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Managing Transportation Assets in the 21st Century

Ehsan Minaie, Ph.D., PE Transportation Asset Management Expert
Comprehensive transportation asset management plans help agencies make data-driven decisions to preserve infrastructure integrity and guide long-term investments.

Today’s trans­porta­tion planners, managers and executives are in a bind. Dwindling funds, increasing demands and aging infra­struc­ture have presented them with a multitude of asset-related challenges—from congested roadways to deficient bridges to broken-down commuter rail lines and buses. Look no further for evidence than the D+ America’s infra­struc­ture received from the American Society of Civil Engineer’s 2017 report card.

Trans­porta­tion asset management (TAM) is a strategic and systematic process for solving these challenges, focusing on the effective operation, maintenance, upgrade and expansion of physical assets through a whole-life approach. The following information outlines, for trans­porta­tion stake­hold­ers, the key elements of a modern TAM plan and the advantages that a 21st century asset management practice can unlock.

Performance Targets: Before ever sending staff into the field to inspect bridges or roads, agencies should develop goals for their assets that are risk-, performance- and outcome-based. Strong goals should align with an agency’s long-range plan for an area or region, as well as national trans­porta­tion goals. For example, a state department of trans­porta­tion may aim to reduce deficient bridges by 10 percent. A key to meeting TAM goals like this one is to be proactive versus corrective.

Instead of replacing bridge assets when they have failed, the department of trans­porta­tion should understand what caused dete­ri­o­ra­tion and how those factors can be mitigated. Using dete­ri­o­ra­tion models that incorporate past experiences, the agency can forecast where those bridge assets will be in 15 to 20 years with no maintenance versus with maintenance. With these future scenarios in mind, planning and budgeting for maintenance, replace­ments and/or new construc­tions can be improved.

Whole-Life Financial Outlook: Trans­porta­tion agencies are stewards of mobility for future generations. Giving our assets long, useful lives requires the development of realistic, long-term financial plans. This level of planning means recognizing the direct costs (design, construc­tion, land acquisition, maintenance) and hidden costs (deprecation, financing, operations, preven­ta­tive maintenance, management, demolition) for every asset. By taking a whole-life approach to managing these costs, agencies can better achieve performance targets and operational objectives.

Cross-Asset Allocation: Like how stock market traders decide where to invest their money, cross-asset allocation can be used by trans­porta­tion agencies as a decision-making strategy to balance the risk and rewards of managing assets within their portfolio. To illustrate the concept, if an agency chooses to fund a bridge replacement in one region, it may be reducing available funding for preventive maintenance on five bridges in another location. Under­stand­ing the effects of all decisions leads to more optimized and effective asset planning, design, construc­tion and operation.

Risk Mitigation and Resilience Evaluations: When implemented success­fully, TAM programs can be powerful frameworks for managing potential threats. These risks can be internal (maintenance costs, loss of insti­tu­tional knowledge) or external (legislative changes, envi­ron­men­tal disasters). Agencies should identify the various risks that may affect different levels of their operation, programs or projects and plan mitigation alter­na­tives for each.

Resilience evaluations are integral to a modern TAM practice and can help with risk-based financial planning. The importance of these evaluations has become increas­ingly important because of the effects of climate change and recent natural disasters taking a toll on U.S. infra­struc­ture. Agencies should develop action plans to bring their assets back to full operation in the event of a disaster.

Data Collection and Management Protocols: Where traditional engineering falls short of providing the answers and tools needed to manage and maintain infra­struc­ture, tech­no­log­i­cal advance­ments—from drones and bridge inspection robots to the Internet of Things and big data analytics—may fill the gap. The data that can now be generated and stored is moving much faster than the ability of many agencies to analyze, structure and use it. The best TAM practices will design data collection and management protocols that leverage a mix of these and other emerging tech­nolo­gies to support cooperative decision making.

Knowledge Management Procedures: TAM programs should address the orga­ni­za­tional aspects of operation at a trans­porta­tion agency. This step involves managing one of the most valuable assets an agency has: its insti­tu­tional knowledge. Documenting core business processes and imple­ment­ing programs for knowledge acquisition and transfer will minimize disruption should staff retire or leave the agency.

Developing and imple­ment­ing a TAM plan or program will vary from agency to agency, based on policies, culture, practices, orga­ni­za­tional constraints and objectives. However, when TAM practices incorporate the key elements above, they will realize a myriad of benefits, including improved data quality, consistency and management; robust asset inventories; data-driven resource allocation; and, improved risk management.

Ehsan Minaie Ehsan Minaie
A properly developed and implemented transportation asset management plan improves investment decisions and risk management.
Quantifying Bridge Resilience
In this co-authored American Society of Civil Engineers paper, Ehsan Minaie proposes a practical and simplified multistage framework to analyze and assess bridge resilience.
Read the Paper Opens in new window.

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