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Federal Highway Administration > Publications > Focus > December 1999 > Software Package Offers States a Tool for Estimating Highway Investment Needs
December 1999Publication Number: FHWA-RD-99-110

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Software Package Offers States a Tool for Estimating Highway Investment Needs

For the past several years, the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) has used the Highway Economic Requirements System (HERS) software model to estimate future investment requirements of the Nation's highway system for the U.S. Congress. Now FHWA is launching a pilot program to determine whether a modified version of the HERS software, tailored to State needs, would be useful for State highway investment planning.

The State-version prototype software, known as HERS/ST, is based on the national HERS model, but incorporates features from customized versions of the HERS model developed by the private sector for Oregon and Indiana. The software provides benchmark estimates of future highway system requirements, given some user-defined criteria. For example, HERS/ST can answer the following types of questions:

  • How will a reduction (or increase) of x percent in highway investment levels affect the condition and performance of the State's highway system over the next 20 years?
  • What level of future investment in the State's highway system is required to ensure that user cost levels on the system are maintained?
  • What level of investment is required to make all economically beneficial improvements to the system (e.g., those projects where benefits exceed costs)? Using data provided by States to FHWA for the Highway Performance Monitoring database, the model conducts its analysis by:
    • Forecasting future deficiencies (pavement, capacity, and/or alignment);
    • Identifying a list of improvement options to correct these deficiencies;
    • Estimating the costs and benefits of implementing each improvement option and calculating benefit/cost ratios for each; and
    • Ranking the project improvements by their benefit/cost ratios and listing the most cost-beneficial options until criteria set by the user have been met.

The first phase of the pilot program focuses on completing the development of the prototype software. This phase is scheduled for completion by spring 2000.

In the next phase, FHWA will meet with States interested in experimenting with the prototype software. Participating States will receive, at no cost, the HERS/ST software, as well as training and technical support. They will be asked to experiment with the software for 4 to 6 months. At the end of that period, they will provide comments on the model's utility for State-level applications, along with suggestions for the future.

Richard Arnold of the Oregon Department of Transportation (DOT), which has been using their customized version of the software for almost 2 years, says, "We're very satisfied with the results so far, and I expect that it holds potential uses we haven't had time to tap yet, especially on the performance side." Working from highway sections data, the program not only analyzes deficiencies and simulates improvements, but also estimates performance levels in order to evaluate the overall system, a feature Arnold calls very important. "But the software's emphasis on the economics is also very important, especially given constrained funding resources. This helps us maximize the use of our system."

The FHWA Office of Asset Management is undertaking this effort in collaboration with the FHWA Office of Legislation and Strategic Planning, which is responsible for the national HERS model. Thomas Keane of the Office of Asset Management says, "We're using the HERS/ST pilot as a first step toward achieving the office's broader goals, one of which is to work with the States to develop and promote the use of analytical tools for highway investment planning. No mandate is involved, and the software is being produced at no cost to the States. Even if this effort doesn't result in wider scale use of HERS/ST, it helps us gain information about what tools the States find useful and necessary in highway investment decisionmaking."

For more information on HERS/ST, contact Thomas Keane of FHWA at 202-366-9242 (fax: 202-366-9981; email: tom.keane@fhwa.dot.gov).

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Updated: 04/07/2011

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