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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 - September/October 2003

Guest Editorial

A New Way of Doing Business

kingwgeeIn the United States, highways are the preferred mode for personal travel and movement of freight, with the National Highway System serving as the backbone of our intermodal transportation network. The demand for highway travel continues to grow, while the system is aging. The need to rehabilitate, rebuild, expand, and operate the highway infrastructure more efficiently will continue to increase, but available resources will remain limited. This challenge presents an opportunity for transportation decisionmakers, planners, and engineers at Federal, State, and local levels. We must recognize that managing a completed highway system will require a different way of doing business than was needed during the Interstate construction era. Refocusing our efforts by looking at the system as a whole will enable tomorrow's transportation infrastructure to meet the public's demand for improved safety, mobility, and quality of life.

The Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) partners with State and local transportation agencies, industry, and academia to deliver a highway system capable of meeting increasingly complex demands. Outlined below are four efforts that combine new technologies with a more holistic, system-oriented way of thinking.

Improve Infrastructure Performance. Using the latest preventive maintenance techniques to preserve the highway system can extend service life and reduce the need for more costly, time-consuming rehabilitation. When infrastructure must be rehabilitated or reconstructed to add capacity, using high-performance materials and improved design specifications can produce pavements and structures that will last longer, perform better, and require less maintenance. FHWA's Pavement Smoothness Initiative, implementation of the Load and Resistance Factor Design specification, and use of high-performance concrete and steel and fiber-reinforced polymers are just some examples of current applications of technologies that enhance infrastructure performance to increase safety and reduce congestion. FHWA has proposed additional long-term, high-payoff infrastructure research to develop next-generation breakthrough technologies.

Accelerate Construction. Prefabricated systems, innovative contracting, and accelerated construction techniques to improve work zone safety and operations have reduced construction time dramatically. "Get In, Get Out, Stay Out" is the mantra for accelerated construction. "Get In" means that once a project has been decided on, the best means are used to expedite getting the work started. "Get Out" means dramatically shortened construction time and less congestion due to work zones. "Stay Out" means using quality control/quality assurance procedures, high-performance materials, and advanced design specifications to ensure the construction project will deliver many years of safe, reliable service.

Respond to Community Needs with Context-Sensitive Solutions. This new design method focuses on community involvement in all phases of a transportation project, from early planning through completion of construction. Five States have implemented context-sensitive design, and several more have active programs. FHWA is promoting best practices among Federal, State, and local agencies. Community involvement ensures that transportation projects deliver safety, mobility, and quality of life.

Optimize Resource Allocation with Asset Management. Although the efforts described above are crucial, they must be applied systematically to optimize limited resources. Transportation asset management (TAM) is a strategic approach to decisionmaking that reflects a new way of doing business. Under TAM, an agency considers the total system over a project's entire life cycle to deliver the best mix of programs to maximize benefits for customers, given current budgets and performance goals. TAM offers a way to allocate resources optimally—dollars, people, and data—for managing, operating, preserving, and expanding transportation system infrastructure.

Instead of characterizing infrastructure as an expense, TAM defines it as an asset and funding it as an investment. Therefore, the focus is not on dollars spent or miles improved, but on how the system performs as a whole. With TAM, decisionmakers target areas offering the highest return on investment, which decreases life-cycle costs and improves safety, system predictability, and financial performance.

Many of the building blocks for TAM already exist in transportation agencies. Pavement, bridge, and other management information systems are solidly in place and may provide the inputs necessary for TAM's hallmark tradeoff analysis. And many transportation agencies have begun the transition to TAM-based thinking through performance-based management and strategic planning.

King W. Gee

Associate Administrator for Infrastructure

Federal Highway Administration