Although considered one of the most effective innovations in the management of modern mobility, Transportation Asset Management (TAM) is not a software program, a database system, or even a specific package of professional tools. It is, in short, a decisionmaking process for allocating resources. TAM provides agencies with a strategic approach to managing transportation infrastructure and enables agency leadership to view the big picture before deciding how to deploy resources.(1)
TAM focuses on creating a strategic and systematic process for operating, maintaining, upgrading, and expanding physical assets effectively throughout their lifecycle. It relies on business and engineering practices for resource allocation and utilization. The goal is better decisionmaking based upon a high quality of information and well-defined objectives.(2)
TAM spotlights the whole transportation infrastructure, through an entire lifecycle, and makes possible decisions that produce the optimal performance of that infrastructure in relation to the resources required to operate and maintain it. Additionally, Transportation Asset Management examines investment timing, tools, and economic analyses to assure the most effective use of available funds.
Transportation Asset Management involves five core principles.(3) It is generally:
TAM principles apply to a number of functions within State transportation agencies, including:
|Figure 1: Transportation Asset Management Framework|
The Transportation Asset Management process is represented by the flowchart in Figure 1, Transportation Asset Management Framework. The flowchart shows, not only the individual TAM components or business practices, but also their relationships and the order in which they will likely occur. The goals and policies of the agency consist of high-level, strategic statements that reflect the desired condition and performance of the transportation system from the perspectives of both the agency and its customers. These goals and policies therefore guide how the assets are managed at all levels of the organization.
An inventory of the assets and a means to assess their condition and model their performance is the first step, enabling the agency to identify investment requirements for improvement in the short and long term.
Next, the agency identifies the options or alternatives for addressing the investment requirement. These are then analyzed and evaluated on the basis of their cost effectiveness using a host of analytical and optimization tools. Budget and resource allocation constraints are incorporated into the alternatives evaluation criteria. Selected alternatives are then included in the list of projects that will go into the agency's short- and long-range plans. The final stages in the process consist of implementing the projects and monitoring the resulting performance of the assets.
The knowledge gained from one cycle in the process is used to update and improve any or all of its components. Figure 1 depicts a generic Transportation Asset Management process in a transportation agency. However, the manner in which each component is carried out will vary from one agency to another.
Since construction of the Nation's Interstate System is now functionally complete, the emphasis within the transportation community has shifted from "build it" to "improve system performance" and "preserve and maintain it." Thus, transportation agencies are under renewed pressure to demonstrate improvements in the performance of the transportation system and are being held increasingly accountable for funding decisions.
To help ease the transition from building new infrastructure to improving the performance of the existing system, many agencies are adopting TAM practices. TAM provides the tools and structure necessary to set goals, identify priorities, improve processes, and measure results that demonstrate improved performance.(4)
"Asset Management, in many ways, represents a "revenge of the nerds," . . . We are providing a rational basis for investment process that can be inherently political." -Southeast Michigan Council of Governments Official
Increased demands on the Nation's productivity and mobility present a significant challenge to many agencies. This is especially true where economic constraints necessitate more asset enhancement and preservation with fewer staff and less money. Transportation Asset Management helps agencies chart paths that leverage resources (including increasingly powerful computers, sophisticated analytical tools, and advances in information technology) to respond to rising system demands while maintaining adequate levels of service. TAM produces a "holistic" perspective that provides a means through which to prioritize requirements and allocate investment across different assets, over time, in the most cost-effective way.
Perhaps the most important argument for Transportation Asset Management, however, is that, without it, the underlying goal of any modern transportation agency, which is satisfying the customer, cannot be fully achieved. To fulfill that role, TAM must respond to the customer's fundamental values and priorities. With an ecosystem straining to support heavy demands, in a challenging economic environment, at a time of mixed performance by societal leaders, words like "sustainability," "accountability," and "stewardship" rise in conversation and in public and individual consciousness. Transportation Asset Management allows agencies to strongly reflect, not only such shared values, but the solid, beneficial practices that serve them. With TAM, return on the taxpayer's dollar increases and the dialog between customers and the stewards of their investment moves toward greater understanding and partnership. Customers and agencies also benefit from a clear justification for the systematic application of funds that flow from coffers otherwise entangled by competing interests. No matter how large or small the agency, how challenging the operating realities, or how consistent the quality of customer interaction, the time is right for Transportation Asset Management.
Useful and reliable data are central to a fully functioning Transportation Asset Management process. TAM involves the gathering, retrieval, storage, analysis, and communication of large quantities of information. The guidance that is drawn from this data is essential to the cooperative and informed decision-making process underlying TAM.
Data inputs are required to evaluate and monitor the condition and performance of the asset inventory, develop performance objectives and measures, identify cost-effective investment strategies, and conduct asset value assessments. Information is also required to monitor the effectiveness of the Transportation Asset Management business process. Although it is not necessary to store all of the transportation system's data in a single repository, it is critical that the data be readily accessible and comparable. Data integration and data sharing, therefore, are vital components of TAM.
It is very easy for an agency to become "data rich and information poor." DOTs should strive to do the most rigorous analysis possible with current data resources. Early analysis, even with less sophisticated tools, may help agencies determine if they are collecting the "right" data.(5)
Since the publication of the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials' (AASHTO) Transportation Asset Management Guide in 2002, "many transportation agencies have begun, not only to understand the concepts and accept the principles of Asset Management, but also to implement its techniques and to incorporate these techniques in their day-to-day activities."(6)
FHWA's Office of Asset Management is actively engaged in helping transportation agencies successfully implement the Guide's principles, overcoming barriers to implementation as needed. This is important because 50 percent of State agency respondents in a recent National Cooperative Highway Research Program (NCHRP) survey noted that due, in part, to TAM implementation, they have been able to positively shift department policy and create legislative support for increased funding.
Implementation of Transportation Asset Management within individual transportation agency focus areas currently includes programs targeting:(7)
An established body of tools is now in place to support the Transportation Asset Management process. Transportation agencies often deploy:
In addition to these tools, a number of new technologies for collecting, processing, and managing safety data are entering the marketplace. The enactment of SAFETEA-LU in 2005 created a new emphasis on accountability for roadway safety. In response, FHWA undertook the development of tools to improve the quality of safety analysis and to prioritize safety problems in a more comprehensive fashion. These tools include:
FHWA's Office of Asset Management (HIAM) recently added another item to the Transportation Asset Management "toolkit" now guiding transportation agencies nationwide:
HIAM is engaged in a major initiative to assess the data integration needs of transportation agencies and provide technical assistance to address those needs. This FHWA initiative underscores the critical nature of effective information management in supporting decision-making processes involved in Transportation Asset Management.(12)