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Federal Highway Administration / Publications / Focus / August 1999

Accelerating Infrastructure Innovations

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

Regional Certification Programs Aim To Ensure a Qualified Workforce

When a State department of transportation (DOT) embarks on a new construction or rehabilitation project, it usually relies not only on its own staff to sample and test the materials used in construction, but also on personnel working for various contractors. In an era of continually changing technologies and advances in knowledge, DOTs are looking for assurance that these technicians, whether they are State employees or contractors, are up to speed on the latest methods and specifications. In response, some States have started regional programs to test workers and to certify those who meet a basic set of standards.

This increased emphasis on ensuring the use of highly trained workers is also reflected in a new Federal regulation requiring the use of qualified technicians on Federal-aid highway projects after June 29, 2000.

Under most of the existing regional certification programs, technicians who pass written and performance examinations in one State earn the certification ranking, which allows them to automatically be considered certified in other States that are part of the regional coalition. "Certification means fewer headaches for States," says George Jones of the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA). State DOTs that contract out work benefit from knowing how much training the contractor's technicians have had. Contractors who work in more than one State benefit from not having to spend time and money to get their technicians certified in each State.

One such regional certification program is the Western Alliance for Quality Transportation Construction (WAQTC). The alliance is a partnership between 11 western States and FHWA. WAQTC's initiatives include the Transportation Technician Qualification Program, which provides instruction and testing for technicians in the areas of aggregates, asphalt, concrete, in-place density, and embankment/base construction. The program's benefits include standardized procedures, greater quality control, and reciprocity agreements between States. WAQTC also runs the Laboratory Qualification Program, which ensures that all laboratories that perform materials sampling and testing functions for a State agency comply with certification criteria adopted by WAQTC member agencies.

Other regional programs include the North Central Multi-Regional Certification Group (M-Trac), which covers eight States, and the Southeastern Certification Program, which is just getting underway, according to Wouter Gulden at Georgia DOT. "Our first step is to identify the challenges," says Gulden. "What is acceptable to all regional States? Who keeps the data? What is common ground for training?" To explore these challenges, Gulden is working to establish a regional task force.

A fourth regional effort-the 3-year-old New England Transportation Technician Certification Program (NETTCP)-differs from the other regional programs in that workers are actually certified by NETTCP, rather than the six individual States.

A proposed new American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials (AASHTO) recommended practice for materials sampling and testing certification programs is intended to help set consistent guidelines for States to follow. This will allow the various regional programs to take the next step of extending reciprocity agreements between the programs, so that, for example, a technician certified by NETTCP would also be considered certified by the States that belong to M-Trac or WAQTC. As the proposed resolution notes, such reciprocal agreements "will lower the States' and contractors' cost of doing business while ensuring high quality testing is performed." And by improving worker performance, States should realize "longer lasting roads and more effective use of taxpayer dollars while providing an improved infrastructure for the traveling public."

The proposed recommended practicewill be voted on this month by the AASHTO subcommittees on construction and materials. If passed, the resolution will be forwarded to the AASHTO standing committee on highways for consideration.

FHWA sponsored two workshops this year to examine the issue of whether the existing regional certification efforts should be merged into a broader national certification program. Workshop participants included representatives from State DOTs, FHWA, AASHTO, the National Asphalt Pavement Association, and the American Concrete Institute.

The workshop participants concluded that based on the strong regional programs already flourishing, a national program is not necessarily needed. Byron Lord of FHWA noted that instead of setting up a new national program, "what we're talking about is giving the stamp of approval to what's already going on." To help coordinate links between the various regional programs that are underway, workshop participants are considering forming a steering committee, with FHWA as the lead partner.

For more information on the draft AASHTO resolution or the proposed committee, contact George Jones at FHWA, 202-366-1554 (fax: 202-366-9981; email: george.jones@fhwa.dot.gov). For more information on regional certification programs, see sidebar.

Regional Certification Program Contacts

New England Transportation Technician Certification Program

Contact: Paul Matthews at New Hampshire DOT, 603-271-1662 (fax: 603-271-1649; email: n42prm@dot.state.nh.us).

North Central Multi-Regional Certification Group

Contact: Chris Anderson at Iowa DOT, 515-239-1819 (fax: 515-239-1092; email: canders@max.state.ia.us).

Southeastern Certification Program

Contact: Wouter Gulden at Georgia DOT, 404-363-7510 (fax: 404-362-4925; email: wouter.gulden@dot.state.ga.us).

Western Alliance for Quality Transportation Construction


Contact: Tom Baker at Idaho DOT, 208-334-8439 (fax: 208-334-4411; email: tbaker@idt.state.id.us)

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Updated: 06/27/2017
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