By Reed Hollinshead

Idaho is one of the fastest-growing states in the nation, with higher demand than ever on its transportation system of more than 12,000 lane miles of roads and highways, 1,830 bridges, and 31 backcountry airstrips. Like too many other states, however, funding hasn’t kept pace.

Idaho DOT image

To help bridge the funding gap and encourage employee-driven solutions, the Idaho Transportation Department (ITD) in 2014 developed the Innovate ITD program, which helps the agency operate more like a business. It has turned 1,630 employee ideas into $11 million in savings. The innovations have benefited Idaho citizens and other users of the state’s transportation network. It also has improved trust, credibility, and confidence in the agency.

Employees are the driving force behind Innovate ITD. They create ideas and implement solutions. Workers at every level are encouraged and empowered to submit ideas to save time and money.

“When you trust your employees to be innovative and make decisions about how to do their jobs, they will do the right thing,” says ITD Director Brian Ness. “To be the best and deliver on our mission, ITD harnesses the innovative spirit of our employees. Innovation allows us to change and get better.”

Three ideas have been recognized with American Association of State Highway & Transportation Officials (AASHTO) President’s Awards:

  • Combining 17 bridge repairs into one contract, saving $4.7 million in design and construction costs and shaving an estimated 17 years off the work schedule.
  • Building nesting platforms for protected osprey to allow for bridge inspections.
  • Deploying geocells to combat swelling and heaving in clay soils beneath the roadbed, the first U.S. use of this technique.

“ITD creates a culture where employees look for ways to innovate. This translates into better service for our customers,” Ness adds.

In addition to better service, the innovative effort by ITD helped the department earn the respect of elected officials. The Idaho legislature provided ITD with two transportation-funding increases in the last five years, worth about $87 million, after no investment boosts the previous two decades. ITD’s annual operating budget is about $750 million.

Another accomplishment has been seeing that a public agency can compete with the private sector. In 2016, ITD was one of three finalists for Idaho Innovative Company of the Year, sponsored by the Idaho Technology Council, a business advocacy group. It was the first time a public agency was named as a finalist, a feat that ITD repeated in 2019.

“Innovate ITD shows that a government agency can be just as innovative as the private sector and move at the speed of business,” says Ness. “By finding better ways to do our jobs, we put the focus on the customer and serve the citizens, not ourselves.”

Innovative solutions generated by employees help ITD better serve the citizens of Idaho with savings and efficiencies and deliver critical customer service improvements. Visit the “Innovation” section of itd.idaho.gov for more details and videos.

Reed Hollinshead is public information officer at the Idaho Transportation Department. See more stories about transportation design and construction industry technology and innovation in ARTBA’s “Smart Design & Construction” supplement.