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OAPC speaker suggests strategies to reestablish trust with public agencies

Dan O'Reilly
OAPC speaker suggests strategies to reestablish trust with public agencies

Attendees at the recent Ontario Asphalt Pavement Council (OAPC) fall seminar were told their counterparts in Indiana are building trust as well quality asphalt pavement.

“We’re trying to promote asphalt as the pavement of choice in Indiana and I think we’re making great inroads,” said William Knopf, executive director of the Asphalt Pavement Association of Indiana (APAI), the keynote speaker.

But it has been a long process, said Knopf, who presented a case study on how to reestablish communication with a transportation agency once it has soured.

In 2014, the state began identifying cracking issues on several asphalt roads that were less than three years old, he said.

Even though the industry and the Indiana Department of Transportation (INDOT) were engaged in identifying issues and implementing solutions to those problems, relationships with the INDOT hit a low mark in September 2015. That was when the Indianapolis Sunday Star published a front-page article on the issue with the headline Road Mix May Crumble.

William Knopf

“Everyone was up in arms and we were receiving calls from trade newspapers and the Wall Street Journal asking, ‘what is happening in Indiana?’ Everything (by the INDOT) was being audited. That was the environment we were working in,” Knopf said.

The climate of industry/agency mistrust and a lack of communication reached the point where no joint committee meetings were being held with the department at its central office or six district offices, he explained.

Rather than trying to rebut the article, the association opted for a proactive approach and reached out to the INDOT with the assistance of some key individuals including Larry Bonine, the former director of the Arizona Department of Transportation.

Two months after the article appeared an all-day “partnering” seminar was held in an Indianapolis hotel.
“We needed to get the right people in the room or forget about it,” said Knopf, explaining the forum was attended by 21 INDOT representatives, 16 from the association and other key stakeholders.

Led by Bonine as the facilitator, the seminar was divided into “confessions and blaming” sessions. Each side listed the perceived faults of the other which were then written on large pieces of paper and adhered to blackboards.

Asphalt roadbuilders cited a litany of complaints against the INDOT such as cost pressures, lack of accurate drawings and ambiguous or weak specifications. Poor tack coats, poor joint seal applications and over-compacting were just some of industry failings highlighted by the INDOT, said Knopf.

During the confessions portion, however, both parties assumed some blame. APAI members acknowledged shortcomings such as inconsistent quality, inconsistent bid prices and not always following their own quality control procedures.

For its part, the INDOT confessed to failures such as a slow approval process, waiting too long to point out errors and concerns, lack of adequate staff and “expecting perfection on low budgets.”

“We kept lunch to a 45-minute time limit so as not to lose momentum,” said Knopf, explaining how lunch break in a restaurant was used to encourage mingling between both sides.

Following lunch, the director of the National Center for Asphalt Technology (NCAT) Randy West led a number of technical sessions and provided a 20-minute overview of asphalt pavement performance issues across the United States that were being reported to NCAT.

The participants then divided into four groups to discuss and debate three key questions: what asphalt specifications needed to be changed; what ones needed further research; and what ones shouldn’t be changed.

In a wrap up session all the participants signed on to an action plan with a number of key goals including restarting quarterly joint INDOT-APAI technical committee meetings.

Copies were sent to all the participants and framed ones are displayed in both the INDOT and APAI executive conference rooms in Indianapolis, said Knopf.

After being on hiatus for a year, joint technical committee meetings are now being held and the association and the INDOT are working together on a number of initiatives including one where INDOT and industry employees attend the same certification classes to “learn side by side,” he said.

As part of a “bonus material” segment Knopf listed a number of steps construction industry associations can take to improve relationships with public agencies.

One recommendation was to partner with other industry groups to be able “to speak with one, united voice to legislature and media.”

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