Employee Spotlight: George Tapas, Engineer of Local Roads and Streets

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Employee Spotlight: George Tapas, Engineer of Local Roads and Streets

George Tapas brings more than 33 years of transportation experience to his new role as IDOT’s Engineer of Local Roads and Streets. He has had the privilege of leading and managing some of the most critical infrastructure builds in the United States and Canada, including highways, toll roads, heavy rail, transit and airports.

“The most unique and interesting aspect of these experiences were gained in delivering cutting-edge procurements via design/build and, more importantly, public-private partnerships,” Tapas said. “In accomplishing this work, I was able to get involved with the differences and similarities in how other DOTs plan, program, procure, implement and complete projects.”

Examples of Tapas’ work include his involvement in the Concession Lease of the Chicago Skyway and a public-private partnership (P3) with the Michigan DOT to update highway lighting in the metropolitan Detroit area.

“The diversity of my P3 experiences include merging the expertise of procurement, engineering, legal and financial aspects that P3 work requires into an achievable and enforceable agreement that focuses on the goals and objectives of the program,” Tapas said.

At IDOT, Tapas leads the Bureau of Local Roads and Streets, which coordinates with local governments in all matters pertaining to highway transportation. The bureau assists those governments with planning, finance, design, construction and maintenance of local transportation systems and promotes the coordination and cooperation of counties, townships and municipalities in the development of transportation systems.

Here are some of Tapas’ thoughts about his job.

Q. How will your previous experience inform your work as bureau chief of Local Roads and Streets?

A. The key lesson that I have learned in all my work and experiences is that each program is unique and respect must be given to all members of the program, as this is the true pathway to a successful outcome. I often say that the first partnership in a public-private partnership program is to form a set of understandings, goals and objectives with your team – but this principle applies to all transportation solutions.

The other key experiences are in dealing with a great many stakeholders on a program, so listening to their needs, merging their concerns and enveloping their ideas into a solution base is critical. The diversity in infrastructure class, legislative authority and geographic specifics informed me that one must treat each project and all its elements with care, concern, and a practicality that focuses on safety and quality.

Q. What do you hope to accomplish in this role?

A. I first plan on working with our tremendous staff and listening to the processes they follow, authorities they have or need, and challenges they face in their everyday work. I will continue to solicit their input, experience and wisdom, as they have the best knowledge around. I also want to be inclusive in this part to invite all levels of staff, as everyone has a unique set of responsibilities and insights.

From there, my main goal will be to drive innovation and efficiencies into the work so that our throughput is easier to access and accomplish. This hope will be supported by the latest technological systems such as web-based access tools, dashboard information, historical searchable databases, and greater accessibility to and from our local public agencies, all of which will revolutionize the speed and consistency of our work.

Q. What challenges are facing the bureau right now in working with local governments and jurisdictions?

A. As a native Illinoisan, I care deeply about our infrastructure quality and safety. For these improvements to be accomplished, we must approach all our work with the belief that the public is our customer. What is important about this approach is that it is the same for each local public agency and jurisdiction.

The commonality that we at IDOT and each local public agency face is that our goals are aligned for the greater public benefit through meeting their transportation needs. We must improve by reducing the time it takes to process a project from concept to completion. Every day that a piece of paperwork is not addressed can lead to weeks and months of delay. By attacking and addressing the root causes of these delays and challenges, we plan on implementing both immediate and long-term corrective actions that are aligned with each other.

Q. How do you plan to overcome them?

A. Our main plan is a threefold approach – communication and information gathering, root-cause analysis and proofing. If we can communicate and listen, we can better understand the root cause of each challenge from all perspectives. We then can implement the corrective action, while monitoring and making adjustments, so each proofing solution is proper and efficient.

Q. What will success look like for the bureau?

A. To me, success for the bureau resides in a 25 percent to 50 percent reduction in throughput time from start to completion. This is matched with an open-door policy that seeks continual improvement, and that illustrates and articulates how IDOT is a great steward of the public’s investment through safe and quality infrastructure that is proactive partnership with all of our local public agencies and the public.