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Federal Highway Administration / Publications / Focus / August 1999

Accelerating Infrastructure Innovations

Publication Number: FHWA-RD-99-106
Date: August 1999

Quality is Number One with New Lead States Team

Representatives from five States, contracting and consulting firms, and the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) gathered in St. Louis in May for the kick-off meeting of the National Quality Initiative (NQI) Lead States team. Believing that "highways are this Nation's most important infrastructure and that we need better quality highway work," as NQI Administrator Bob Templeton noted, the goal of the Lead States team is to motivate other States and their partners to implement NQI programs in order to improve performance in building and maintaining roads.

NQI began in 1992 as a partnership between the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials (AASHTO), FHWA, the General Contractors of America, and other highway industry organizations. NQI's focus is on improving quality in all aspects of highway work, including planning, design, construction, maintenance, and operations. To promote NQI, both regional and State seminars have been held. State quality initiatives have included a series of classes held in Wisconsin to better train entry-level road construction workers and a Washington State DOT survey of motorists designed to gain their feedback on highway construction methods and practices.

For the States represented at the kick-off meeting, the benefits of implementing an NQI program have included cost savings, improved efficiency, reductions in construction delays, longer lasting pavements, and increased customer value.

A key part of implementing best practices and improving performance is keeping the focus on the customer. "The challenge," said meeting speaker Jim Williamson of the Excellence in Missouri Foundation, "is to determine how you can make your customers really pleased with your road system." This means talking to motorists and finding out what they want, such as smoother pavements or reduced construction delays, and then working with contractors and suppliers to meet those needs. It also means being open to using new materials and techniques and looking at what other organizations have done and learning from their experiences. By doing so, said Williamson, a State can "start a cycle of continuous improvement." For example, a concrete company that wants to improve its delivery time from plant to site might look at the delivery strategies of Domino's Pizza.

The NQI Lead States have found that establishing partnerships with contractors is also key to improving quality. Contractors played an important role in changing the asphalt specifications in his State, said Brian Strizki of the DOT. "We rewrote our asphalt spec and came up with stiff penalties for contractors who didn't meet it," said Strizki. "The contractors came back and said, ‘okay, if we're going to have stiff penalties, we have to have bonuses too.' So now we have both." Similarly, Maryland has a State Quality Initiative Steering Committee that includes contractors and consultants as partners.

The Lead States team's immediate focus is on getting the word out to other States about the importance of NQI efforts and how NQI programs can help them "save dollars and extend the life of pavements," noted Gradon Tobery of the Maryland State Highway Administration. Planned activities include surveying States by phone to find out about their existing quality improvement programs and developing a database of information; making presentations at the AASHTO national meeting this fall, at regional AASHTO meetings, and to individual States requesting assistance; and providing advice over the phone and via email.

For more information about the Lead States team, contact cochairs Gradon Tobery at the Maryland State Highway Administration, 410-321-2821 (fax: 410-321-2808; email: gtobery@sha.state.md.us) or Steve Whitecotton at P. Flanigan & Sons, 410-467-5900 (fax: 410-467-3127; email: s.whitecotton@pflanigan.com), or NQI Administrator Bob Templeton at 512-301-9899 (fax: 512-301-9897; email: btemplenqi@aol.com).

NQI Lead States Team Members

The Lead States team concept was first introduced by AASHTO in 1996 to promote the implementation of Strategic Highway Research Program (SHRP) technologies. The goal of the teams was to ensure that practical, real-world experience gained by early adopters of SHRP technologies would be shared among all States. Using a similar strategy, the NQI Lead States team plans to champion quality improvement to States that have not yet started NQI programs. "We have high expectations that this Lead States team will be as successful as the SHRP teams," says NQI Administrator Bob Templeton.

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