposition than paying to recover or mitigate sites. As one planner from Minnesota put it in expressing their desire to avoid Native American burial grounds, "We're not in the archaeology business!" Another example is the practice of Maryland of negotiating landscape maintenance agreements at the project outset with local units of government, thus avoiding unnecessary investment in expensive planting treatments if the local government is unwilling or unable to maintain them.

Another cost of delays that may not be counted by an agency, but that is surely felt by the state or region in which it works, is the loss of value associated with a project not delivered on time (or at all). Every project is intended to address one or more problems, whether they are related to mobility (hours of delay), safety (lives lost, injuries suffered), or economic development (jobs created, property values enhanced). When investment in a transportation project is halted or delayed, the stream of benefits that completion would have produced is lost forever. This can have tragic consequences in the case of a known substantive safety problem that is left unaddressed for years while stakeholder conflicts are resolved. Final resolution, even involving a highly effective solution, may never recover the lost lives or injuries that were incurred during the years of delays.
Longer term benefits to the entire organization are clearly evident as CSD/CSS is implemented, as projects are completed that are sources of pride, and as stakeholders perceive a positive change in their relationship with the DOT. Pilot state project-level as well as senior management staff observe that, once they "prove themselves" to their customers, projects that follow become less contentious (or at least, the tone and working relationships are better). The benefit of a customer base that is supportive takes many forms. The management of all pilot states assert that DOT staff morale improves as working relationships improve, and as the agency develops a sense of pride in being stewards of CSD/CSS. Local governmental leaders become more supportive, are less inclined to reject proposals out of hand, and are more open to working on issues following a positive experience with the agency.

"Context sensitive design is personal."
Connecticut DOT engineer

Regarding the issue of "we can't afford to do this all the time," it would seem that being customer focused is not something one can choose to do or not do depending on the project. Thus, the view that "we can't do this all the time" to an extent misses the point and misunderstands what CSD/CSS is all about. It may be true that an agency can't afford a $200,000 public involvement campaign on every project, but it is also true that one can't afford to not make an effort to identify and address community values and stakeholder concerns. As was noted earlier in Section D, an effective "context sensitive" public involvement plan is one that is tailored to the project and stakeholders in form, substance and resources.

As a final note, the marginal costs of CSD/CSS, once institutionalized, may significantly decrease and in fact disappear. Staff well trained in how to manage such projects and who use the proper resources and perform CSD/CSS as a matter of routine will be more productive. They and the agency as a whole will not view the effort as extra work but rather as business as usual. As one engineer from a pilot state put it, "These concepts (CSD/CSS) are logical and common sense."

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