Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Colorful Plans

I have noticed a trend of adding more color to the Iowa DOT plans.  Now that the IDOT does not print paper copies of plans there is less inhibition about adding color to a plan without the cost of printing in color.  This seems to be especially true of plans produced by Office of Design rather than by county engineers or consultants.  I think the trend will continue because the plans have long been produced on CAD systems with their own set of colored templates that are displayed on the designer's screen.  

So what does this mean for contractors?  You can still print the plans in black and white at your expense.  Or print in color for more money.  The trend in construction is to view plans on a screen either with a laptop out on the job or on a big monitor in the trailer.  DOT plans have always been hard to read with small printing.  I welcome the idea of zooming in on the details on a monitor.  Plus the colors represent the same thing from plan to plan (Red = concrete, Brown = rebar, Green = dimension lines.)

How have you used digital plans on the job?  Add your response to this blog post.

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Email Best Practices

Email has become the most common way to communicate in business.  I have picked out 10 rules that will help you communicate more effectively and concisely.
  1. Use a descriptive reference (RE:) line.  I include the name of the project so I can sort by the project names later.
  2. Write in complete sentences but keep the email short.  I like to use bullet points or numbered lists.
  3. Rename a scanned attachment.  PayApp141015.pdf is much better than Ricoh23af14.pdf.
  4. Put action items or important responses first in the email.  The assumption is that the reader will not find the action items or stop reading the email before the important stuff.
  5. Add "thanks" or appreciate your help"
  6. Try to reply within 24 hours or less.
  7. Use an active voice instead of a passive voice.  "We will be on the job on Thursday"is better than "the crew will start on Thursday".
  8. Don't send huge attachments that fill up the receiver inbox.  If it is more than 4 MB zip it or hyperlink it to a cloud storage area like Google Drive.
  10. Add an automatic signature line that has your name, company, address, phone and email.  This is what I use: 

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

USDOT DBE Final Rule

The US DOT has published its 2014 Final Rule on the Disadvantaged Business Enterprise Program in the Federal Register.  A copy can be downloaded here USDOT DBE Program Final Rule 10-2-14. pdf (20.8 MB).  I think of this document as the guidelines the state DOTs including the Iowa DOT use to tailor their own DBE programs.

It does not appear that the Final Rule changes much in the DBE program.  This is more of a clarification.  A summary of the major changes is linked here 2014 DBE Final Rule Highlights.pdf (86 KB).

Reading the final rule I was reminded how in some states prime contractors are allowed up to five days to provide names, amounts and work types of the DBEs that they are planning on using.  In Iowa we have been well served by requiring prime contractors to submit their DBE commitments when they turn in their bids.  

I feel obligated to provide this document to Iowa DOT DBE firms although I have always wished that an equal amount of effort, comment, and attention was directed toward developing successful DBE companies by the DOT, prime contractors and DBEs.

Friday, August 15, 2014

Predetermined Wages Are In Effect

Because of Federal aid most Iowa DOT projects that have DBE goals will also have predetermined wages set for that project.  To determine if a project has pre-determined wages look at the cover of the estimating proposal:

Farther back in the estimating proposal there will be a listing of the specific wage rate.

The Iowa DOT has posted all the wage decisions on its website at: 

Certified payrolls must be submitted weekly as you work on a project.  You can use your own accounting software or one of the following forms provided by the Iowa DOT:

On the wage decision each labor classification will have a minimum hourly rate for the pay rate and fringe benefits. If you pay for some employee benefits (health insurance, pension, vacation, holidays, sick leave) you can deduct the cost of providing that benefit from the required fringe benefit rate.  If you don't already deduct this cost I would strongly encourage you to do it.  To help explain I found this section out of the US DOL Davis-Bacon Resource Book that is easy to understand:

Also fringe benefits paid in cash are subject to the added costs of payroll burden (FICA, FUTA & SUTA, General Liabilty, Workers Compensation Insurance).  Plus paying for a vacation expense at the end of the year will delay that expense and help your cash flow.

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Planning Calendars

When it comes to scheduling your work I think simpler is often better.  Being able to place all your work on one calendar can allow you to see how all your work fits.  Do I have enough people hired?  Are all the jobs starting at one time?  As a subcontractor you may be in less control of your work load.  That doesn't mean you don't try to get a handle on it.

I have a couple of tools that I find useful.  You can use the excel spreadsheet below to show your projects.  It is also easy to update.

Schedule Form.xls
Even simpler is to write directly on a calendar.  You could get a large wall erasable board from an outlet like  For a quick pdf calendar that you can print and write on you can go to

What do you use to schedule work?

Monday, June 16, 2014

Erosion & Sediment Control Field Guide

I was looking through the Iowa DOT website last week and ran across this field guide on erosion control.  It was produced several years ago by the Iowa DOT Office of Construction.  It is the best information I have ever seen on erosion control practices.  Full of photos of dos and don'ts when installing erosion control.  The guide can be downloaded here.  You can order a hard copy for $8.00.  Order form.

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Insurance Requirements

The Iowa DOT standard specifications require that the Contractor shall have liability insurance covering all construction operations and that a "Certificate of Insurance" be on file with the Contracting Authority prior to awarding a contract.  Prime contractors will "flow down" this requirement to their subcontractors as part of the subcontract agreement. The minimum coverage according to Iowa DOT SS 1107.02:

General Liability, including: Independent Contractors Contractual Liability, Products and Completed Operations


$500,000  Each Occurance
$500,000  Aggregate


$250,000  Each Occurance
$250,000  Aggregate



$750,000  Each Occurance
$750,000  Aggregate

Workmen's compensation insurance will be required according to the State of Iowa.  Railroad liability insurance may be needed when the project is on the railroad right of way. 

Monday, May 12, 2014

Annual DBE Goals

The Iowa DOT is in the process of setting the annual DBE Goals for the 2015 - 2017 fiscal year.  There will be a public meeting on Friday, May 16th to discuss the proposed goal.  The link to the notice can be found here.

The proposed goal is 5.75%.  The current goal is 4.6%.  The methodology of how the goal percentage was calculated is linked below:

The goal percentage boils down to a cold calculation of determining the number of ready and willing DBE firms divided by the number of all businesses in the same highway construction marketplace. The Iowa DOT is seeking public comment on this methodology. 

Also there is a need for any specific examples of the effects of discrimination on opportunities. What percentage of your work has DBE goals?  Is the industry becoming more or less accepting of women and minorities?  How are your dealings with financial institutions?  

Please take the time to send comments to:

Karen Kienast 
Office of Employee Services, Civil Rights Team 
Iowa Department of Transportation 
800 Lincoln Way 
Ames, Iowa 50010

Thursday, May 1, 2014

Iowa DOT Email Alerts

The Iowa Department of Transportation, Office of Contracts has an option to receive automatic notices when pre-bid information becomes available.  I have signed up for all the notifications and I can tell you it does give your inbox a work out.  I particularly like the eligible bidders list that gets sent prior to the letting.  This list is much more usable than the information posted on Bid Express. 

To sign-up go to

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

"Curb ramps" - the movie

More attention is placed on the construction of handicap ramps than almost any other part of a paving project.  It is where the final product has a real impact on a segment of the public.

The Iowa DOT is working to provide more training on the layout and construction of handicapped curb ramps.  Toward that end I found a two part video on building curb ramps made by Armor-tile that I thought was worth sending out.

Part 1

Part 2

The videos where made in 2006 in San Francisco so some of the details are not exactly how we do it in Iowa.  For example they show using colored concrete and a groove border; plus they cut the warning tile which we don't do.

Monday, April 7, 2014

New Good Faith Effort process

Starting with the April 15th letting there will be a new process to evaluate the good faith efforts (GFE) relating to Iowa DOT DBE goals.  The link to the file is here.  The objective measure of using the "80% rule" to determine GFE has been replaced with an appeal process to the GFE evaluation committee consisting of three Iowa DOT staff members.

In my opinion DBE contractors will see an increase in bid requests from prime contractors in order to document their good faith efforts.  I hope we don't return to the days when DBE contractors get flooded with certified letters requesting sub-quotes.  Prime contractors who have a good track record of contracting with and helping DBEs should be rewarded.

Some things I think DBE contractors should do when quoting work:

  • Try to respond to a prime contractor's request for quote by telling them yes I am bidding or not bidding, no work items for me, no time to bid.
  • Submit a written sub-quote either by fax or email
  • Try to submit to all qualified planholders
  • Keep a record of all your sub-quotes

Bidding Routine

I get asked about what opportunities are out there for DBE contractors.  How do I review the plans?  What projects have DBE goals?  How do I submit a sub-quote?

The Iowa DOT is very consistent in its letting procedures.  You should take advantage of that consistency to develop your own bidding routine.

1. Download and review the notice to bidders from the Iowa DOT Office of Contracts.
The notice to bidders will list all the projects for bid along with a partial list of work items, DBE 
goals, start date, etc.

2. Download the plans and proposals of the projects you are interested in from the Iowa DOT Office of Contracts website.

3. Use Bidx to track addendums on the project and get the list of qualified planholders. 

4. Fax or email your written sub-quote to the qualified planholders.  A list of most of the planholders fax numbers and email addresses is in the downloads page of this blog.

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Bid Express

All certified Iowa DOT DBEs should get registered on the Bid Express website  It is the only place where you can find:

  • Planholders and eligible bidders on each project
  • Questions and answers on upcoming lettings
  • Wage rate decisions
  • Addendums
  • Bids as read
  • Award Summary
  • DBE Commitments
  • Bid Tabulations
If you are a certified DBE you are eligible for a free Bid Express account.  Fill out the form at:


Friday, March 21, 2014

Iowa DOT App

Back in the day every superintendent in the field needed to carry the Supplemental Specifications (Bible) along with 3 ring binders for the Construction Manual and the Standard Road Plans.

Since the start of the Electronic Reference Library (ERL) about 15 years ago all these documents are available online.  The ERL link

Recently the Iowa DOT has added the ERL to the myIowaDOT app for both apple and android devices.  Check it out at

Pretty neat!