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Lessons Learned


Collaborative Leadership: Success Stories in Transportation Mega Projects
A "Lessons Learned" Approach to Collaborative Leadership in Mega Project Management

Successful Collaborative Leadership Example:
2002 Olympic Winter Games Infrastructure


If you want your city to become a focal point for the world, then submit your nomination to host the Olympic Games. Although the 2002 Olympic Winter Games would only last for seventeen days, when the Olympic Committee announced in June 1995 that Salt Lake City, Utah won the selection to host the Winter Games, it started a chain of collaborative events the world had never seen before.

The transportation professionals associated with the planning for the Utah infrastructure quickly came together to develop partnerships between federal, state, and local stakeholders to ensure the success of the Winter Games. The tremendous amount of international media coverage associated with the Olympics caused great concern for the transportation professionals. Just like the Olympic athletes, the world would judge the performance of the transportation professionals. The media could report on the smallest of problems associated with traveling to and from the multiple sites surrounding Salt Lake City and create a black eye for the transportation professionals. The world would remember their traveling experiences and forever associate that aspect with their overall experience at the Olympic Games.

Therefore, efficiency and reliability of transportation would be among the most important benchmarks in determining the success of the Winter Games. The transportation practitioners were charged with carefully developing and implementing a transportation plan to ensure efficient operations during this acutely sensitive time. The Federal Highway Administration (FHWA), by supporting their partners in the preparation and operation of the transportation network during the Winter Games, had an active role in this dynamic initiative. (The Federal Highway, 2002)


Building the infrastructure for the 2002 Olympics Games involved a large number of organizations and people from around the globe. People from nearly every country attend the Games and go home with stories to tell regarding their experiences. The large list of stakeholders included:

  • Federal Highway Administration (FHWA)
  • Office of the Secretary of Transportation (OST)
  • Utah Department of Transportation (UDOT)
  • Salt Lake Organizing Committee (SLOC)
  • Utah Transit Authority (UTA)
  • U.S. Forest Service
  • Federal Aviation Administration (FAA)
  • Residents of:
    • Salt Lake City, Utah
    • Park City, Utah
    • Provo, Utah
    • Ogden, Utah
    • Salt Lake County
    • Utah County
  • Olympic participants
  • Olympic spectators
  • Media personnel from around the globe


The Olympics bring thousands of additional people to a location and can create havoc if the infrastructure and transportation system are not addressed accurately. The committee working on the design for Olympics in Salt Lake City had the following requirements to design, build, or improve:

  • Eight highway improvement projects.
  • Improve access to several of the Olympic venues.
  • Expand and make accessible Utah's mass transit system.
  • Build "park-and-ride" lots or "park-and-walk" lots near venue sites.
  • Clear and build a 33.6-hectare (83-acre) temporary, paved parking lot and then restore all of the temporary lots to their original state by removing the recycled asphalt base, re-contouring, spreading topsoil, and re-vegetating the areas.
  • Create a 20 percent reduction in non-Olympic traffic.
  • Improve local airports due to the increase in travelers.

Njord, 2002

Njord, 2002

SWOT Analysis

  • Developed partnerships developed early between the Federal, State, and local agencies.
  • Determined the roles and responsibilities for the agencies early in the timeline.
  • The creation and development of an overall Olympic transportation plan that included representatives from all the agencies involved.
  • Designed and utilized communication systems to disseminate up-to-the-minute advisory conditions to the public.
  • Flexibility in federal funding generated many issues and interagency cooperation allowed timely processing of the Olympic projects.
  • Identified and implemented security initiatives early in the planning process.
  • The disappointment felt by local governments when their unrealistic expectations of financial gain were not what they expected.
  • The significant increase in security requirements after the events of September 11, 2001 created longer waits than originally planned.
  • Travel plans were affected due to the tighter security at airports around the world.
  • Many of Utah's infrastructure improvement projects already in place were accelerated after the selection of Salt Lake City as the host of the Olympic Games.
  • The funding personnel had the opportunity to re-evaluate the funding methods due to the accelerated projects.
  • After conducting an opinion survey in 1996, the design-build method was utilized as the public preferred a timelier construction process.
    • "Utah needed to shorten the overall project duration and also hoped to promote innovation and improved performance," says Michael Morrow, field operations engineer at FHWA. "Design-build appeared to be the only contracting tool to get the job done." (Yakowenko, 2004)
  • Ability to collaborate with staff from the Atlanta and Nagano Olympics to gain insight into their transportation challenges.

The need for clear, accurate, and distinctive signing was one of the lessons learned from previous Olympics. (The Federal Highway, 2002)

  • The cyber threat associated with the internet-based reporting system (Activation Information Management System (AIMS)).
  • Employee burnout as preparing for the Games required extensive coordination.
  • Environmental concerns with re-vegetating after the removal of the temporary parking lots.
  • With billions of dollars involved, fraud may occur.
    • "Fraud schemes are sophisticated operations, and can operate undetected." (Peters, 2004)
  • The events of September 11, 2001 redefined Olympic security and the entire security plan was re-evaluated and refocused.

Increased security due to the aftereffects of September 11 had an enormous impact on transportation, including more closed roads, increased security credentialing for those involved in the Olympics, and longer waits for people entering secure areas, including venue sites. (The Federal Highway, 2002)


Funding a billion dollar mega project takes collaboration from many organizations. The difficulty in identifying and obtaining the large sums of capital required to complete the project is a tremendous task.

  • Table 2 lists federally participating highway projects that were completed specifically for the Olympic Games. These projects were developed after the Olympics were announced and were intended to directly support Olympic-related traffic. The federal share on these projects was derived mostly from discretionary funds or by Congressional earmark.
Table 2 - Olympic Projects (in thousands of dollars)
Project Federal Funds* Total Funds
Snowbasin/Trappers Loop Road $15,000 $15,000
Utah Winter Sports Park Road $3,871 $4,686
Soldier Hollow $3,750 $4,038
Intelligent Transportation System $2,998 $3,339
Olympic Planning $6,972 $6,981
*Includes formula and discretionary funds. As of March 2002. (The Federal Highway, 2002)
  • Table 3 contains a list of major highway projects that were identified early in the planning process as necessary for hosting the Olympics, but which were also previously (prior to receiving the award of the 2002 Olympics) identified in the state's planning and programming process as needed improvements. These projects would have been built regardless of whether Utah had received the Olympic Games. However, in most cases, the projects on this list were accelerated to ensure completion before the Olympic Games.
Table 3 - Accelerated Projects (in thousands of dollars)
Project Federal Funds* Total Funds
SR-248 $8,633 $8,736
Silver Creek Junction $26,715 $28,859
Kimball Junction $13,415 $14,540
Soldier Hollow $6,091 $6,528
U.S. 89 Interchange $5,557 $14,435
I-15 Design-Build $225,773 $1,428,888
I-15 ITS & ATMS $21,698 $33,022
I-215/3500 S. Interchange $1,885 $2,180
*Includes formula and discretionary funds. As of March 2002. (The Federal Highway, 2002)


Completing a mega project is extremely difficult in that all parties involved have their own agendas. The parties involved must work together to send a common vision to achieve success. Marketing your organization's agenda openly and honestly provides the best opportunity for overall success and gaining the public trust.

  • The Olympic Transportation Plan was developed by all of the agencies and was a critical element in disseminating advisories to the public.
  • UDOT's "Know Before You Go" campaign included a website, radio updates, media alerts, and several other outreach mechanisms to provide transportation updates to the public during the Games.
  • The AIMS tool provided the public with up to the minute information on accidents and emergencies affecting routes to and from the events.
  • An Olympic transportation guide with maps to the events was distributed at local retail stores and with the Olympic ticket packages, which also helped local residents know which areas to avoid.
  • A U.S. DOT Information Center served as an information/command center for stakeholders during the Games and was designed to facilitate monitoring of Olympic operations and efficient dissemination of Olympic-related information.
  • Olympic pins were designed and distributed for walkers and shuttle riders for walking or riding to various events to reduce traffic.
  • UDOT launched its toll-free 5-1-1-traveler information hotline to hear the latest traffic updates, current road conditions, public transportation information, and weather forecast.
  • CommuterLinkSM, a new state-of-the-art nerve center at the Traffic Operations Center (TOC) was built as the muscle and brain behind Utah's transportation management program. Information from approximately 200 closed-circuit TV cameras, congestion detectors, 55 variable message signs, 540 traffic signal controls, ramp meters, and 21 weather sensors is processed through the TOC. (Njord, 2002)

The information room at the TOC was one of the key transportation centers during the Winter Games. (The Federal Highway, 2002)

Key Reasons for Success

The success of the 2002 Olympic Games resulted from successful collaboration on many fronts. Working together on a clear, common goal ensured success in designing and building the infrastructure and transportation systems.

  • Partnerships
    • The partnerships created a sense of teamwork and cooperation that resulted in a highly successful plan of operation that moved Olympic participants, spectators, media, and area residents efficiently and effectively.
    • The One DOT approach was an effective strategy because it facilitated exceptional cooperation between the activities of state and local partners who had not traditionally worked together.
  • Roles and responsibilities
    • A formal agreement between partners identifying roles and responsibilities should be developed as a working document and adjusted as the process progresses.
    • Visiting the previous Olympic sites in Atlanta and Nagano to review their lessons learned proved invaluable in identifying potential problems during the planning phase and not after construction.
    • The early identification of key Olympic projects and the subsequent funding requirements is extremely important.
  • Funding
    • Funding for Olympic and non-Olympic facilities should remain separate, but separate funding sources for Olympic and non-Olympic critical facilities should be identified.
    • Flexibility in funding for transportation projects can accelerate the receipt of appropriate funds to complete the key projects. Evaluate innovative contracting and financing scenarios in the early planning phase.
    • Establish a joint single audit process to allow for a more streamlined process.
  • Communications
    • CommuterLinkSM collaboration has been the key to making technology integration in Utah so successful. This technologically advanced site experienced dramatic success as site hits, which averaged 1,500,000 per month before the official launch, spiked to over 23,000,000 hits per month in December 2001. As the official source of transportation information during the Salt Lake 2002 Olympic Winter Games, during which it experienced more than 74 million hits, the Intelligent Transportation Society of America honored the CommuterLinkSM website with a "Best of ITS 2002" award. (Knopp, 2002)
    • The "Know Before You Go" campaign provided outreach for key transportation updates to the public during the Games and helped instill the public trust.


"OLYMPIC TRAFFIC JAM, ON THE WAY TO SOLDIER HOLLOW, My heartfelt thanks to the "transportation experts." (Trent Nelson/ The Salt Lake Tribune)" - This photograph and caption from the February 19 issue (courtesy of the Salt Lake Tribune) was one of many positive media messages about transportation during the Games. (The Federal Highway, 2002)

The announcement in June 1995 to hold the 2002 Winter Games in Salt Lake City, Utah started a tremendous chain of events that involved countless people from around the world. How the designers and developers of the infrastructure and the transportation system completed their tasks would be judged by the entire world, as the media would be on hand during the Games to relay any negative press.

One of the key concepts of the plan for successful Olympic transportation was the need for a 20 percent reduction in non-Olympic traffic. Due to an aggressive outreach campaign, the 20 percent reduction was achieved and exceeded. (The Federal Highway, 2002) In the aftermath of the completed project, Morrow says, "There's a sense of 'can do' within Utah now." Morrow credited a solid public information effort, a spirit of partnering, visible progress, and delivery on promises with helping achieve the successful public approval ratings. In fact, transportation for the 2002 Winter Olympic Games was deemed a remarkable success, and many observers credited Utah with providing the best transportation of any Olympic games. (The Federal Highway, 2002)

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