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Performance Specifications Strategic Roadmap: A Vision for the Future

Performance Specifications Strategic Roadmap

In May 2000, the Florida Department of Transportation (DOT), in cooperation with the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) and the National Partnership for Highway Quality, conducted a workshop on the future of performance-related specifications (PRS) in the highway industry. More than 50 Federal, State, and private sector engineers met to discuss the background, history, and future of this topic. The attendees agreed that the subject was important, extremely complex, and had to be addressed. They recommended a national strategy to identify and coordinate efforts, and FHWA agreed to initiate the process.

In December 2001, FHWA, in cooperation with the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials (AASHTO) and various industry associations, sponsored the first national PRS Technical Working Group (TWG) meeting. The purpose of the meeting was to establish the foundation for a PRS movement to foster the development and application of performance-related specifications. The PRS TWG identified a series of activities that lead to continued development and implementation of PRS. At that meeting, the mission was expanded to include the formation of expert task groups in various technical disciplines and to include warranties, which are clear and growing alternatives to PRS.

In November 2002, the PRS TWG met again to review work accomplished by the expert task groups and to discuss several additional aspects of PRS. The attendees reemphasized their support for the effort and suggested that method specifications be addressed in some format in the PRS mission. Noting that the mission had been expanded to include method specifications and warranties along with performance-related and performance-based specifications, the attendees also recommended that the name of the effort be changed to the Performance Specification Program.

This Performance Specifications Strategic Road Map is intended to be used as a tool to guide the highway community in developing, implementing, and accepting performance specifications as viable alternatives for highway construction. It is a working document that will be maintained by the FHWA on its website and periodically updated.

Executive Summary

The Performance Specifications Strategic Road Map presents both a rational discussion of performance specifications and a plan for their development as a viable contract option for highway construction. Performance specification (PS) is an umbrella term that incorporates performance related specifications (PRS), performance-based specifications (PBS), and warranties. In broad terms, a performance specification links the performance characteristics of the final product to those construction and materials items under the control of the contractor. Performance characteristics may include end-result elements such as product strength, bearing capacity, stability, visibility, and cracking, as well as more functional requirements such as smoothness, friction, noise reduction, chip retention, splash, and spray.

When future performance of a product is projected using construction tests and measurements linked to design via modeling, the specifications are commonly known as performance-related or performance-based specifications. When actual performance of the product is measured after a predetermined time in service, the specification structure is commonly known as a warranty. When the final product is described in terms of component materials, dimensions, tolerances, weights, and required construction methodology-equipment type, size, speed, etc.-the specifications are commonly described as method or prescriptive specifications. Currently, method specifications are the most prevalent in highway construction.

Engineers have long sought relationships between a material characteristic and its impact on product performance. If clear relationships could be determined and properly translated into specification language, the benefits could be significant. Agencies could better understand quality and performance and more accurately translate design intent into construction requirements. Agencies also could target and economize inspection programs, and more rationally develop incentives and disincentives. Contractors could use materials and methods in which they have experience and confidence. With the advent of warranties, contractors are coming to grips with a similar challenge as they select materials and construction techniques to meet future product performance requirements.

Societal changes are driving procurement strategies as well. With dramatic reductions in both the numbers and experience levels of government inspectors and engineers, highway agencies are examining their roles and responsibilities. The complexity of high-speed construction, nighttime construction, and rehabilitation work under traffic-all of which the public demands-further stretches available agency resources. Traditional low-bid contracting may not be the ultimate mechanism for this type of work, as growing interest in design-build contracting and long-term warranties indicates. These contracting mechanisms also require a full examination of specification language and a clear delineation of roles, responsibilities, and risks.

This road map fully examines the performance specification issue. It outlines a mission, vision, and goals that will establish an organized framework for a movement towards performance specifications. The vision is that the performance of highway facilities will improve through better translation of design intent and performance requirements into construction specifications. The mission is to establish performance specifications as a viable contract option.

The road map outlines four strategic goals:

  • Identify relationships that link design and construction with product performance.
  • Develop and implement performance specifications.
  • Conduct a communication and training effort.
  • Provide organizational support for the Performance Specification Program.

The road map also outlines major tasks for the next five years in support of these goals.

FHWA will provide administrative support to the program, but it will look to other agencies and industry to provide necessary input and support for the various initiatives.

"To attain our goals of improved quality, improved product performance, and a better environment for contractor innovation, we cannot simply identify and test those construction and materials factors that best determine product performance.

"We also must address roles, responsibilities, risks, and specification language as well to determine how best to deliver that product. Freedom to innovate with accountability to deliver is the driving force behind the performance specification movement."

- Ted Ferragut, TDC Partners, Ltd

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Updated: 11/26/2013
Federal Highway Administration | 1200 New Jersey Avenue, SE | Washington, DC 20590 | 202-366-4000