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U.S. Department of Transportation U.S. Department of Transportation Icon United States Department of Transportation United States Department of Transportation

Public Roads - Autumn 2021

Autumn 2021
Issue No:
Vol. 85 No. 3
Publication Number:
Table of Contents

Training Update

Training Update

by Gay Dugan and Christine Kemker

Scaling Probabilistic Risk-Based Estimating to Project Size 

"Logo of the National Highway Institute. Image source: FHWA."


How much is an accurate cost and schedule estimate worth? Accurately estimating project cost has been a challenge for decades. The National Highway Institute’s new eBook training, Probabilistic Risk-Based Estimating (PRBE) for Highway Project Cost and Schedule (FHWA-NHI-134205), aims to provide participants with the knowledge and tools needed address this challenge. This self-paced training introduces fundamental concepts and recommended processes to successfully implement PRBE procedures within any organization.

The PRBE process, which can help reduce cost overruns, is an evolution from traditional project estimates that rely on historical data from similar projects. Instead, PRBE provides a framework to assess project risks to cost and schedule objectives. This provides agencies more certainty in funding projects and setting completion dates. Although FHWA and several States are successfully implementing PRBE, this course is the first time the PRBE concepts and process have been put into a training format.

“Project estimates often have a lot of uncertainty, especially in the early stages of project development,” says Michael Smith, a project management engineer in FHWA’s Resource Center in the Office of Innovation Implementation. “PRBE is a process that exposes areas of uncertainty and provides the project manager a reliability-based estimate of cost and schedule completion while identifying significant project risks.”

"A screenshot of the eBook training cover, showing the starting navigation buttons. Image source: FHWA."
NHI’s new eBook training course is a self-paced, interactive PDF that learners can download on any device to study.

For States that use an enterprise risk management framework, PRBE can be another tool for implementing risk management. It applies the risk framework at the project level to cost estimates. With an appropriate level of effort, scaled to the size and complexity of the project, State and local agencies can benefit from the application of the PRBE process.

In addition to achieving improved reliability, users will benefit from earlier understanding of the project and its associated risks; enhanced ability to set achievable budgets and schedules; better control of costs to optimize budgets; more useful, credible ways to manage budgets and communicate risks to the public and stakeholders; and enhanced collaboration to achieve project objectives.

“The objective of this eBook course is to provide awareness of PRBE,” says Smith. “Our goal is to give State departments of transportation the knowledge and tools they need to implement the PRBE process, to be able to deliver more projects within budget and on time.”

What is an eBook training? 

An NHI first, this eBook training is designed to be both interactive and independent. The course is built as an interactive PDF, with expandable graphics, check-in questions that provide feedback, job-related questions, terminology popups, and a case study embedded throughout. Learners can take notes and answer questions directly in the PDF. It also remains a resource reference after the training is complete.

As an eBook, this training can be downloaded and taken at the learner’s leisure, minimizing disruption to regular work schedules. Once downloaded, it can be accessed from any device, and all the interactive features are present even if the device is not connected to the internet. Learners only need to log back into NHI’s My Training site to take the exam after reading the eBook.

Taking the Course 

The course can be found at and it costs $50 to register and download the eBook. This eBook is an intermediate-level course. Transportation professionals interested in this PRBE training should have some familiarity with the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials’ Practical Guide for Cost Estimation or experience with cost estimation, project management, and/or risk management. NHI estimates that reading the eBook will take 10 hours of active study time. Participants who successfully complete the course will earn one continuing education credit.

What’s next? 

Starting next year, FHWA will offer free onsite PRBE training that includes an application tool to implement the process. Interested participants should reach out to their local FHWA division office for more information after passing this eBook training.

Gay Dugan is the training program manager for this course with the FHWA Office of Innovation Management, Education, and Partnership - NHI.

Christine Kemker is a contracted marketing analyst for FHWA NHI.