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Pavement Preservation Compendium

Performance-Based Contract Brings Innovation and Revitalization to DC Streets

by James B. Sorenson and Edward A. Sheldahl

National Highway System (NHS) roads that serve as the primary gateway to the Nation's Capital have gotten a new lease on life, thanks to the first urban, performance-based asset management contract in the United States. Known as "DC Streets," the project was developed by the District of Columbia Division of Transportation (DDOT), Federal Highway Administration (FHWA), and FHWA's engineering services consultant team, led by Science Applications International Corporation (SAIC). In June 2000, DDOT kicked off the project by awarding a contract to VMS, Inc., to preserve and maintain approximately 121 km (75 mi) of the major streets and highways in the District. These roads are heavily used by residents, commuters, and tourists alike. A recent study of the project's first year shows that considerable progress has been made toward accomplishing the contract's performance goals. For drivers in DC, this means that the roads are getting better every day.

Washington, DC, mayor Anthony Williams speaks at the June 2000 launch of the DC Streets project.
Washington, DC, mayor Anthony Williams spoke at the June 2000 launch of the DC Streets project.

NHS roads in the District include heavily traveled segments of I-295 and I-395, as well as such gateways into the Nation's Capital as Pennsylvania Avenue, Constitution Avenue, and Independence Avenue. Assets being maintained under the 5-year, $70 million experimental contract include tunnels; pavements; bridges; roadside features (including curbs, gutters, sidewalks, and retaining walls); pedestrian bridges; roadside vegetation; and such traffic safety equipment as guardrails, barriers, impact attenuators, and signs. Also covered is snow and ice control. The performance-based nature of the contract means that instead of specifying the materials or methods to be used, as is done for traditional maintenance contracts, the desired outcome is identified and it is then up to the contractor to achieve it. By focusing on outcomes, the approach provides flexibility and encourages innovation. It also means that the contractor must accept more responsibility for customer input. The DC Streets contract represents the largest transportation investment in DDOT's history. It is also the first time that FHWA has teamed directly with a city government on a program to preserve its city roadway infrastructure.

The study done at the end of the contract's first year compared the condition of the roadway assets against the performance measures, providing an overall score and a score for each maintenance category. Performance measures and the benchmarks were established by evaluating the baseline condition of roadway assets or their elements and then determining a reasonable goal. A score of 100 would mean that, on average, the condition of the assets met the performance goal. The overall score for the first year of the contract was 92. Although the complete goals of the initiative have not been realized yet, much improvement can already be seen on the streets. These improvements have been noticed by city residents. The evaluation report noted that "the first year...showed a marked decrease in negative feedback from the public and press. Probably the most noted change was the lack of pothole complaints, which have plagued DDOT in years past."

A map displayed at the June 2000 launch of the DC Streets project highlights the approximately 121 km (75 mi) of major streets and highways in Washington, DC, that will be preserved and maintained under the DC Streets project.

The contract puts a strong emphasis on revitalizing the communities where the maintenance work is being performed. During the first year of the project, VMS worked with local community development organizations; donated employee time, equipment, and materials to community projects; and focused on hiring local residents and businesses. The contract also emphasizes the use of innovative methods and procedures for infrastructure maintenance. Innovative practices and technologies employed by VMS in the first year of the contract included using a mobile spray pothole patcher and instituting performance-based contracts with a number of subcontractors.

The experimental nature of the contract means that other cities, states, and countries are learning from the project experiences as they consider instituting asset management initiatives. Presentations on the DC Streets initiative have been made at meetings ranging from the Mid Atlantic Quality Assurance Workshop to the Transportation Research Board Annual Meeting. Project staff have also met with visiting delegations from Ireland, Northern Ireland, Finland, and the Southern Africa Development Community.

For more information on the DC Streets initiative, contact Luke DiPompo at DDOT, 202-645-6134 (fax: 202-645-6129; email: luke.dipompo@dc.gov), Michael Kirk at VMS, 804-553-4001 (fax: 804-264-1808; email: mkirk@vmsom.com), or Edward A. Sheldahl at FHWA, 202-219-3514 (fax: 202-219-3545; email: edward.sheldahl@fhwa.dot.gov).

James B. Sorenson is a Senior Highway Engineer in the Federal Highway Administration's (FHWA) Office of Asset Management. Edward A. Sheldahl is a Field Operations Engineer in FHWA's DC Division Office.

Reprinted from Roads & Bridges, June 2002.

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Updated: 01/07/2016
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