Federal Highway Administration
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Federal Highway Administration Research and Technology
Coordinating, Developing, and Delivering Highway Transportation Innovations
This magazine is an archived publication and may contain dated technical, contact, and link information.
|Publication Number: FHWA-HRT-05-003 Date: January/February 2005|
Publication Number: FHWA-HRT-05-003
Issue No: Vol. 66 No. 4
Date: January/February 2005
Software from Virginia helps manage this complicated process from start to finish and provides real-time customer service.
|VDOT right-of-way agent Joanne K. Wilmans talks with homeowners Irene and William Newsome. Photo: Tom Saunders, VDOT.|
The Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT) expects to complete more than 150 construction projects in fiscal year 2005. The agency acquires about 3,500 land parcels annually and is the largest right-of-way owner in the Commonwealth of Virginia. Relocation of homeowners must be done uniformly, according to guidelines established by the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA). How the relocation is handled at the State level is extremely important from a customer service perspective.
Say that "John Smith" had a simple request. He wanted to know the status of a parcel of his land being considered for acquisition by VDOT. He couldn't remember the name of the field agent to whom he had spoken, but nevertheless he needed information.
Enter VDOT's Right of Way and Utilities Management System (RUMS). Not a tropical drink, nor an abbreviated name for a card game, the RUMS software program cost the agency $2.5 million to develop and helps VDOT's Right of Way and Utilities Division effectively manage the complicated and sometimes lengthy right-of-way process from start to finish. And VDOT believes that one of the system's best features is the ability to communicate up-to-the-minute information, meaning better customer service during the process.
RUMS provides right-of-way managers with a single, comprehensive view of project and land parcel status and lets them track deadlines more efficiently. When citizens like Smith call about the status of their properties, anyone from VDOT with access to the Web-based RUMS system can answer their questions.
"Anyone in our division can provide status information simply by typing in the landowner's name," says C.L. "Les" Griggs, Jr., information technology section manager with VDOT's Right of Way and Utilities Division. "With this system they can get an immediate answer even if their right-of-way agent is out in the field or on vacation. I could say, ‘Let's see, Mr. Smith. I see that Mr. Jones was out there just last week, and you discussed . . .' "
Stuart Waymack, director of VDOT's Right of Way and Utilities Division, says that the RUMS "look-up" feature was tops on his wish list when the system was in the design phase. In fact, it is known in-house as the "Stuart Waymack requirement."
"If a phone call came to me from an irate landowner, he had probably already gone through his congressman or contacted the governor's office," Waymack says. "I wanted to be able to immediately give him the status of his property with no information other than his first and last name."
|In addition to tracking right-of-way purchases, RUMS tracks the status of electric, telephone, and cable utilities. A lightbulb icon is used by the software to show the status of clearing utilities. If the lightbulb is lit, that utility has been cleared; if it is dimmed, it has not been cleared. Shown here is a photograph of utility wires in Virginia.|
But being able to give a landowner an instant status report on a parcel of land is only one benefit of this sophisticated software program. Additional benefits relate to the other responsibilities of VDOT's Right of Way and Utilities Division. Besides appraising and acquiring rights of way and easements for road construction and expansion projects, this VDOT division is responsible for removing building structures and other improvements; relocating utilities, businesses, and residences; and tracking residue parcels and surplus rights of way for public sale or lease. RUMS tracks all these activities as well.
"Road projects are planned years in advance so the homeowner knows that their property will be affected, but not exactly how or when," says Linda Franks, right-of-way agent specialist with VDOT. "That unknown time period is very stressful. RUMS helps us stay on track and make the scheduled advertisement without further delay for the homeowner."
The agency's former computer software program, the legacy system, was hampering rather than helping right-of-way activities. The legacy system tracked and displayed some project dates, but not others. And the project information that was available was difficult to find. Management, staff members, and contractors often had to drill down through multiple layers of screens, resulting in delays and mistakes.
"With the old system, you had to search and dig for information," says Walter E. Daniel, right-of-way agent specialist senior with VDOT. "RUMS presents data in a more concise format, and you can see the status of a project at a quick glance. The color-coded icons for each project and the triangles by each parcel allow you to determine the exact status without having to open each individual file."
|Brian Pierce (standing), BearingPoint senior manager; C.L. "Les" Griggs, Jr., VDOT IT section manager (left); and Derek Thompson, VDOT consultant, demonstrate RUMS at a Southeastern Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials (SASHTO) conference in August 2004.|
According to Brian J. Pierce, a senior manager with BearingPoint, the company that helped VDOT develop RUMS, "Another problem with the old system is that it didn't focus users on critical dates," says "With RUMS, the system has the ability to allow right-of-way agents to pace the work so that enough time is allowed for negotiations with homeowners for successful property acquisitions."
Along with needing an improved software system, VDOT managers were in urgent need of data that simply were not available. To come up with a solution, VDOT Right of Way and Utilities staff formed a steering committee to help identify tracking software and data that the system needed to include.
"We got together and said, ‘Let's see what is on the shelf that we can modify," Griggs says. "We contacted DOT right-of-way managers in all 50 States." However, nothing was available in the transportation community that was right for VDOT use.
The steering committee, made up mostly of field agents who would use the system, met for several months before presenting their ideas to VDOT management. Based on the committee's deliberations, VDOT issued a request for proposal in August 1997 and 4 months later awarded a contract to help with the technical aspects of the software development.
While working with VDOT to develop a system, the contractor asked the agency, "In a perfect world, if you could have anything you wished for, what would you want?" Griggs says the process "was like having new crayons and white paper to work with."
According to Pierce, an important component of the development process was analyses of the as-is (the existing system) and the to-be (the desired system) work flow. "Our as-is analysis detailed all data tracked by the Right of Way and Utilities Division's existing system," says Pierce, "including how it was tracked and the type of system that tracked it. The analysis also provided a detailed examination of the manner in which VDOT conducted its right-of-way and utilities business."
Following this analytical process, the contractor developed the software specifications, incorporating critical procedures that employees previously had performed using spreadsheets and other manual processes. RUMS went live in September 1999, and since then the software has helped VDOT managers improve their record of staying on track to meet critical deadlines. "With RUMS, before a project is advertised for construction bids," says Pierce, "there is a checklist that shows what needs to be done, and a manager can see that at a glance."
|A screen capture of VDOT's iRUMS shows the owner of the parcel, size, location, and projects that were cleared.|
Taking the system a step further in 2003, VDOT migrated the RUMS solution from a client-server environment to the VDOT intranet (iRUMS). The Web version is based on Microsoft® .NET technology, and its data are in an Oracle® 9i database. Plans are to make the system Internet accessible in 2005 to authorized users.
The new iRUMS integrates easily with document management and is user-friendly. One of its most popular features is its ability to populate forms automatically, including plugging in names, dates, and other critical information. "By having a feature that automatically populates forms, it discourages users from accessing outdated forms they've saved on their hard drives," Griggs says.
Daniel adds: "The form-populating feature is a true blessing for those of us who are ‘keyboard challenged.' From a legal standpoint, this data populating has significantly reduced errors in our deeds, options, and other legal documents."
The iRUMS system uses color coding to alert managers about a project's status. In RUMS, the icon colors are blue, yellow, and red, with a green checkmark to indicate that the project is ready for advertisement. As a project moves closer to the advertisement date, the icon colors change. When the project moves to within 120 days of the advertisement date, the colors change from blue to yellow, and the project has higher priority than projects "in the blue." When the project is within 90 days, the icon turns red.
"At this point, it's time to reassess your resource mix and move more manpower and attention to that project while there is still time to make the advertisement schedule," Pierce says.
iRUMS is not available for viewing by the public, because it serves as a storehouse of information on citizens and the location and value of their land parcels. Legal information available on iRUMS includes title orders, deeds, condemnations, condemnation orders, multiple owners on a property (if applicable), relocations, appeals, and payments made for a property.
One RUMS function, however, has been made available online for public viewing. The agency posts surplus properties for sale (obtained during right-of-way acquisition) on VDOT's external Web site, www.virginiadot.org/business/row-pmi.asp. This feature has increased exposure for VDOT properties and improved sales.
The intranet RUMS version, however, that is open only to authorized users is set up with tabs at the top of the page similar to typical Web sites. On the left-hand side of the screen, iRUMS has a "TreeView" with a series of folders and subfolders for various functions. For example, under utilities, there might be three subfolders for various utility companies that serve Virginia such as telephone, cable, and power. A lightbulb icon is used to show the status of clearance—utility lines have been relocated, and the land is ready for construction—for each utility affected by a given project. If the lightbulb is lit, that utility has been cleared; if it is dimmed, it has not been cleared.
Another benefit of iRUMS is its ability to store the estimate information on a project. The software enables anyone with VDOT's Right of Way and Utilities Division to see the history of the parcel from the earliest entry to final distribution. Once the parcel is acquired, a checkmark indicates completion.
Furthermore, data in the database can be exported to a Microsoft Excel spreadsheet and manipulated with the click of a button. Likewise, with a click on the Microsoft Word template icon on the toolbar, the user can generate letters, certificates, and forms with name, address, route numbers, and other fields populated.
|Les Griggs holds a user manual for the agency's Right of Way and Utilities Management System (RUMS). The screen capture shows parcel information for land owned by Hechinger Enterprises. A single project can involve as many as 200 property owners.|
Although VDOT is not in the business of marketing RUMS, the agency has spent years and millions developing and upgrading the software and hopes to recoup some of the investment by licensing the source code. Pierce notes that there are differences in the ways that States handle rights-of-way acquisitions. Maine, for example, is a blanket condemnation State, whereas Virginia looks at each parcel and tries to acquire property deed by deed. Maine's William Leet, MaineDOT senior property officer says that the State anticipates building in a tremendous amount of customization to make the system work for the agency.
Two State DOTs to date have licensed the right to use RUMS. In February 2004, the Minnesota transportation agency was the first DOT to sign a software licensing agreement for RUMS, and Minnesota DOT's 11-month implementation will go live in February 2005. Maine signed a licensing agreement with VDOT in June 2004.
Maine settled on RUMS after thorough research and information sharing, including 2002, 2003, and 2004 AASHTO Highway Subcommittee on Right of Way and Utilities full subcommittee meetings; the "FHWA Right-of-Way and Planning Innovation Domestic Scan," San Francisco, CA; and FHWA's 2004 geographic information systems in right-of-way conference in Florida. MaineDOT's right-of-way staff looked at other systems throughout the country, but they were looking for a production tool. All they found were tracking systems.
"We wanted a system for our frontline people," says Leet, "something that could manage information collected from the beginning to the end of a project."
MaineDOT's staff also was looking for a database that would populate forms, as RUMS does. "Some projects have 200 property owners, and there might be 10 to 20 documents for each parcel," Leet says. "We were typing the same information in over and over."
An unanticipated byproduct is that other State agency divisions have found additional ways to use RUMS as well. Leet hopes that MaineDOT's Environmental, Utility, Legal, and Planning Divisions, for example, will use the system. "The Planning Division does a lot of upfront work with projects, so if we could interface with their database, it would be useful," Leet says. "There is a tremendous amount of information available through the RUMS system that a lot of departments [might be able to use]."
Closer to home, VDOT's Environmental Division looked to RUMS for guidance in developing a software program that would help track asbestos removal. Although the division's Comprehensive Environmental Data and Reporting (CEDAR) system tracks environmental projects, the CEDAR program is designed to be project-specific, whereas RUMS is parcel-specific. Therefore, RUMS works better for tracking asbestos, including costs for abatement.
"When VDOT purchases a building with asbestos for demolition, the Environmental Division has to track the asbestos until the building is gone, so a piece of RUMS belongs to environmental," Griggs says. "If [RUMS] works for another division, that is money even better spent."
Sande Snead is a public affairs officer with VDOT, a position she has held since 2002. Prior to joining VDOT, she was a freelance writer for more than a decade. Snead has won numerous State and national writing awards, including a national award in 2004 for a series called "How Virginians Move" for the VDOT Web site.
For more information, contact Sande Snead at 804–225–4491 or Sande.Snead@VDOT.Virginia.gov or C.L. Les Griggs Jr., from VDOT's Right of Way and Utilities Division at 804–786–2917 or Les.Griggs@VDOT.Virginia.gov. Or see www.virginiadot.org/business/row-rums.asp.