- Associated Press - Wednesday, September 30, 2015

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (AP) - The director of the state Department of Transportation said Wednesday he’s making changes to the agency, which has been called dysfunctional by the governor.

Director Peter Alviti and Gov. Gina Raimondo, in discussing the changes, said the DOT has developed a 10-year plan that prioritizes maintenance work instead of just fixing the worst bridges and roads first and lurching from emergency to emergency.

“Right now, quite frankly, we’re just spending too much and getting too little,” the Democratic governor said.

They said the DOT is hiring additional maintenance workers instead of filling 40 open administrative positions. The maintenance staff was cut from nearly 600 workers in 1980 to about 200 workers now, according to DOT.

An open photographer job is being advertised as a bridge maintenance worker position instead. Alviti said he needs someone to fix the potholes, not someone to photograph them.

And, Raimondo and Alviti said the DOT is improving accountability by designating project managers and making personnel changes.

Citing problems with record-keeping and dishonesty, Alviti said four or five employees were dismissed or allowed to retire instead of being dismissed. Three top engineers are on administrative leave.

Raimondo said she inherited a DOT that was dysfunctional in many ways, lacked accountability and didn’t use obvious best practices.

The agency was one of the few transportation departments in the nation that didn’t make one person accountable for every project so projects are done on time and on budget, Raimondo said. Because of poor planning, the DOT has paid engineering firms a lot of money, many times in the past, to design a project that it didn’t have money for. Now many of those plans can’t be used because regulations have changed, so they sit on shelves, Alviti said.

Raimondo said it’s time to fix the department, though both she and Alviti noted that the DOT still needs predictable funding to plan better.

There are two versions of the 10-year plan, one with current funding and the other with more money to fix deteriorating bridges through new truck tolls.

The Senate has passed Raimondo’s proposal for tolling large commercial trucks, the House has not. The 10-year plan still needs approval from the state planning council.

Raimondo and Alviti touted many other changes in the department, including holding daily operational meetings for the first time and assessing employees’ performance regularly.

These changes aren’t “rocket science,” Raimondo said.

“It is basic, but it hasn’t been happening and as a result, we’ve been over budget on many things,” she said.

The General Assembly approved the transportation department’s request to reorganize during the regular session.

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