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FHWA > Asset Management > IF-07-011 > Introduction

Transportation Asset Management Case Studies
The Washington State Experience

1. Introduction

A comprehensive, fully integrated Transportation Asset Management System weaves together information on all asset inventories, condition and performance databases, and alternative investment options.

Source: FHWA Asset Management Primer

Figure 1: The existing (right) Tacoma Narrows Bridge and the new bridge span under construction.
Arial photograph showing the two suspension bridges spanning the Narrows.

Note from the Associate Administrator

With factors such as an aging national infrastructure, increasing congestion and limited funds weighing heavily on transportation agencies, State departments of transportation (DOTs) are looking for innovative ways to manage their transportation dollars.

One tool that is providing great benefits is Transportation Asset Management (TAM), a strategic approach that strives to provide the best return for each dollar invested by maximizing system performance, improving customer satisfaction and minimizing life-cycle costs.

TAM endeavors vary from State to State and include efforts in the areas of data integration, economics in asset management, the utilization of Highway Economic Requirements System - State Version (HERS-ST), life-cycle cost analysis (LCCA), preservation, and pavement and bridge management, among others.

Because each State's experience is unique - and because FHWA believes that transportation agencies work more efficiently when information on one another's successes is shared - the Office of Asset Management is continuing its series of TAM case study reports begun in 2002.

On behalf of the Office of Asset Management, I am pleased to add this case study on a comprehensive TAM effort to the series. I believe that each of the five case studies generated this year (one on LCCA, two on HERS-ST and two on comprehensive TAM efforts) will help transportation agencies meet the increasingly complex challenges facing them today.

King W. Gee
Associate Administrator for Infrastructure
April 2007

Note to the Reader

The TAM case study series is the result of partnering between State departments of transportation and the Federal Highway Administration's (FHWA's) Office of Asset Management. FHWA provides the forum, and the States furnish the details of their experiences with asset management.

For each case study, FHWA representatives interview State transportation staff and compile the information, and the State approves the resulting material. Thus, the case study reports rely on the agencies' own assessment of their experience. Readers should note that the reported results may not be reproducible in other organizations.

Figure 2: WSDOT's SR-520 Floating Bridge in Seattle.
Four lanes of traffic are photographed approaching an exit on I-77. A fifth lane merges in on the left, which is dedicated to High Occupancy Vehicles having 2 or more passengers.

Executive Summary

The Evergreen State, as Washington is called, is the 18th largest State in the Nation and the only State named after a president. It is bordered by Canada to the north, Oregon to the south, Idaho to the east and the Pacific Ocean to the west. The highest point in the State is Mt. Rainier at 14,410 feet above sea level; the lowest, the coastline (at sea level).

Only 360 miles long and 240 miles wide, Washington State contains six distinct geographic areas: the Olympic Mountains, the Coast Range, the Puget Sound Lowlands, the Cascade Mountains, the Columbia Plateau and the outlying sub-range of the Rocky Mountains. The State's climate ranges from a wet marine environment that receives as much as 160 inches of precipitation annually to a rain shadow area east of the Cascades that averages only six inches of precipitation a year. These features - and a rapidly expanding population of over six million - make managing transportation assets in this ruggedly beautiful State a challenge.

The Washington State Department of Transportation (WSDOT) has long utilized data collection and analysis to help manage its transportation assets. Beginning in 1990, a series of legislative efforts helped WSDOT enhance its programming process and refine its data collection efforts. Performance measures and targets have been developed for all major asset categories and have become a major component of WSDOT's TAM program.

Effective data management systems and innovative reporting methods also play a vital role in WSDOT's asset management efforts. The department's central performance publication is "Measures, Markers and Mileposts: WSDOT's quarterly report to the Governor and the Washington State Transportation Commission on transportation programs and department management." This report, also known as "The Gray Notebook," links WSDOT's performance measures to the agency's strategic objectives as well as the governor's Priorities of Government goals and legislative funding priorities. Information on "The Gray Notebook" is available online at http://www.wsdot.wa.gov/accountability/default.htm.

Unlike many other DOTs where TAM programs are centralized, WSDOT relies on a distributed method where everyone in the agency is responsible for the effective management of transportation assets. Key steps include determining the lowest life-cycle cost for transportation corridors and gleaning as much efficiency as possible out of the State's existing systems. The department's goal is optimization of the entire network.

1. Agency Facts

WSDOT had its beginnings under the State Highway Board, which was created on March 13, 1905. A State for only 16 years, Washington had fewer than 1,000 miles of State roads - most of them unpaved - and 600,000 residents. The Board's initial biennial budget was $110,000.

A cabinet agency since 2005, WSDOT plans, constructs, operates and maintains a multimodal system that includes over 20,000 lane miles of State roadways, more than 3,000 bridges and the Nation's largest ferry fleet, with 28 ferries that carry more than 26 million riders to 20 ports of call each year. WSDOT also provides assistance to 129 general aviation airfields and to special passenger and freight rail services. Just over 6,900 full-time employees, plus additional temporary, seasonal and part-time staff, work at WSDOT headquarters, seven regional offices, and 21 ferry terminals. Approximately 1,500 maintenance staff work at 116 area and section maintenance facilities across the State. The department's current biennial budget is $4.7 billion.

A governor-appointed Secretary of Transportation serves at the helm of WSDOT and is responsible for the agency's daily operations. The seven-member Washington State Transportation Commission provides the forum for the development of transportation policy and coordinates State transportation plans with national and local policy.

Figure 3: A typical travel day in Seattle.
Photograph of southbound afternoon traffic as it travels through Seattle.

WSDOT's mission is "to keep people and business moving by operating and improving the State's transportation systems vital to our taxpayers and communities." The agency accomplishes this through six strategic initiatives:

  1. Manage and operate State transportation facilities to improve the safety and reliability of State transportation systems for the benefit of travelers, shippers and communities.
  2. Maintain structures, facilities, support systems and services to optimize their short-term and long-term usefulness and enhance environmental performance in highway and ferry operations.
  3. Deliver asset and rehabilitation projects to preserve the State's existing infrastructure assets and utilize lowest life-cycle approaches to extend their useful life.
  4. Deliver high-quality capital projects that add to and improve the State's transportation systems on time and on budget.
  5. Communicate transportation system performance and WSDOT agency performance to the public through clear and consistent project delivery and program management reporting.
  6. Assure the capability, efficiency and safety of WSDOT's workforce.

These objectives complement 1) the governor's long range Priorities of Government, a statewide approach that utilizes agency results as the basis for budget and decision-making, and 2) the short range Strategic Action Plan, the State's performance reporting effort for 2007. The Cabinet Strategic Action Plan has set the following goals for WSDOT to accomplish by December 31, 2007:

  • Complete 90 percent of highway projects on time and within budget.
  • Preserve 97 percent of bridges and 90 percent of roads in good or satisfactory condition.
  • Reduce congestion by clearing highway accidents quickly; in coordination with the Washington State Patrol, reduce the average duration of "over-90 minute incidents" by five percent.
  • Reduce highway fatalities by four percent (in coordination with the Washington State Patrol).
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Updated: 11/01/2012