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Appendix B
Interviews and Case Studies

In the course of preparing this report, the Volpe Center contacted a total of 50 experts from State DOTs, the private sector, associations, and universities. Their comments are summarized below.

Views from the States

Wes Lum of CALTRANS offers the inductance loop detector as an example of the importance of having accurate information. He explains that although operators in traffic management centers, highway officials, and vendors believe that the loop in the pavement performs poorly and needs to be replaced by a new technology, the loop itself is not the problem. Rather, the detector, the communications system, the maintenance program, or the individuals working with these systems are the actual causes of the performance problems. Thus, he adds, much effort is going into R&D around the world to fix a nonexisting problem. The performance of any system would experience the same problems when the root issues are not being addressed.

Recently, Illinois DOT saved approximately $300,000 through access to research at Louisiana State University (LSU) on heat-strengthening of steel bridges. LSU's work, considered the only scientifically validated work in this area, saved the State unnecessary and expensive duplication.

In 1996, Illinois contracted with a professor at the Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute to search the literature on an obscure topic: corrosion fatigue of aluminum. The search yielded a valuable reference from the technical literature dating back to the early 1950s. This reference was extremely useful in a breakaway coupling study. The State DOT values the search results at about $50,000.

One way in which Louisiana DOT demonstrates how it values information is through the numerous training courses that it offers. Dedra Jones, program manager for construction/materials training, receives requests monthly from other States to borrow Louisiana's training materials. Although Jones cannot quantify the costs of course development, she indicates that they are significant. She feels that Louisiana's training program has been so effective because it anticipates future training needs. For example, knowing that FHWA will require metrification or quality assurance inspectors allows the State DOT to prepare its staff prior to implementation.

An important operational function of State DOTs is to justify their R&D programs. As a result, some States are reinstituting cost-benefit studies of R&D projects, a trend that Minnesota DOT's Jerry Baldwin finds troubling. Baldwin offers that a true cost-benefit assessment of research cannot be done on a case-by-case basis, since research often ends in null results or indicates only that more research is required.

Minnesota recently implemented a pilot project that assigned librarians to research projects needing in-depth information. These efforts were successful, and a marketing strategy encouraging the assignment of librarians to such projects in the future is under development. The librarian sits in on all team meetings, prepares literature reviews, and assists with other project-related information needs. Following the completion of the first of these projects, in which the librarian logged in approximately 100 hours, the project manager stated that the real value was the efficient documenta tion of project information. Because the information could be transferred easily among team members, a new member could be brought up to speed very quickly.

Minnesota DOT looked at its expenditures for library services in terms of actual on-line costs and staff time. It analyzed the benefits of having its librarians conduct on-line literature searches when TRIS first became available in the 1970s. The study results showed a benefit-cost ratio of between 9 and 10 to 1 over end-users finding similar information on their own. The study emphasized the competitive advantages that a professional librarian brings by reducing search times, minimizing search costs, and freeing time to conduct other activities for research ers, staff professionals, and managers.

Minnesota DOT is organizing the July 1998 Mississippi Valley conference on "Research Shaping Transportation's Future." The focus will be on convincing management to link R&D to the organization's strategic mission. Robert Benke, one of the organizers, plans to continue this theme at AASHTO's National Research Advisory Committee meetings in Nashville, within TRB committees A5001 and A5012, at the 1998 National Local Technical Assistance Program meeting, and at TRB's annual meeting in January 1999.

Arthur Roberts explains the value of information and libraries this way: Currently, FHWA requires a literature search for all federally funded highway projects. Even though a State may not be involved in state-of-the-art research, it needs to know what the state of the art is so that it can design its efforts to supplement the existing body of work. Roberts suggests that this study be performed as a benefit versus waste comparison. If there are new and more effective ways to do something, he says, an agency should be readily adapting these practices to its particular circumstances. Otherwise, an agency wastes resources by relying on outdated practices. New Jersey is trying to reestablish its departmental library. Due to the location of the main library, Roberts visits it only when absolutely necessary. Thus, keeping up to date on the current literature requires an extra effort. New Jersey's example demonstrates the uneven appreciation of the role of libraries in organizations.

New York State wanted to create a new concrete mixture for bridge decks that would have reduced permeability and decreased potential for cracking. In 1994, the Bridge Deck Task Force engaged in a very thorough literature search and gleaned the best ideas while developing these parameters. Paul Mack described the effort as "mining the literature." The resulting concrete is now the standard mix for bridge decks for the entire State and is being analyzed for adoption by other States as well. The anticipated service life is expected to be twice that of the 50-year life of the former mixture. From conception to implementation, the project took less than a year. The expected annual life-cycle cost saving is nearly $9 million.

In the early 1970s, New York was investigating horizontal drains to ameliorate a landslide problem at 17 locations. At a TRB meeting, the staff learned how two other States, Washington and California, had experienced good results with this type of drain. Analysis showed a net savings on horizontal drain projects across the State in excess of $2.5 million.

Another example from New York illustrates the cost of not having access to the newest innovations. In 1986, there was a slope stabilization problem south of Syracuse in Wadhams, near the Adirondack State Park. Due to environmental concerns, the normal solution for landslide stabilization was not appropriate. An innovative solution, stone feed columns, was discovered through TRB. The estimated cost savings were $20,000 to $50,000 per treatment.

Pat Strong identifies timeliness as the most significant characteristic of information. Each year, North Carolina DOT begins a limited number of research projects, and Strong knows that he is missing essential pieces of information. He points out the gaps that exist between the comple tion of a study, its publication date, and its appearance in databases such as TRIS. At the very least, Strong would like to see descriptive abstracts of research in progress and of recently completed research.

M.G. Patel states that he values information because it saves time. He expects the librarian to provide information that corrects or legitimizes important aspects of the subject. Literature reviews are valuable because they provide conflicting views that, for decision-making purposes, help in his analysis. Patel emphasizes the importance of well-trained and experienced library personnel for his organization's information needs.

Jon Underwood is pleased that his agency's library is attached to their R&D office. He states that, while he was on an interstate departmental exchange program, one of his evaluation comments noted that the exchange State's library ought to be physically attached to the R&D organization. This highlights the special library's values of continuity and physical presence.

Analyzing the market for its written products, the Virginia Transportation Research Council (VTRC) determined that engineers require concise synopses of research findings and do not want lengthy reports. VTRC responded by assembling a team of editors, graphic artists, and researchers to create four-page summaries of each research report and by strengthening its field support. Since a significant portion of VTRC's budget is dedicated to field support, their on-site researchers might respond to queries via the phone, a site visit, or a follow-on study. VTRC feels this strong field support provides researchers with hands-on experience and also fosters champions in the research department for practitioners. This research and information service is very popular among users: A recent customer survey yielded an overall rating of 4 on a 1-to-5 scale.

Views from Professional Associations

Edward L. Miller laments the loss of the Asphalt Institute's librarian, who left 4 years ago: the Institute's extensive, space-consuming collection dates back to the 1800s. The loss of the librarian did not prevent telephone calls and faxes from arriving, diverting the engineering staff's resources. In response to the ongoing inquiries, the Institute developed a Web site. All links are checked before they are added to the site and, where possible, the vocabulary is being standard ized. Miller hopes to secure funding to hire a consultant to scan in the library collection. "Value is there," he says, "but logistics and cash get in the way."

Thomas W. Brahms, Executive Director of the ITE, is very attuned to the value his members place on information. Recently, he hired a librarian to assume responsibility for ITE's referral and information line. He felt that his engineers' time could be better spent on billable projects, providing a more efficient rate of return for their work. Brahms views information as a commodity. He hired a consultant to index all of ITE's publications for a CD-ROM product that conforms to the new TRIS thesaurus. A new project slated to begin shortly will use the same consultant to index the items in the ITE publication catalog. Brahms sees this project as a marketing tool that will also be available on the Internet.

Views from Universities, Clearinghouses, and TRB

Byron C. Blaschke of the Texas Transportation Institute comments on what he believes to be the two critical aspects of assigning value to information. The first is obtaining the right information for the decision-making process. This is particularly true when designing and developing projects.Knowing what others have done, or how they have confronted seemingly unique circumstances, is valuable; it saves time by preventing researchers from repeating the same work. The second factor is how quickly a researcher can get the information he or she needs.

Renee McHenry feels that the clearinghouse at Northwestern University's Infrastructure Technology Institute is very niche-oriented. Queries are often complicated but on target with the subject matter. She believes that her 12 years of transportation information experience is key to finding answers to these questions. Last year, she handled 83 queries in addition to posting current information on the Web site.

Lois Widmer, clearinghouse administrator at the Center for Transportation and the Environment, concurs with McHenry's assessment of the clearinghouse function. She spent 80 hours last year compiling special bibliographies. In 1996, there were 302 information requests; by the first half of 1997, there were already 213 requests. She hopes to institute follow-up surveys of requesters.

BTS established a Statistical Information Line in April 1993. In its first year, it averaged just over 10 questions per month. By 1997, there were a total of 4,394 questions, averaging over 365 queries per month. The primary users of the service are business (42 percent) and academia (14 percent). State government comprises only 5 percent of all users. Originally established to refer or answer statistical queries, the Information Line's callers are now asking for all types of information, often completely unrelated to transportation statistics. [ The value of this particular service was underscored in a recent Washington Post article on government information help lines. The BTS hotline, operated and staffed by the U.S. DOT's Volpe Center library, was specifically cited as having provided prompt and accurate information to queries posed by the author of the article.]

Information is the lifeblood of TRB. James Scott, a TRB transportation planner, spends a great deal of time in the field, keeping abreast of developments that could affect the organization on either a program or policy level. He offers cogent examples of the value of information to transportation agencies. For instance, while Scott visited the Wisconsin Planning Office, an engineer requested his assistance in developing a Statewide highway plan; the engineer sought to convene eight to ten States to provide a briefing on their experiences. Scott obtained $10,000 from FHWA for the information-exchange meeting. He recently heard from an engineer in Michigan who had used information learned at that meeting: By adapting what she had learned to her own State, she was able to help the DOT get a proposal through the State legislature.

Richard Pain offers the example of fatal crash data to show the impact of working with bad information. Fatal crash data is a very reliable series taken as part of a census. Data on injuries and property damage, however, are derived from samples taken from police accident reports (PARs) and are generally considered less reliable than fatality data. PAR data are collected without uniform standards, and the reporting forms lack the descriptive elements needed foranalysis. Better quality data are required to evaluate programs and expenditures. Pain adds that, with the Critical Outcome Data Evaluation System, researchers can now link medical and crash data to help determine the societal costs of highway crashes. Studies performed by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration estimate that crashes cost from $165 billion to $175 billion per year.

TRB's Steve Godwin comments on the decentralization of transportation functions and the need to share information among Federal, State, and local agencies to avoid duplication of effort and speed the fielding of innovative practices. Toward that end, he says, TRB plans to offer TRIS via the TRB Web site at no charge to all sponsors and their staff.

Views from FHWA Field Offices

[Note: Following the completion of this study, the FHWA organizational structure was reorganized. As part of this process, the nine FHWA Regional offices were eliminated and four Resource Centers were created. The reorganization does not affect the outcome of this study.]

An example of inexpensive technology transfer was the Enhancement Workshop held in October 1997 by the FHWA Region 8 office. This workshop provided a forum through which local agencies could exchange ideas to make better use of their resources and skills and advance their transportation programs. Participants included representatives from the State DOTs, the Local Technical Assistance Program coordinator, and FHWA Division personnel.

FHWA field staffs do not have access to on-site libraries. Should they require a TRIS search, they contact the state DOT or TRB directly. They agree that access to TRIS is cumbersome and that the service is not user-friendly. Among the desired enhancements are access to the World Wide Web, comprehensive research-in-progress reports (both Federal and State), and training. According to Gary White from the Indiana Division, TRIS saves money. When TRIS uncovers similar research, he says, in 90 percent of the projects the engineers will restructure the effort to take a different approach or to take the research one step further. Roger Port, former Region 7, believes that value will separate the competition: Time constraints permit access to only two or three information sources. The ones that will survive are those that are easy to use and that deliver a quality product. While in the former Region 5 office, Mary Stringfellow conducted an internal survey that revealed the staff's need for filtered information, a method to remove outdated information, and a single source for FHWA and related technical research.

Views From the Private Sector

In the corporate sector, a major U.S. manufacturer created an internal group tasked with looking for new business opportunities. This group used the corporation's library services,especially for literature searches. The library manager recently received a memorandum from the group's manager in which he noted that there might have been serious confidentiality issues if the group had used a service outside the organization. His informal estimate of the value of the library's services was $400,000. The librarian estimates the cost of the tasks performed at just $17,000.

Parsons-Brinckerhoff instituted knowledge-sharing networks in 1995 to foster the flow of information and technology transfer within each of its engineering units. According to John Chow, after just 2 years, this program has fostered a heightened level of technical knowledge within the firm, and it appears to be unique in the engineering industry.

Several years ago, Paccar, Inc., performed a time-saved study on traditional library services. The librarian surveyed users on how often they used the library over the course of a month and on the amount of time saved as a result of these services. Her findings showed a benefit-to-cost ratio of 3 to1. However, she believes there is a problem with the time-saved methodology, because it assumes that the requester could have performed the same task, and found the same information, without the benefit of a librarian. That assumption is probably unfounded because of the skills that professional librarians bring to bear on searches, enabling them to conduct library services in a more efficient and cost-effective manner.

Corporate libraries are increasingly flexible and adaptive to changing demands. One library demonstrated its value by taking on a project that was unrelated to traditional library services but essential to the corporate mission. In this case, an in-house librarian joined a task force to reduce the turnaround time for findings from a vehicle test track. The test results, with digitized photographs, were made available on the corporate Intranet within 1 to 6 days instead of the usual 1 to 6 months. The speedier access to the test track data significantly reduced the engineering design cycle.

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Electronic version of Publication No. FHWA-SA-99-038
This page last updated August 18, 1999

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