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Publication Number: FHWA-HRT-05-073
Date: October 2005

Roadway Safety Hardware Asset Management Systems Case Studies

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CHAPTER 1. INTRODUCTION

BACKGROUND

Since the early 1990s, the term “asset management” has grown to embrace a broad array of tasks and activities aimed at identifying, assessing, prioritizing, evaluating, maintaining, rehabilitating, renewing, preserving, improving, and managing assets. This report addresses asset management of roadway safety hardware in the United States. Increasingly refined and complex tools such as modern bridge and pavement inventory management systems have been developed and adopted by many State departments of transportation (DOTs), and larger departments of county and municipal governments. Many of these management systems have been developed cooperatively by pooling funds and in other ways, such as with assistance from the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA).

Through maintenance and enhancement efforts, these software systems are growing in their robustness and capability to deal effectively with complex, real-world issues and conditions. Clearly, the ability of the State DOTs to meet future challenges in an era of rapid social and political change and with ever-scarcer resources will depend in no small measure on the intelligent deployment of asset management technologies.

One software management area that has not advanced as rapidly is roadway hardware, which refers to an array of signs, signals, roadway lighting luminaries, support structures for signs, signals, guardrails, pavement markings, and deployed detecting devices. Collectively, these roadway hardware categories are vital to the safe and efficient operation of highways.

Many roadway hardware devices degrade relatively quickly in the face of traffic stress, snow and ice conditions that often entail chloride applications and repeated freeze-thaw cycles, and other environmental factors. These systems must be monitored closely and their underlying inventory systems updated regularly and frequently. The impairment or ineffectiveness of certain system components may not be discernable through simple visual inspection. For example, sign retroreflectivity deteriorates steadily from the day of its deployment, but certain specialized equipment can determine its level of performance at any time. Also, nonfunctioning, embedded magnetic loop detectors are both commonplace and invisible to the visual inspector. The appropriateness of well-designed management systems to monitor and give timely and accurate indication of the need to maintain, rehabilitate, or replace components hardly seems debatable. And yet, the pressure of other needs and priorities has led some DOTs to devise and use inadequate asset management systems or, worse, to have no systematic approach at all.

The significance of new financial reporting standards established by the Governmental Accounting Standards Board (GASB) in 1999 must not be ignored. These new standards fundamentally changed the practices of State and local governments in reporting their financial results, providing an important opportunity for State DOTs to increase public recognition of the worth of roadway safety assets in terms of their financial value to the States.

Among other provisions, GASB Statement 34 (GASB 34), “Basic Financial Statements-and Management’s Discussion and Analysis-for State and Local Governments,” requires that major infrastructure assets acquired or receiving major additions or improvements in fiscal years beginning after June 15, 1980, be capitalized in financial statements.(1) This means that governments with more than $100 million in total annual revenues (which includes all States) were required to report on new infrastructure assets starting in the fiscal year beginning after June 15, 2001, with reporting of previously acquired infrastructure assets 4 years later.

As a result, GASB 34 provides transportation agencies with the opportunity to make other State and local officials, as well as the public at large, more aware of the value of the significant transportation assets that governments own and operate and the maintenance they require. Increased awareness of the importance of investment in these assets highlights the need to preserve their condition.

OBJECTIVES

The objective of this study is to provide information to State DOTs on roadway safety hardware management systems that would help increase their use of state-of-the-practice techniques. The research team conducted a review of current practices by DOTs that use fully or semi-integrated asset management systems. The team identified features and characteristics of the different asset management systems in use or under development in State DOTs. They worked closely with FHWA and the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials (AASHTO) committees and staff, including the AASHTO Roadside Hardware Asset Management Task Force and the AASHTO Standing Committee on Highways (SCOH), Subcommittees on Traffic Engineering and Maintenance.

The intention of this report is to give an understanding of the wide-ranging benefits of an effective roadway safety hardware asset management system, including one or more of the following capabilities:

  • Properly establish and maintain a collection of safety hardware that is operating at optimal efficiency statewide.
  • Enhance the ability to make rational and cost-effective resource allocation decisions based on complete information, centralized resource tracking, and more accurate cost data.
  • Reduce costs for acquisition, maintenance, upgrade, and replacement of assets following improved ability to assess needs and make resource allocation decisions.
  • Improve ability to gather and analyze data in a timely and effective manner that supports overall information management and reporting activities.
  • Increase ability of management to assign and oversee the efficient completion of work orders and routine maintenance tasks and reduce duplication of effort.
  • Decrease State legal liability that results from gaps in appropriate safety hardware installation.

Target Audience

This report was developed for State DOT personnel involved with the planning, funding, and execution of roadway safety hardware management systems. The primary target audience is chief engineers and other top management in State transportation agencies. Other intended audiences include senior State DOT officials, FHWA safety engineers, and FHWA division administrators. Other State DOT officials who would benefit from reviewing this report include technical directors in charge of traffic and maintenance programs and district managers.

Scope of Roadway Hardware Assets

The terms “asset management,” “roadway assets,” and “roadway safety hardware” have different uses in various State DOTs; however, AASHTO interprets the term “transportation asset management” as a “strategic approach to managing transportation infrastructure.”(2) The FHWA Office of Asset Management defines the term and its principles in specific language: “Asset management is a set of business principles and best practice methods for improving resource allocation and utilization decisions. It reflects a comprehensive view of system management and performance.”

Following is a list of the FHWA Office of Asset Management core principles of asset management:

Policy Driven: Resource allocation decisions are based on a well-defined set of policy goals and objectives. These objectives reflect desired system condition, level of service, and safety provided to customers, and typically are tied to economic, community, and environmental goals.

Performance Based: Policy objectives are translated into system performance measures that are used for both day-to-day and strategic management.

Analysis of Options and Tradeoffs: Decisions on how to allocate funds within and across different types of investments such as preventive maintenance versus rehabilitation, pavements versus bridges, capacity expansion versus operations, different modal mixes, and safety are based on an analysis of how different allocations can affect achievement of relevant policy objectives. Alternative methods for achieving a desired set of objectives are examined and evaluated.

Decisions Based on Quality Information: The merits of different options for an agency’s policy goals are evaluated using credible and current data. Where appropriate, decision-support tools are used to provide easy access to needed information and assist with performance tracking and predictions.

Monitoring to Provide Clear Accountability and Feedback: Performance results are monitored and reported for both resulting effects and effectiveness. Feedback on actual performance may influence agency goals and objectives, as well as resource allocation and utilization decisions.(3)

State DOTs maintain a large number of assets along the roadside. The functions of many of these assets include providing safer driving conditions for the public. For this study, the FHWA specified the following seven categories of assets for study:

  • Roadway signs.
  • Signals.
  • Roadway lighting.
  • Supports and structures for signs, signals, and lighting.
  • Guardrails, barriers, and crash cushions.
  • Pavement markings and treatments.
  • Detectors.

Each asset management system in the case studies described in chapter 2 is limited to systems that manage one or more of these seven assets. In each case study, a table summarizes the list of assets collected from these seven categories.

RESEARCH METHODOLOGY

FHWA and AASHTO believe a key mission is to develop and promulgate effective roadway safety hardware management systems. Both organizations believe such systems are vital to the efficient preservation of the vast public investment in transportation facilities and infrastructure. FHWA demonstrated its commitment several years ago in its reorganization by establishing the Office of Asset Management. Assets such as warning and regulatory signs, edge lining, signals, and roadway lighting have virtually no other purpose than fostering and enhancing highway safety.

State DOTs have been leading the way in asset management for a decade or more. The work of the AASHTO Task Force on Transportation Asset Management has been prodigious in guiding numerous advances. In the field of roadway hardware specifically, the ad hoc Roadside Hardware Management Steering Committee has been crucial to progress, and it will be vital to the success of this and other successor projects.

The success of this effort has depended largely on close coordination with representatives of the participating FHWA organizational units and the AASHTO Steering Committee. Coordination took place through mail and e-mail exchanges as well as face-to-face interaction with the AASHTO group over the course of the project.

Following is a list of steps followed to complete this project:

  1. Survey of State DOTs. The January 2000 AASHTO survey provided a starting point for this task. Individual responses were sought from the AASHTO offices, and the nearly 40 responses were examined individually. A State that indicated it was implementing or planning an asset management system was contacted by telephone or e-mail and asked about tools in use. It was recognized at the beginning of this research that the survey was more than 2 years old. The research team sought updated information through these contacts and the FHWA division offices. Appendix A contains a copy of the letter to FHWA division offices seeking updated information about State activities. Appendix B contains the questionnaire sent to State DOTs. Appendix C contains a summary of the survey results. Appendix D lists the State DOT contacts.
  2. Literature Review. A literature review was desirable because the tools in use were more likely to be from such source documents than from the survey summary. Additional relevant literature leads were sought through interviews with FHWA and AASHTO staff and a Transportation Research Information Services (TRIS) search. The results of the literature search appear in the bibliography.
  3. Selected Examples of Best Practices. The principal resources for this task were the members of the AASHTO Steering Committee along with the designated representatives of the three participating FHWA offices. Most of the States that indicated any type of automated asset management system in the AASHTO survey were contacted. A number of States that did not respond to the AASHTO survey were also contacted. Through consultation with these project sponsors and extensive phone interviews, eight States were chosen for case studies.
  4. Conducted Case Study Field Visits. The research team scheduled 1- to 2-day visits with the selected State DOTs. The field visits to the States were preceded by telephone calls and e mails aimed at identifying key contacts in each location, establishing firm appointments, and, most important, soliciting and collecting key documents before each visit. During the visits, the research team interviewed senior managers, maintenance and traffic engineers, technical staff, and State DOT contractors to collect more in-depth information and resources. All information in the case studies was collected from the interviews with the State DOT staff, and it is based on reference documents provided by the States. Most of the States had limited documentation for their systems; most of the available documents were user manuals. The information in the case studies was collected in an outline format using responses to 17 questions about each system, as listed in appendix B.

ASSUMPTIONS

Although the key assumption in a project such as this one is that the findings obtained in a small sample of State DOTs can apply to the broad universe of these State agencies, the projects that were examined in detail through field visits or extensive telephone interviews, or both, varied significantly from one another in program details. This results principally from the specific history and circumstances in each State; for example, the needs of Virginia, which has the third largest State-maintained highway system in the country, are significantly different from those of a State such as Arizona, whose asset management system includes landscape features. As a result, some care and judgment is advisable when reviewing some of the lessons learned.

FOUNDATIONS OF THE APPROACH

Personnel responsible for managing highway assets are faced with a mature roadway transportation system that is experiencing high and growing demand. In addition, personnel must cope with the problems of deterioration associated with aging assets while also being expected to provide high-quality service. Transportation officials face increasingly constrained funding and competition with other States agencies for limited financial resources.

One way to help in making cost-effective resource allocation decisions is through the use of asset management systems. The resulting decisions are strategic rather than tactical because they account for all assets under the transportation agency’s umbrella for an extended time horizon. An asset management approach has at its foundation technical, fact-based information for decisionmaking, and it is driven by goals, policies, and budgets.

The technical information supporting the asset management framework is derived from engineering, economic, performance, and behavioral models. Raw data such as inventory statistics are also required to make asset management work. The ability to gather timely, useful technical information that is critical to asset management is possible through the technological revolution resulting from faster, more capable computers.

Performance goals reflect input from citizens, legislators, and policymakers, and they provide a focal point from which transportation officials may explain their programs and performance to the public. In addition, performance goals assist transportation executives in identifying and focusing on critical system requirements.

Implementing an asset management framework provides not only the means to identify optimal investment strategies, but also offers a way to articulate them. These capabilities arise from the transportation agency having the ability to weigh one alternative against another-or to conduct what-if analyses. For example, an agency faced with a possible decrease in funding can readily demonstrate the effect on the condition and performance of a system, and then its effect on the overall safety of State roadways. It should be noted that the application of asset management varies significantly from organization to organization.

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