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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 - March/April 2013

March/April 2013
Issue No:
Vol. 76 No. 5
Publication Number:
Table of Contents

Training Update

NHI Helps Transportation Agencies Weigh Risks

by Candice Jackson

During planning for a transportation improvement, thorough consideration of potential risks can help reduce or eliminate them, ensuring a smoother project life cycle. In the same way, accounting for risk in program management and strategic planning can help transportation agencies minimize or avoid unexpected costs or delays. Reflecting the growing importance of understanding risk in government programs, Congress incorporated requirements for risk assessment into the latest highway authorization, the Moving Ahead for Progress in the 21st Century Act (MAP-21).

To help Federal, State, and local government officials master risk management, the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) and the National Highway Institute (NHI) partnered to develop training on identifying, assessing, and responding to risks associated with highway projects, programs, and strategic planning. NHI’s course 134065 Risk Management offers tools to help highway officials identify and manage risks involved in transportation planning at all levels.

The 2-day, instructor-led training outlines the processes and concepts surrounding risk management. Course materials explain in detail the relevant definitions, tools, and methods used, and participants complete exercises to practice applying newly learned techniques.

“Risk management is important to stakeholders at all levels of government,” says Daniel Fodera, with the Program Management Improvement Team under the FHWA Directors of Field Services. “The course teaches a standard risk management process that is applicable at the project, program, unit, and strategic levels of an organization. Instructors can work with hosting agencies to customize the exercises, enabling participants to apply the course content to issues specific to an agency’s projects or programs.”

Supporting NCDOT Initiatives

The North Carolina Department of Transportation (NCDOT) originally piloted the course as part of an effort to support the integration of risk management into its program and project delivery cycle. One of the course participants, NCDOT Chief Engineer Terry Gibson, now leads a management team seeking to institutionalize a risk management philosophy within NCDOT’s Division of Highways to help the department use its resources as cost effectively as possible.

Managing risk comes with the territory for personnel with NCDOT, but the goal is to integrate risk-based concepts and approaches throughout the department in a more consistent and conscious manner. To support this initiative, Gibson worked with FHWA North Carolina Division Administrator John Sullivan to bring NHI’s Risk Management course to his State.

A backhoe sits partially submerged in mud after it dug into a hidden spring during construction of a road-widening project. Risk management attempts to foresee and avoid this type of problem.


Working through FHWA’s North Carolina Division, NHI recently tailored three sessions of the course to address topics of interest to NCDOT. Managers at NCDOT and the FHWA division office attended the first session. The hosts provided two program-level problem statements related to planning for outsourcing and succession for the group to use as the context for class exercises. For the second and third sessions, the hosts selected four projects currently in the preconstruction phase of development and invited team members from those projects to attend and discuss project-specific statements related to shortening the delivery schedules. In each session, participants conducted risk assessments and drafted risk management plans for assigned programs and projects.

Risk Management Plans

By providing authentic management and project problem statements, the hosts helped to demonstrate the purpose, value, and applicability of risk management to attendees. By the end of each session, attendees delivered draft risk management plans that division and State planners and managers could use.

David Smith, a preconstruction staff engineer with NCDOT’s Division of Highways, helped coordinate the training sessions and is confident the framework presented in the course will be one that his team applies to upcoming projects. “Unit heads have electronically submitted their course outcomes -- drafts of risk management plans,” he says. “We expect to implement these results, as well as the process of risk management, into our interactions with maintenance and construction professionals, metropolitan planning organizations, and external stakeholders involved in the projects. We will be able to more effectively understand what the highest risks are and devote more resources to mitigating them.”

For course details and to schedule a session, visit NHI’s Web site at

Candice Jackson is a contractor for NHI.