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Louisville Public Works leader discusses proposed Department of Transportation

Kentucky Street bike lane in Louisville, Ky., on Tuesday, August 5, 2014. Photo by Eleanor Hasken
Eleanor Hasken
Louisville Public Works director Jennifer Caummisar-Kern says a new Department of Transportation could help keep residents informed on projects.

Government-led transportation projects, ranging from widening roads to adding bike lanes, are in the works across Jefferson County. City officials are looking to support them with a new Department of Transportation.

Mayor Craig Greenberg’s administration is proposing $500,000 in the upcoming city budget to create a new Department of Transportation. Its staff would assist with transportation projects as a division in the Department of Public Works and Assets.

Jennifer Caummisar-Kern's headshot
Courtesy of Louisville Public Works
Public Works director Jennifer Caummisar-Kern

Earlier this month, Public Works director Jennifer Caummisar-Kern told Louisville Metro Council members that the DOT would help improve project efficiency. Those lawmakers will decide what gets funded in the city budget next month.

LPM News’ Jacob Munoz spoke with Caummisar-Kern about her plans for the DOT. This interview has been edited for clarity and length.

Can you tell me a little bit about the overarching goal of what a Department of Transportation would do ultimately for Louisville?

One of the goals, for us, is to streamline how we approach transportation, and to make that simple for the people on the inside and understandable for the people in the public.

And some of the things that we haven't done overly well is executing projects, getting projects out the door, designing projects early on so that they do not have to be redesigned later. And then also communication. So that's a big part of it.

People tend to be much more understanding if you have noticed that your route to work may be impacted, because, ‘Hey, we're doing a really great project here!’ So [it’s about] giving notice, [and] people understanding changes that might be coming or impacts to their daily life that are happening.

Could adding a Department of Transportation include then, let's say, impacting Broadway All the Way, adapting it and saying, ‘Hey, we're going to take a project sponsor and put one on this project?’

That's a very good example, and you touch on a good point. We have, right now, and you'll see in the budget, it was only $500,000 in the recommended budget for a Department of Transportation. But what that does is it enables us to have a cluster that's transportation-focused within Public Works, and strategically start filling gaps that we have. So things like someone to write policy, someone to manage our technology, someone specifically to work with utilities. So these gaps that we've had in the process.

But yes, we are looking at moving towards, instead of a project starting — starting with an idea and then it goes to a person who gets funding for it, and then it goes to planning and then it goes to engineering and then it goes to construction. And then it becomes a maintenance item — we would have someone who, from the beginning, would be the owner of that project.

Ninth Street near Interstate 64 in Louisville spans three lanes in each direction. A city project looks to reduce the size of the roadway.
Jacob Munoz
A proposed Department of Transportation could help streamline projects like Reimagine Ninth Street, which is currently in the works.

And for the specific project sponsors, would you be expecting it to be, you know, this person, Person A, is taking sole ownership of Project 1, and that's all they're focusing on?

It would depend upon the project. If a project is in a design stage, there may be less oversight or direct involvement, you have to have for periods of time. You know, you might send it for design, and it's with your engineer for 30 days before you get a product back that you can review.

Whereas if you have a project that's in construction, you might be getting phone calls every day, you're going to be doing weekly update meetings, things like that. So it would just depend on the size of the project, the stage of the project, as far as the phasing, and where those align.

You know, there are always frustrations raised about certain projects taking too long to complete, whether it's transportation or anything else. What would your message be to those residents about this initiative?

A big part of this is understanding what we do and making that legible to the outside. So, some of that would include things like moving towards a more robust capital projects dashboard. And we are also working on our website, trying to make it much more transparent on, what does a project look like, and posting drawings that a layperson can look at and understand.

So, getting a product up when we can, that you can understand, and then being able to post timelines about those projects so that people can see what's going on. For instance, right now we are working on Jefferson Street, one-way to two-way. A lot of that project has to do with infrastructure, with the signals, with doing things that aren't necessarily in the roadway. So I've gotten asked a couple times, ‘Is this project going on?’ It is well underway. Now the striping won't happen until fall. But there's a lot of work that goes into getting that ready to restripe.

Jacob is LPM's Business and Development Reporter. Email Jacob at jmunoz@lpm.org.

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