Richland County will take over management of the Transportation Penny Program November 4, a move that ends five years of private management by the Program Development Team (PDT) and brings operations in-house to save money and improve oversight.
Following is a Q&A with Richland County Transportation Director Michael Niermeier on the transition of Transportation Penny Program:
Q: Why is the county moving the management of the program in-house to be overseen by the Transportation Department?
A: The intent of moving the program from a private contractor to county staff is to reduce management costs over time and use those savings for projects. The staff is ready and will be working diligently to show residents we can be counted on to deliver quality management and oversight of the transportation program.
Q: What does the county’s management role entail and how will it differ from the contractor’s?
A: All the roles and functions of the program now will be managed from within the county. All project management roles currently performed by the PDT engineers and project managers will now be the role of the Transportation Department’s engineers and project managers. The actual construction and design work will continue to be contracted, but the county now will manage those construction and design contracts. Additionally, the county has four inspectors who will perform inspection and compliance work for various transportation projects.
Q: What steps has the county taken to prepare for this new management role?
A: The county has hired people to assume both the project management and inspection roles. We held weekly transition meetings with the PDT, performed a deep-dive in those roles and functions so we can better understand all of the intricacies involved, and held a series of meetings between other county departments that will assume some of the functional responsibilities of the PDT. In addition, we’re close to concluding contract actions related to other service providers to cover services previously done by the PDT.
Q: How many employees were hired for the transition and what roles will they have?
A: The county hired three new project manager/engineers to manage all aspects of the transportation and pedestrian improvement projects and design contracts. We still have an opening for one more engineer. The assistant director, who also is an engineer, provides oversight of the project managers, offers technical expertise and performs other program functions. Additionally, four road inspectors were hired to provide surveillance, compliance and quality assurance to the various construction projects. They work daily on the construction sites performing these functions and closely coordinate with the project managers on these matters. They are the eyes and the ears of the program. With the new hires, the department now has 14 employees.
Q: How will this transition benefit taxpayers?
A: The benefits are three-fold. There will be better accountability, transparency and cost savings. Through the duration of the program, we will see a percentage savings on each project as the current professional services fees assessed to each project will no longer exist. Additionally, as we assume full ownership of the program, we can focus on identifying process efficiencies that could save time and money. Finally, we will have the ability to perform some design work on smaller projects that otherwise might be contracted out, which also will save the county money.
Q: Will the transition impact the order or number of projects completed?
A: Will there be any impact on projects that currently are underway? Construction is a complex business that always involves unknowns and factors beyond anyone’s control. While we do not anticipate any impact to the number of projects to be completed or to those currently underway, we must remain ready to adapt to any unforeseen circumstances that may arise. The order of the projects is determined by how they were prioritized, planned and budgeted. If circumstances arise that warrant starting a project sooner or deferring it to later, we will provide the reasoning to all stakeholders and proceed with the new direction.
Q: Where can residents find information on projects in their area and what number should they call if they have questions about projects?
A: Information is available on the county’s website at richlandcountysc.gov. Just navigate to the Transportation Department page. Another resource available to the residents is the Transportation Penny Advisory Committee, which meets the fourth Monday of the month. Also, if residents have any questions or concerns about projects, they can call the Transportation Department at 803-766-5605.