The 153 positions would meet the agency's staffing need for 2018 and 2019, but officials could request additional positions in subsequent years.

PAMPLIN MEDIA GROUP FLLE PHOTO - Oregon's Department of Transportation plans to ask for more than 150 new positions to deliver road and bridge projects approved by the Legislature.SALEM — The Oregon Department of Transportation plans to request 153 new positions in February to help deliver $5.3 billion in transportation projects lawmakers agreed to fund earlier this year.

The new positions will cost about $15.3 million and equate to nearly 78 full-time employees, said Leah Horner, ODOT government relations manager. The money would come from revenue generated from new taxes and fees that take effect in January, as part of a transportation-funding bill approved earlier this year, Horner said.

The 153 jobs would start in the next two years and would augment 35 new full-time-equivalent positions the state Legislature already approved in July. ODOT is in the midst of hiring for those positions.

The agency estimates it could ask for another 113 positions for 2020 and 2021.

The request comes as ODOT is gearing up to boost outsourcing to deliver road and bridge projects in the transportation package.

Agency officials said Friday they plan to increase outsourcing, currently about 50 percent, to about 70 percent on preliminary engineering work.

The strategy – a national trend - is designed to hold down costs and circumvent a labor shortage in the engineering industry.

"We are relying on outsourcing to limit the number of positions in the agency," said Paul Mather, ODOT highway division administrator. "We also want to capture the innovation and expertise of the private sector."

However, a preliminary report by ODOT and the Oregon Council of Engineering Companies indicates relying more heavily on outsourcing by transportation departments in other states has produced some negative results. Those have included an increase in costs, recruitment of agency employees to private consulting firms, less oversight, increased risk of missing errors and potential conflicts of interest in consultants' work.

The negative effects "we found from other states is not consistent with our experience here in Oregon and thus will not be included in the final version," Mather said of the preliminary report. The final version of the report, "Transportation Program Delivery Approach," is scheduled to be released next month, he said.

Mather said ODOT can avoid the risks of outsourcing by clearly communicating expectations in contracts and putting the agency's practices and procedures in contract language for which contractors can be held accountable.

A management review of ODOT earlier this year recommended that the agency clarify contract language to improve project outcomes.

Paris Achen
Portland Tribune Capital Bureau
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