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Federal Highway Administration > Publications > Focus > December 2004 > Highway Quality Takes Center Stage at Summit
December 2004Publication Number: FHWA-HRT-05-022

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Highway Quality Takes Center Stage at Summit

The goals of starting and advancing State quality initiatives and improving training for highway workers brought more than 80 participants to the National Partnership for Highway Quality (NPHQ) Summit, held November 16-17, 2004, in Dallas, Texas. Representatives from State highway agencies, the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA), industry associations, and others convened to focus on such topics as starting a State Quality Partnership (SQP); strengthening and advancing an SQP; and training and certifying transportation workers to improve skills, knowledge, and overall project quality.

"We all hold a common belief that quality takes a commitment on our part," said David Geiger, Director of FHWA's Office of Asset Management and co-chair of the NPHQ. "Quality doesn't happen by itself: there has to be a champion in your organization. Quality needs to be incorporated in all elements of planning, design, construction, and operations."

The importance of worker training and certification to sustaining that quality commitment was underscored by summit participants. The Mississippi Department of Transportation (MDOT), for example, faces the training challenges of many highway agencies, with 64 percent of its managers currently eligible for retirement. "How do we ensure that we have the knowledge and skills we need to do business in the future?," said Danada McMurtry, Director of Professional Development Services for MDOT. The agency has started the LEAD program to help answer this question. The program offers training, mentoring, and individualized development plans for younger staff, with the goal of providing a continuous pool of future leaders. MDOT also works with the National Institute for Certification in Engineering Technologies to build its staff's knowledge and skills through professional certification.

John Taylor of FHWA's National Highway Institute (NHI) also spoke about the importance of workforce development. "Will we have the quality workforce we need to meet the Nation's transportation challenges?," he asked. To help meet training needs, NHI offers 139 courses on topics ranging from construction and maintenance to highway safety, with 46 new ones in development (see www.nhi.fhwa.dot.gov). NHI is also partnering with others in FHWA and representatives from industry associations, regional State training and certification groups, and the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials on a coordinated national effort to improve training opportunities for transportation infrastructure workers. The Transportation Curriculum Coordination Council (TCCC) has developed a proposed core curriculum for training transportation personnel that all highway agencies can use. For more information, visit the TCCC Web site at www.nhi.fhwa.dot.gov/tccc.

North Carolina was among the States that shared their best practices for quality improvement. The North Carolina Department of Transportation (NCDOT) has developed a Best Management Practices (BMP) for Construction and Maintenance Activities manual. The BMPs focus on environmental stewardship, offering guidance on such practices as ground stabilization measures, watercourse management techniques, and general avoidance and minimization measures for land disturbance activities near jurisdictional areas. The manual covers everything from project planning and preconstruction activities to general construction practices and operations. More than 5,500 copies have been distributed to NCDOT staff, contractors, other North Carolina State agencies, and Federal agencies. "We are conducting training of our field staff from management down to equipment operators," said Ken Pace of NCDOT. This training paid off when Hurricanes Ivan and Frances hit the State in September 2004. More than 200 roads were closed after Ivan came through. "The State's resource agencies allowed emergency repairs to begin immediately, provided that the appropriate BMPs were followed," said Pace. "The BMP manual has streamlined the environmental permit process and helped contractors and employees understand what the expectations are."

The summit also offered guidance for highway agencies aiming to start an SQP. Bob Templeton, Executive Director of NPHQ, noted that, "First you need to assess where you are. How can you improve and innovate? You also need to develop a vision of what you want to accomplish." NPHQ has introduced a new tiered accreditation program for SQPs, with the goal of having an SQP in every State by 2008. To achieve Tier 1 accreditation, requirements include:

  • Partnership must have a formal charter establishing mission, goals, and policies for improvement of highway quality in its jurisdiction.
  • Membership of the Partnership must include, at a minimum, the State department of transportation, FHWA division office, and local industry associations.
  • Partnership must be active, and conduct at least one industry-wide meeting annually. The Partnership must also have a recognition/awards program for quality projects and initiatives in its State.

To qualify for Tier 2 accreditation, an SQP must meet all of the Tier 1 requirements, plus additional criteria that includes:

  • Having a formal workforce training and certification program that involves both public and private sector partners.
  • Developing a communications plan and distributing information regularly through such means as a Web site or a newsletter.

A "how to" guidance document for submitting an application for NPHQ accreditation, as well as application materials, are available on the NPHQ Web site at www.nphq.org.

Maryland is among the States that already have an active SQP. The Maryland Quality Initiative (MQI) began in 1980. Some early initiatives included conducting performance evaluations of contractors and consultants and revising Maryland's specifications manual. Key initiatives in recent years include holding a Construction Career Day for high school students for the past 2 years and introducing the practice of construction mediation, where contractors can take issues to mediation instead of filing claims. Benefits resulting from the MQI include:

  • Improved communication among partners.
  • Elimination or minimization of project delays.
  • Streamlined project closeout.
  • Reduction in project change orders from 13 to 15 percent in the late 1980s to 4 to 4.5 percent now.

Looking ahead, noted Doug Rose, Deputy Administrator for the Maryland State Highway Administration (SHA) and co-chair of NQHQ, Maryland hopes to increase membership in the MQI, including bringing in such partners as the State Police, Maryland Department of the Environment, and the Maryland Occupational Safety and Health program. The SHA would also like to partner more with utility companies in the future. In addition, new training and certification initiatives are underway.

In closing the summit, Templeton noted that "public agencies and private industry are a team to deliver quality highways for the public good." State quality partnerships, he added, "encourage teamwork by the public and private stakeholders and synergize the collective expertise and resources of the participants. They serve as an incubator and an advocate for innovation."

To learn more about starting an SQP or for more information on NPHQ and the 2004 Summit, contact Bob Templeton at NPHQ, 512-301-9899 (email: btemplenphq@aol.com), or visit www.nphq.org.

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Updated: 04/07/2011

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