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Arrow Marketing Plan for Prefabricated Bridge Elements and Systems (PBES)

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Customer–Target Market Analysis

One can categorize the audience or target market for PBES into the following nine categories:

  • State Transportation Agencies (including Chief Executive Officers [CEOs], Chief Engineers, State Bridge Engineers, District Administrators, District Engineers, District Bridge Engineers, Environmental Specialists, and Design and Construction Teams)
  • Users (including the Driving Public, Commercial Carriers, Neighbors, Mass Media)
  • Local Transportation Agencies (including Counties, Cities, and Townships/Parishes)
  • Metropolitan Planning Organizations (MPOs)
  • FHWA (including Division Offices, Area Engineers, Division Administrators, Bridge Engineers, Resource Center, and Environmental Specialists)
  • Federal Lands Highway Divisions (including Directors of Project Delivery, Bridge Engineers, Project Managers, Design and Construction Team, Environmental Specialists)
  • Industry (including Consultants, Fabricators, Suppliers, Contractors, Producers, and Trade/Professional Associations)
  • Educators (Academia, National Highway Institute [NHI], Local Technical Assistance Programs [LTAP] and Tribal Technical Assistance Programs [TTAP])
  • Researchers (individuals from any of the above categories who are focused on the specific aspect of finding better ways of building bridges through research)

This chapter provides a brief analysis of two of the largest markets—state transportation agencies and highway users.

State Transportation Agencies

In the United States, the decisions regarding what type of bridge gets built where are made primarily within the State DOTs; therefore, this organizational type is the primary focus of the PBES marketing effort. Although there are almost half a dozen types of "customers" considered in the category of State Transportation Agencies, this marketing effort focuses primarily on two key customer types: the state bridge engineer and the CEO.

The State Bridge Engineer

The state bridge engineer is responsible for planning, designing, and constructing bridges within the state. He or she is the key technical professional having impact on the decision–making process of whether to make the use of prefabricated bridge elements and systems a standard approach. Therefore, it is critical to know how these individuals feel about PBES as a concept, what prevents them from using PBES on a regular basis, and what actions might eliminate those barriers.

In April 2005, in a meeting at Woods Hole, Massachusetts, a focus group of 18 state bridge engineers discussed those very topics. The group found six barriers to using the technology and six needs that, if filled, would eliminate those barriers.

Lack of Education, Training, and Experience

Because of the relative newness of this technology, most of these state bridge engineers felt that extensive training was needed for both the DOT staff and contractor personnel. One engineer noted that contractors are reluctant to bid on technologies, methods, or equipment with which they are unfamiliar. Another pointed out that part of that education and experience would be having access to specialty firms that have done such work before.

How does one remove that barrier? Of course, a formal course and workshops were mentioned, but also, as one bridge engineer noted, on–the–job experience would be very helpful. The State DOT "needs to work through the issues with a small demonstration project."

Lack of Standards and Specifications

A majority of the group felt that standards and specifications were critical elements as well. The types of standards and specifications the group requested include design considerations, foundation requirements, development of construction specifications to administer the project, project planning guidance early in the schedule to facilitate obtaining adequate right–of–way to build the bridge off the alignment, guidance in speed of installation of foundations, inspection requirements, and an incentive guide specification for PBES. Hauling and transportation of PBES can be an issue as well.

Concerns about Durability or Details

One bridge engineer noted that a barrier for installing PBES routinely in hours or days is the need for testing to ensure the final product meets the state's seismic potential loss of continuity performance requirements.

Another bridge engineer stated that he had concern for the potential loss of continuity and the smoothness of the riding surface that can be achieved with conventional concrete cast–in–place construction.

Another noted that, "durability of joints and connections in prefab components remains a concern," and another bridge engineer agreed, saying that connection details (footings to columns and columns to caps) in seismic areas are a concern.

One bridge engineer was concerned about bridge demolition and site preparation time. He said that, "Whereas a prefab bridge itself can be erected quickly, it usually has to go Marketing Plan for Prefabricated Bridge Elements and Systems (PBES) 13 where an existing bridge is located. Therefore, the road must be shut down for a considerable amount of time to demolish the existing bridge and prep the site for the new bridge. This then forces us to do staged construction or erect temporary bridges. If the incremental time savings is so small versus total project time, there is no incentive to go prefab bridge routinely."

What did these state bridge engineers want to allay their concerns about durability of details? They felt that more research and testing are needed. One suggested seismic testing of unconventional details and systems. Another wanted more information addressing bridge demolition and site preparation, and others suggested additional research to ensure that adequate ductility can be achieved in connections for PBES.

High Cost and Limited Resources

Exactly half of the engineers in the group stated that they perceive PBES to have a higher price tag than conventional approaches. One stated that most of the prefabricated elements used by his state are manufactured out of state, so transportation costs are higher than conventional approaches. Another said that the costs of using SPMTs or other heavy lifting subcontractors can add 15 to 20 percent to the project cost. Although much has been said about PBES saving initial cost funds, it is clear from the responses of this key group of state bridge engineers that PBES projects to date have not consistently achieved lower initial costs, and that it is important to use PBES effectively such that the projects have competitive initial costs.

Lack of Perceived Need For Speed

Several state bridge engineers questioned whether being able to build fast was really necessary, since there were still other items on a project schedule's critical path that might negate any benefits. Others noted that, in many projects, there was not an alternative route available so that traffic could be even temporarily shunted to another location. As far as what would help most in facilitating this challenge, the responses indicated that adequate evaluation was needed in the planning stage to ensure benefit from the use of PBES. The responses also seemed to imply that PBES should be looked upon as not being simply as way of building fast, but a way of building better.

Construction Industry not Geared up for Prefab

Concerns were voiced over contractors' ability to staff up for projects and then having to lay people off after a project is completed. Also, lack of a large enough number of heavy lifting contractors to compete for projects and lower cost was a concern. One bridge engineer noted a lack of prefab manufacturing facilities in his state or even nearby states.

State Transportation Agency CEO

Next in importance is the chief executive officer of the State DOT. Naturally, as the top administrator of the agency, this person can play a major role in the decision–making process for the use of PBES technology.

From the middle to the latter part of the 20th century, the typical State DOT was managed by a leadership staff comprised of civil engineers who answered to a commission appointed by the governor of the state. Commissioners would meet periodically, usually once a month, to provide general direction for the agency and to approve the development of major highways and programs. This approach worked for a few key reasons. First, it allowed the Marketing Plan for Prefabricated Bridge Elements and Systems (PBES) 14 department and staff to operate based on engineering needs and buffered it from political pressures. Second, it allowed the governor to appoint individuals who had good business sense and who would manage according to the governor's political leanings. It also relieved the commissioners of the day–to–day aspects of design, construction, maintenance, personnel management, and other operational tasks.

It was common to develop agency leaders internally over many years. Agencies would hire college engineering students during the summer months. Later, after they'd received their degrees, these new engineers would have jobs waiting for them at the agency. It was quite normal for a man to work for an agency from his college years, right through to retirement.

While some state DOT heads today are engineers with many years of experience in project work, the picture is changing. With the ever–increasing size of projects, in terms of their construction costs, their complexity, and their impact on the public, newly elected governors have become very much aware of the impact that success or failure of a transportation project or program can have on their administrations. Many of them have appointed their own people to head the state's transportation agency. Typically, the individual selected is a successful business person or political operative who actively supports the governor's agenda. Thus, for the new agency head, concern with the media and the political ramifications of a decision can be as critical as the actual transportation engineering ones.

This practice of appointing non–transportation professionals has gotten so prevalent in recent years that AASHTO has scheduled week–long training camps to bring these new executives up to speed on what running a state's transportation program is all about. By definition, these individuals have an eye on the political implications of transportation decisions and, because their term of office is frequently no longer than that of the governor who appoints them, they look for approaches that have fast results–in months or, at most, a very few years.

Exactly how many state DOTs have such leadership? An Internet search in early 2006 showed some remarkable statistics. Out of 50 states and the District of Columbia, only 19–less than 40–are headed by engineers. This is down dramatically from the numbers of just 5 years ago. Moreover, several of those listed as engineers have their expertise in non–highway related areas, such as mining or forestry. Only 21 DOT heads were agency employees prior to getting the job of CEO. (A chart of the results is found in Appendix B.) Additional support is found in a mail survey of the heads of state DOTs, undertaken in 2003. Of the 32 respondents, 17 had civil engineering degrees. The other 15 had degrees in topics as diverse as law, psychology, journalism, history, and environmental policy. The group was asked, if they could somehow acquire additional expertise overnight, in order to enhance their role as the leader of their organization, what sort of expertise might it be? In response, 14 said business management, 12 said economics and finance, 9 said marketing and public affairs, 8 said human resources, and only 7 mentioned engineering.

Given the major differences between the engineers and the new type of CEO, it is clear that there need to be at least two marketing approaches in dealing with state transportation agencies, one focused on the engineering, technical aspects, and another focused on areas such as financials, safety and civic responsibility.

Highway Users

One might argue that there is no reason to go outside the highway community in order to attain success with PBES. However, those outside the highway community play a critical role in the success of the PBES technology. The foremost reason for involving the public is that the laws, regulations and traditions of our society demand involvement of the public in governmental affairs. Also, of course, it is public funds that support the entire program. And, it is important to note, the impact of PBES extends to areas that influence the public. The cost of congestion, for example, in terms of lost hours and the cost to the national economy are things that impact everyone.

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Scott Wolf
Center for Accelerating Innovation

This page last modified on 04/04/11

United States Department of Transportation - Federal Highway Administration