U.S. Department of Transportation
Federal Highway Administration
1200 New Jersey Avenue, SE
Washington, DC 20590

Skip to content U.S. Department of Transportation/Federal Highway AdministrationU.S. Department of Transportation/Federal Highway Administration

Asset Management

<< Previous Contents Next >>

Beyond the Short Term: Transportation Asset Management for Long-Term Sustainability, Accountability and Performance

Structures and Strategies for Asset Management

Chapter 3 shows a photograph of todays highways. This is used to explain the Structure and Management Strategies explained in Chapter 3. It represent the idea that as an agency moves in the direction of more sophisticated asset management practices, its form often changes as well. Positions and processes are often created to ensure that all parts of the organization are moving in the same direction to support asset management.

As can be seen from the North Carolina DOT example, the full-scale integration of Asset Management involves addressing most major operations in the organization.

It is worth noting what Asset Management is not before describing how to adopt structures and strategies for fully integrating it into a transportation agency. Asset Management is not:

  • A particular information technology system or product. Although the use of computerized information systems is a part of Asset Management, they are components of Asset Management, not the entire process themselves;
  • Asset Management is not a rigid checklist of mandatory steps that an agency must comply with. Rather it is a flexible framework which can be adapted to the unique laws, governance structures, information systems and historical developments of individual agencies;
  • Asset Management is not a rigid organizational structure that must be adhered to by all agencies.

It has become more common to describe Asset Management as a "program" or a "set of principals" rather than a "system". Although a "systems approach" or "systems management" is generally used in management literature, in the transportation field those terms often have been confused with specific pavement, bridge, safety or maintenance management systems. This ambiguity has led to a lack of understanding of Asset Management and the practice of performance management.

Asset Management is broader than any one computerized management product or any one table of organization. There is not one perfect organizational structure that an agency can adopt to promote Asset Management. For instance, a state which operates with strong local government control over many assets, will need an outreach function to its Asset Management activities if it seeks to extend good Asset Management practices to the local highway network. A state which has a strong element of privatization will need to consider contractual means by which contractors' preventive and reactive pavement maintenance activities are coordinated with the agency's long-term Asset Management system. A large state such as Texas or California is compelled to be decentralized by its huge geographic scope while a Rhode Island or Delaware may not be. In other words, one structure alone will not be sufficient for all states.

Many different functions and activities must work in concert for successful Asset Management, particularly pavement management. Important connections across these functions can be provided by Information Technology which must gather knowledge from each function and make it available to all others. The information systems become the linkage which supports the coordinated, seamless approach to Asset Management which is desired. An optimum organizational structure would be one in which all these various functions are commonly united with a focus upon how their activities contribute to Asset Management. The optimized structure for Asset Management would have all team members or divisions clearly understanding their role in the larger strategy, which involves a life-cycle approach to sustaining transportation assets for the lowest cost. The Transportation Asset Management Guide notes that:

"Transportation officials manage a wide range of "assets" to meet public, agency, and legislative expectations. These assets include the physical infrastructure of the transportation system (e.g., guideways, structures, and associated features, utilities, and appurtenances) as well as other types of assets: e.g., an agency's human resources, financial capacity, equipment and vehicle fleets, materials stocks, real estate, and corporate data and information."

This description recognizes that all of the organization's resources need to be managed with consideration of how they contribute to Asset Management. For instance, front-line maintenance crews can be trained to contribute significantly to Asset Management. Maintenance workers who fix potholes with proper full-depth repairs contribute significantly more to the pavement's performance than they would if they only performed surface patching. To conduct full-depth repair they need to be better trained and equipped for:

  • Properly establishing a safe work zone;
  • Using pavement saws to completely remove the old pavement;
  • Stabilizing the base of the repair;
  • Handling hot mix to keep it at the proper temperature;
  • Conducting proper compaction;
  • Sealing their repair.

If the crews are to perform such work, many divisions must act in sync. The policy division must make clear that maintenance crews are expected to be making full-depth repairs when possible. The training division must provide adequate training. The equipment management division must ensure they receive the proper equipment, and therefore the department's equipment inventory becomes an adjunct of Asset Management. The Maintenance Management System or Cost Accounting System must not penalize them for the extra time taken to conduct full-depth repairs, versus surface repairs. The crew's recording of their work and its improvement to pavement structure requires support from the Information Technology unit. The purchasing rules need to accommodate the maintenance crew's acquisition of materials in a timely manner. In short, this one critical function requires an integrated network of cooperation and support. The transition from "throw and go" surface pothole patching to full-depth in-house pavement repairs requires a change in mindset, training, maintenance of traffic practice, equipment, materials, information and administrative support.

Structure or Process?

A senior leader who wants to embrace Asset Management will face a fundamental question first:

Do I organizationally restructure my department's table of organization for effective Asset Management or do I operationally restructure my department so that the existing divisions operate in a fashion which supports Transportation Asset Management?

In many cases, a department executive may not have the legal authority or political ability to restructure a table of organization. However, he or she can create internal processes and reporting structures to keep all units cooperating for Asset Management. In other cases, a decision maker may want to physically change the table of organization to optimize Asset Management.

In some instances, agencies pursuing Asset Management have created high-level Asset Management positions which elevate the status of the function in the organization. An international scan in Transportation Asset Management published in 2005 [3] found that in all the agencies visited there was a dedicated management position or office responsible for Asset Management. If such a structure is not possible, an alternative approach is to operationally assign all relevant divisions with Asset Management goals, objectives, responsibilities, reporting assignments and coordination assignments. In effect, everyone's job is defined as contributing to Asset Management.

Figure 14: Leadership and data provide essential coordination of other functions in an asset management environment. Leadership points the way and common data systems keep all divisions communicating effectively.
Figure 14 is a graphical representation of the linkage of Leadership and data. It shows a circle in the center representing leadership and data linked to circles at the circumference connected via spokes. These smaller circles represent the different departmental functions such as Planning, Design, Construction, Material Training, Maintenance, Inventory Assessment, Training and Human Resource functions. The figure is conveying the idea that leadership provides direction using data to coordinate, communicate and link the different department functions.

This concept of having disparate divisions all simultaneously focusing on their component of a larger process such as Asset Management has been referred to as Horizontal Alignment. As most organizations are traditionally hierarchical, commands, control and coordination tend to flow from the top down and information flows from the bottom up. In a function such as Asset Management, coordination and cooperation also needs to flow "across" the organization as each division coordinates its timing and strategies with the related divisions. Each major division such as Maintenance, IT, or Design all are links in a chain of managing an asset over the various stages of its lifecycle.

Therefore in an Asset Management organization, traditional tables of organization generally are supplemented with features such as Strategic Plans, on-going coordination meetings, reporting processes and other strategies to keep the disparate divisions focused upon cooperating for Asset Management. The requirement to coordinate horizontally needs to be ingrained into divisions, in addition to their normal requirements to coordinate vertically within their silos.

Some of the management tactics to ensure horizontal alignment include:

  • Developing performance agreements with managers which are tied to the accomplishment of organizational Asset Management targets and functions. When managers have performance agreements that require them to coordinate with peer divisions on Asset Management, such cross-cutting coordination becomes a required way to operate;
  • Conducting regular, formal team progress meetings in which managers review the organizational Asset Management metrics and report to peers and bosses their efforts to achieve them;
  • Developing Balanced Scorecards, not only for the entire organization but for every unit and manager within the organization. These Balanced Scorecards can be based upon the competing Asset Management metrics that managers need to balance;
  • Briefing central authorities such as the state budget office, legislative committees or the governor's office on the organization's Asset Management performance to ensure that the central authorities are aware of the agency's performance, and its Asset Management challenges;
  • Publishing regular reports, both internally and publicly, which track the achievement of key asset measures, and explain steps to improve performance when targets were not achieved.
  • Establishing Asset Management practices into law, or agency policy. This can "institutionalize" Asset Management so that its practice extends beyond one executive or one administration.

The Asset Management Guide notes that Asset Management is:

  • Comprehensive;
  • It is a philosophy or approach;
  • It is driven by policy;
  • It focuses upon the long-term;
  • It is pro-active;
  • It is driven by good information;
  • It is explicit and visible;
  • And it is viewed "as the way we do business."

Each of these individually and all of them collectively call for an organizational structure and management practices that set clear Transportation Asset Management goals and then cascades them through the organization. The organization also needs a reporting or feedback mechanism which measures accomplishments and ensures accountability.

Table 3: All functions should contribute to asset management.

Asset Management Roles and Responsibilities


Long-term strategic planning

Resource evaluation and tradeoff recommendations

Maintaining management systems (HERS, PONTIS, Pavement Management)

Project selection

STIP development

Gathering system conditions

Maintaining asset inventories


Coordinating treatment designs and treatment timing with Asset Management staff

Delivering those treatments on time

Using current cost estimates

Remaining current with proper mix design, treatment types

Updating designs, standards, manuals to reflect current Asset Management strategies


Ensuring construction means and methods meet specifications

Accept only materials which meet Asset Management specifications

Recording as-built under drains and other items which will need on-going maintenance

Write contract specifications for long-term asset performance

Information Technology

Operate department's Knowledge Management processes

Quality Control/Quality assurance of data

Understand Asset Management; Integrate and align IT systems to reflect Asset Management practices

Provide standard and ad hoc reporting abilities

Integrate legacy systems

Develop new systems to support Asset Management

Provide executive and user data reports

Maintenance, Operations

Conduct preventive maintenance

Ensure reactive maintenance contributes to long-term life-cycle optimization of assets

Human Resources

Provide process for Asset Management training to maintenance staff

Ensure that personnel categories reflect more sophisticated maintenance skills needed for front-line Asset Management practices

Facilities, Equipment

Ensure that maintenance equipment is adequate for proper full-depth pavement repairs and bridge preventive maintenance by in-house forces

Ensure equipment is provided

These needs call for both a "form" and a "function" for the department's organizational approach to Asset Management. The structure of the organization needs to reflect the activities which must occur to effectively implement Transportation Asset Management. The functions need to complement and reinforce the cyclical and continuously improving steps the agency must take.

Different Strategies for Different Structures

Asset Management has been found to flourish in a wide variety of states with different organizational structures. The following different organizational structures are common in the United States, yet each structure can accommodate Asset Management.

  • Some states have highly centralized structures with decision-making residing in a central office;
  • Other states operate with decentralized structures with great autonomy in the districts;
  • Some states have jurisdiction over all roads including low-volume local ones such as in Pennsylvania, Virginia and North Carolina;
  • Some state DOTs only have jurisdiction over the higher functional classes;
  • Some states rely on privatized services for the management of large corridors, and their Asset Management strategies must incorporate their private sector partners;
  • Some states operate under enterprise resource programs (ERPs) in which state IT systems are integrated into statewide ones for functions such as tracking time and equipment;
  • Other states operate under legacy IT system structures in which asset information is pulled from a variety of existing internal systems;
  • Some states have strong commissions which exert great influence over program budgeting and project selection;
  • Other states have very active legislatures which select projects and decide on program funding allocations;
  • At least one state has statutory requirements for equalized spending across geographic regions.

There is not one specific organizational structure which best suits such a cyclic process, rather such a process is applicable to many types of organizational structures. While the organizational structure may differ, it is necessary to have a structure which includes the functions of: Setting Goals; Analyzing Resource Tradeoffs; Measuring Accomplishments and Adjusting Strategies and working collaboratively towards the same Asset Management goals.

It is important in the organizational structure to have all divisions processing their Asset Management efforts through a common goal-setting and resource-allocation process. Such a process has several elements which ensure cooperation and alignment of disparate functions. These include the setting of common strategic goals, the joint participation in the development of work plans for each unit, the common communication of results and the joint, common evaluation of accomplishments. Such processes accomplish organizational alignment and the cross-cutting cooperation needed for effective Asset Management.

The various divisions all have an important role in Asset Management. Their various units need to be working in concert and with common goals to achieve the optimum organizational outcomes. The successful highway agency which achieves such alignment generally operates with the following strategic approach:

  • It has an emphatic and well-communicated Strategic Planning Process which clearly informs the organization about its intended strategic direction;
  • Asset Management is clearly articulated as a Strategic Goal;
  • The Strategic Goals are broken into annual or biennial Objectives, which are precise and quantified. They serve as milestones and interim goals toward the longer-term achievement of the Strategic Goals;
  • The resource allocation and tradeoff process is formal, widely communicated and cyclical;
  • Accountability is clearly and explicitly required. The Objectives are clearly assigned to people and units;
  • Coordinating strategies, reports and meetings are required to keep the disparate units focused upon the common goals.
  • Data is viewed as a key asset. All decisions are expected to be based on data. Units which generate asset data are held accountable for the accuracy, frequency and timeliness of the data;
  • Leadership actively supports Asset Management and embraces it as a critical strategy for organizational success.
The Critical Role of the Leader in Asset Management

While the structure of the organization can vary, the role of the leader generally cannot. Generally, the establishment of a strong Asset Management ethos depends on leadership, either from the individual executive, from an executive body such as a commission or from legislative mandate. It takes leadership to overcome the organizational inertia which tends to prevent individual units from working seamlessly and selflessly together on initiatives which transcend the boundaries of any one unit. It takes leadership to adopt new practices which are not common in the organization. It takes leadership to get divisions and individual personnel to change past practices. It takes leadership to make difficult financial-tradeoff decisions.

For leaders to change an organization requires them to understand why organizations do what they do and what it takes to get them to adopt new practices. For the past 50 years, the field of organizational theory has offered increasing insight into why organizations, and particularly bureaucracies, either adopt change or resist it. Many organizational theorists propose some variation of the three overriding premises presented by Anthony Downs in his book, "Inside Bureaucracy."

  • Bureaucratic officials are rationale and will respond to incentives and disincentives provided by the leadership;
  • However, bureaucratic officials have complex goals, only some of which relate to responding to the leadership and to fully cooperating with peer units within their organization. Goals such as loyalty to their own units, simplifying their own decision making, and adherence to their original, narrow mission can outweigh obligations to the larger organization;
  • The "social function" of the bureau will greatly influence the internal behavior of the individuals within it.

In other words, the various complex, interactions and cooperative functions which must occur across units in an Asset Management framework are not naturally occurring tendencies to officials whose normal incentives are to work within their own units. However, because division officials are rational they will respond more positively to peer units and cooperate more fully with them when the organization creates greater incentives for them to do so. Since, their peers are unable to create such incentives, it up to a higher level official - or a leader - to create the environment in which their incentives are to cooperate fully with the other units in a long-term approach to Asset Management. Only a leader or higher level official can create the new incentives and disincentives which are necessary for Asset Management.

Traffic Management Center Analogy

Twenty years few Traffic Management Centers existed. State DOT operations officials did not interact in real time with local city traffic officials, police agencies or emergency responders. Nor, did they provide real-time information to travelers.

When those same officials' roles were recast by their immersion in Traffic Management Centers, the very nature of their jobs were re-defined from solo operations to collaborative operations with other similar stakeholders. As Downs said, their "social function" was re-defined.

This can serve as an analogy for Asset Management cooperation between divisions. By placing various disciplines within a common Asset Management system which requires frequent interaction, their behavior changes as their "social function" is re-defined.

To take a simple example, a maintenance official will have no rational incentive to crack seal if the long-term performance of pavements is not part of his or her incentives or disincentives. In the short-term, crack sealing provides few benefits to the maintenance official who may be pre-occupied with snow removal, clearing incidents, repairing damaged guardrail or addressing mowing. Furthermore, if the timing of crack sealing is critical, then the prescriptive timing of the crack sealing operations can become a new and unwelcome intrusion for the maintenance official, further complicating his or her schedule. By their nature, maintenance officials tend to be focused upon daily, short-term events - not long-term future scenarios. Therefore, in a traditional organization they have few rational incentives to focus upon the delayed benefits created by crack sealing.

However, when a leader re-defines units' incentives and re-defines their "social function" their perspectives change. When the role of maintenance is re-defined to contribute to long-term pavement performance through crack sealing or drainage maintenance, then maintenance behaviors change. Likewise, when the leader creates new incentives to cooperate with other units such as planning, design and construction then the rational behavior of the individual divisions changes further.

Organizational consensus and strong leadership are important because it takes nearly all the functions of a highway agency to effectively manage a pavement or a bridge through its lifecycle. This is because pavements and bridges require different maintenance, treatments and repairs at different times of their lifecycle. These activities all require different skills, therefore they reside in different organizational units of a state highway agency.

For instance, the construction or rehabilitation of a pavement involves planning, pavement selection, design, construction, materials acceptance and recording of the pavement's completed condition. Then, the pavement should go through a 30-year predictable and collaborative process throughout its life as the disciplines of Planning, IT, Maintenance, Design, and Construction all collaborate to manage that individual pavement and its maintenance.

At least every other year of its life, a pavement should be inspected and its rate of degradation recorded. Deficiencies and conditions are fed into the Pavement Management System for a Remaining Useful Life forecast for the pavement. These deficiency data can assist the logic inherent in the Pavement Management System to predict the expected performance of the pavement - and importantly to identify pavements with accelerated degradation for analysis. Pavements which are degrading at a faster-than-expected rate can be culled for analysis as to why they are performing poorly.

This analysis can add to the institutional knowledge of the organization by determining if the poor performance is attributable to inadequate maintenance, design, construction, materials, drainage or vehicle overloads. Once identified, corrective action can be taken. Throughout this process, the Information Technology systems are key because they link the latent knowledge acquired by the pavement inspection with the decision makers who need to act.

Such analysis and prediction requires the insights of many disciplines - planning, IT, pavement design, maintenance, materials, and construction. In addition, as lessons are learned, periodic training of pavement designers, materials testers, maintenance crews and maintenance managers are needed to share the insight across the organization. Active learning and Knowledge Management are an important aspect of Asset Management

Interlocking Decisions

The activities of one division can affect the other facets of Asset Management. There are many fundamental intricacies between them such as:

  • Programmatic decisions to under-fund pavements lead to accelerated degradation and increased reactive maintenance demands upon in-house forces;
  • If in-house forces do not conduct full-depth repairs, the full benefits of their pavement-repair efforts are diminished;
  • If maintenance forces do not maintain drainage such as under drains, ditches and outfalls, the accumulated moisture can damage pavements and decrease their longevity;
  • If maintenance forces are not properly trained in crack sealing, or if their managers defer crack sealing, pavements can degrade at an unacceptable rate;
  • If maintenance crews are not scheduled for basic bridge maintenance such as expansion joint cleaning, the washing away of salt or the cleaning of scuppers, bridges deteriorate more quickly;
  • If design or construction lag in adopting advanced pavement specifications or other innovations it can reduce the cost-effectiveness of pavement investments significantly over time;
  • If regional divisions are reluctant to "spec out" poor performing local aggregates they will continue to experience accelerated pavement degradation;
  • If the IT division does not provide easily accessible and timely data, ad hoc analyses of trends such as identification of poor-performing pavements can be hindered;
  • If bridge condition inspectors are not cross-trained to note maintenance needs, important bridge maintenance issues can go unreported;

Concurrently, the collaboration and consultation of different units can lead to synergies which significantly improve pavement and bridge performance beyond the level that any one unit alone could achieve. For instance:

  • Systematic analysis of the root cause of poor pavement performance by multi-disciplinary teams can lead to innovations in pavement design, materials specifications, construction means and methods, and preventive treatment strategies;
  • IT evaluation of user needs can lead to enhanced data-collection and reporting systems;
  • Users' needs for forecasts can lead to improved pavement management forecasting systems;
  • The critical need to schedule preventive and reactive treatments to precise time windows can lead to more reliable project-delivery strategies.
Resource Allocation Processes

It was noted in many of the case study agencies that the process of allocating resources across programs was often well documented and transparent. The process is often complex, difficult and sometimes contentious. It often results in some asset categories, some programs or some regions receiving fewer resources than they desire. However, this process also provides opportunity for institutional learning and communication in an Asset Management organization.

In several of the case study agencies, a multi-disciplinary team was involved in making resource allocation decisions. The team often included representatives from different programs, but also representatives from both central office and districts. The participation leads to increased understanding of all parties of the difficult trade-off decisions the department faces. It also increases understanding of the inter-related roles that each unit plays in Transportation Asset Management. It is important during the resource allocation decision process that there be coordination between the various divisions such as Planning, Design, Construction, Pavement Management, Bridge Management, Safety and others. All these groups can be included in the Resource Allocation Analysis. The data from their management systems and the outputs of the analyses from Pavement Management, Bridge Management, HERS-ST and others should form the basis for the resource allocation analysis. The resource-tradeoff analysis in these leading case study examples generally were:

  • Open
  • Formal
  • Participatory
  • Cyclical
  • Data-driven
  • Policy based.

In other words, when the resource allocation analysis was concluded, the major asset management participants had a role in making the complex and often difficult tradeoffs required.

Next, periodic tracking meetings and reports throughout the year further solidify the common understanding of the various divisions as to the progress the agency is making in managing its assets. In these open and inclusive performance-tracking meetings, a common institutional understanding of performance and outcomes can be achieved.

As system conditions are assessed and inventories are re-populated with a year's worth of projects and maintenance activities, then system conditions are reviewed to determine if goals were met. Again, the results of these steps were shared in open meetings or in widely disseminated reports so that all internal units share an understanding of how the resource allocation and Asset Management processes actually performed. Did they meet goals? Are conditions adequate? What asset problems were identified that the collective organization must address? The widespread publishing of system goals and the regular conduct of collaborative meetings to discuss progress towards meeting them keeps the organization focused upon Asset Management. Program managers for pavements, bridges, maintenance, safety and other programs could all see the results of accomplishments, and understand how resource allocation decisions and organizational focus on Asset Management resulted in improved conditions overall.

In summary, the organizational structure and operational strategies for Asset Management in the case study agencies were comprehensive and multi-disciplinary. As well, they involved many key management staff who play a role, either in Central Office or the districts. It was clear that leaders in the field of Asset Management have identified a variety of successful tactics to inculcate the cross-divisional cooperation that is required. These tactics can include:

  • The public and participatory conduct of economic tradeoff analyses which explain why it is in the larger organization's interest to transfer expenditures to highest-return investments, even if it requires the diminishing of historical categories of expenditures;
  • Frequent cross-divisional meetings which are chaired by the leader in which the cross-cutting cooperative activities are monitored for success and impediments to their success are identified;
  • The leader formally redefines the roles of units and individuals to emphasize the cross-divisional cooperation with other units;
  • Shared institutional goals are set as common to all units, not only to some;
  • The long-term accomplishment of Asset Management goals are broken down into meaningful, short-term activities which are clearly assigned to individuals and units, then those individuals and units are held accountable for their accomplishment;
  • Published reports, Web pages, employee meetings and performance evaluations are used to communicate the department's embrace of Asset Management as the process it uses to make infrastructure decisions.

Utah DOT Case Study

Embracing New Structures and Strategies for Asset Management

Utah DOT Case Study

The following case study of the Utah DOT illustrates how one transportation agency successfully coordinated multiple functions across divisions and districts to create the cross-cutting collaboration needed to successfully deploy Asset Management. The Utah DOT experience with improving its information systems also illustrates practices which will be discussed in Chapter 4, following this case study.

When the Government Performance Project conducts its annual evaluation of the states, it has consistently rated the State of Utah as an 'A' for its infrastructure management practices.

The grade is in large part a reflection of the Utah Department of Transportation's comprehensive Asset Management process the agency has spent the past seven years developing. It cascades throughout the organization's infrastructure management practices and provides the maintenance workforce direction, performance goals, condition data and robust cost information with which to plan, conduct, measure and evaluate their work. The Utah DOT Asset Management System also extends through the pavement and bridge programs, allowing decision makers to conduct complex analysis of various funding and optimization scenarios. The Utah Asset Management System also links closely with the Safety Management System so that accident histories and crash trends are considered whenever a maintenance activity or a construction project is planned.

In short, the Utah DOT has developed a comprehensive and systematic Asset Management process that has ingrained Asset Management practices throughout the organization. Utah officials caution, however, that their current system is the result of continuous effort since at least 2002. They consider their Asset Management system to be a continuous work in progress. They say that their journey to deploying a comprehensive Asset Management process holds several lessons.

  • High-level support and active leadership is vital. The top leadership's involvement gives the Asset Management effort visibility and legitimacy.
  • The deployment of Asset Management dovetails naturally with the development of an agency's Performance Management System. In Utah, the two systems developed at generally the same time, with each complementing the other.
  • Asset Management and Performance Management take time. The Utah DOT has been actively developing both since at least 2000 and still it considers itself to be on a continuous journey of improvement.
  • Start with the data systems that you have and improve them as you go. The Utah DOT has developed a comprehensive set of management systems but they represent the continued evolution of earlier ones. The DOT began in 2000 with its legacy data systems and did not wait upon next-generation systems to start its Asset Management pursuit.
  • Differentiate between the computerized asset management data systems from the Asset
Utah's Asset Management Beginnings

In preparation for the 2002 Winter Olympics, the Utah DOT completed a $1.5 billion design/build reconstruction and expansion of I-15 through the heart of Salt Lake City. As the department's leaders readied the modern facility for its opening, they also pondered their long-term approach to ensuring it remains in sound condition throughout its service life. They describe having an epiphany in which it occurred to them that they should undertake the same comprehensive effort to maintain I-15 as they put into building it.

Department Director John Njord led the top management through a three-day workshop and self-evaluation of the department's Asset Management practices. One of the participants described it as a painful process. It was painful both in the length and detail of the analysis as well as in terms of the team recognizing that it lacked a comprehensive Asset Management approach. From the process, however, the important seeds were sown to create a comprehensive Asset Management program.

First, the top-down involvement of the Utah DOT leadership served an important "change management" function. In change management, it is important to provide institutional legitimacy to a change, which the director's involvement provided. Second, the effort was followed by monthly meetings until the Asset Management process was well under way. Those meetings helped to ensure that momentum was gained by the fledgling effort. Three, the workshop and subsequent efforts served as clear points of change for the department. They represented that one era was ending and that a new era of Asset Management was beginning. Such demarcation is an important feature of changing behavior in a large organization by clearly communicating that the organization has embraced a new direction. Without such emphatic "pivoting" of the organization, bureaucratic inertia can stifle change. Finally, the UDOT leadership insisted that Asset Management become "institutionalized" by creating the policies, manuals, organizational structures and data systems to provide common definitions, common understanding, and a common approach to Asset Management throughout the department.

Although the Utah leadership may not have described their efforts at the time as conscious "Change Management," the actions they took with their top-level involvement and engagement were typical of classic "Change Management" strategies. Those actions appear to encapsulate the type of engagement necessary by Asset Management advocates to ingrain the practice in their organization.

Performance Management Linkage

Also in the early 2000s, the Utah DOT was embracing performance metrics and Performance Management, say its officials who were involved at the time. Like so many other officials in other agencies, they quickly recognized the linkage between Asset Management and producing performance metrics for the transportation system. They began by setting goals for what level of pavement and bridge conditions they wanted to sustain for the highway system. The emphasis on both achieving and then sustaining those conditions over time with limited resources strongly influenced their recognition of the benefits of performance management. Among their initial targets were to have 90 percent of the Interstate System, 70 percent of the arterial system and 50 percent of the collector system meeting smoothness standards. Once steps are taken to sustain those goals, both Asset Management and the regular monitoring of performance inherent in Performance Management appear to be self-evidently logical to the organization, Utah officials said. Today, the department produces both extensive Asset Management data but it also produces an annual "Strategic Direction and Performance Measures" report. This report is like an annual corporate report in that it describes major issues facing the department and describes the agency's performance in addressing these issues. Within the larger set of performance metrics that it reports in the Strategic Direction document are high-level performance metrics on how it is managing its highway assets.

Creating an Asset Management Structure

Over its seven year journey, the Utah DOT created both organizational structures and data systems to support its Asset Management approach. The two parallel efforts were closely linked and complementary, and they illustrate the duality of successful Asset Management efforts. Successful Asset Management organizations have not only sound data systems to provide decision makers good information but they have organizational processes which ensure that the logic of Asset Management is followed during the decision making process. To develop both the data systems and business processes, the Utah DOT pursued the following comprehensive series of efforts.

  • It created a Transportation Asset Management Committee (TRANSMAT). This consists of the UDOT senior leaders, members of the Asset Management Team and several Asset Management Groups. TRANSMAT is responsible for overseeing and approving all of the Asset Management efforts within the department. It ensures that "people, plans and processes" are in place to meet the asset management goals.
  • It established an Asset Management Team under a Director for Asset Management. Within the Asset Management Team is an Asset Management Engineer's position.
  • It developed an Asset Management Strategic Plan. This outlined the goals and objectives for the continuous, incremental improvement of the Asset Management process.
  • An Asset Management Implementation Plan was developed. This plan was intended to outline and track the steps necessary to achieve the objectives of the Strategic Plan.
  • Reorganization to achieve the Asset Management objectives was completed. The pavement asset group section was reorganized to align with the new strategies and tactics.
  • An Asset Management Manual was developed. It explains to department personnel how to implement the asset management practices within the department.
  • A UDOT Asset Management Strategic Planning model was developed. This served as the guide to developing project recommendations within the UDOT Long Range Plan. It relied upon forecasting long-term needs and optimizing investment options between programs to achieve the highest system conditions possible with available resources.
  • An Asset Management Data base was developed. It was created to facilitate optimizing both within various asset categories but also to allow for the first steps toward cross-asset optimization and tradeoff analysis.
  • The pavement and bridge management systems were enhanced.
  • Development of an Asset Management Strategic Analysis was completed. This enhancement to the computerized Asset Management System allowed "silo" or "stove pipe" analysis of five different classes of assets. These were pavements, structures, safety, maintenance and mobility. Initial example runs of cross-asset optimization analyses were conducted for demonstration purposes and to allow further investigation by the DOT.
  • An Operations Management System (OMS) and a complementary Maintenance Management Quality Assurance System were created. The OMS was developed to manage the work program for maintenance forces, to schedule and report daily work activities, and to analyze the maintenance business processes. The Quality Assurance System measures conditions in nine different maintenance categories to allow continuous assessment of maintenance performance and conditions.
Lessons Learned: Engagement and Evolution

Utah officials say that their experience taught them lessons in how to achieve organizational acceptance of Asset Management. As already mentioned, the top leadership was engaged, clear messages of change were articulated and Asset Management was given emphasis until it became routine. An additional requirement that the Utah officials said they recognized over time was the need to fully engage mid-level region staff. These staff members were being exposed to new management philosophies, new pavement management tactics, new types of computerized pavement management reports and new demands to provide consistent data. Each of these new concepts required consistent, on-going training in order to achieve widespread understanding and acceptance of Asset Management.

The Asset Management staff faced skepticism in the regions because of misunderstandings about the project-level outputs of the early phases of the pavement management model. As with most pavement management models, the output data, forecasts and budgets are more accurate over a long period of time and across an entire network. The accuracy of any one forecast for a particular pavement section in a particular year is much less valid. However, the pavement management reports were being generated and provided to the regions. Region personnel would find discrepancies between the pavement conditions they knew to exist in the field with what the conditions reported for individual sections by the pavement management model. Such discrepancies led to complaints that the pavement management system, and Asset Management, were "black boxes" that were unclear and unreliable.

The Asset Management staff went to every region to meet with the staff and to analyze the problems with the data, the system outputs and with the region personnel's understanding of the pavement management process. The Asset Management staff said they found that many of the data inputs were incorrect, therefore the model outputs were incorrect. Because the pavement management system had not been extensively relied upon before for pavement funding and selection decisions, it was not maintained adequately. The estimates of how much treatments actually cost were outdated, or imprecise. The pavement condition assessments for the model were manually collected, and wide variability in the rating of pavements was found. They reported that one section of pavement over four years was rated as a 70, 100, 70 and 50, even though it had experienced no treatments over that time. They also realized that many staff did not understand the specific section treatment recommendations which come from a financially constrained optimization pavement model. Under one funding scenario, certain treatments of certain pavement sections were recommended. Under another funding scenario, other treatments were recommended. The logic behind the differing model recommendations was not fully understood, and therefore the entire process was viewed as unreliable, the Asset Management staff report.

At that time, the regions also were responsible for collecting some of the pavement distress data. Visual inspections were conducted of the first tenth of a mile of sample sections. The Asset Management staff said they realized that some region personnel did not understand the rating process, they performed it inconsistently and they did not rely upon the data for their own decision process. "I know what was said," reported one Asset Management staff. " 'Central Office wants this data and I don't know why but let's send them some data.' That was the central problem, they did not see any benefit from this. It was only work."

The Utah leadership realized that the journey of continuous improvement required additional training, as well as improved data processes. They changed from manual pavement condition assessment to automated assessment in order to get more frequent, comprehensive and consistent pavement condition data. Now, with their automated pavement assessment process they can get condition on a full mile of every section, as opposed to the one-tenth of a mile they could produce manually. Also, the data is more consistent, and frequent. The entire highway network can be assessed in two years. They analyze the interstate system in both directions annually.

The Utah experience also shows the importance of explaining what management systems can do well, and what they can't. The use of a pavement management system was important to setting overall system goals and budgets. However, it became apparent that the short-comings of a pavement management system at the project level needed to be clarified. The pavement management system's project-level recommendations were not consistent with what region personnel were seeing in the field, leading to skepticism about the validity of the management systems, say the Utah Asset Management staff. "The regions looked at the output and said this isn't right," said one Asset Management official.

The evolution of Utah's Asset Management process illustrates the need to raise the understanding of asset management, and its components such as pavement management, across a broad spectrum of departmental staff. Most departments are decentralized in many aspects. The decentralization provides the benefit of keeping decisions rooted in the reality of what is actually happening in the field. Decentralization also increases the complexity of the training process, particularly when management systems are deployed as a new tool in the decision-making process.

The department has evolved and refined important aspects of its pavement management, and pavement project-selection processes over time to improve its decentralized process. It has developed several institutional processes, groups and reports in order to perpetuate a continuous evaluation of how well the pavement process is working. In the decentralized Utah structure, each region has its own pavement management engineer who does pavement designs for the region. However, the region pavement engineer and the materials engineers participate in a statewide pavement team. This participation provides key region pavement decision makers access to information about statewide practices. The participation not only serves to disseminate statewide information to the regions, it allows peer exchange between the regions, as well as region feedback to central office. The intention of the statewide participation is to generate consistency in decision making, to solicit broad input into pavement issues and to provide feedback between field and central office decision makers. The continuous interaction provides information which is used to continually refine data elements, such as true project costs, the actual pavement conditions and accurate information about pavement performance compared to forecasted performance. This feedback continually improves the overall decision making process.

In addition to the periodic group meetings between region and central office personnel, the central office staff travel to each region annually for field visits. This allows the central office staff to review conditions on the roadway with the regions, and to evaluate the correlation between the reported and forecast conditions, and actual conditions in the field. These formal and informal exchanges are intended to create a broad consensus and understanding of the pavement management process. The central office asset management personnel said such visits have provided valuable insight and quality-control information. From such interactions and visits they determined that their model was providing poor forecasts of cracking. What the model showed to be good performing sections were actually found to be suffering extensive cracking when viewed in the field.

The Utah asset management officials said while communication is critical to instilling asset management in an organization, the communication needs to be two way. The central office experts need to communicate about the powerful analytic and decision-making potential of the pavement management system, and its data bases. At the same time, the central office personnel can learn a great deal from the day-to-day field experience of the region personnel. The continuous and open communication between central office and field personnel is an important component of continually improving the pavement management process, they noted.

Like with many other departments, the Utah asset management approach to optimization is a hybrid of both computational forecasts from the pavement management system combined with the professional engineering judgment of the staff in the field. The central office provides pavement program scenarios to each region illustrating an optimized program of projects generated from the statewide model. The regions review those lists of suggested projects but make the actual pavement selections. The consideration of both the model's optimized list of projects combined with the field observations and experience of the region allows the insights of both the management system and the field personnel to be captured in the final pavement program. Once the regions have identified a six year program of projects, the central office staff gives it a high-level review to ensure the program is consistent with the statewide goals.

Strategies for Adaption

The Utah officials say their ever-improving pavement management process has allowed them to adapt to two critical changes. First, as they experience turnover in region personnel, the existing pavement management process provides significant analytic and institutional support to the new personnel. They find that the new personnel are anxious for insights into past pavement performance, into their range of investment options and about the various program scenarios they could pursue. The central office officials say the pavement management process provides proven templates for new region personnel to follow as they master their new positions. To further ensure consistency in its approach, the department created a Pavement Panel to help new region personnel select pavements. It consists of membership from the regions and central office. It acts like a peer review panel for the new personnel's program and project decisions. Suggested pavement treatments are explained and put up for a vote by email among the 10 member panel. If at least 7 panelists agree with the selection, it is approved. If fewer than 7 approve, than the individual recommendation is reviewed by Central Office. The process serves to standardize the approach to treatments across the department, and to ensure that extra elements which drive up costs are not included.

Also, the pavement management process has provided a rational and structured process for the department to use as it copes with the significantly higher material costs of recent years. Although its pavement program has not been reduced in terms of its overall budget, the purchasing power of that pavement budget has fallen by nearly half in recent years. The department was able to make rational - albeit difficult - tradeoffs in its pavement investment approach based upon its improved analytical capabilities.

The department classified its system into Level I routes which include the Interstate Highways and generally the arterial network. The collectors and other minor routes are categorized as Level 2 routes. Pavement treatment priority will go to the Level I routes which carry about 70 percent of the state's traffic volumes. Those routes will be actively managed and will receive the large majority of the department's pavement budget. The low-volume Level 2 routes will receive primarily low-cost treatments such as chip seals. In general, the Level 2 routes have average daily traffic of less than 2,000 vehicles, with fewer than 500 trucks.

The asset management staff said the difficult process of prioritizing the pavement program under such tight fiscal constraints has brought more region personnel to seek assistance from the pavement management system. The pavement management system has provided an invaluable assistance in providing various scenarios by which the regions can analyze which mix of projects can optimize their system with their limited resources. While the department has relied on its pavement management system for more than a decade for functions such as forecasting overall investment needs, the system now is playing a more critical analytic role because of the intensity of the pavement preservation shortfall.

The Utah DOT's pavement management system and its logical, systematic approach to managing the network helped the department explain to the Utah Transportation Commission the department's approach to the dramatic increase in prices experienced between 2005 and 2008. Using the analytics from the pavement management system, the staff explained to the commission the department's intention to pursue a lower cost programmatic approach to sustaining pavement conditions. The logical and systematic process appealed to the Commission, which allowed the department to cope with rising costs by accepting a lower level of condition on the low-volume Level 2 routes.

Toward Comprehensive Asset Management

Although the examples discussed thus far relate to pavements, the Utah DOT has evolved on a parallel track to a more comprehensive Asset Management process which includes not only pavements but bridges, maintenance items and safety elements. Data from systems affecting all the highway attributes are collected in a central asset management data based purchased from one of the national Asset Management system vendors.

The pavement data includes friction data taken statewide on a two-year cycle. One lane was tested each direction, except on divided highways where both directions were tested. One test section was performed on each mile. The data base also was populated with falling weight deflection data taken system wide, with one reading taken per mile. This data was provided for project-level design inputs. A profiler van also collected International Roughness Index data, as well as rutting and concrete faulting data. Again, the data was collected annually on one directional lane, except for the divided highways which had both directions measured. For many years, cracking data was collected by the regions annually. Data was collected for one-tenth of a mile sections.

It was the variability of the manually produced cracking data that led to concerns about the accuracy, frequency and consistency of the data. The department has since moved to an automated distress collection process. It allows data to be collected statewide, not just on tenth-mile long sections. All the pavement data - skid, rutting, IRI, cracking and FWD - is populated into the central asset management data base.

The department relies on Pontis for its bridge data system. Bridge inspections are conducted every two years, except for structurally deficient bridges which are inspected annually.

Likewise, safety data is populated in a Safety Management System, which produces a Safety Index for each mile of roadway. The data includes information regarding crash severity and crash type by location. The system calculates a numeric ranking from the Safety Index for every roadway section. The sections which are elevated in their safety index are considered for additional treatments as part of the other programs including the pavement, bridge and maintenance programs.

The maintenance data comes from the Operations Management System (OMS). It stores an extensive amount of data for each section including:

  • Maintenance section delineation;
  • Station boundaries;
  • A snow plan for each section;
  • Shoulder dimensions and profile;
  • Drainage and culvert information;
  • Guardrail and barrier inventory;
  • Sign inventory;
  • Noise walls;
  • Pavement markings;
  • Vegetation management areas;
  • Mowable area;
  • Litter pickup area;
  • Cattle guards and tunnels.

The Operations Management System manages the budget, the work programs for maintenance crews, it helps them schedule and it helps measure their effectiveness. The effectiveness is measured by evaluating actual conditions against the maintenance targets, as well as calculating maintenance function costs. The OMS is used for planning, organizing and directing resources.

The maintenance functions interact with Asset Management in several ways. Departmental officials say the philosophy of preventive maintenance is deeply ingrained in the organization and its workforce. They believe front-line maintenance workers understand that well maintained roads cost less, and last longer, which complements the Asset Management approach. The integration of pavement condition data, safety data and maintenance data all can influence maintenance decisions. Where the central Asset Management data system indicates there are poor pavement conditions, poor skid numbers or an elevated safety index, the maintenance crews consider what operations they can perform to improve those sections. If the maintenance crews perform a chip seal or other significant treatment, that treatment is captured through the central data base and fed into the pavement system. In these different ways, the activities of the maintenance forces can be influenced by asset condition levels, and conversely, the activities of the maintenance forces can measurably improve asset condition and performance.

Not only do the Utah DOT management systems plan and record activities at the front-line maintenance level and the region project-selection level but they also provide comprehensive 20-year plans for the department. Both the bridge management system and the pavement management systems produce 20 year plans, both by region and statewide. They also suggest the treatment by pavement section and structure, treatment cost, overall budget needs and the commensurate level of condition that would be achieved by the forecasted program. The forecasts provide assurance that the asset management program being pursued by the department will achieve its long-term goals of asset sustainability. The department does not use the 20 year forecasts for project selection, but rather for planning purposes and to assess whether overall funding levels are likely to achieve the desired system conditions. The overall result of the various systems and processes is to produce for the Utah DOT a comprehensive asset management process that considers pavements, bridges, and maintenance features and links them to safety considerations.


The Utah officials say that many managerial strategies are important when developing a statewide Asset Management system.

  • Leadership from the top is invaluable, particularly when the leadership consistently supports Asset Management until it is firmly in place.
  • The Asset Management process needs to combine both computerized management system recommendations tempered by the field and engineering judgment of region personnel. Having just one or the other probably is not enough to optimize investment decisions.
  • Expecting the developing of an Asset Management process to take time is important. Utah officials say they have been actively pursuing their process for seven years and still are evolving.
  • Open, continuous channels for communication between the asset management staff and the region staff are essential.
  • An ethos of continuous improvement is fundamental. Because the management systems, their data and the organizational practices all evolve, a continuous improvement mindset is a fundamental element of long-term asset management.
  • Accountability is helpful, if not mandatory. Setting standards of performance - both in terms of asset condition and in terms of asset management practice - help ensure that the on-going practice of asset management is sustained.
  • Understand that both data systems and management practices are essential to successful Asset Management. Data systems provide good information. Sound management practices provide good decisions.
<< Previous Contents Next >>
PDF files can be viewed with the Acrobat® Reader®
Updated: 05/13/2015
Federal Highway Administration | 1200 New Jersey Avenue, SE | Washington, DC 20590 | 202-366-4000