States' permit process has pluses

The New York State Thruway Authority

The New York State Thruway Authority is automating its paper-based permitting process for work along easements. The system will also offer people online access to view authorized work in case they want to check on activity that might look suspicious.

The authority, a public-benefit corporation that manages 1,165 miles of highways and canals, recently contracted with Dublin, Calif.-based Accela Inc. to help develop the automated process and Web site.

Each year, the authority issues about 1,000 work and occupancy permits and renews about 6,300. Easements are right-of-ways allowing a party, such as a utility company, to work onto another party's property. Such Work may include fixing pipes, installing billboards and signs, or even landscaping.

Accela specializes in permitting, building and land management applications and has customers in more than 450 jurisdictions in North America. During the past two years, the company has broadened its offerings to include emergency response and disease surveillance software.

"This is a chance for us to show that our software can help improve security to provide a more viable infrastructure," said Maury Blackman, Accela's vice president of marketing and business development, adding that homeland security and emergency services products are "natural extensions" of the company's core functions.

For example, an individual may come across a work project along a highway corridor that may look suspicious. He or she can then log on to a Web site, input the nearest mile marker number and approximate location, and see the authorized permit. If no work is listed for the area, the individual can alert public safety officials.

Blackman said the new automated process is expected to be ready this summer.

In related news, Accela recently developed a new portal for Michigan's Bureau of Construction Codes that enables contractors to apply for, pay for and print electrical, plumbing or mechanical permits — all in a matter of minutes.

Previously, contractors had to fill out a permit application and mail it to the state. It would then be manually entered into the system, and an approved permit would be returned in two to three weeks, Blackman said.

He said the application has been running as a test since December and is commercially available to all contractors. In the first month, he said the system cut into about 20 percent of what bureau was getting in the mail, freeing up staff time and saving the state money.

Two years ago, the state processed more than 41,000 permits total, and this year officials expect that about 6,000 will be processed online.

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