ITD Director Talks Realignment and Mega-loads

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Idaho Transportation Department Director Brian Ness sketched out plans to realign his department late Monday, speaking before an audience of Idaho legislators mid-way through their North Idaho Legislative Tour in Sandpoint.

Flanked by a row of five poster boards packed with dense, spidery scrawl describing the department’s management structure, he told lawmakers that ITD has been laboring under “a 1960s governmental organizational philosophy” that won’t fly for a 21st century operation.

The solution is to strip the department’s nine layers of administration down to five, including: the director, executive officers appointed by the director, administrators, managers and supervisors.

Ness said the emphasis will be to shift emphasis from the higher echelons to those nearer the bottom — “closer to the frontlines,” he said.

Job vacancies will not be filled unless they can be proved to either directly serve taxpayers or support a position that does, and more authority will be given to individual districts. But that doesn’t mean ITD is facing a department-wide bloodletting, Ness added.

“No one will lose their jobs at the Idaho Transportation Department or lose any pay as a result of any decisions I make regarding reorganization,” he said.

While Ness admitted that $1.5 million out of a half-billion dollar budget “doesn’t sound like a lot,” giving more power to local jurisdictions would ultimately speed projects to contractors and better target departmental dollars where they’re needed.

“We’re paid by the taxpayers of Idaho and we have to serve the taxpayers of Idaho,” he said.

The reorganization plan comes after 9 months of study, Ness said, and draws some of its inspiration from the independent audit of ITD that was presented to lawmakers in January 2009. The audit took aim at the department for an overly-centralized and unresponsive management structure that needlessly spent money on the administrative rather than operational aspects of its duties. Further, the audit called for more accountability over the dollars that were spent.

Update on Highway 12 ‘mega-loads’

Also in an interview, Citydesk asked Ness about the controversial proposal to ship “mega-loads” of oil equipment across U.S. Highway 12 in north central Idaho.

An ITD permit for the loads—which would be shipped by oil giants ConcoPhillips and ExxonMobil—is back on the table after the Idaho State Supreme Court earlier this month rolled back a previous lower-court ruling barring them.

Following that, opponents of the over-sized shipments have called on ITD to hold hearings on the proposal, but Ness said that can’t happen until a permit is issued. The department is currently waiting on a permit from Montana to make its decision.

Ness wouldn’t comment on specifics, but told Citydesk that, “we’re really close to doing that.”

As far as any hearings go, Ness said ITD has no plans to hold any hearings until it has that permit in hand.

“Once we make the decision to issue the permit, there’s a right for someone to file that request to hold a hearing,” he said. “You really don’t know what kind of hearing you’re going to get until you’ve got that permit, and again, we’re really close.”