U.S. Department of Transportation
Federal Highway Administration
1200 New Jersey Avenue, SE
Washington, DC 20590
That great philosopher and ballplayer, Yogi Berra, once said, "If you continue to do what you've always done, you'll continue to get what you've always got." Albert Einstein covered much the same ground when he said, "Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results."
Well, together, we're doing new things and, as a result, getting, different and better results.
If we just let nature take its course, we'd probably have everyone using innovative construction practices -- -- in ten or twenty years. We might take ten or twenty years to complete major Ohio projects such as the Cleveland Innerbelt, the Euclid Corridor Project (also in Cleveland), the I-70/71 split here in Columbus, and I-75 in Cincinnati.
But we can't afford to take it that slow.
MEGA-PROJECTS A DIFFERENT BREED
Is it possible that there are new management teams getting ready to undertake a "mega-project" that are unaware of the magnitude of the work ahead? After you've started is the wrong time to make the discovery that you underestimated the scope of the task. Yet, that is often the case with our transportation mega-projects. Mega projects are a different breed.
They are not regular highway projects on a grander scale. Planning for a mega-project must be different if a highway agency expects to achieve success. The Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) defines mega- projects as major infrastructure projects that cost more than $1 billion, or projects approaching $1 billion that attract a high level of public attention or political interest.
Twenty-one projects are on FHWA's active mega-projects list and the number is expected to grow to 26 by the end of next year. Lessons learned from experiences on mega projects have shown that a hallmark of successful projects (of all sizes) is a comprehensive project management plan that serves as a roadmap for the long journey from start to finish. This roadmap is key to on-time delivery, within budget, and with high marks from the traveling public.
TRUST AND CONFIDENCE
It is the one thing you must carefully maintain to have a successful project.
The public focuses on the transportation community and draws conclusions, deserved or undeserved, about our competence based on their perception of project success. That means accurate and reasonable cost estimates are necessary to maintain public confidence and trust throughout the life of a project. The public must be convinced that a dollar entrusted to the transportation community is a dollar wisely invested. Confidence in the transportation sector as a whole often lies in the balance.
We have to use skills that are not our strong suit. We have to communicate our plans. We must keep the public informed about road closings, detours, timetables . . . we have to talk to the media. We're doers, not professional communicators, so this doesn't come naturally.
Assistance is available from our Federal Highways Major Projects Team. They have developed a "Resource Manual for Oversight Managers." It's easy to find on our web site at fhwa.dot.gov
You'll also find a roster of training courses divided into the four core technical competency categories: Project Management; Financial Management; Contract Administration/Innovative Contracting; and Federal-aid Laws, Regulations, Policies, and Procedures.
Learning from each other and studying state-of-the-practice materials can fill in gaps in our experience. Billions of dollars and community mobility are at stake. Successful mega-projects keep our economy moving. That is the biggest reason to maintain the trust and confidence of the taxpayers, the ultimate owners of the nation's roadways.
In the words of Abraham Lincoln, "With public sentiment, nothing can fail. Without it, nothing can succeed."
HIGHWAYS FOR LIFE
FHWA proposed the Highways for LIFE (HfL) pilot program to build highways and bridges safer, faster and better. LIFE is an acronym for Long Lasting, Innovative Fast Construction of Efficient and Safe Highway Infrastructure. The HfL pilot program involves incentives for construction projects, partnerships with industry, extensive technology transfer, education, training, and communication initiatives.
Highway for LIFE supports key FHWA goals of improving safety, reducing congestion due to construction, and raising the quality of highway infrastructure. Together with state and local governments and with industry, we want to accelerate the movement of proven innovations into routine practice -- to bring about that leap forward in highway construction practices.
Although we are still waiting for Congress to enact a multi-year reauthorization for surface transportation, which we hope will include the HfL initiative, there is much we can do to prepare the way. We have received so much encouragement from you and other partners that we believe now is the time to identify technologies and innovations and to share success stories.
So we're beginning the "Getting Started" phase.
Leadership -- Our highway system is at a crossroads. Leadership and action are needed now.
Innovations -- Taking advantage of innovations that are already out there is the key.
Benefits -- We can build highways faster, safer, longer lasting, and at less cost. We must get more value for every transportation dollar.
DELIVERING TECHNOLOGY Perhaps you saw the May/June edition of PUBLIC ROADS magazine. When we started researching that issue, we wanted to find a few examples of projects and practices directly aligned with HfL principles. Within two days, we had more than 35 projects in almost as many states. And that was by no means a comprehensive list.
At the Highway 67/167 construction site in North Little, Rock, Arkansas (where I visited in June), the contractor is using high strength, longer-lasting concrete, higher-visibility road markings, and special, weather-resistant bridge steel that won't need painting for 50 years.
In Ohio, ODOT cut construction time by more than half on six bridge projects last year by using its strategic initiative: "Build Bridges Faster, Smarter, Better." Your state has applied many bridge deck overlays in Cleveland and Cincinnati by closing traffic on major interstate routes after the Friday evening rush hour and opening the bridges before the Monday morning rush, thereby minimizing the impact on traffic during rehabilitation.
You may have heard about the market-ready technologies these innovative projects represent. There are 28 specific technologies that we feel are most important, and we want to move those first. Among them are Load and Resistance Factor Design and Rating of Structures, Quick Zone software for estimating and analyzing length of lines and delays in work zones, and Prefabricated Bridge Elements and Systems.
It's one thing to say, "Leap, not creep." It's another to come up with ways of enhancing the process of technology delivery. We're developing a plan for delivering technologies through marketing, presentations, training, and other means.
Talking about technology transfer is nothing new. What's different is that it's not just a project here and there, but on every project. We have asked our FHWA Divisions to take an active roll in working with states DOTs and with all of you to bring these opportunities to reality. We have a small team in Washington DC who are leading the Highways for LIFE initiative. They are committed to making a difference.
Stakeholder involvement is absolutely critical. Highways for LIFE is something we want to do WITH highway stakeholders, not TO them.
Federal Highways does not build bridges and highways. But we have a leadership role as we encourage the highway community. Ohio is a big part of that community. You build the infrastructure. You capture the innovation and make it real. Your state has a lot to gain -- you can be more productive, manage your resources better, private firms can even improve profits.
Well . . . we know what we need to do.
With good project management, we can preserve public trust and confidence in our ability to reliably deliver successful projects, no matter what the size.
With determined leadership, a new surface transportation act, and the support of strong groups such as ODOT and The Ohio State University, highway innovation will leap into nearly every project very, very soon.