This Is the Kind of Leadership We Need From State DOTs

“A breath of fresh air” — that’s how Chuck Marohn at Strong Towns describes this interview with Tennessee DOT Commissioner John Schroer. In this video, produced by Smart Growth America, Schroer describes what he is doing to make Tennessee’s the “the best DOT in the country.” Here are some of the highlights:

We did a top-to-bottom review and we looked at everything that we did and we analyzed it from a production standpoint to a financial standpoint. Changed a lot of the leadership within the department, brought in a lot of people from the private sector.

I found when I  moved into this position, a lot of cities did a poor job of long-range planning — in how they did zoning, in how they approved projects — and took very little consideration into the transportation mode. Oftentimes those cities would then call us and say, “We’ve got a problem, you need to help us fix it.” Well, that problem was self-created. It was self-created because they made bad zoning decisions, they put a school in the wrong place without thinking about transportation. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been asked to build a bypass to a bypass, and that purely is bad planning. We’ve got a whole division now that is working with communities right now and trying to help them not make those bad decisions, and when that happens the state saves money.

I spent 13 years on a school board, so I know and I understand schools. But schools are always under tight budget constraints. So they put the building on the cheapest piece of property they can find and that usually means there’s no transportation to it. We’ve got many situations like that.

What happens is, it becomes more expensive as you go up the government chain. It would be a lot cheaper for a school board to buy a better piece of property that has transportation already as part of it for the community, than it would be for them to by the really cheap piece of property and me have to build a $30 or $40 million road. And we’ve had countless situations where that’s happened. We’re trying to stop it before it gets started and we’re doing that across the state.

I have a speech that I give around the community and it’s called “failure is an option.” In a lot of cases you’ll hear people say, failure is not an option. Well, in my department, failure is an option because you seldom succeed without failing first. And if you’re scared of failure, you won’t challenge anything.

Elsewhere on the Network today: Milwaukee Rising reports that the Wisconsin Department of Transportation is ignoring public records laws as it moves forward with its controversial I-94 expansion project. And ATLUrbanist remarks on Atlanta’s efforts to create transit-oriented development around MARTA stations.