People who want to keep close watch over how the Virginia Department of Transportation does its job are getting a clearer look now that the agency has started posting an online record of all facets of its performance.
With a click, the whole world can see that 85 percent of engineering studies are proceeding on schedule. Or that 94 percent of projects are adhering to environmental standards. Or that traffic fatalities are down 14 percent from the five-year average.
The information was added as part of a newly released version of Dashboard, an online, real-time accounting of how the department is performing.
Dashboard was launched in March 2003 at dashboard.virginiadot.org with information on whether construction projects were on time and on budget. The expanded format launched last week includes progress reports on repaving projects, bridge repairs, crashes, fatalities, engineering studies, design work, spending, revenue and the agency's record on environmental compliance.
Starting the Web site is among several steps the department has taken in recent years to regain public trust after years of overpromising on projects and mismanaging funds. State transportation officials said opening up to the public was important so employees would take more responsibility for their jobs and so taxpayers would see where their money was going.
"It says to me that VDOT is taking ownership of all of these programs and telling the people who pay for them on a daily basis how we're doing, how their money is being spent, what it's being spent on and, to some degree, how efficiently it's being spent," said Philip A. Shucet, who resigned as the agency's commissioner Friday to resume his private-sector career.
Shucet said the most important thing about Dashboard is that it "tells the truth."
The department's performance has improved considerably since Dashboard launched. Two years before it came online, the agency completed fewer than 20 percent of its projects on time. In the two years since its launch, that number is nearly 75 percent.
Shucet said he wanted to launch the new version of Dashboard before he left to ensure that it would be out there for people to see and to discourage his successors from scrapping the program.
"Once you pull back the curtains and let the sun in, I don't think anybody can ever shut them," he said. "Once it's out there, it's out there."
The Web site is set up like an automobile dashboard and uses a stoplight image to track construction.
A red light on a project, for example, means that its deadline has passed or that work is behind by at least 10 percent. A yellow light means work is in danger of being behind by 10 percent, and a green light means everything is on schedule. Data are updated daily.
On Wednesday, with two days left in the fiscal year, users could see that 15 of 16 remaining projects would not be finished on time. By clicking on the red light, users could see a detailed list of those projects and their status. And if they were really interested, they could see a more complete rundown of projects.
For example, work on Route 1 that was supposed to be completed June 15 has been pushed back to Aug. 1. There's also a link to e-mail the manager in charge of a project for those who want more information or to complain.
Shucet said the biggest change to Dashboard is the gauge of safety on state roads because: "It says safety at its highest level is important to us. It says we're going to put something as disturbing to talk about as fatalities right up here with everything else."
The site also has some features that are hard to find elsewhere. A "virtual drive" link allows users to select roads from across the state to take in an online tour. It's not a thrill ride, by any means, but a video takes users on a slow, mile-by-mile tour of roads and their immediate surroundings.
Who would use such a thing wasn't entirely clear, but Shucet said it was "one other thing that we had that we could easily make available to the public. So it was sort of like, why not?"