Highway Department Timesheet Program
On April 25, 2012, the National Association of Development Organizations (NADO) Research Foundation held the RPO America Peer Symposium, during the 2012 National Rural Transportation Conference in Burlington, Vermont. This special session, held with support from the Federal Highway Administration, focused on “Sharing Innovations in Regional Transportation Planning.”
The final speaker who focused on local roadway issues and technical assistance was Rita Seto from the Two Rivers-Ottauquechee Regional Planning Commission in Vermont. She developed a highway department timesheet program to help oversee the way that road foremen manage their daily activities and provide accountability for towns, select boards, and residents who are interested in the department’s operations and outcomes.
The program uses Microsoft Excel and can be customized based on a community’s needs. Each town has a master list that identifies materials, activities, infrastructure, facilities, equipment, and staff. Each staff member has his or her own tab, containing a timesheet with summaries of hours worked and a list of activities entered on a daily basis. While many departments still use paper timesheets, this system allows an administrator or the staff member to access electronic records of time worked and activities performed.
The staff timesheet data is then filtered into other parts of the program and into summary tabs to create a snapshot of what is going on in the department day to day. For each staff member, the program can display a percentage breakdown of work activity performed, which can be aggregated to show how many hours the whole highway department spends on a certain activity. The materials summary is especially useful during the budgeting process when estimating future needs. The equipment summary tracks how much time is spent using certain equipment, which is important for monitoring maintenance needs and life spans.
The highway department timesheet program is a customizable tool that provides invaluable information for budgeting as well as transparency, by showing residents how their tax dollars are being used. A cumulative chart of what infrastructure is currently up to date provides a snapshot of future needs. The program, released four years ago to three pilot towns, now has 10 – 12 towns in the region actively using it. It was especially useful after Hurricane Irene because it gave towns a way to communicate their actions with FEMA. Seto said that it would have been nice to have the program in place after a 2007 wind storm required cleanup that reduced time for regular summer maintenance tasks. When residents pointed to unmaintained roads in the fall, the department had no systematic record to show how its time was spent. For more information on the Two Rivers-Ottauquechee Regional Commission, click here.
A symposium participant asked what inspired Seto to design the program to be used by towns and how this fits in with her agency’s goals. Because Vermont, like most New England states, does not have strong county-level government, most of the commission’s interaction is with road foremen and town officials. Seto’s predecessors mentioned a need for a way to help highway officials track work and improve management skills. The program has gone through several revisions, and now is simple enough to be replicated using Excel, which is widely used. It was designed to be very user-friendly after a quick tutorial for foremen who may not have significant computer experience, with information on pull-down lists to reduce the amount of typing required.
Another participant asked the whole panel about how these examples of technical assistance that go beyond a normal RPO work program have allowed them to demonstrate their value to the local governments. Bair said that her project was driven by local residents who asked for help, leading her agency to recruit engineers to assist with the task. In responding to Hurricane Irene, Otto knew what was outside of her agency’s expertise and performed outreach as necessary to make sure that needs were being met. Seto said that relationships and partnerships among different agencies provide a bird’s eye view of regional needs and perspective on how to improve efficiency.
The proceedings of the 2012 RPO America Peer Symposium were researched and written by NADO Research Foundation Graduate Fellow Kate Humphrey under the direction of Associate Director Carrie Kissel. This work is supported by the Federal Highway Administration under contract number DTFH61-10-C-00050 through the NADO Research Foundation (www.RuralTransportation.org). Any opinions, findings and conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this publication are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of FHWA or the NADO Research Foundation.