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Federal Highway Administration / Publications / Focus / December 1998

Accelerating Infrastructure Innovations

Publication Number: FHWA-SA-98-028
Date: December 1998

Making the Most of the Information Age: Report Cites Value of Sharing Research Results

The Illinois Department of Transportation (DOT) has saved approximately $300,000 by applying research done at Louisiana State University on the heat-strengthening of steel bridges. Meanwhile, New York State DOT estimates that its use of a new concrete mix for bridge decks, developed after doing a literature search of existing research, results in life-cycle cost savings of nearly $9 million per year. Besides saving money, what do these States have in common? They know the value of having access to accurate and up-to-the-minute information.

These examples and more can be found in a new draft report from the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA), The Value of Information and Information Services. The report is based on a study conducted by the Volpe National Transportation Systems Center. The study was prompted by a recommendation of the Transportation Research Board's Conduct of Research Committee.

"The value that information and information services bring to organizations is currently underestimated," says Nelda Bravo of FHWA. In examining the role that information plays in the work of highway agencies, the study found that "accurate, timely, and relevant information saves transportation agencies both time and money through increased efficiency, improved productivity, and rapid deployment of innovations."

With technology continually evolving and changing, transportation professionals today need timely and accurate information on a wide range of issues. And in this electronic age, this information no longer comes solely from books or technical reports, but from Web sites, online clearinghouses, and a number of databases, including Transportation Research Information Services (TRIS) and the International Road Research Database (IRRD).

These electronic sources also make it possible to obtain information that is more international in scope. "There's a lot more global impact of what we do now," says Bill Carr of Washington State DOT, who served on the technical panel for the study. "There's a vast range of international information out there and we need access to that. Things are moving fast, and we have to keep up."

As electronic information sources multiply, transportation agencies increasingly can benefit from the expertise of information professionals in both designing and using them. As the report notes, "Technologies such as the Internet have made certain kinds of information far easier to obtain, leading some agencies to downsize or eliminate their transportation libraries or reduce other information programs. But the increased volume makes information integration, analysis, and management even more critical." Minnesota DOT is a case in point: the agency reported a tenfold return when it evaluated its in-house information retrieval services. The report cites a 1993 survey that found organizations without libraries spend two to four times more money to acquire information than those with in-house libraries.

Transportation agencies that invest in information services save not only money, but also time. Information specialists help transportation agency employees minimize the time spent looking for information, thus making operations more efficient. Obtaining quality information also helps transportation professionals avoid duplicate efforts and modify research approaches when necessary. North Carolina DOT researchers, for example, have found that knowing what other States have done can save them time by avoiding duplicating their research efforts. But the time gaps between the initiation of a research project and its inclusion in an information database can be costly to other research efforts. The DOT is therefore urging that a concentrated effort be made to expedite the reporting of research in progress.

In recognizing the value that timely and accurate information brings to transportation agencies, the report also recommends areas for improvement. These include reducing the inefficiencies of searching the Web and retrieving information; simplifying the process of, and providing incentives for, contributing research-in-progress summaries to TRIS and other databases; reducing the delays between publication of research and its inclusion in reference databases; and providing increased training to both information specialists and transportation agency staff.

Both the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) and the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials (AASHTO) emphasize the value of information and their commitment to providing leadership in this area in their strategic plans. The DOT Strategic Plan 1997-2002 states that "DOT has an essential role in improving the quality of decisions affecting the transportation sector through the provision of better information to the public and private sectors. Broad dissemination of information will become an essential Departmental mission in years to come." AASHTO likewise identifies good information as "one of the underpinnings of a sound traffic safety enterprise" in its 1997 Strategic Highway Plan, and calls for the development of a safety information clearinghouse and a model safety information system.

For more information or to obtain a draft copy of The Value of Information and Information Services, contact Nelda Bravo at FHWA, 202-366-9633 (fax: 202-366-7909; email: nelda.bravo@fhwa.dot.gov).

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Updated: 06/27/2017
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