Posts Tagged ‘NDOT’

State Transportation Director Terminates $280K Contract After Concerns Raised About Cost

By Sean Whaley | 4:25 pm December 7th, 2011

CARSON CITY – A 22-month, $280,000 contract with a private sector individual to work as a liaison between the Department of Transportation and contractors seeking work with the agency has been terminated by Director Susan Martinovich.

Susan Martinovich, director of the Nevada Department of Transportation. / Nevada News Bureau file photo.

Instead, the department will look to its own staff to help in the goal of assisting contractors who want to bid on NDOT projects through the sometimes complex bureaucratic process, said agency spokesman Scott Magruder.

“At this point we have terminated the agreement and will not be bringing this forward to the board meeting next Monday,” he said. “And in order to help facilitate some of the new contractors through the system, we’re looking at maybe using some of the in-house people in our construction and records and management that maybe could help out on this effort.”

The decision to terminate the contract came after Martinovich met today with Gov. Brian Sandoval.

The contract with William “Buzz” Harris to serve as an ombudsman between the agency and bidders on contracts was approved in September by NDOT staff but was put on hold in November after concerns were raised by Sandoval and other members of the NDOT Board of Directors.

The contract was set for further discussion at the NDOT board meeting on Monday, but instead was terminated by Martinovich.

Harris is a former assistant executive director at the Nevada Associated General Contractors and was awarded the contract after a competitive review process.

Magruder said the word ombudsman was a misnomer. The idea was not to resolve complaints but to assist contractors with the process, he said.

“Again we still feel that when a new contractor calls the department, they don’t just get shuffled around,” he said. “It’s kind of nice to have it all in one place that they could go, as we said, a facilitator, that could really help them through the process. Because there’s a lot of, I hate to use the word red tape, but that’s exactly what it is.”

Magruder said the department wants to make the process as friendly and open as possible. The more contractors bidding on a project, the better the price for the taxpayer, he said.

Sandoval said at the November meeting that the potential contract cost is well in excess of what even he earns as governor.

The $280,000 was the maximum of the contract based on a $100 hourly rate that would have covered Harris’ expenses as well.

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Audio clips:

NDOT spokesman Scott Magruder says the contract has been terminated:

120711Magruder1 :07 meeting next Monday.”

Magruder says the agency will try to use in-house staff to assist contractors:

120711Magruder2 :13 on this effort.”

Magruder says NDOT wants to make it easy for contractors to deal with the agency:

120711Magruder3 :19 what it is.”

 

 

$280,000 NDOT Contract Put On Hold After Concerns Raised By Gov. Sandoval, Transportation Board Members

By Sean Whaley | 2:34 pm November 14th, 2011

CARSON CITY – A 23-month, $280,000 contract approved by the Nevada Department of Transportation for a private sector individual to work as a liaison between the agency and contractors seeking work has been put on hold because of concerns expressed by Gov. Brian Sandoval and other members of the NDOT Board of Directors.

The contract with William “Buzz” Harris to serve as an ombudsman between the agency and bidders on contracts was approved by the agency in September, but NDOT Director Susan Martinovich said it will be put on hold while concerns raised today at the board meeting are resolved.

The board was told the $280,000 is the amount that can be spent on the services provided by Harris from August through June 2013, but is not guaranteed. Harris, who was selected after a request for proposals was issued by the agency, would be paid $100 an hour under the contract, which would include most of his expenses.

Courtesy of NDOT.

But Sandoval, who serves as chairman of the NDOT Board of Directors, noted the potential contract cost is well in excess of what even he earns as governor.

Other members of the board also raised questions about the contract, including Lt. Gov. Brian Krolicki, who said such positions are usually filled internally by an agency rather that bringing in someone from the outside.

Attorney General Catherine Cortez Masto, also a member of the board, asked for information about who submitted proposals for the contract.

“My understanding is historically and traditionally an ombudsman position is contained within the respective department, and that person would have an encyclopedic knowledge of the operation,” Sandoval said. “With an external ombudsman, that person will in turn have to get a hold of somebody who is within the office to perhaps respond to those questions.”

There are a lot of unanswered questions that need to be answered in regard to the contract, including the cost, he said.

Harris is a former assistant executive director at the Nevada Associated General Contractors.

Assistant Transportation Director Richard Nelson, said the purpose of the contract is to provide a problem solver and facilitator for contractors seeking to do business with the agency. Harris has a good working knowledge of both the contracting business and NDOT, he said.

Reporting on the success of the program to NDOT is part of the contract as well, Nelson said.

“There is a lot of nuance to dealing with the department,” he said. “And a lot of times these new contractors don’t know what questions they should be asking. And we don’t want to see any contractor go under because they get balled up in the bureaucracy.”

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Audio clips:

Gov. Brian Sandoval says he has concerns with the nature of the contract in addition to the cost:

111411Sandoval :23 to those questions.”

Assistant Transportation Director Richard Nelson, said the purpose of the contract is to provide a problem solver and facilitator for contractors:

111411Nelson :18 should be asking.”

 

 

Lawmakers, State Agencies Argue Over Budget Compliance

By Anne Knowles | 7:04 pm August 31st, 2011

Nevada lawmakers today approved money to cover the costs of the upcoming special election, received an update on the progress of the state’s health care insurance exchange and complained repeatedly that state agencies were thumbing their noses at the legislative process.

Sen. Sheila Leslie, D-Reno, saw passage of her bill regulating the use of leg hold traps./Nevada News Bureau file photo

The Interim Finance Committee approved more than 100 requests for funds from nearly every state agency, but reprimanded a handful who legislators said were not adhering to budgets passed during the last legislative session.

“This is some of the most blatant disregard of legislative intent that I’ve ever seen,” said Sen. Sheila Leslie, D-Reno. “I hope this doesn’t continue this interim. I know these are tough times, but we must follow the law.”

Assemblywoman Debbie Smith, D-Sparks, the committee chair, also voiced concern several times that issues before the committee should have been resolved during the budgeting process.

When about $33,000 was requested to hire a consultant to help the Nevada Department of Transportation track the state’s inventory of vacant lands in compliance with Assembly Bill 404, Smith asked Paul Saucedo, NDOT chief right-of-way agent, why NDOT had not submitted a fiscal note delineating the need for that money with the bill.

Smith then almost tabled a request from the Department of Tourism and Cultural Affairs (DTCA) because it was found that the department is now using a contract worker to do the work of a job eliminated when the budgets were approved by the legislature.

“This is a budget discussion and should have taken place then,” said Smith.

In the end, the DTCA request for $84,616 in federal National Endowment for the Arts money was approved because the agency would miss a deadline to request the federal grant money if the request was pushed to the committee’s next meeting.

“Let’s move it ahead so as not to lose the federal money,” said Assemblyman Pete Goicoechea, R-Eureka. “In the meantime, staff can work with them on this contract employee. We may pay $8,000 for a few months of the employee, but that’s better than losing $84,000.”

The committee was also concerned about a request to transfer about $4.5 million from the budget for the University of Nevada, Reno (UNR) to the University of Nevada School of Medicine budget. The university’s goal was to keep the school of medicine budget cuts to a minimum in order to expand the school’s class sizes from 62 medical students to 100 and expand its nursing class from 98 students to 196, said Mark Johnson, UNR president.

Johnson said higher education had made certain programs a higher priority and was trying to maintain them while eliminating some and making others self supporting.

“We wanted a more fair and equitable approach,” said Sen. Steven Horsford, D-Las Vegas referring to the legislative intent of higher education cuts. “I feel we are going backward by protecting one program at the expense of others.”

Secretary of State Ross Miller / Photo: Nevada News Bureau file photo.

The IFC also approved $539,137 to reimburse counties for costs incurred for the special election in the 2nd congressional district. Secretary of State Ross Miller said counties requested the money since none had budgeted for the special election. He said the money would cover fixed costs and would not be reduced by lower than anticipated turnout.

“This is the minimum amount needed to run it without jeopardizing the integrity of the election,” Miller told the committee.

Miller’s office requested the money from the state’s contingency fund, adding that $6 million the state has in reserve from the federal Help America Vote Act is not intended for special elections.

Lawmakers asked if the some of the money could come from an approximate $340,000 surplus in the Secretary’s office budget. Miller said his office is projecting a deficit, not a surplus and agreed to work with the Legislative Counsel Bureau staff to resolve the discrepancy in the budget projections of his office and the LCB.

The committee also received an update on the Silver State Health Insurance Exchange Nevada is building to meet requirements mandated by the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act enacted by Congress.

The Department of Health and Human Services has received $1 million from the federal government for planning the exchange. HHS spent $320,000 in fiscal year 2011 and is rolling over the remainder into the next fiscal year. The department requested about $2.6 million of a $4 million establishment grant from the federal government to create a new agency and to fund four new positions – an executive director, operational officer, grants manager and executive assistant.

During the 2013 legislative session, the state will need to decide how to fund the exchange once federal support for it ends in 2015, said Michael Willden, HHS director.

Willden also said he was meeting with Gov. Brian Sandoval’s office later in the day about possible appointments to the board that will oversee the exchange.  The board will consist of five members appointed by the governor, one member appointed by the state Senate majority leader, and one member chosen by the Assembly speaker.

The IFC also approved a subcommittee’s recommendations yesterday to cut or delay several building and maintenance projects due to budget constraints.

 

Dial “511″ to Avoid Delays

By Nevada News Bureau Staff | 10:44 am August 12th, 2011

CARSON CITY – Dial 911 for emergencies. Dial 411 for general information. And dial 511 for free road condition reports.

Since its launch, the Nevada Department of Transportation’s 511 Nevada Travel Info system has served more than three million calls for travel information.

Motorists can dial “511” toll-free, 24 hours a day for automated Nevada state road conditions, construction closures, weather information, chain controls and scheduled event road closures. Enhanced, hands-free voice recognition allows voice commands without pushing number selections.

The 511 service debuted in 2006, and by July 2011 had received a cumulative total of 3,001,340 calls. In March 2011 alone, the system received more than 150,000 calls for road information.

The corresponding www.nvroads.com website is also widely used, with approximately 51,000 web visits in April 2011 alone. On the site, drivers can sign up for automatic, free e-mail or text message road alerts for their state road of choice.

Out-of-state callers can dial 1-877-NV-ROADS to receive the same information.

“511 is an invaluable tool for the most up-to-date state road conditions, and we’re pleased that we’ve been able to serve three million calls,” NDOT Director Susan Martinovich explained. “With the summer construction season continuing, the service is ready to provide important road information to even more drivers.”

Development of the system was funded by NDOT’s roadside logo sign program at no taxpayer expense.

Some Say Democrats’ Jobs Bill “Not A Jobs Bill”

By Andrew Doughman | 10:17 am March 7th, 2011

RENO – When the bottom fell out of the construction industry, some lucky ones kept working.

CC Myers, a California company, has benefited from a portion of a $393 million contract to extend Interstate 580 between Reno and Carson City. They are building the 120-foot-tall bridge spanning Galena Creek.

Work there has continued apace as vehicles zooming through the valley below have increasingly carried unemployed Nevadans.

So while Nevada continues to have the nation’s highest unemployment rate, Nevada taxpayers are paying a California company to build a bridge in Nevada.

Assemblywoman Debbie Smith, D-Sparks, wants to change that. She has introduced a bill that Democrats have labeled “Nevada Jobs First,” a jobs bill Democrats wanted to roll out within the first 30 days of the legislative session to prove they were no-nonsense about putting Nevadans back to work.

The bill would make companies bidding on state construction contracts employ at least 50 percent Nevadans and use vehicles and materials from Nevada, ostensibly bolstering the numbers of Nevadans in the ranks at construction sites.

But while CC Myers may be a Californian company, that does not mean they are employing Californians.

The company contends that more than 80 percent of the workers building the Galena Creek bridge are Nevadan.

CC Myers is not the only company employing Nevadans in numbers well above the threshold Smith’s bill sets.

Sundt Construction of Arizona is in the finals months of constructing a $30 million health sciences building at the University of Nevada, Reno

Tim Krump, the project’s manager, said 86 percent of the subcontracted firms working at the construction site are Nevadan and 100 percent of the vehicles used at the site are registered in-state.

The work site at UNR abounds with logos. A Sparks electric company has a trailer just beyond a fence erected by a Minden company. An Incline Glass machine sits idle next to a dumpster from a Sparks company. Even the portable toilets next to the Sundt offices are emblazoned with the logo of a Reno company.

Great numbers of out-of-state companies do not seem to be snatching Nevadan’s taxpayer dollars through state-funded public works projects.

The Nevada Department of Transportation, a major source of the state’s construction work, has awarded just a handful of contracts to out-of-state contractors within the past few years, said Scott Magruder, NDOT spokesman.

He said companies who bid low to secure a contract often have a low profit margin. They cannot afford to bring in many out-of-state workers.

“It is more cost-effective to use local laborers or professionals just because it can be very costly to mobilize equipment and personnel,” Magruder said.

Smith said that she has heard testimony from people who have driven by construction sites where all the vehicles bore license plates from other states.

But Gus Nunez at the Nevada State Public Works board also said that very few projects now go to out-of-state contractors.

He said more out-of-state workers may have come to Nevada during the boom days prior to 2007.

To create the housing bubble, developers had beckoned workers to come to Nevada to build, build, build.

But these days, more than 91,000 construction workers in Nevada are out of work.

At VanWoert Bigotti Architects, Brad VanWoert said he has had to reduce his workforce by 50 percent during the past two years.

His firm has done many public works projects in the past.

These days, the firm does see some competition from out of state. With the industry starving, anybody jumps at a fine-looking contract.

The low-bid environment, though, would force any out-of-state firm to hire Nevadans to save money, he said.

“This is not a big deal,” he said of Smith’s bill. “It’s a nice statement … it is not a jobs bill. For us to design for a job, there has to be a job.”

The problem is, there are not many jobs. Nunez said the state public works board is planing for less than $50 million in new construction projects during the next biennium. That’s down from $810 million during 2007 and $545 million this year.

The Nevada Department of Transportation had $594 million apportioned for construction during 2009, but that money was not all for new projects. The Interstate 580 expansion alone ate $100 million of that.

The federal stimulus is also winding down, and Congress seems to have no appetite for new spending.

“The real impact of the bill depends on public agencies to come up with projects to build,” Krump said.

The bill would affect the bidding process for projects going out to bid now. But that would also not immediately create construction jobs.

VanWoert said design firms would have to draw up the plans for projects before construction workers were employed.

Bill would provide funding for construction jobs

Another Smith bill would enable school districts to use money for construction that they normally keep in reserve to pay debt. She has said it would create jobs renovating schools and create a better learning environment for school children who all too often have to try to learn in old, decrepit classrooms.

But if the plan sounds familiar, that is because Gov. Brian Sandoval is also counting on the money in his budget. Sandoval would punch a hole in his own budget by signing Smith’s bill into law.

Smith’s bidding preference bill is stalled in the Senate. The bill has support from those who see a future benefit from the proposal if out-of-state workers ever swarm back to Nevada.

Krump also said that the bill would help solidify in statute what companies like his already do.

But for now, changing the rules for a bidding preference does not seem to be a way to create many jobs.

“There’s no work,” VanWoert said.

Nevada Group Pushing New Tax on Car Miles to Fund Road Improvements

By Sean Whaley | 7:58 pm March 30th, 2010

CARSON CITY – The Nevada Highway Users Coalition has announced its support for moving forward with a study on Vehicle Miles Traveled (VMT) as a potential alternative to the current gas tax paid by motorists at the pump to fund road improvements and maintenance.

According to those involved in the study, the consequences of inaction could include the deterioration of roads and highways, increased vehicle wear and tear, increased congestion and accidents and longer commute times.

But others, including the ACLU of Nevada, are questioning the proposal because of privacy concerns. Others say any such change is premature and unnecessary.

The first phase of the VMT study is being funded by the Nevada Department of Transportation (NDOT) and Regional Transportation Commissions in both Southern Nevada and Washoe County. NDOT and Washoe contributed $100,000 each. The Southern Nevada agency contributed $60,000 for a total of $260,000.

More than a dozen other states are also exploring the use of a VMT to pay for road construction.

In a statement released by the coalition, which was formed to “advance the rights of Nevada’s residents and visitors to travel on safe, reliable public roads,” the increasing use of hybrid and electric vehicles is reducing the amount of fuel tax that is collected because of their improved fuel efficiency.

“These vehicles contribute less to use the roads, despite creating the same wear and tear as gas powered vehicles,” the statement says. “This has created a further diminishing of a significant source of funds to build and maintain roads.”

The current funding for road construction, maintenance and operation comes primarily from fuel taxes, which have not been raised in Nevada since 1992.

In a VMT fee system, users would be charged based on the number of miles driven rather than paying in the form of fuel taxes. So rather than pay the 54 cents in fuel taxes per gallon at the pump charged now, vehicles would be assessed on the number of miles driven instead.

The study is being conducted with assistance from both the University of Nevada, Reno and University of Nevada, Las Vegas.

“The evaluation and studying of the VMT fees as a potential funding source is needed for the Legislature and local elected officials to make a much needed decision on how to fund our future transportation needs,” the coalition said.

The first public meeting on the issue is set for later today in Reno. A meeting is also scheduled for April 29 in Las Vegas.

The idea of a VMT is not without controversy, however.

According to the Heritage Foundation, a Washington DC-based conservative policy and analysis organization, a VMT would be expensive to implement because every car would need to be fitted with a device that both records miles driven and transmits the information to a government database.

“This complicated system would cost millions and raise concerns of Big Brother watching our every movement,” the Heritage Foundation said in February 2009. “Americans don’t like paying the gas tax, but they are sure to be even more unhappy having to deal with the administrative nightmare the VMT promises.”

Paul Enos, chief executive officer of the Nevada Motor Transport Association, said there is no need to switch from the current gas tax just to try to capture revenue from hybrid and electric cars. A simpler solution would be to increase the existing fuel tax and index it so it grows over time, he said.

“The fuel tax has 20 to 30 years of life in it,” Enos said.

The current fuel tax is one of the cheapest revenues to collect, and switching to the VMT system would expand those administrative costs significantly, he said.

Enos said his industry would end up paying more in road taxes under the VMT plan, despite claims the proposal is intended to be revenue neutral.

Those pushing the VMT don’t talk about it much, but it would allow drivers to be taxed at higher rates for using freeways during congested drive times, Enos said.

“It is social engineering at its best; or worst,” he said. “They are trying to change public behavior.”

Scott Rawlins, deputy director for NDOT, said the agency is aware of the privacy concerns expressed by some members of the public. The entire study, which will take as much as 3.5 years to complete, will consider those concerns, he said.

A public report will likely be issued within the next three to four months as part of the Phase 1 effort, but the process will also require a 12-month pilot study using as many as 1,000 volunteers before the agency could consider moving forward with the VMT concept, Rawlins said.

The switch to a miles driven tax would not necessarily be excessively complicated, given the technology that exists today with cell phone GPS tracking availability, he said.

“It might not be that complicated,” he said. “Whether we use a device in a car or a cell phone or PDA, we don’t know the answer yet.”

But the ACLU of Nevada has expressed privacy concerns about the proposal.

“What we don’t want to see is the government creating an infrastructure for routine surveillance,” said Rebecca Gasca, ACLU of Nevada public advocate. “It is important that the owner of the car be the owner of the data.”

According to NDOT, overall vehicle fuel efficiency will increase to an average 35 miles a gallon by 2020, leading to a further reduction in fuel tax collections.

Because of inflation, fuel taxes now cover only about half the cost of road construction, maintenance and operations that they funded when fuel taxes were last increased in Nevada in 1992.

NDOT Christmas Miracle: I-15 North Construction Project To Be Completed Early

By Sean Whaley | 3:42 pm December 22nd, 2009
CARSON CITY – The Nevada Department of Transportation is delivering an early Christmas present to Las Vegas motorists on Thursday with substantial completion of the Interstate 15 design-build north project.

Ramps to and from I-15 at Lake Mead Boulevard will be opened to traffic.

The ramp openings will mark the opening of all significant traffic movements on the $240 million project that made improvements to the I-15 corridor from the I-15/US 95 “Spaghetti Bowl” interchanges to Craig Road in North Las Vegas.

The project’s purpose is to relieve congestion and improve traffic flow in the I-15 corridor in response to continued growth in the Las Vegas Valley.

The first design build project for NDOT, built by North Corridor Constructors, will still have some minor lane closures throughout the month of January as crews put final touches to the project.

The project originally scheduled for completion in the fall of 2010 was completed 10 months early.

“Much of the credit for the early completion goes to the motorists who drive I-15 regularly,” said Mary Martini, NDOT’s District 1 District Engineer. “Those who found personal alternate routes to avoid the congestion made our construction efforts more productive, allowing the project to be completed well ahead of schedule.”