To deepen the understanding of the challenges transportation departments face in delivering projects, NACTO also interviewed staff in sixteen cities. These interviews expanded upon findings from the survey and offered a more nuanced and candid understanding of typical internal processes, management structures, and project delivery challenges. In each city, NACTO worked to identify key staff or teams of staff at a variety of different levels of the agency, each representing a unique point along the project delivery pathway. In total, NACTO conducted 89 interviews with over 200 people, including leadership and policy teams, planners and project managers, engineers, budget offices and grant managers, and other core players depending on the local context.
Taken together, the interviews and survey responses collected during Phase I create a complex picture of the organizational structures and internal processes that help and hinder cities as they work to meet mobility goals. NACTO found a number of structural themes that tended to correlate with effective project delivery, and hypothesized about specific actions that would help agencies move toward those structural paradigms. In general, NACTO found that cities that succeed have:
- Defined and clear processes for implementation, and staff that understand their roles and responsibilities. NACTO hypothesizes that 1) developing a clear process for project approvals, changes and hand-offs, 2) arranging a workflow that enables a single champion to manage a project through its entire lifespan, and 3) creating opportunities for staff to meet early and often to engage on projects will all support well-defined implementation processes and clear roles and responsibilities.
- Recurring or guaranteed funding sources so that staff spend less time chasing grants, and more time actually implementing. NACTO hypothesizes that 1) consolidating grant management separately from project implementation and 2) seeking private sector funding, particularly in the absence of consistent city funding, will enable staff to focus more on project delivery.
- Project pipelines built around standardized designs and street geometry configurations that allow cities to expedite engineering work. NACTO hypothesizes that 1) developing design standards even for simple projects and 2) training planners to do engineering work can speed project delivery and reduce bottlenecks.
- A strategic use of consultants to bolster efforts or train on unusual skills, so that city staff can focus on developing the skills for core work. NACTO hypothesizes that 1) batching service contracts, 2) embedding consultants within the agency and setting up on-call contracts, and 3) utilizing consultants for specialized needs rather than routine work will reduce delays and minimize internal staffing challenges while continuing to retain qualified staff.
- A clear vision, strong political will, and defined metrics for what success means from individual projects to overall programs. NACTO hypothesizes that 1) using timebound, direct output metrics and 2) developing project measurement tools will help spur project delivery, and can shape the public process by quantifying project changes and benefits.
In Phase II of the project, NACTO sought to test these reflections and hypotheses while working closely with two NACTO cities to improve upon specific project delivery challenges.