Highway Quality Compendium
Maintenance Quality Assurance: Learning from Your Peers
Adjusting highway agency budget allocation models to include roadway condition data was one of the challenges for highway maintenance managers raised at the first National Maintenance Quality Assurance Peer Exchange Conference held in Madison, Wisconsin, from October 11-13, 2004. Thirty-six States and Canadian provinces and three counties were represented at the conference, as well as the U.S. Forest Service and the University of Wisconsin. The conference was sponsored by the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA), the Midwest Regional University Transportation Center (MRUTC) at the University of Wisconsin, the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials (AASHTO) Highway Subcommittee on Maintenance, and 21 State departments of transportation. As the first peer exchange of its type, it offered participants a rare chance to network and compare best practices with others in their field.
"Maintenance quality assurance programs have been growing over the last 20 years, and the people running them don't have many peers in their organization," says Alison Lebwohl of the Wisconsin Department of Transportation (DOT) and chair of the conference. "When you have a question, you don't have anyone to bounce information off of."
Maintenance quality assurance (MQA) programs help measure and report on the condition of highway assets, linking results to budgets and providing managers with program measurements. Highway program managers are often struggling to measure their programs in meaningful ways. "If you invest ‘x' dollars, you've got to be able to prove you've got a better program," notes Jason Bittner of MRUTC. "What does measuring the tons of salt on the roadway give you? It doesn't really give you anything. It doesn't tell you about the resulting condition of the roads."
The first National Maintenance Quality Assurance Peer Exchange Conference offered participants a chance to compare best practices with others in their field.
Keynote speaker Carlos Braceras, deputy director of the Utah Department of Transportation and chair of the AASHTO Highway Subcommittee on Maintenance, noted the importance of carefully analyzing what matters most to customers and then reallocating funds to improve levels of service. "Our customers will be asking us to do more and more, and we will not be getting more resources in the future," Braceras said. "We will need to make good decisions on what we are spending our money on, and we need to make good decisions about what we are not spending our money on."
Participants met in breakout sessions to discuss their top concerns and issues. These included developing a budget allocation model that is not only based on history, but also incorporates MQA data; determining how to use conditions and dollars spent to predict outcomes; developing meaningful and consistent performance measures for winter maintenance; integrating pavement management, maintenance management systems, and MQA; developing a set of frequently asked questions about MQA statistics, with illustrative case studies; and developing a guide to highway maintenance that looks at why it matters, what it costs, and what happens when it is not done.
"Maintenance quality assurance (MQA) programs help measure and report on the condition of highway assets, linking results to budgets and providing managers with program measurements."
Participants also shared their experiences and best practices. Larry Galehouse, Director of the National Center for Pavement Preservation in Okemos, Michigan, spoke about the value of pavement preservation programs. These programs combine pavement preventive maintenance, rehabilitation, and reconstruction into a single comprehensive strategy to improve the future long-term condition of the highway network. The mix of fixes helps optimize the use of available funds to meet network condition needs, producing a better return on the money spent. Using preventive maintenance treatments, such as micro-surfacing, chip seals, and slurry seals, allows highway agencies to postpone costly reconstruction or rehabilitation activities by extending the service lives of their original pavements.
Topics discussed at the conference will be edited into a formal list of national priorities by the conference steering committee. The committee hopes that this list will be used to determine research projects and priorities. Missouri, for example, has already used information from the list to make research decisions, Lebwohl notes.
All presentations and conference materials are available in an online resource library (www.mrutc.org/outreach/mQA), and a listserv is also available for networking. For more information on the conference or MQA, contact Alison Lebwohl at 608-266-8666 (email: Alison.Lebwohl@dot.state.wi.us), or Jason Bittner at 608-262-7246 (email: email@example.com).
Reprinted from Focus, November 2004.