Asset Management: Resources for maximizing your transportation investment

Dave Geiger
Director, Office of Asset Management
Federal Highway Administration
Washington, D.C.

Are resources in your transportation or public works agency being allocated to maximize customer satisfaction? Do agency decisions reflect the total transportation system over its life cycle? Do you know, for any given level of funding, the most effective mix of programs to achieve the agency's performance targets? Transportation Asset Management (TAM) provides a strategic approach to answering these questions and allocating resources—dollars, people, and data—for the management, operation, expansion, and preservation of national, state and local transportation system infrastructure. TAM is all about getting the biggest bang for each buck invested.

In the transportation community, TAM is a new way of doing business. It is a decision-making process that relies on tools and information to make investment/performance trade-offs between alternative investment options. TAM recognizes that the assets of interest have not just a physical or engineering dimension, but also a user or economic aspect. Therefore, the focus is not on how much money has been spent or how many miles have been improved, but rather on how the system is performing. TAM also assumes that the transportation system will be viewed in its entirety, rather than component by component. Another key feature of TAM is that it looks at the performance of the system over its life cycle.

TAM applies a discipline to decision-making that suggests to transportation agencies what they should do, when they should do it, and why they should do it. For this reason, it provides effective support for engaging agency staff, legislators, and citizens in the decision-making process. An example of the difference this can make is seen in the area of preventive maintenance, which can save substantial resources by taking corrective actions before problems are evident. However, without a TAM approach to decision-making, it is difficult to convince stakeholders—particularly the public—that an asset requires treatment when there are no visible signs of deterioration. TAM provides the framework to demonstrate the benefits of preventive maintenance because it assumes a shift in thinking from "spending" to "investing."

Many of the building blocks for TAM already exist in transportation agencies. Pavement and bridge management systems, as well as other management information systems, are solidly in place and provide the inputs necessary for TAM's hallmark trade-off analysis. And, most transportation agencies have begun the transition to TAM-based thinking through performance-based management and strategic planning.

With TAM, investment dollars are targeted to areas offering the highest payback. Therefore, life cycle costs will decline, and safety, system predictability and condition, and financial performance will improve. Why adopt TAM? It's simply the right thing to do.

Since establishing an Office of Asset Management in 1999, advancing TAM has been a top priority for the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA). A toolbox for TAM has been filled with management systems, trade-off analysis software, and data collection and integration techniques. The Office has worked with the American Association of State Highway Transportation Officials, the Transportation Research Board, and other partners to get out the word about TAM. Most notably, a new on-line community of practice (COP) website was recently inaugurated. Transportation Asset Management Today (http://assetmanagement.transporation.org) is open to all. The site is designed to bring people together in sharing their TAM experiences and knowledge. Users can look up reference documents, initiate a discussion or join one already underway, or comment on a work-in-progress document that has been posted. Topic areas include:

  • Asset Management 101
  • Pavement, Bridge, Tunnel, Roadway Hardware and Maintenance Management Systems
  • Engineering Economic Analysis Tools
  • Innovations and Success
  • Local Government Perspectives
  • Performance Measures
  • Integration of Data and Management Systems
  • Public Transportation
  • GASB Statement 34
  • Transportation Preservation
The wealth of information available on the COP website ranges from guidance on how using performance measures can enhance resources allocation decisions to details on how states ranging from Michigan to Vermont have implemented asset management processes. A volunteer facilitator who is a subject matter expert hosts each topic area. Each of the various topics also offers a directory section, which lists names and contact information for those who have joined the COP. Other site features include an events calendar and a notification service, which allows users to receive daily e-mail notification that new items falling under their particular interest areas have been posted.

For more information about TAM, contact the FHWA's Office of Asset Management at (202) 366-0392 or visit the Transportation Asset Management Today COP.