Oregon Chapter partners with ODOT on joint specifications

Paul Klope
Principal Civil Engineer
City of Eugene, Oregon

For the first time in Oregon, the Oregon Chapter of APWA and the Oregon Department of Transportation (ODOT) will be working off the same page when it comes to standard specifications and standard drawings for public works construction projects.

The final milestone in the multi-year effort to produce a joint specification was passed early in April when 500 boxes of new manuals arrived at the ODOT publications office. Both the cover and the contents of the new manual contained significant "firsts."

For the first time in the State of Oregon, another logo—that of APWA's Oregon Chapter—shares the cover of the ODOT specifications manual. Inside the cover is an acknowledgement page listing more than 160 names of committee members representing over 50 public agencies, consultants, and contractors who worked to develop the new manual. And, for the first time, the specifications include standards written for local agency use in water, sanitary sewer, drainage, street paving, and other non-highway systems.

The journey began in 1969 when the Oregon Chapter produced its first standard specifications and drawings manual. This first edition drew heavily from the ODOT standards, but was geared to local agency needs. Over the years, the Oregon Chapter continued to publish new construction standards periodically, and the chapter made overtures to ODOT each time to collaborate on the new standards. Both sets of standards are used extensively statewide, so each time the chapter published a new manual it adopted many ODOT standards to provide some consistency between the two manuals.

In a step to further that effort, ODOT Standards Engineer Sam Johnston joined the Oregon Chapter Specifications Committee in 1994. Johnston was supportive of the chapter's vision of joint standards, and in 1996 he saw an opportunity to bring ODOT and APWA together to begin to realize this vision. Johnston was assigned to the Governor's Task Force on Transportation Efficiency, whose mission was to look for ways to make more efficient use of Oregon's gas tax money. The task force included representatives from cities, counties, ODOT, the Home Builders Association, and various construction trades. The construction trades representatives made a strong case that varying standards for public works infrastructure across the state was costly and wasteful. For example, varying curb and gutter standards for adjacent cities along a county or state highway project could lead to three or four different configurations for curb and gutter in the same project, causing the contractor to change the curb machine mold each time the curb machine crossed a jurisdictional boundary. Johnston brought the Oregon Chapter to the table to discuss possible solutions to the issue, and the task force recommended that APWA and ODOT combine their standards.

Based on this recommendation, in July 1996 ODOT and APWA agreed to take steps toward joint standards. The first task was to confirm the level of interest and to determine priorities. A survey was sent to more than 2,500 professionals from public works agencies, consultants, and contractors across the state. More than 84 percent of the respondents were in favor of creating the joint standards. Regional meetings were held throughout the state, and numerous presentations were made to professional associations and construction trade groups.

In July 1997, APWA and ODOT signed an agreement to create the joint standards. A steering committee was formed to guide the process. Between 1998 and 2000, 18 subcommittees worked to complete the draft joint standards. Early in 2002, legal review and final editing were completed.

Legal review lasted a year longer than predicted, but it turned out for the best. This waiting period gave the steering committee time to reach two very important decisions and act on them. First, the committee commissioned the creation of a user's guide to accompany the specifications manual. The guide is oriented to first-time users of the new joint specifications, and it will provide background information, explain the format and structure of the specifications, give useful suggestions and assistance in use of the specifications, and list references to additional resource materials. Second, in order to ease transition to the new standards for local agencies, and to remove a significant barrier to their use, the steering committee decided to provide the joint standards in both English and metric. The standard specifications were converted to dual metric/English units, and a 165-page "subset" of the standard drawings was converted to English units. In another significant step indicating how their relationship has continued to strengthen, ODOT and APWA agreed to share the cost of the conversion work. In addition, APWA is converting the English unit drawings to AutoCAD so local agencies and consultants can more readily use them.

Orders are rolling in, and the new standards have already showed up in a local project for Ashland, Oregon. The Oregon Chapter and ODOT are already at work developing an ongoing process to keep the joint standards updated and viable. Training seminars to introduce users to the new manual will be held this year in various locations around the state.

Both APWA's Oregon Chapter and ODOT have benefited from the process of creating the joint standards. Through APWA, ODOT has improved its cooperation and communication with local agencies. With ODOT, APWA can share technical knowledge, and ODOT can be a strong ally at the state legislature. ODOT membership in the Oregon Chapter has grown to almost 40 members over the last four years. An ODOT manager is a chapter board member, and ODOT has teamed with APWA to sponsor numerous technical seminars and provides speakers for the Oregon Chapter semiannual conferences.

Paul Klope is a principal civil engineer for the City of Eugene, and chairs the Standard Specifications Committee for APWA's Oregon Chapter. For more information about the joint specifications contact him at (541) 682-5246 or go to www.odot.state.or.us/techserv/roadway/specs/home.htm.