WSDOT institutionalized numerous changes as it enhanced its credibility and transitioned to the TAM agency it is today.
With the change in project selection and prioritization processes put in place after RCW 47.05 was passed, WSDOT was able to improve the prioritization of projects rather quickly. The next step, which has taken longer to fully implement, was changing the focus of the solutions/projects being proposed so that they embrace the comprehensive transportation asset management philosophy WSDOT embodies.
Figure 4: Cover of 'The Gray Notebook', WSDOT's central performance publication.
First, the agency made optimization of the entire network its mantra when programming projects, implementing tiered solutions wherever possible. Oftentimes this means looking at low-cost options such as the addition of new intelligent transportation system (ITS) technologies, the use of auxiliary lanes between interchanges and/or the addition of storage capacity on urban ramps. The goal is to reach the point where the system can't handle any more traffic. Because congestion is a major factor for travelers, WSDOT is moving away from level of service (LOS) as its measure. The agency sees enhancing system reliability and maximizing throughput, which it defines as traffic moving at 70 to 85 percent of the posted speed, as a more appropriate means of benchmarking and measuring system performance.
Second, it demolished internal silos and adopted what agency planners term a transparency mode. Prior to 2000, says Accounting Chief Marcy Yates, the various sections of the department tended to view their areas as isolated "silos" rather than interdependent units and simply didn't talk to one another. In order to move forward with effective asset management, staff needed to understand that everyone was equally responsible for the success of the department. It took time, but eventually staff acclimated to the notion that, if one succeeds, all succeed and, if one fails, all fail. The idea that the department was "transparent" - that nothing should or would be hidden - assisted greatly with that process.
Third, the department dedicated additional resources to developing programs that could consolidate transportation asset data. The first generation of data accessibility, says Morin, was via Excel spreadsheets, which were distributed manually from office to office. By the late 1990s, WSDOT had developed the Priority Array Tracking System (PATS), a mainframe system that cross-referenced fields via various data sorts in order to generate the desired reports. Not content with such a laborious system, the program development division volunteered in 2000 to work with the geographic information services (GIS) unit on moving to a GIS-based program. The idea of the GIS Workbench is to plot the whole State utilizing a 1,000-foot view that provides multiple layers of data. "Every two years we have 450 new projects worth about $5 billion to scope," Morin says. Establishing a linear reference system that can provide a crosswalk between databases will accomplish this. WSDOT's system isn't optimized yet, but the department's goal is to have Workbench functional in its regional design offices within a year.
Finally, the department developed a comprehensive performance report, "The Gray Notebook," as its central reporting tool; adopted a series of performance measures and benchmarks; and began reporting its progress in detail to legislators and the public each quarter.
After the BRCT recommended the establishment of numerous benchmarks, WSDOT and the Washington State Transportation Commission formed a committee to guide the implementation of benchmarks for the key categories recommended by the BRCT. The legislature ratified WSDOT's use of nine system performance benchmarks in Engrossed Substitute House Bill 2304, Part I, in January 2002. (Note: at time of printing these statutory benchmarks were being reconsidered by the 2007 Legislature. Instead of legislating specific benchmarks and measures into statute, the governor, the legislature and WSDOT recommend the adoption of six high-level policy goals, allowing for the flexibility to periodically establish or revise measures and benchmarks to reflect changing State priorities, funding scenarios and system needs.)
With benchmarks and performance measures in place, the agency turned its attention to progress reporting and detailed asset condition reports. Sharing of information is accomplished via a number of efforts, including the presence of legislative and gubernatorial staff at the department's quarterly regional project delivery meetings. The central information dissemination tool, however, remains "The Gray Notebook." This bulletin links WSDOT's performance measures to the department's strategic objectives; reports on the agency's capital project delivery programs and cross-cutting management issues; and provides quarterly updates on worker safety, workforce level and training, congestion, and all facets of the State's transportation assets. The importance of quarterly progress reporting has become even more evident since WSDOT transitioned from an allocation- to a needs-based system during the 2003-05 biennium.