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Asset Management


FHWA Asset Management Position Paper

Safety and Asset Management

The purpose of this paper is to define the relationship between transportation asset management and transportation system planning and to describe the current, and potential future, activities of the FHWA Office of Safety that support the implementation of asset management. The paper is one of a set of seven papers exploring the relationship of asset management to each of FHWA's major program areas including planning, right-of-way, environment, infrastructure, safety, operations, and Federal lands.

Section 1.0 provides a general overview of asset management relevant to all program areas. Section 2.0 defines the relationship between planning and asset management. Section 3.0 describes current, and potential future, activities of the Office of Safety that support asset management.

1.0 Overview of Transportation Asset Management

1.1 Definition of Asset Management

Transportation asset management is a set of guiding principles and best practice methods for making informed transportation resource allocation decisions, and improving accountability for these decisions. The term "resource allocation" covers not only allocation of money to program areas, projects, and activities but also covers deployment of other resources that add value (staff, equipment, materials, information, real estate, etc.). While several of these principles and practices were initially developed and applied within the domain of infrastructure preservation, most established definitions of asset management are considerably broader. The Asset Management Guide,[1] recently adopted by AASHTO defines asset management as:

"... a strategic approach to managing transportation infrastructure. It focuses on...business processes for resource allocation and utilization with the objective of better decision-making based upon quality information and well-defined objectives."

As Mary Peters, FHWA Administrator has frequently put it:

"If I have one additional dollar to spend on the transportation system, what is the most effective way to spend it?"

The essence of asset management is answering that question.

Asset management is concerned with the entire life cycle of transportation decisions, including planning, programming, construction, maintenance, and operations. It emphasizes integration across these functions, reinforcing the fact that actions taken across this life cycle are interrelated. It also recognizes that investments in transportation assets must be made considering a broad set of objectives, including physical preservation, congestion relief, safety, security, economic productivity, and environmental stewardship.

1.2 Asset Management Principles

  • Policy-Driven - Resource allocation decisions are based on a well-defined and explicitly stated 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 as well;
  • 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 resources within and across different types of investments (e.g., preventive maintenance, rehabilitation, pavements, bridges, capacity expansion, operations, different modal mixes, safety, etc.) are based on an analysis of how different allocations will impact achievement of relevant policy objectives. Alternative methods for achieving a desired set of objectives are examined and evaluated. These options are not constrained by established organizational unit boundaries - for example solving a congestion problem could involve a capacity expansion or an operational improvement (e.g., signal coordination). The best method is selected considering the cost (both initial and long-term) and likely impacts on established performance measures. The limitations posed by realistic funding constraints must be reflected in the range of options and tradeoffs considered;
  • Decisions Based on Quality Information - The merits of different options with respect to an agency's policy goals are evaluated using credible and current data. These data may apply to specific functions (e.g., pavement and bridge management, traffic monitoring) or reflect a more integrated, corporate view.[2] Where appropriate, decision support tools are used to provide easy access to needed information, to assist with performance tracking and predictions, and to perform specialized analysis (e.g., optimization, real-time simulation, scenario analysis, life-cycle cost analysis, benefit/cost analysis); and
  • Monitoring to Provide Clear Accountability and Feedback - Performance results are monitored and reported for both impacts and effectiveness. Feedback on actual performance may influence agency goals and objectives, as well as resource allocation and utilization decisions.

These principles are not unfamiliar, nor are they radical. Most transportation practitioners would agree that investment decisions should be based on weighing costs against likely outcomes, that a variety of options should be considered and evaluated, and that quality information is needed for decision-making. Many agencies are now pursuing performance-based approaches to planning and programming, monitoring system performance, and developing more integrated data and analysis tools to evaluate tradeoffs among capital expansion, operations, and preservation activities. Most agencies recognize that application of asset management principles is critical in times of constrained resources, when all investment and budget decisions are subject to increased public scrutiny.

1.3 Asset Management Practice

Figure 1 illustrates the strategic resource allocation process that embodies the asset management principles presented above.

The Strategic Resource Allocation Process as discussed below

The diagram includes the following elements:

  • Policy Goals and Objectives, supported by performance measures are established through the policy and system planning process and used to guide the overall resource allocation process.
  • Analysis of Options and Tradeoffs includes examination of options within each investment area, as well as tradeoffs across different investment areas. The definition of investment areas is flexible and can be tailored to how an individual agency does business. For example, an agency may have a separate safety investment area and also incorporate consideration of safety within system preservation, operations, and capacity expansion expenditures. Each option and tradeoff is evaluated with respect to established agency goals and performance objectives.
  • Resource Allocation Decisions are based on the results of tradeoff analyses These decisions involve allocations of financial, staff, equipment, and other resources to the different investment areas and/or to different strategies, programs, projects, or asset classes within an individual investment area.
  • Program and Service Delivery is accomplished in the most cost-effective manner which again involves consideration of different delivery options (e.g., use of contractors, interagency agreements), as well as a delivery tracking process involving recording of actions taken, costs, effectiveness, and lessons learned to guide future activity.
  • System Conditions and Service Levels are tracked to see the extent to which established performance objectives are being addressed. This information is used to refine policy goals and priorities (e.g., put more emphasis on safety in response to an increase in crash rates).

1.4 Transportation Investment Categories

In Figure 1, the box labeled "Analysis of Options and Tradeoffs" shows three types of investment categories - preservation, operations, and capacity expansion. These are defined as follows:

  1. Preservation encompasses work to extend the life of existing facilities (and associated hardware and equipment), or to repair damage that impedes mobility or safety. The purpose of system preservation is to retain the existing value of an asset and its ability to perform as designed. System preservation counters the wear and tear of physical infrastructure that occurs over time due to traffic loading, climate, crashes, and aging. It is accomplished through both capital projects and maintenance actions.
  2. Operations focuses on the real-time service and operational efficiency provided by the transportation system for both people and freight movement on a day-to-day basis. Examples of operations actions include real-time traffic surveillance, monitoring, control, and response; intelligent transportation systems (ITS); signal phasing and real-time signal controllers at intersections; HOV lane monitoring and control; ramp metering; weigh-in-motion; road weather management; and traveler information systems. Although operations focuses on system management, the infrastructure needed to provide this capability may be substantial (e.g., traffic control centers; ITS hardware; environmental sensors and fire control systems in tunnels). Thus, an operations strategy requires capital and operating budget as well as substantial staff resources.
  3. Capacity expansion focuses on the actions needed to expand the service provided by the existing system for both people and freight. Capacity expansion can be achieved either by adding physical capacity to an existing asset, or acquiring/constructing a new facility.

These three categories are defined in order to show that:

  • Asset management is not just about preservation of highway network assets; it is about making investment decisions that address a wide range of policy goals.
  • The three categories provide a simple, useful way for decision-makers to align program investment categories and priorities with key policy objectives. For example, many agencies establish a "preservation first" policy or favor maximizing efficiency of operations prior to investing in new capacity.
  • The categories may present alternative ways of meeting a policy goal. For example, it may be appropriate to consider operational improvements to address a congestion problem as an alternative to adding a new lane.
  • Decisions about the resources allocated to each category cannot be made independently. Meeting many policy goals (e.g., safety) may require a mix of investments across these categories. Similarly, an increase in capacity expansion investments may require increased operations and preservation expenditures at some point in time.

As noted above, tradeoff analysis may be done across investment categories as well as within them. An agency might wish to define investment areas coincident with the three categories discussed above (preservation, operations, capacity), or they may define a different set of categories. For example, a safety program could be defined as an investment category, with subareas for operational activities (e.g., signs, markings, signalization, channelization, etc.), preservation (replacement of guardrails), and capacity (project design features supporting safety, e.g., wide shoulders). This would provide the framework for understanding the best mix of complementary actions within the safety area as well as tradeoffs between safety and other objectives.

1.5 Asset Management and the Transportation Planning Process

A common reaction to the broad description of asset management is "how is this different from the overall planning and programming process in an agency?" The response is that asset management is not a new kind of business process that replaces planning and programming. Rather, it should be viewed as a set of best practices to be employed within the established planning and programming framework. Existing regulations pertaining to the planning process, together with statutes related to specific funding programs and their allocation criteria, and the body of environmental regulations affecting transportation planning - provide the context within which asset management practice occurs. In terms of Figure 1, transportation regulations and statutes impact establishment of policy objectives, the manner in which options are generated and evaluated, and they also provide certain constraints on resource allocation (based on Federal and state funding eligibility restrictions). Many of the core principles of asset management are embodied in the existing planning regulations (e.g., consideration of alternatives). Examining the planning process using the lens of asset management provides an opportunity to explore ways to continue to strengthen the mission of transportation planning - for example:

  • How to improve connections between long-range planning and resource allocation;
  • How to strengthen agency and public consideration of preservation and operations investments within the long-range planning process;
  • How to better integrate environmental considerations throughout the transportation planning and decision-making process - across capacity, operational and preservation investments; and
  • How to provide a common information resource base to serve multiple activities across the transportation asset life cycle - long-range planning, corridor studies, safety studies, environmental assessments, multi-year capital programming, project development, preventive maintenance and system operations.

While asset management is closely associated with planning and programming activities, asset management best practices are also integral to design, construction, routine and preventive maintenance and operations activities. For example:

  • Application of life-cycle cost analysis in the facility design process;
  • Analysis of alternative construction materials and methods;
  • Tradeoffs across different maintenance activities based on level of service and extended facility life provided to customers;
  • Developing an appropriate mix of operations expenditures on technology upgrades, hardware/infrastructure maintenance and replacement, and skilled personnel;
  • Evaluation of delivery options (e.g., design-build, use of private contractors for maintenance and operations, inter-agency agreements, etc.).

1.6 Key Opportunities

Despite the support for taking an asset management approach, many agencies face very real organizational, institutional, and technical challenges to making further progress in asset management. Each one of these challenges represents a potential opportunity for FHWA to work with its partners to encourage broader implementation of asset management principles. For example:

  • Top management needs to set an organization-wide direction and framework for decision-making and to ensure that all parts of the organization are working together in a coordinated fashion. Maintaining continuity in leadership direction and understanding of key asset management principles can be particularly challenging with frequent turnover in agency executives;
  • Clear roles for each organizational unit must be established to solve common problems or meet common objectives. Differences in perspectives and approaches, lack of established procedures, or turf battles must be reconciled;
  • Established resource allocation methods, often constrained by externally imposed restrictions, historical allocations or formulas, or delicate and difficult political negotiations may restrict the range of options and tradeoffs that can be considered;
  • Staff resource constraints together with a constant "fire-fighting" mode of operation also may restrict the amount of time and effort that can be spent on analyzing options;
  • Developing a comprehensive set of reliable methods, data and tools to evaluate performance tradeoffs among the full set of investment options will take a sustained, multi-year effort;
  • Establishing a causal link between an investment or action and a performance indicator of interest, due to the presence of external factors influencing performance (e.g., gas prices, vehicle fleet changes, growth patterns, etc.) may require additional research in some cases;
  • Coordination among multiple agencies to achieve established objectives in areas such as operations and safety adds complexity to the decision-making process and program implementation efforts; and
  • External and internal agency culture based on "bottom-up" decision-making, with a focus on specific projects rather than on broader system performance and outcomes.

While it is relatively straightforward to implement asset management within a well-defined area of the agency (a pavement management unit, for example), the issues identified above illustrate why it is much more challenging to implement it more fully within an agency, or across multiple agencies.

However, the need to allocate scarce resources as effectively as possible and demonstrate results and performance to the customers of the transportation system provides strong motivation and support for overcoming these challenges. A comprehensive, performance-based approach to transportation investment decisions will be essential to meeting the increasingly complex set of transportation needs of the 21st century.

2.0 Safety and Transportation Asset Management

This section discusses the relationship between safety and the transportation asset management framework and principles described above.

2.1 Overview of Safety Activities

Transportation safety programs have traditionally encompassed the "4E's" of Engineering, Enforcement, Education and Emergency Response. While state DOT safety offices have primary responsibility for the engineering aspect of safety (geometric design, traffic control, barriers, signs, etc.), they work in coordination with a variety of other agencies - state highway safety offices, local public works departments, departments of motor vehicles, law enforcement, emergency services, hospitals - on implementation of broader safety programs.

The AASHTO Strategic Highway Safety Plan (SHSP) was developed with participation from a broad set of stakeholders and represents a comprehensive approach to improving transportation safety. The Plan describes strategies in six key areas - drivers, vulnerable users, vehicles, highways, emergency medical services, and safety management. Within each of these areas, there is a mix of engineering, enforcement, education and emergency response strategies, as summarized below.

  • The Drivers element includes strategies such as graduated driver licensing programs; education to increase safety awareness; legislative, education and law enforcement actions to address impaired driving; and enforcement to curb aggressive driving.
  • The Vulnerable Users element includes engineering, education and enforcement actions to improve safety of travel for pedestrians and non-motorized vehicles (e.g. street and intersection design improvements, motorist education, model ordinances for pedestrian rights).
  • The Vehicles element includes improvements to vehicle safety features, and improved compatibilities between roadside safety elements (e.g. guide rails, side slopes) and certain types of vehicles.
  • The Highways element includes six goal areas:
  • The Emergency Medical Services area includes improvements to emergency response systems, trauma systems, and first responder training.
  • The Safety Management area includes improvements to information and decision support systems, and safety program management.

NCHRP Report 500: Guidance for Implementation of the AASHTO Strategic Highway Safety Plan presents specific objectives and strategies for addressing different types of highway crashes (e.g. head-on collisions) or factors which cause crashes (aggressive driving, unlicensed drivers). NCHRP Report 501: Integrated Management Process to Reduce Highway Injuries and Fatalities Statewide provides an overall framework and management process for coordinating and integrating safety programs, independent of where they reside within a governmental organization. NCHRP Synthesis Report 322: Safety Management Systems describes current agency practices and reviews two model state SMS initiatives.

2.2 Relationship to Transportation Investment Areas

Safety Considerations in Transportation Preservation, Operations and Capacity Expansion

The three transportation investment areas discussed in Section 1 and presented in Figure 1 provide a framework for state DOT's to examine where their transportation resources are going and how different investment mixes affect multiple objectives, including safety, congestion relief, economic development/access to markets, environmental stewardship, and preservation of infrastructure investment. Safety is viewed as integral to all program areas; DOT's understand that all projects to be developed and delivered, whether operational, maintenance-related or capital, will be designed with safety in mind and will in fact contribute to overall system safety. Each of the three investment areas have a safety component which is considered in the identification, evaluation and selection of options:

Preservation actions keep infrastructure in safe, serviceable condition. Road surfaces with rutting, major distresses (e.g. potholes) or low skid resistance can adversely impact safety; pavement repair, resurfacing and rehabilitation activities reduce the likelihood of crashes related to road surface conditions. Bridge maintenance, rehabilitation and replacement programs keep important safety features (bridge railings) in good repair and reduce risks of structural failure.

Operations includes actions to maintain the safe and efficient flow of traffic. A wide range of operations strategies are implemented to address safety objectives. These include geometric improvements, access management, traffic control, coordination with enforcement activities for installation and monitoring of red light cameras; real-time motorist warning systems at intersections; road weather management; traveler information and roadway reports; physical safety improvements such as rumble strips; and deployment of guardrails, impact attenuators, lighting, signs, signals, and pavement markings.

Preservation and Operations investments are frequently combined - for example, many agencies implement improvements such as shoulder paving, slope flattening, installation of guardrails, etc. in conjunction with resurfacing projects in order to improve safety and operational efficiency.

Capacity Expansion investments offer state DOTs the opportunity to utilize safety best practices and examine design options with respect to potential safety benefits. Safety-related design considerations also may include provisions for emergency response and enforcement (e.g. pull-off locations for HOV lane enforcement). Alternatives for providing instrumentation to support better traffic management and operations within the project scope may also be considered.

Work zone safety is an important consideration within each of these areas.

Safety Program Investment Areas

From the perspective of improving transportation safety, there is a much broader set of investments that should be undertaken to achieve the goal of reducing crashes and associated injuries and fatalities, consistent with the AASHTO SHSP.

Figure 2 presents a view of the strategic resource allocation process within the safety area. In this figure, investment areas are defined based on the 4E's - engineering, education, enforcement and emergency response. Within and across each of these investment areas, options and tradeoffs can be considered to provide the mix of actions that achieves the greatest reduction in injuries and fatalities. Such tradeoffs can be considered for an overall safety program, or for a specific goal area. For example, the goal of improving safety for pedestrians can be addressed through engineering actions such as properly designed pedestrian crossings, highway user education to raise awareness of pedestrian safety, enforcement for both motorists and pedestrians, and improved emergency response.

Each of the four safety investment areas includes actions to reduce fatalities and injuries systemwide ("sustained safety"), and actions targeted at specific locations or corridors to lower the incidence of crashes or reduce risks. In this figure, DOTs have direct responsibility for the engineering component, which encompasses the preservation, operations and new capacity categories discussed above. They cooperate with other partners for education, enforcement, and emergency response activities.

Figure 2 Strategic Resource Allocation Process for Safety

Strategic Resource Allocation Process for Safety, as discussed above.

2.3 Application of Asset Management Principles to Safety

This section describes how each of the asset management principles outlined in Section 1.2 can be applied to safety.


Transportation safety programs by definition respond to the policy objective of preventing crashes and associated injuries and fatalities. Policies can also be established for specific safety program elements or emphasis areas; for example prevention of crashes involving pedestrians or bicyclists; prevention of crashes involving trucks.


Safety objectives are easily translated into quantitative performance measures. Most commonly, numbers (or rates per vehicle mile of travel) of crashes, injuries and fatalities are tracked, along with a variety of associated data to help understand causal factors:

  • Vehicle types and classifications (school bus, commercial vehicle, etc.)
  • Accurate location on the roadway (intersection type, curve, midblock, ramp, etc)
  • Roadway types and classifications (interstates, arterials, collectors, local roads, etc.)
  • Roadway geometrics
  • Condition of traffic control devices (retro-reflectivity)
  • Type of crash (intersection, roadway departure, pedestrian, etc.)
  • Driver demographics, including age and seat belt usage
  • Pedestrian, bicyclist, or motorcyclist-involved
  • Behavioral causal factors (speeding, alcohol, etc.)
  • Traffic control (stop signs, signals, etc.)
  • Rural/urban area
  • Work zone area
  • Weather
  • Day of week, time of day

The condition of safety physical assets (guardrails, crash cushions, pavement markings, signals, etc.) is also tracked by many agencies to determine maintenance and rehabilitation needs.

Analysis of Options and Tradeoffs

A key principle of asset management is the analysis of options and tradeoffs. For the safety area, options and tradeoffs can be considered in two different contexts - within a statewide, regional or local safety program seeking to reduce injuries through a variety of strategies, and within a broader transportation program where safety is one of several objectives being considered.

The allocation of available safety resources for different types of safety activities should reflect an analysis of the expected payoff from each investment with respect to established performance measures. Considerable research has been done to better understand the impacts of safety features, projects and programs. Analysis methods for some types of safety investments (e.g. intersection improvements) are more tractable, and are therefore further developed than for others (e.g. public awareness campaigns). Many agencies make use of benefit-cost analysis techniques to prioritize spot safety projects.

The States are implementing the AASHTO Strategic Highway Safety Plan and many have established themselves as a Lead State to implement and evaluate safety problem countermeasures. This evaluation not only requires proper evaluation methods such as before and after studies, but needs more detailed information about the type, location and performance of the asset.

NCHRP Report 501 presents an integrated safety management process that involves consideration of options and tradeoffs for determining an effective combination of strategies to achieve safety goals. This process includes steps to identify emphasis areas and specific objectives within each emphasis area, evaluate potential strategies for achieving the objectives, and optimization of strategies given a budget constraint. The report presents supporting analytical methodologies that address the following questions:

  • For a given strategy, how is the economic benefit of injury and fatality reduction related to the cost and level of implementation?
  • How is the potential economic benefit of injury and fatality reduction in a jurisdiction related to the overall level of investment in a set of selected strategies?
  • What is an optimal level of investment to obtain a jurisdictional goal?
  • What are the impacts of varying investment programming options?

Options and tradeoffs related to safety investments also need to be considered in the context where program resources are being allocated to achieve a broad set of transportation objectives. Ideally, safety best-practices are integral to transportation design, construction, operations and maintenance. However there are many situations in which analysis is warranted to assist with both program and project-level tradeoff questions:

  • If we allocate more resources to safety projects and programs, what will we gain (in terms of economic benefit of injury and fatality reduction) and what will we give up (benefit related to congestion relief or higher life-cycle costs due to less preservation work)?
  • For a specific project being implemented for preservation or congestion relief purposes, should safety-related improvements be built in - for example, should a pavement resurfacing project include widening and paved shoulders, or should the incremental resources needed to do this be invested in resurfacing additional miles?
Decisions Based on Quality Information

The principle of using solid, credible information to make good decisions about resource allocation and strategy selection is fundamental to transportation safety. While the need to improve the collection, accuracy and integration of safety information is widely recognized, information on crashes, their characteristics and causes is routinely collected, analyzed and used to identify emphasis areas for safety programs. Research and analysis on the effectiveness of different types of safety strategies has been ongoing for decades, and this research is used to identify appropriate countermeasures and conduct benefit-cost analysis.

Key sources of national safety data include:

  • Fatality Accident Reporting System (FARS) - census of all fatal traffic crashes (NHTSA);
  • National Automotive Sampling System - General Estimates System (NASS-GES) - national sample of police-reported crashes (NHTSA);
  • Motor Carrier Management Information System (MCMIS) - motor carrier and hazardous material shipper safety performance data, including crash reports (FMCSA); and
  • The Highway Safety Information Systems Database (HSIS) - a nine-state database maintained by FHWA with crash records, highway inventory, and traffic volume data used for research and evaluation of countermeasure effectiveness.

New technologies for state and local crash and law enforcement data collection are available to improve the accuracy and efficiency of data collection. The FHWA-sponsored Traffic and Criminal Software package (TrACS) system being distributed by Iowa DOT is an important example.

A number of tools exist for integrating safety with design and engineering, including the Interactive Highway Safety Design Model (IHSDM), which helps highway planners and designers estimate the safety impacts of design decisions, and the Resurfacing Safety Resource Allocation Program (RSRAP), a software tool that optimizes system-wide safety benefits across a program of resurfacing projects within a user-specified budget constraint.

The transportation community is also recognizing the need to apply asset management principles to safety physical assets, such as signs, signals, pavement markings, detectors, impact attenuators, lighting, and guardrails. As a subset of transportation infrastructure, these physical assets should be managed to meet policy goals and objectives most cost-effectively. Research into safety management systems includes the development of inventory and analysis tools for evaluating the tradeoffs between preserving safety assets (e.g., sign repair and pavement markings), operating safety assets (e.g., real-time monitoring of impact attenuators), and expanding safety assets (e.g. provision of guardrails).

Monitoring to Provide Clear Accountability and Feedback

Continuous collection and analysis of crash, injury and fatality data is integral to a performance-based highway safety program. This information is used to track progress towards established targets, and to assess the overall effectiveness of safety programs. At a June 2003 AASHTO Highway Safety Leadership Summit, a new national effort was launched to lower the highway fatality rate by one-third to 1.0 per 100 million VMT by 2008[3]. Monitoring of progress will provide essential feedback along the way.

Monitoring of safety strategy effectiveness also provides important information that can be used to make course corrections in safety programs, document lessons learned and establish best practices to guide future efforts. The Integrated Safety Management Process described in NCHRP Report 501 defines an explicit responsibility for evaluating the impacts of safety programs; Appendix D of that report provides examples of impact measures. The NCHRP Report 500 Implementation Guides include evaluation criteria for each safety strategy that can be used to design a monitoring program.

3.0 FHWA Current and Future Safety Activities Related to Asset Management

The purpose of this section is to describe the current safety activities of FHWA that are relevant to asset management, and identify potential activities for the future. Asset management is not a new or separate function, but a set of best practice business principles to be integrated into existing processes. Section 3.1 discusses FHWA Safety initiatives that reflect asset management principles. Section 3.2 describes how the Office of Safety is adopting a new resource allocation process that mirrors the core asset management principles. Finally, Section 3.3 describes potential future activities for asset management and safety.

3.1 Current and Planned Activities

FHWA is already conducting or planning several activities that reflect the asset management principles discussed throughout this paper. The following sections highlight the key safety-related asset management activities in the areas of policy, technical assistance, research, technology deployment, and coordination.

Policy and Regulatory

Safety-Conscious Planning: The 1998 Transportation Equity Act for the 21st Century (TEA-21) explicitly included safety as a planning factor to be considered in development of metropolitan and statewide transportation plans and programs. In response to this legislation, FHWA has been working with its partners to define and support a more proactive approach to safety planning and to integrate safety considerations throughout the transportation planning process.

SAFETEA: The transportation reauthorization bill calls for the establishment of a performance-based highway safety program. This program is intended to provide flexibility to apply funds to where they will be achieve the greatest payoff.

AASHTO Strategic Highway Safety Plan: FHWA has worked in coordination with AASHTO and other partners to support the development and implementation of this comprehensive plan for improving safety.

Vital Few: Safety is one of FHWA's three "Vital Few" areas of focus (the other two are Congestion Mitigation and Environmental Stewardship and Streamlining). FHWA's stated goal is "to continually improve highway safety by reducing the number of highway fatalities and injuries including large trucks".

USDOT Target: USDOT has established the goal of reducing the national highway fatality rate to 1.0 per 100 million VMT by 2008. FHWA has identified three emphasis areas, each with a specific fatality reduction target - roadway departures, intersections, and pedestrians.

National Intersection Safety Agenda: FHWA has worked in collaboration with partner agencies to develop a national agenda for improving intersection safety.

Technical Assistance and Information Dissemination

FHWA provides technical assistance to its partners and provides information through the Internet, training, and puNCHRPtions. These activities help transportation agencies to develop strategic approaches to safety investments and provide needed information to support decision making.

  • Supporting the implementation guidance (NHCRP Reports 500 and 501) for the AASHTO Strategic Highway Safety Plan.
  • Providing technical assistance to the States in developing strategic plans on safety programs and policy objectives;
  • Conducting numerous training sessions and issuing publications on safety procedures, research, best practices, and new technology. There are programs targeted at a variety of safety issues including rail crossings, bicycle/pedestrians, older drivers, work zones, roadside safety, and intersections. These initiatives help provide the quality information and data necessary for states to adopt the performance-based, data-driven approach embodied in the Strategic Highway Safety Plan and to identify areas with the greatest opportunities;
  • Publicizing a wide range of safety research results and tools, such as the Roadside Safety Analysis Program (RSAP), which is a tool developed under NCHRP Project 22-9 for analyzing the benefits and costs of installing roadside safety devices;
  • Developing a compendium of resources for intersection safety improvements; and
  • Development of procedures for road safety audits, along with an associated NHI training course and web site with resource materials.
Research & Technology

Research and technology is an important part of FHWA's activities. These activities include studies of safety countermeasure effectiveness, and development of methods and tools for analysis of safety impacts, and benefit-cost analysis to improve resource allocation decisions:

  • Development and continued improvements the Interactive Highway Safety Design Model (IHSDM), which is a tool that helps highway planners and designers to estimate safety impacts of design decisions. IHSDM is the result of a multi-year research effort. It currently provides capabilities for two-lane rural highways, and can be used to analyze designs for new construction and improvement of existing roadways.
  • Support for development (through NCHRP) of the Resurfacing Safety Resource Allocation Program (RSRAP) tool, which can be used to evaluate trade-offs between options of resurfacing roads with or without safety improvements.
  • Research on intersection safety in support of FHWA's "Vital Few" safety objectives. Specific activities include developing crash avoidance systems, evaluating intersection design improvements, evaluation of non-traditional intersections, validating accident models for intersections, developing guidelines for signalized intersections, and development of surrogate safety assessment measures. These activities will help link engineering decisions with safety impacts;
  • Research using finite element analysis (FEA). FEA is a tool for highway planners and designers used to develop safer highway guardrails, bridge supports, signposts, and other roadside structure designs. FEA can predict the outcome of a crash test when motor vehicles run-off-the-road and either rollover or are involved in collisions with a roadside object, instead of the real-life costly crash tests typically conducted. FEA is not a replacement for crash testing, but can help designers evaluate multiple designs more quickly and cost-effectively;
  • Development of the Digital Highway Measurement (DHM) vehicle which is instrumented to measure roadway geometry, assess pavement condition, and collect high-resolution digital videos of the roadway and its features such as lane markings, signs and guardrails. The instruments are the most accurate, state-of-the-art, off the shelf items currently available. The DHM can collect data while traveling at normal highway speeds. Several states and the Office of Federal Lands Highways have requested an expansion of the initial DHM technologies to include an ability to identify sub-surface assets, such as culverts and conduits. Safety R&D is looking into ground penetrating radar as a possible means to accomplish this need.
  • Sponsorship of TrACS data collection technology - FHWA worked with Iowa DOT to develop and demonstrate a National Model for Technology in Highway Safety and Law Enforcement. This effort has produced the Traffic and Criminal Software package (TrACS), an automated data collection and reporting system for crashes and citations. TrACS is now being used in 22 states.
  • FHWA is developing SafetyAnalyst in cooperation with thirteen state highway agencies. SafetyAnalyst is a set of software tools to assist state and local highway agencies in making decisions on where to make safety improvements on the existing highway network, and what safety improvements to make. It can also be used to evaluate safety improvements that have been implemented. The tools incorporate state-of-the-art approaches to safety management. They will address site-specific highway safety improvements involving physical modifications of the highway system - they are not designed to address driver or vehicle-related safety programs.
  • Participation in the proposed AASHTO Transportation Safety Information Management Systems (TSIMS) project to develop a software package that links existing safety-related data at the state DOT level, including crash records, Geographic Information Systems (GIS), driver and vehicle registrations, roadway inventory data, and commercial vehicle databases. TSIMS will also include analysis and reporting tools;
  • Studies on the relationship between human factors and safety to understand drivers' capabilities and limitations, for example, research on nighttime driving, aging drivers, roadway lighting, and sign reflectivity;
  • Participation in an AASHTO study on integrated Roadway Hardware and Safety Management Systems to build inventory and condition databases. The effort is focused on seven areas of hardware or safety features that are either "on" the roadway (pavement markings), "in" the roadway (loop detectors), or on the roadside (guardrail); and
  • Continued support of the AASHTO Strategic Highway Safety Plan (SHSP) and NCHRP Reports 322, 500, and 501, as well as continued support of SHSP implementation and the evaluation of best practices included in the Guides.

The Office of Safety R&D has lead on research, development or coordination of many of the above topics.


FHWA safety activities involve joint efforts across multiple offices to ensure a consistent, coordinated approach. Examples include:

  • The Safety Conscious Planning effort (coordinated between the Office of Planning, Environment, and Realty and the Office of Safety);
  • Collaboration between the Office of Safety, Office of Operations, and Office of Infrastructure on work zone safety efforts.
  • Ongoing coordination and communication between the Office of Safety and the Office of Operations for issues and technologies related to intelligent transportation systems (ITS). ITS technologies, both in the vehicle and embedded in roadway infrastructure, could potentially have significant safety benefits.
  • Updates to the Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices (MUTCD) is a joint effort between the Office of Safety and the Office of Operations. Since many safety activities are interrelated with operations activities, adopting an asset management approach will require continued close coordination between these two offices.
  • Working with the Office of Operations, Office of Safety R&D, and Chief Council's office to develop retroreflectivity standards for signs and pavement markings.
  • The Roadway Hardware and Safety Management Systems project described above is a joint effort with the Office of Safety R&D, Office of Asset Management, Office of Safety, Office of Operations, and AASHTO. The seven areas of hardware and safety features under investigation affect both safety and operations.

3.2 Implementation of Asset Management Principles at the FHWA Office of Safety

The FHWA Office of Safety has begun implementing the performance-based approach, as reflected by asset management principles, in their own internal resource allocation process. Unlike a state DOT, the primary resources to be allocated at the FHWA Office of Safety are staff and program dollars, instead of capital and maintenance expenditures. This section describes how the current activities of the Office of Safety relate to each of the core principles of asset management.


The FHWA Office of Safety is initiating strategies driven by five guiding principles for the office. They are, briefly:

  • Serve as a strong voice for safety. The Office of Safety will provide leadership and advocacy to increase the prominence of safety within the overall framework of Federal-aid decision-making.
  • Leverage resources. The Office of Safety will maximize its resources by planning strategically and working with other agencies, states, and industry.
  • Focus on high payoff areas. The Office of Safety will target its strategies and resources using data driven decision-making.
  • Assure both short-term and long-term accomplishments. The Office of Safety will structure its programs to assure both short-term and long-term success.
  • Support strategic planning efforts of all states. The Office of Safety will encourage, facilitate, and support strategic planning efforts of all states.

The U.S. DOT's goal is to reduce fatalities to 1.0 per 100 million VMT by 2008. FHWA's goals are by 2007 to reduce fatalities by 10% for roadway departure, intersection, and pedestrian crashes. The performance-based approach is shifting the Office of Safety activities from a first-come, first-served policy to concentrating resources on where the safety impacts are likely to be greatest, and then make merit-based investments in programs and projects regardless of ownership or functional classification of the facility.

Analysis of Options and Tradeoffs

The primary resources to be allocated at the Office of Safety are staff and program dollars. The purpose of analyzing options and tradeoffs is to evaluate the relative benefits and costs of investments among the different program areas. In a document titled "Linking Key Process Information to Strategic Planning," the Office of Safety has identified its key processes and subprocesses as investment categories. These are:

  • National Policy Leadership
    • Program Leadership
    • Issuance of Policy Guidance
    • Reauthorization Rollout (issue guidance, develop program elements)
    • Rulemaking
    • Legislative Issues/Congressional Inquiries (clarification of policy, positions)
    • Regulatory Approvals
  • Technical Assistance
    • Training
    • National expertise (overall technical guidance)
    • Resource Center Safety Technical Service Team
  • Technology Deployment
    • Marketing of Safety Products
    • Rollout of NCHRP Guide 500 Series
    • Web Site Management
  • Program Delivery
    • Contract Management
    • Funding Administration
    • Support of Research, Development, and Technology projects
    • New Programs Development
    • Communications and Outreach
  • Administration
    • Personnel (Performance, Awards, Training)
    • Document Management (correspondence, files, Freedom of Information Act requests, etc.)
    • Suspense Items
    • Time and Attendance
    • Travel
    • GOE Management
    • Quality Journey Activities

Besides tradeoffs among the investment categories listed above, the Office of Safety and the Office of Safety RD&T direct and analyze the investment of FHWA safety research resources. Initially, 17 research areas were identified in a plan for investment. These have been reduced to 4 high-impact areas. The goal is to invest research dollars most productively on areas with problems and gaps with the greatest payoffs.

Decisions Based on Quality Information

All staff has reported expenses and time projections, mapped against each of the Office of Safety processes defined above. This data is helping the Office of Safety understand current resource allocation, in order to assess whether the FHWA safety goal can be achieved given the distribution of resources and identify changes in the resource allocation. The current resource allocation can also be compared to the guiding principles to see if resources are allocated appropriately to meet agency and office goals.

Monitoring to Provide Clear Accountability and Feedback

The Office of Safety works with other agencies to collect data on safety performance measures (e.g., National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, state DOTs) to assess whether the U.S DOT is on track to meeting its 1.0 by 2008 safety goal, and whether FHWA is meeting its goals for the "Vital Few" safety area. In addition, the staff reporting of expenses and hours, matched against the processes outlined above, provides accountability for whether resources are actually spent as planned.

The Office of Safety recently volunteered to serve as the Headquarters pilot office for Managerial Cost Accounting. This effort is expected to allow HSA to further refine and formalize the process of tracking expenditures against achievement of safety goals and objectives.

3.3 Future Activities

Building on the activities that are already underway, the Office of Safety will be taking a number of actions to further strengthen safety through the application of asset management principles, including:

  • Communicate the performance-based approach to safety goals and programs through training, publications, and other outreach efforts. Increase awareness and implementation of the AASHTO Strategic Highway Safety Plan and implementation guides (NCHRP Reports 500 and 501). As a first step, help states commit to safety policy goals through publication of best practices, technical assistance with the SHSP and implementation guidance, and peer exchange. Demonstrating the measurable benefits from safety programs has significant value in building acceptance of the asset management approach.
  • Use asset management principles to increase focus and accountability for safety with decision makers. Relate results to actions using analytic capabilities available today to estimate impacts of safety programs and demonstrate predicted benefits of safety investments.
  • Promote more integrated decision-making by emphasizing safety objectives throughout the entire cycle of transportation planning. Continue working with the Office of Planning, Environment, and Realty to integrate safety considerations into transportation planning, programming, and project delivery.
  • Continue support for the development and refinement of analytical tools such as IHSDM and RSRAP to improve the consideration of safety in the planning, programming and design of preservation, operations, and capacity expansion activities.
  • Continue working with AASHTO and other organizations on the development of information systems improvements in support of safety management, including TSIMS, new processes to more accurately collect, locate and analyze crash data and the Roadway Hardware and Safety Management Systems projects.

[1] Transportation AssetManagement Guide, prepared for the National Cooperative Highway Research Program (NCHRP) Project 20-24(11) by Cambridge Systematics, Inc. with Parsons Brinckerhoff Quade & Douglas, Inc., Roy Jorgensen Associates,Inc. and Paul D. Thompson, November 2002, AASHTO Publication RP-TAMG-1.

[2] The FHWA plays a key role in standardizing the content and format of data that are mandated buffeter law: e.g., the National Bridge Inventory (NBI) data that are reported by state DOTs.

[3] AASHTO - NCHRP Project 17-18, "Lifelines", Volume 1, Number 1, March, 2004,

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Updated: 06/27/2017
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