Effective Data Strategies in Delivering the U.S. Federal Highway Program
“Data is the fuel and GPS. It enables us to make informed decisions, optimize travel, enhance safety, support equitable infrastructure, and ultimately deliver a more efficient and sustainable transportation system,” said Randall (Keith) Benjamin II, associate administrator for Highway Policy and External Affairs at the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA).
On October 4, 2023, FHWA Executive Director Gloria Shepherd gave a presentation, “Effective Data Strategies in Delivering the U.S. Federal Highway Program,” at the XXVII World Road Congress (Prague 2023) as part of the event’s national reporting session. The talk covered five critical strategies FHWA has implemented to ensure quality data collection.
As highlighted by Executive Director Shepherd, data are crucial to FHWA and its decisionmaking process. FHWA’s ability to obtain high-quality and timely data is not a coincidence. Over the years, the agency has developed and implemented various strategies for gathering data. These strategies have proven reliable, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic, to assess weekly national travel demand.
The first strategy involves FHWA’s reliance on State highway agencies and the inclusion of private contractors in data reporting. State highway agencies own most of the traffic monitoring equipment installed on public roads and work with private contractors to operate these devices. Allowing private contractors to directly submit traffic data on behalf of their State highway agency clients streamlines the process and significantly improves data timeliness. This strategy has been highly effective in obtaining weekly traffic-flow data.
The second strategy is for FHWA to acquire data and information directly from private businesses. This direct-purchasing approach provides FHWA with real-time travel speed data for the entire National Highway System, supporting the transportation performance management initiative and reducing the burden on State and local agencies.
FHWA’s third approach involves collaborating with and supporting private sector businesses in deploying big data and advanced data analytics. This cooperation with private sector enables the agency to gain valuable data and information that may not have been available otherwise, as the collaboration expedites research development and technology deployment. The FHWA national traveler origin-destination data are one result of such collaboration. Additionally, this collaboration allows FHWA to comprehensively evaluate the reliability of traffic data obtained through nontraditional methods (e.g., location-based service big data, cellular data, GPS data).
FHWA is also upgrading its big data analytics and artificial intelligence (AI) capabilities as one of its strategies. The agency recently established an advanced AI lab under the Path to Advancing Novel Data Analytics (PANDA) program. Through PANDA, FHWA wants to develop its employees’ ability to handle big data and AI to meet the agency’s growing internal needs.
The final strategy involves the ongoing reassessment of the agency’s data program. FHWA periodically reviews existing data and information programs to ensure their relevance, adequacy, and cost feasibility. Currently, the agency is conducting large-scale testing of alternative methods for collecting household travel behavior data through the National Household Travel Survey program. Furthermore, the agency is exploring alternative approaches to collecting and analyzing national motor vehicle licensed driver data as well as new data processing and reporting tools for the Highway Performance Monitoring System.
In conclusion, Executive Director Shepherd emphasized that while data and information do not make decisions, effective decisions must be data driven. FHWA is proud to prioritize data in delivering its highway program to the American people.
Tianjia Tang, Ph.D., is the chief of FHWA’s Travel Monitoring and Surveys division. Dr. Tang has a B.S. in civil engineering from the University of Central Florida and a Ph.D. from the University of Arkansas. He is a registered professional engineer in the State of Georgia.
Brian Brotsos, B.S., is an FHWA chief data officer managing digital solutions and data strategy. Brian has a B.S. in computer science from DePaul University.
Yusuf Mohamedshah, M.S., is a research highway safety specialist in FHWA’s Office of Safety and Operations Research and Development. He holds a master’s degree in civil engineering from Virginia Tech, and a bachelor’s degree in civil engineering from Mumbai University.
David Winter, P.E, is the director of FHWA’s Office of Highway Policy Information. David is a registered professional engineer and has a B.S. in industrial engineering from the University of Nebraska.
For the material covered by Executive Director Shepherd, navigate through: https://www.piarc.org/ressources/documents/source/XXVII-World-Road-Congress-Prague-2023-PIARC/ed8faa4-40787-Brochure-3-XXVIIth-World-Road-Congress-Prague-2023-PIARC-World-Road-Association.pdf.
For more information about PANDA, see https://highways.dot.gov/public-roads/winter-2023/whatsnew.