Every Day Counts (EDC) is the Federal Highway Administration’s (FHWA’s) program to advance a culture of innovation in the transportation community in partnership with public and private stakeholders. Through this State-based effort, FHWA coordinates rapid deployment of proven strategies and technologies to shorten the project delivery process, enhance roadway safety, reduce traffic congestion, and integrate automation.
This report summarizes the June 2021 status of deployment for the seven innovations in the sixth round of EDC. The report is intended to be a resource for transportation stakeholders as they develop their deployment plans and to encourage innovation in managing highway project delivery to better serve the Nation.
The New Jersey Department of Transportation Bureau of Research convened a Lunchtime Tech Talk! Webinar on What Happens Now? Virtual Public Involvement During and Beyond COVID-19 on October 6, 2021. Amanda Gendek, Manager of the NJDOT Bureau of Research, welcomed everyone to the event which included presentations by five representatives of public sector transportation agencies who discussed the immediate transition and ongoing adaptation to virtual platforms to engage with the public for transportation plans, projects, and other activities, and the benefits and challenges associated with this shift. Of particular emphasis was outreach to underserved and vulnerable populations.
Facilitators for the Tech Talk, Andrea Lubin and Trish Sanchez, from the Rutgers University-Voorhees Transportation Center, Public Outreach and Engagement Team (POET), opened the session with reference to their work on NCHRP Synthesis 538: Practices for Online Public Involvement, and the next phase of work, NCHRP 08-142 Virtual Public Involvement (VPI) – A Manual for Effective, Equitable, and Efficient Practices for Transportation Agencies. During the pandemic, Rutgers POET has conducted public engagement which transitioned to virtual for the South Jersey Transportation Planning Organization, Somerset County, and Middlesex County’s Destination 2040 projects. Ms. Sanchez noted the need to experiment with different engagement practices to find what works for each community, and the benefits of building partnerships with local organizations to reach a broad audience. She also noted challenges with VPI such as the digital divide, internet access, and staffing. Ms. Lubin discussed a 2020 study conducted for the Kessler Foundation and interviews with social service agencies and community organizations that offered lessons learned when conducting virtual outreach with vulnerable populations. Despite challenges, Ms. Lubin emphasized that VPI has expanded engagement opportunities in many instances to those who had previously been unable to participate in-person due to obstacles including transportation and childcare.
Rickie Clark, Transportation Specialist with FHWA, noted that Virtual Public Involvement (VPI) is one of the innovative initiatives supported in the fifth and sixth rounds of the agency’s Every Day Counts Initiative. He reviewed the legislation and regulations that requires early and continuous public involvement in the transportation planning and project development process. To meet those requirements during the COVID-19 pandemic, FHWA issued VPI Temporary Guidance that will remain in effect until the pandemic has ended. Mr. Clark encouraged the use of a wide array of VPI tools that can be customized to the needs of particular projects and audiences. VPI extends outreach to the public and enables the public to engage with transportation officials efficiently and effectively. For those who have limited access to the internet, he emphasized that transportation agencies must provide alternatives to ensure full, fair, and meaningful participation for all. Mr. Clark noted that New Jersey is using many VPI innovations.
Jamille Robbins, Public Involvement, Community Studies & Visualization Group, Leader, North Carolina DOT, spoke on how his agency has reached underserved communities with VPI. He discussed the importance of pursuing thoughtful marketing to support the success of VPI and other outreach efforts designed to educate and inform the public and other stakeholders in the transportation project development process. He explained that broadening outreach and increasing engagement contributes to transparency and builds trust. He noted that social media is an effective tool for reaching rural, lower-income, Black, Hispanic, and less-educated populations, and that mobile phone friendly communication is essential. However, agencies should not be solely relying upon VPI. Traditional media, webpages, partner agency and organization networks, newsletters, postcards, door hangers and local access television and radio remain effective tools for reaching traditionally underrepresented groups. Similarly, integrating the use of phones to collect public comments can augment traditional methods for collecting input, such as paper surveys. Mr. Robbins shared experiences with utilizing a variety of VPI tools and platforms including public engagement software such as publicinput.com and the social networking service Nextdoor. He also described pre-recorded project information videos as a highly effective tool for controlling messaging and highlighted the agency’s use of online engagement platforms for live meetings, with the recordings placed on the web, so that constituents can access them and provide feedback at any time. Mr. Robbins also promoted the use of project visualizations, including 3D renderings and interactive animation that can be easily dispersed across online communication channels and improve understanding of proposed projects. While sharing many tools creatively being used by NCDOT, Mr. Robbins balanced his remarks with several takeaways and lessons learned observations about the limitations of VPI for reaching underrepresented communities.
Alison Hastings, Associate Director, Communications, Delaware Valley Regional Plan Commission (DVRPC) spoke about the agency’s use of VPI in the Long Range Plan 2050 Visioning process, and for the Ben Franklin Bridge Eastbound Access project, and the regional MPO’s anticipated integration of VPI for public involvement in the post-pandemic era. When pivoting from in-person public engagement to virtual events, Ms. Hastings listed several themes that required consideration: accessibility and accommodations, recreating the in-person experience, setting ground rules and ensuring security. She also described her team’s considerations in determining the specific staffing roles needed for their virtual events, such as lead facilitator, technical assistance leader, and comment response facilitator, among other roles. She noted identifying these positions has helped to ensure smoother virtual events.
DVRPC has used many VPI platforms and tools, both old and new, such as videos, targeted social media campaigns, live transcription and captioning in meetings, web maps, and postcard mailings and noted that public participation has increased with their VPI efforts. Ms. Hastings discussed the advantages of meeting platforms that run well on browsers and smart phones and enable participation in underserved communities that lack internet access. In the future, DVRPC’s equity checklist will include using American Community Survey data to understand the demographics of the project area, communicating why the meeting is important, using Google forms to build contact lists, preparing the team for the challenges of online meetings, experimenting with different outreach, and evaluating the VPI process. She anticipates that hybrid meetings – in person and virtual – will continue and may require additional staff to run efficiently to achieve desired outcomes.
Vanessa Holman, Deputy Chief of Staff and Megan Fackler, Director of Government and Community Relations at NJDOT explained that their Public Information Centers (PICs) and other outreach must be compliant with Title VI requirements. Due to the pandemic, they needed to find ways to bridge the digital divide which is economic, generational, and geographic. NJDOT has combined established methods of engagement with virtual methods, and in particular, collaborated with stakeholders through social media, websites, and digital news sources. They noted that virtual meetings have helped to remove some barriers to participation, such as the need for transportation and childcare. Ms. Holman shared that they have lost some of the interaction typical of an in-person meeting, and noted the different staff demands of online meetings such as prepared scripts. The Department has also expanded communication in other ways, including through 1-2 page project update memos, written in plain language, for public officials. They now tend to over-communicate and continue to use a range of tools. These efforts are resulting in more public participation and comment in general.
Mr. Clark noted that there is no one-size-fits-all public involvement process and promoted the use of an array of public involvement tools to communicate with the public and receive input. Click for Rickie Clark's presentation
North Carolina DOT uses 3D visualizations and interactive animation, among other tools, to help public involvement participants understand proposed projects and impacts. Click for Jamille Robbins' presentation
NJDOT was successful with their two-week, on-line PIC for the Rt. 80 and Rt. 15 Interchange project. They received large volumes of survey responses and discovered key times for public participation that will inform future efforts. Click for Vanessa Holman and Megan Fackler's presentation
At the end of the event, the speakers responded to questions posed by attendees through the platform’s chat feature.
Q. How expensive is NextDoor?
Jamille Robbins: I don’t believe there’s a huge cost associated but I would have to check with our social media coordinator.
Q. What program did North Carolina use to do 3D presentations?
Jamille Robbins: We use 3D Studio Max for a lot of the presentations.
Q. How do you provide for two-way communications and conversations in an online environment that would occur at in-person events?
Alison Hastings: The platforms, such as Zoom, help. The chat box becomes a primary source of input since you can save it. Conversations can happen in breakout rooms with small groups and a facilitator sharing a screen while using Google docs to record notes. Platforms push updates that provide these tools to emulate the in-person experience.
Trish Sanchez: Break-out groups allow people to feel more comfortable speaking openly.
Andrea Lubin: Especially if they are intimidated by large groups.
Q. What are typical costs for publicinput.com?
Jamille Robbins: North Carolina uses it on all projects and it is cost-effective, but I do not know specific costs.
Q. For NJDOT: Have you received feedback, either positive or negative, on the VPI process or the platforms used and has that encouraged you to change anything in your VPI strategies?
Megan Fackler: Not thus far. We have received questions on the platform, and requests for technical assistance. It is important to provide a phone number for people to reach out prior to a meeting if they are having difficulties accessing the meeting.
Q. For Rickie Clark: If a municipality requested an in-person event, would FHWA provide guidelines for conducting such a meeting?
Rickie Clark: The possibility for in-person meetings would depend on state and municipal guidance for in-person engagement, as well as the guidance of local health officials. During the pandemic, the VPI Temporary Guidance is in effect.
Q. If you could offer one piece of advice for VPI for underserved or vulnerable populations, what would it be?
Andrea Lubin: What I heard from Jamille was the power of radio advertising to target outreach, based on the number of people who are regular radio listeners.
Rickie Clark: From the federal perspective, agencies must have a public involvement plan in place to begin with. Agencies should evaluate the effectiveness of VPI tools. DOTs have become more nimble in modifying their approach. Imagine a time after COVID-19 when a hybrid model can be used and start planning now. It will be a win-win.
Jamille Robbins: Look at the demographics of the area and population characteristics. If there are EJ or LEP communities, reach out to the local planning office or someone familiar with the area. This is the most effective way to get into those communities.
Q. How do you handle data protection in the VPI process?
Alison Hastings: Don’t ask the question if you can’t protect the information you gather. Also, sunset dates determine how long a survey remains open. Set a date for expunging contact information after gathering that information. Use the same process for focus groups.
Jamille Robbins: We are simplifying the demographic information we are requesting. Asking for a name, email, and address may pass a threshold. Keep in mind that information gathered at a public meeting is a matter of public record.
The NJDOT Knowledge Management Toolbox offers examples of several knowledge sharing practices that have been, or could be, adopted by agency units to retain knowledge in a unit in the face of illness, retirements or transfers to other units at NJDOT.
In early 2020, a survey was distributed to New Jersey Department of Transportation (NJDOT) subject matter experts (SMEs) to identify current technology transfer needs, including potential topics for research. The survey also explored the insights and experience of the SMEs related to the challenges of implementing research findings and addressing knowledge gaps within the organization to advance understanding of job responsibilities, policies and procedures.
Subsequently, we followed up with Keith Daniels, Manager, NJDOT Bureau of Construction Services in the Division of Procurement, and Gary Vetro, a Contract Administrator in that unit, to learn about how the unit uses cross-training in practice.
For both of them, cross-training played a role in their introduction to the unit. Mr. Daniels offered that his earlier experience with cross-training led to his current position as Manager. While working in Equipment Materials and Supplies in Procurement, he had the opportunity to work, and be cross-trained, in several jobs in Construction Services. For several years, and in the absence of a Bureau Manager, he assisted the Director of Procurement in various tasks and functions in the Bureau. Prior to that, he had no experience in the procurement process for construction contracts. The Bureau staff were dedicated to getting the construction contracts out. As a result, he became familiar with every aspect of the unit and learning all the requirements of the Bureau.
Mr. Vetro came to the unit from another area in DOT and was cross-trained to cover for the individual who supervises the contract award process in the event that the individual took an extended leave. He brought his broader experience to the unit.
We interviewed Mr. Daniels and Mr. Vetro to explore any lessons learned, benefits and challenges of cross-training as a knowledge sharing practice.
Q. Can you describe cross-training for us?
Cross-training involves teaching an employee hired for one job responsibility, to perform the functions and skills of other job responsibilities within an organization. Cross-training is not tied to a specific skill set or educational background, but rather requires the desire to learn a new skill and the willingness to participate in new challenges.
Q. What prompted your unit to start cross-training?
There were already some elements of cross-training within the Division of Procurement as the Division Director supported cross-training over the years. Thus, previous experience with this concept has benefited the Division greatly.
In my [Daniels] present role, I inherited an office that formerly had over 25 staff members, and currently has nine (9) individuals, including myself, to perform the same basic functions. We are responsibly for awarding construction contracts for the state at an average of 100 contracts each year totaling $1.0 billion. The awarding of contracts is labor intensive and involves multiple administrative and technical steps. We are also responsible for reviewing and approving the pre-qualification applications of over 300 construction firms applying for renewal or new work type classifications to bid on our construction projects each year.
Although automation has improved the unit’s functioning over time, the staff members are required to learn other jobs and operate out of their sphere in order to provide coverage. This is not mandatory, but a willingness by the staff to engage in “teamwork”. The staff consists of two (2) financial auditors, three (3) engineers, and four (4) administrative personnel. A new hire who has a background in business administration is assisting everyone in the unit and learning all functions in the Bureau.
Because of this willingness by staff to participate as a team, Construction Services has significantly reduced the need for overtime to the Unit.
Q. Do employees cross-train for a number of positions or just one other position? Are all employees cross-trained to other positions? There are limitations when there are highly technical skill sets involved. The unit has engineers, and people with administrative and financial backgrounds. Someone with an engineering background could do some of the financial tasks, but would not be signing off on financial documents. Someone in data entry cannot train to do a job that requires engineering expertise. Still, they are able to learn some aspects of any job to assist when needed.
In small units, teamwork is essential and cross-training is a necessity. At times, everyone in our unit has to pull together to get the job done and staff has almost invariably been required to do work outside of their assigned job responsibilities.
Q. What schedule is followed for cross-training? How do people meet and learn? How much of an investment are they making?
The cross-training has been an informal process in the unit and is conducted as needed. At times, the Manager will introduce the idea, but also some staff members will initiate the training. We work as a team to get a big job done and everyone is contributing where they can.
Most training occurs during downtimes for the unit in July and December. Almost every unit has a seasonal cycle, so there is some downtime or slow times available for cross-training. Training involves a combination of direct instruction by the person who does the job, review of written procedures, and perhaps a practice exercise.
The time it takes for training is dependent on the employee, their abilities, how quickly they learn, and the task to be learned. The individual may learn the role in a couple of hours, a couple of days, or it may take longer. In one case, an employee was cross-training for data entry. The person whose position he was to train for was out so he was given the materials and he wrote the outline of job responsibilities and protocols so he can fill in if necessary. One is not training to be a master, just enough to get the job done while someone is out. Refresher training may take a couple of days. We might use a contract that has been completed and have the person training do it again as if they were responsible for it.
Frequency of retraining should be based on how often a backup might need to perform the function and the employee’s long term memory skills. If a person trained as a backup does not have to perform that function more than once or twice in a year, retraining will be more important than for a backup function performed once or twice a month.
Q. How do you prioritize roles for cross-training?
In our unit, every function should have some back-up. In general, you would look at which functions have time constraints or are important for other functions. These functions should be the first on the list for cross-training. You should have enough back-up personnel to keep the function running properly in case of unexpected staff shortfalls.
Consider which functions have only one person designated to perform them. Even if these are not primary functions, they may become a problem if the sole employee is out for an extended time.
Q. How has cross-training been valuable to the unit?
We are a small unit. It is critical for us to be able to continue work when staff is out of work, and especially during prolonged absences. As an example, we must ensure that there is adequate coverage for the contract award process, which accounts for 60 percent of our work. We must ensure that there is adequate coverage to meet the contract schedules and adhere to state and federal regulations regarding the Department’s contracts.
Furthermore, most of the Bureau staff, both professional and administrative/technical, work out of title just to get the job done. As a result, they have become proficient in other skills, engineering, financial, etc. that could mean job opportunities in other areas of the Department.
Cross-training can improve morale, increase productivity, and may lead to promotional opportunities. Sharing knowledge of other functions can help staff with attempts to advance and will lead to a greater willingness to cross-train. If someone can cross-train in another role, they may be able to apply for a higher position as they will have more knowledge and could possibly score higher on Civil Service Exams. As long as there are possibilities, and opportunities for advancement, employees will find cross-training attractive.
It is essential that employees get the necessary tools to go beyond what they do on a day-to-day basis.
Q. What have been some of the challenges to implementing cross-training?
Employees may feel that they are being asked to do extra work without compensation, and some, particularly those coming from the private sector, may believe that they are training their replacement. There needs to be communication to all employees about the benefits of cross-training to the unit, and the need to have someone who can fill in to meet the work requirements of the Unit.
Employees must be assured that the training is used only to cover for temporary staff shortages. Staff will be more likely to accept the idea of cross-training if they can trust that their participation will not increase their workload. There may be some people who have a “not my job” attitude and might introduce Civil Service and union constraints. The nature of this program is to have individuals perform tasks beyond their usual work on a temporary basis which should not raise concerns. A more formalized program could address these issues.
Q. Do you think this strategy would be valuable to other units?
Yes. In the case of smaller units, there may be only one person (or if you are lucky, two persons) who know and can perform their job, so cross-training is essential. If the unit is large enough, there may be multiple people doing the same job. However, cross-training would still be of value to improve morale and increase possible promotional opportunities.
Q. Any other observations that you can offer?
Certainly, specific and detailed training procedures must be developed to encourage knowledge sharing within individual units so jobs can be performed successfully when there are worker shortages. Each bureau or unit’s approach will be different; there is no “one-size-fits-all” way for getting cross-training done.
We recommend some best practices when using cross-training:
Ensure an employee’s regular job function is protected in some form
Provide clear communication about cross-training opportunities
Create a feedback mechanism to let employees know where they stand, obtain employee buy-in, and promote a willingness to participate.
Make clear that cross-training is voluntary
Work with what may be a select group of those employees willing to learn other tasks
Ensure that employee skill sets are commensurate with required skills
Establish a performance mechanism. This should be tied to the feedback procedure.
Ensure that cross-training is appropriate for the individual’s personal abilities.
Incorporate some aspect of mentoring, not necessarily formalized
If possible, ensure that whatever the employee is doing, they can do it in another unit. Promotional opportunities may lie elsewhere, so acquired skills should be generalized.
We are required to abide by specific state and federal regulations. We also have a fiduciary responsibility to ensure the health and safety of the public on the state’s roadways. The unit’s relationship with construction firms and awarding and executing contracts is critical to fulfilling that responsibility. We need to ensure that we are doing our job and cross-training has helped us with that mission.
The Annual New Jersey Department of Transportation (NJDOT) Research Showcase is an opportunity for New Jersey’s transportation community to experience the broad scope of ongoing academic research initiatives and share technology transfer activities being conducted by institutions of higher education (IHE) partners and their associates. It also serves to highlight the benefits of transportation research, including NJDOT’s own program. As part of the event, the annual implementation award and recognition of outstanding university students studying in a transportation-related field will be presented.
This program is organized by the NJDOT Bureau of Research in partnership with the New Jersey Local Technical Assistance Program (NJ LTAP) at Rutgers Center for Advanced Infrastructure and Transportation (CAIT) and meets requirements for up to 3 professional development hours (PDHs) for continuing professional competency for licensed professional engineers. AICP credit is currently under review. The 23rd Annual NJDOT Research Showcase is co-sponsored by the Federal Highway Administration.
According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), transportation accounts for 29 percent of total greenhouse gas emissions (GHG) annually in the United States. To address climate change, state departments of transportation (DOTs) will need to innovate to help meet emissions reduction goals. Some agencies across the country are leading the way through the development of prevention and mitigation strategies to establish a more resilient and sustainable transportation system.
This article, the first in a two-part series, will highlight select innovations in transportation technology being deployed to reduce GHG emissions. The second, focusing on the broad topic of resiliency, will detail how state DOTs are redesigning transportation infrastructure to protect the health and safety of travelers and affected communities in the face of climate change impacts.
While by no means exhaustive, this brief scan of state actions and current research highlights noteworthy current practices and innovations to prevent and mitigate climate change impacts as well as shares examples of new and emerging emissions reduction methods being studied and deployed.
Table 1. An Overview of State DOT GHG Reduction Practices
Safer Main Street and Revitalizing Main Streets
Mileage-Based User Fees (Limiting Demand)
Congestion Corridors Program (CCP). Multimodal options along corridor
Roadway Pricing, such as managed lanes
Mitigation Banks. "Cap and Trade" style bank for VMT
Flexible Work Arrangement Policy Directive — 2 -3 day WFH
Warm Mix Asphalt (WMA) instead of Hot Mix Asphalt (HMA)
Cold in Place Recycling (CiR)
CAIT Pavement Recycling
Stiffer roadways to cut emissions and increase fuel economy
Emissions considered in planning process.
Add GHG emissions to decision making, and treat similarly to the existing criteria air pollutants
Activity-Based Mode (ABM) considers land use, better model GHG emissions
Bus On Shoulder. (Mode shifting)
Autonomous Electric Shuttle
Interregional Express Bus Service — transit emissions dashboard
Innovative Practices for Reducing GHGs
GHG reduction strategies are being instituted throughout the transportation sector, demonstrating how highway, transit and other agencies can contribute to reducing the overall carbon footprint. This article will highlight examples of technological and operational innovations being instituted by state DOTs. These efforts can be broadly assigned to four categories: Materials, Energy, Electric Vehicles (EVs), and Vehicle Miles Traveled (VMT) Reduction.
The prospect of reducing the nation’s greenhouse gas emissions from transportation seems daunting, but examples in research and practice offer several noteworthy strategies in use in this endeavor. Pavement mixtures and materials, for example, provide a promising area for research and implementation in both California and New Jersey for making their processes greener.
In California, a report found that strategic application of pavement treatments across the state’s highway network could reduce greenhouse gas emissions by between .57 and .82 million metric tons of carbon dioxide (MMT). A switch to Warm Mix Asphalt (WMA) from Hot Mix Asphalt (HMA) could reduce fuel and asphalt binder use emissions by 44 percent. Additionally, using cold in-place recycling (CiR) for repaving could reduce emissions by 52 percent.
Warm Mix Asphalt is promoted by FHWA as a greener paving alternative. Source: FHWA
In New Jersey, the Pavement Support Program (PSP), a partnership between NJDOT and Rutgers-CAIT, is currently researching pavement material recycling. Led by Dr. Thomas Bennert, researchers are testing and developing various methods for making paving materials more efficient, including studying the efficacy of recycling both pavement and pavement materials, such as disused asphalt shingles.
While such changes could seem minor, in aggregate, new materials and engineering methods could make a considerable difference. The 2020 article Potential Contribution of Deflection-Induced Fuel Consumption to U.S. Greenhouse Gas Emissions, published in the Transportation Research Record, explains how altering the composition of pavement could increase the operational efficiency of vehicles, lowering their overall emissions. According to the authors, increasing the elastic modulus of the entire U.S. pavement network could offset 0.5 percent of GHG emissions in the entire transportation sector.
Pavement is just one example of how the material aspects of roadway construction and operation can be leveraged to become more efficient and sustainable. There remain many opportunities in the materials sector for research and innovation, to build greener transportation corridors.
Highway departments—with a host of lighting, signage, and operational energy needs from administrative centers to vehicle fleets—have the potential to alter how their systems are powered. Already, Massachusetts and California provide examples of how highway departments can invest in greener energy usage.
The Massachusetts Department of Transportation (MassDOT), through its Highway Renewable Energy Program, has installed photovoltaic (PV) systems, more commonly known as solar panels, at five sites along its highway network.
Through a public private partnership, MassDOT leases land to a private company, which constructs and operates the renewable energy facility, in this case PV systems. The private company is able to take advantage of federal and state incentives, allowing MassDOT to purchase energy at lower rates (AASHTO 2021). The agency estimates that the amount of electricity generated by these highway right-of-way solar farms is enough to power 875 homes annually, translating into 2.3 tons of carbon dioxide saved each year (MassDOT 2021). The agency plans to expand the solar concept to parking facilities soon. Massachusetts is by no means the only state to explore this strategy; DOTs in Oregon, Ohio, and Colorado have led the way on using Right of Way (ROW) to install renewable energy sources.
An itemized list of Caltrans roadway fixtures, and corresponding GHG reductions. Source: Caltrans Greenhouse Gas Emissions and Mitigation Report
The California Department of Transportation (Caltrans), through investments in clean energy generation over the past two decades, generates more electricity than the agency needs. This surplus can be attributed, in part, to longstanding participation in the federal Clean Renewable Energy Bonds (CREB) program, which has helped to finance the construction of over 70 solar facilities that collectively generate 2.38 megawatts (MW) of electricity, capable of powering over 500 homes annually. Caltrans has also been able to reduce its energy usage by converting lighting infrastructure to more efficient bulbs, changing the majority to LED. By replacing these fixtures, the agency has reduced the amount it would otherwise have emitted by 32,000 tons of carbon dioxide annually.
Electric Vehicles (EV)
Fleet conversion is seen by state and federal lawmakers as a priority for achieving carbon emissions reductions. Many state transportation agencies are already planning for, and supporting, electric vehicle usage across their networks. From statewide fleet conversions, to fast charging networks, to using the tools of policy to incentivize the transition for consumers, state DOTS are adapting to take advantage of this new technology.
One aspect of NJ’s EV conversion plan is to develop a robust network of fast chargers, which is already underway. Source: NJDEP
In New Jersey, the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection (NJDEP) and NJDOT are playing a pivotal role in the Statewide Energy Plan, which aims to reduce emissions to net zero by 2050. The rollout of EVs and related support infrastructure are integral to achieving this net zero emissions goal. This effort includes mapping out a statewide charging network and investing in the transition of the NJDOT fleet to all-electric vehicles, as other states are doing.
Some of New Jersey’s EV efforts, such as new charging infrastructure, are funded by Volkswagen settlement funds, which were disbursed to each of the fifty states. Colorado, for example, is using some of its share of the funds to convert the Colorado Department of Transportation’s (CDOT) fleet to more sustainable vehicles. To learn more about NJDOT and its partner agencies EV conversion work, see NJDOT Tech Transfer’s account of the state’s Energy Master Plan and use of Volkswagen funds, such as for the purchase of electric school buses.
Similar work is going on elsewhere. Colorado’s CDOT issued a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) to convert 30 percent of all freight trucks in the state to zero-emission vehicles (ZEVs) by 2030. In California, a ruling by the state Air Resources Board (CARB) mandates that half of all freight vehicles sold in 2035 are to be zero-emission. In New Jersey, where emissions rules are enforced by the NJDEP, the agency proposed a rule directly modeled on the California model in 2021. This type of regulation uses a credit/deficit system to incentivize truck makers to sell ZEVs. Thus, under this phased system program, “the deficits incurred each year that must be offset by credits will begin in 2025, and increase every year through 2035, thereby increasing the total number of ZEV sales in the State.” (NJDEP 2021).
Through multiple mechanisms, state DOTs and partner agencies are working to convert both their own fleets, and those of users of the transportation systems they maintain. Here, too, there is room for innovation, for funding mechanisms, new policies, and technologies to support a wholesale EV transition.
Vehicle Miles Traveled (VMT) refers to the total number of miles traveled along a roadway network. As VMT is reduced, so too are emissions, including both GHGs and harmful pollutants (such as nitrous oxide) that cause a myriad of health issues. Several VMT reduction strategies are being implemented by transportation and other agencies, including demand management pricing, land use planning, transit investments, and Work from Home (WFH) programs.
Annual Vehicle Miles Traveled (VMT) have been rising over the last five decades. Source: Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis
Using pricing strategies to manage roadway demand is increasingly being recognized as a means to alleviate traffic congestion. Using dynamic pricing, a managed “express” lane’s toll is priced based on demand, becoming more expensive as more motorists choose to use it. Depending on overall toll pricing levels, the strategy can induce price-sensitive users to change their time of travel, increase their vehicle-occupancy level, and/or change modal preference (e.g., switch to transit), potentially reducing the number of vehicle miles traveled.
Another pricing policy currently being explored is the Mileage Based User Fee (MBUF), in which drivers pay a per mile fee for roadway use, rather than funding roadway maintenance through the gas tax. This strategy is of particular interest since, as EV use increases, gas tax revenues will continue to fall, creating a deficit in the traditional funding structure for transportation. A flat MBUF, which would restore funding, can also serve to reduce total VMT by more directly conveying to drivers the cost of making a trip. The OReGO program, administered by the Oregon Department of Transportation is the only implemented example of this type of funding to date, though it is being studied in the Northeast. NJDOT Tech Transfer has written previously about ongoing research by the Eastern Transportation Coalition exploring the feasibility of implementing an MBUF program.
The promotion of land uses changes, such as transit-oriented development, is another proven way of reducing VMT. David Wilson | Wikimedia Commons
Several DOT climate plans promote more sustainable land uses along their networks as a means to achieve their goals. The Maryland Department of Transportation, for example, supports Transit-Oriented Development (TOD) in their Greenhouse Gas Reduction Act plan and predicts that the buildout of TOD in 20 zones across the state could remove 0.033 MMT of carbon dioxide by 2030. The Colorado Department of Transportation (CDOT), which mentions in its Transportation GHG Roadmap Briefing Update a multi-pronged strategy for reducing VMT, has hired a land use expert “to focus on partnering with local communities to more fully contemplate land use implications when designing infrastructure projects across the state.”
Related to land use planning is investment in multimodal transportation options. These strategies expand public transit, improve pedestrian safety, and support active transportation corridors, all efforts aimed to reduce VMT. For example, Caltrans released a detailed report on its Interstate 5 project in San Diego in which the agency states its plans to encourage a shift from single occupancy vehicle (SOV) trips to other modes by investing in expanded service on a parallel commuter rail route, and the construction of 23 miles of bicycle and pedestrian facilities along the same corridor. In New Jersey, NJDOT promotes smarter land use and expanded active transportation through the Transit Village Initiative, and the Transportation Alternatives Set-Aside program, which fund a variety of improvements and expansions of transit and active transportation infrastructure which may serve the purpose of lowering VMT by fostering more active, transit-connected communities. CDOT, through its Safer Main Street and Revitalizing Main Streets programs, makes similar investments to increase safety for all users and encourage alternate transportation modes.
Another method of reducing VMT is to invest in transit. CDOT has developed its “Bustang” service, offering intercity connections across the state on eight lines. The Florida Department of Transportation (FDOT) is piloting an approach in the St. Petersburg area, where buses on I-275 are permitted to drive on the shoulder under certain conditions. If the flow of traffic falls below 35 mph along the route, the bus may bypass the congestion by using the shoulder. FDOT also installed special red signals on on-ramps along this stretch of road to prevent collisions from merging vehicles. The Rhode Island Department of Transportation (RIDOT) piloted “Little Roady,” an autonomous electric shuttle service that circulated through Providence along a congested roadway. RIDOT’s 2020 Transit Forward RI Master Plan 2040 recommends further study of such services, as well as investing in transit connections to further curb vehicle usage.
Finally, as was demonstrated during the COVID-19 pandemic, a viable solution to bring down emissions is to reduce total VMT (see chart above). Moving forward, CDOT is looking to promote working from home — on a two or three day a week basis — as a climate strategy and department-wide practice. In 2021, the agency awarded $213,000 in telework grants through its CanDo Telework Grant program to local governments and non-profits to support remote work.
There is still much research and experimentation in the pilot testing, evaluation and deployment of innovation practices in materials, energy, fleet transition, and VMT reduction to meet overall GHG targets. Transportation agencies and the transportation workforce are being called upon to confront an extraordinary and perhaps existential challenge that will require an ongoing commitment to advancing innovations in policies, processes, and procedures.
The National Cooperative Highway Research Program (NCHRP), a research program led by the Transportation Research Board (TRB), funded by AASHTO member states and the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA), works to develop implementable research addressing critical issues in the transportation sector. This collaborative initiative recently published Incorporating the Costs and Benefits of Adaptation Measures in Preparation for Extreme Weather Events and Climate Change as a guide for incorporating the Cost Benefit Analysis (CBA) process for adaptation planning and asset management. While resilience research and resources will be more thoroughly covered in the second part of this series, the TRB’s Resilience Research page provides an excellent overview for resilience planning.
Several upcoming NCHRP research projects will further inform planning for the GHG reduction process for transportation agencies. Research for the forthcoming Methods for State DOTs to Reduce Greenhouse Gas Emissions from the Transportation Sector was completed in March 2021, and investigative work for Assessment of Regulatory Air Pollution Dispersion Models to Quantify the Impacts of Transportation Sector Emissions was completed in June 2021. Another study, Considering Greenhouse Gas Emissions and Climate Change in Environmental Reviews: Resources for State DOTs, was awarded in July 2021, with research expected to conclude by October 2023. Succinct summaries of current and upcoming research, sorted by topic can be viewed on TRB’s Research Snap Searches page.
Over the past century, the predominant impetus for transportation has been that of expansion and maintenance of the nation’s Federal, state and local roadway networks. However, as suggested by the initiatives underway by the many state DOTs highlighted in this literature scan, the role of the state DOT is changing. As has been shown, the state transportation agency, with its vast resources and footprint, has many avenues by which it can promote necessary innovations to help reduce GHG emissions, and so limit the impending threat of climate change.
The necessity of reducing Greenhouse Gas Emissions, Vehicle Miles Traveled, and building resilient infrastructure that can withstand increasingly severe weather requires innovations in both process and technology in the transportation sector.
There is, of course, work to be done beyond GHG reduction. The second installment on this theme will cover how state DOTs are currently rising to the challenge of resilience, innovating through planning, engineering, and research, to strategically strengthen our transportation infrastructure to weather a more intense, and unpredictable, climate.
AASHTO Center for Environmental Excellence. (2021). MassDOT Public-Private Partnership Generates Solar Energy on Highway Rights of Way. American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials. https://environment.transportation.org/case_study/massdot-public-private-partnership-generates-solar-energy-on-highway-rights-of-way/
Virtual Public Involvement presents an opportunity to expand the community engagement process. An FHWA Every Day Counts Round 6 initiative (EDC-6), Virtual Public Involvement (VPI) gives participants an opportunity to engage, other than through a traditional, physical meeting, which can require more time and resources to attend. The use of virtual engagement technologies can boost public participation in the comment process, and provide new avenues for collecting data and disseminating information on potential infrastructure investments and other projects. By increasing opportunities for public communication and engagement, VPI can serve to ensure that the needs of the public are fully considered in transportation project planning and development decisions.
At NJDOT, the COVID-19 pandemic presented new challenges and opportunities for the agency’s public engagement efforts. The necessity of social distancing motivated the Department to conduct meetings and outreach virtually, transforming the outreach process. To learn more about the lessons learned in making this transition, three NJDOT staff members were interviewed: Vanessa Holman, the Deputy Chief of Staff, serves as NJDOT’s legislative liaison and oversees the Department’s Office of Government and Community Relations; Megan Fackler, Director of the Office of Government and Community Relations (OCR), oversees public engagement and handles responses to DOT-related issues and concerns raised by the public, elected officials, and others; and Zenobia Fields, Senior Policy and Program Advisor, is responsible for policy related to planning and programming, including statewide plans and safety initiatives, and engaging with national organizations (AASHTO, TRB). Their observations are summarized below.
What was VPI like at NJDOT before the pandemic?
NJDOT has always strived to employ tools and mediums that will help achieve positive outcomes, working to ensure that the public is treated as valued customers.
Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, the agency was not especially “tech-forward” with public engagement, and instead utilized more traditional, in-person engagement strategies. However, NJDOT staff who regularly engaged with stakeholders and attended external meetings were issued tablets to help facilitate in-person interactions. Staff had access to Microsoft Teams and preliminary training in using that platform. So, at the onset of the pandemic, the OCR and other staff were equipped with the technological capabilities to transition to virtual engagement.
How did the pandemic affect NJDOT’s public engagement efforts?
Beginning the third week of March 2020, NJDOT pivoted to a VPI style of engagement. With the assistance of IT staff, OCR held a large legislative summit for an NJDOT project, and began virtually conducting project-specific local official briefings, public information sessions, and public hearings. This outreach occurs during every phase of major projects from concept development through construction. Public Information Centers (PICs) are similar to an open house event, where the public is invited to attend and review at their own pace project drawings and plans, ask questions, and provide feedback. During the pandemic, NJDOT established project-specific PIC websites with multi-lingual content available. Links to certain PIC virtual meeting videos created by consultants were also made available for a certain period of time (e.g., 14 days), which has increased the number of persons accessing those meetings.
For certain projects, OCR sends hard copy letters to stakeholders who live within a certain distance to the project location informing them of the project and advising them to contact NJDOT if they need technical or other assistance to engage.
With the onset of Covid-19, NJDOT and its staff pivoted to a VPI style of engagement.
Several other units, such as traffic engineering, also began using virtual engagement technologies, including pre-construction meetings. The NJDOT Permitting unit has engaged applicants virtually to walk through documents, including technical project plans. Using the screen-share function, presenters can show and discuss complex technical materials, including maps and jurisdictional documents.
What platforms does the Department use?
NJDOT utilizes Microsoft Teams for most VPI for both internal and external outreach. The Department initially used Cisco WebEx and GoToMeeting, but determined that Microsoft Teams was the most optimal platform for internal meetings along with Cisco WebEx for public meetings. While the agency does not have a Zoom account, consultants often use Zoom for public and stakeholder engagement.
Consultants are encouraged to use a variety of online engagement tools for public and stakeholder feedback such as crowdsourcing, wiki maps, mobile apps, videos, etc. NJDOT has used crowdsourcing to identify potholes, locations for bike share stations and other information.
How has the Department implemented VPI as a practice?
VPI has been embraced at the Department, necessitated by the pandemic, however standardized VPI as an implemented practice is still a work-in-progress. Some staff have received training in VPI and attended webinars on the topic from AASHTO and FHWA through its EDC-6 program, but the training has not extended beyond these collaborations. The expansion of VPI training for staff could be valuable to embed best practices about what works, and what doesn’t.
What are some of the benefits that have come with implementing VPI?
Overall, stakeholder meetings have experienced higher attendance and participation, such as the Strategic Highway Safety Plan meetings, because people do not have to travel, and can also avoid parking, traffic, scheduling conflicts, etc.
VPI tools are being using by transportation agencies to enable the public to access user-friendly features to receive information and provide input.
Also, employing VPI for PICs has afforded participants with more time to access project information at a time that is convenient to them and to formulate thoughtful comments and questions on the specific project. VPI has also helped NJDOT to more formally capture and respond to comments and inquiries via electronic tracking, as compared to in-person comment collection. Many NJDOT project websites include a hyperlink to make accessing them easier for the public, enabling them to “click” on the link to access project-related information and provide feedback. And, interested parties can opt to receive text or email alerts from the Department on certain projects (e.g., Route 495 project e-alert; I-295 project).
An in-person open house event or PIC gives participants approximately three hours to review materials and provide feedback, however a virtual event can be made available for a longer period via a hyperlink. Attendees of a virtual event do not have to travel and wait in line to ask questions or to share comments, which can be very time consuming at a highly attended PIC; instead, they can post feedback on chat or via a Q&A function, or ask questions via telephone. Virtual engagement also enables participants to view documents and materials at their own pace, allowing them to return multiple times if needed over a period of days or weeks.
Over the past 18 months, implementing VPI has also become easier for NJDOT staff because their familiarity with VPI platforms and tools has increased. VPI makes certain tasks simpler as well. For example, while the services of a translator would need to be secured for an in-person event, translation is undertaken automatically with certain VPI platforms (e.g., Google translate).
What are some of the challenges of implementing VPI?
Learning how to successfully employ VPI has involved a great deal of trial and error. It was helpful to use consultant services for some of the Department’s initial VPI events. There are always challenges when implementing virtual mediums, with technology, security, and establishing best practices. For example, early in the pandemic, a Zoom “bomber” hacked into one of the Commissioner’s virtual meetings, which necessitated a temporary meeting shut-down. Other common technology challenges encountered included difficult connections for participants, and issues with microphone and camera functionality.
The FHWA maintains a VPI webpage that is a store-house of case studies, webinars and peer changes on model practices.
Another concern regards ensuring full participation, as attendance does not necessarily mean engagement. Participants are encouraged to turn on their video cameras to minimize their multi-tasking during VPI – something that is not really an obstacle during in-person meetings. Using break out rooms, chat and the “raising hand” online platform features have been helpful to encourage engagement. Online polls have also been a successful VPI tool including Zoom polls, Mentimeter, and Poll Everywhere to encourage engagement.
Some people are quiet and may not be as open on VPI as they would be when talking one-on-one with a person, so there needs to be a balance of VPI engagement and effort made to ensure all of these virtual conversations are happening as they would if they were convened in person.
Receiving state approval to secure licensing for new platforms can be a lengthy process due to security reasons, as can be securing departmental acceptance and adoption of new technologies. Moving forward, the Department is open to learning and trying new virtual platforms and technologies to achieve goals, but at this time there is not a specific VPI need not being met.
What equity concerns have you observed with VPI?
NJDOT remains compliant with federal civil rights and non-discrimination requirements, with a Public Involvement Plan, and the Civil Rights group and Title VI Liaisons involved in each project. An initial challenge at the start of the pandemic was ensuring NJDOT’s VPI complied with NEPA and Title VI regulations. The Civil Rights unit was very helpful in navigating these regulations and ensuring OCR performed their due diligence in this regard.
Another challenge was ensuring that NJDOT was engaging with all, including those who are underserved, under-represented and do not have access to virtual platforms. Projects must be compliant and also must ensure engagement opportunities are accessible and folks have the technology needed for virtual access (e.g., smartphone, landline) and that computers are not needed in order to participate.
It is important to review and measure how many are participating and the quality of feedback obtained. Some low-income or non-tech savvy members of the public may not have the technology or computer literacy to participate in VPI. In order to address this “digital divide,” focus has been given to expanding broadband connectivity options, such as creating mobile hotspots in areas close to project sites where residents without Wi-Fi or broadband might be able to connect to the internet, making NJDOT interactive tablets available, and connecting through their smartphone or landlines to enable folks to meaningfully participate in the engagement process. If access to any technology is still a barrier for participation, another solution is to provide the opportunity to simply place hand-written suggestions in a physical comment box placed within the geographic limits of the particular project so it is easily accessible to local stakeholders.
What best practices have been developed with VPI?
A key best practice for staff working with VPI is to prepare a script and talking points ahead of time, and to practice with the team prior to the event to ensure familiarity and troubleshoot any identified technological issues. This pre-event planning process helps to ensure a smooth flow during the meeting.
Based on our COVID-19 experiences of the past eighteen months, NJDOT has learned more about the pros and cons of various platforms depending on the target audience, meeting topics, and goals. For example, MS-Teams has been best for internal meetings, or small meetings with elected and local officials, while Zoom’s webinar platform has been ideal for larger meetings and broader, more active public engagement. The use of a consultant to moderate public engagement has been beneficial, such as with enforcing time limits during comment sessions and assisting with technology issues. Over time, implementing VPI has become easier as familiarity with the platforms and technologies has increased among both NJDOT staff and the public.
How does the Department use social media in the public involvement process?
NJDOT has been using Facebook and Twitter, as well as YouTube to communicate longer video content. The Department uses social media to alert members of the public about upcoming PICs.
The primary social media platforms NJDOT uses are Facebook and Twitter, as well as YouTube to communicate longer video content. The Department uses social media to alert members of the public about upcoming PICs, offering the link to virtual PICs via Facebook posts. Facebook has been helpful for event pre-planning, and Twitter and the 511 website – a traffic condition platform – are effective when there is an immediate need to communicate to the public. The public uses social media to post comments and inquiries. Typically, the public feedback communicated through social media is brief, but sometimes commenters provide thoughtful, in-depth remarks from which NJDOT’s OCR can respond.
The Department also uses social media and other outreach tools to inform the public about NJDOT services and role in the community, emphasizing its customer focus. For example, the NJDOT Commissioner drafts an external e-newsletter called “Commitment to Communities” or C2C, that is distributed four-six times annually. Often the content focuses on “Did you know” types of facts related to NJDOT’s role and services. Approximately 6,000 persons subscribe to the newsletter. The online Local Aid Resource Center also uses various social media platforms to communicate primarily to existing and interested grantees.
NJDOT’s social media policy was established prior to the current administration, and primarily focused on employee practices and appropriate behavior as representatives of the Department. NJDOT is working on developing a new social media policy that will address how to monitor and manage the Department’s social media accounts, including how comments should be responded to and handled. The Department has recently hired a social media coordinator, as well as an in-house videographer. The social media coordinator has increased the Department’s Facebook following to 11,000 persons, which is a significant achievement, especially because the Department does not have an advertising budget for social media. The Department is considering trying new social media platforms, such as Instagram, and continually engages with other state department social media coordinators to learn from their work.
How will VPI be used moving forward?
Overall, both the quantity and quality of NJDOT public engagement increased with VPI implementation during the pandemic and VPI will continue post pandemic. Moving forward, the Department is open to learning and trying new virtual platforms and technologies to achieve goals, which will continue to be evaluated.
While VPI is more economical, in-person engagement remains relevant. NJDOT plans to utilize a hybrid engagement approach, with a mix of VPI and face-to-face engagement. Additionally, the Department must continue to work with community partners as trusted advocates to attract and encourage participation from a diverse set of constituents. The Department will further explore the expanded use of crowdsourcing tools, and the development of an online application for the public to use to contact NJDOT, in addition to using the Department’s central dispatch number.
The New Jersey Department of Transportation’s (NJDOT) Bureau of Research invites you to share your ideas on the NJ Transportation Research Ideas Portal. We are asking NJDOT’s research customers and other transportation stakeholders to propose research ideas for the NJDOT Research Program. Join us in finding workable solutions to problems that affect the safety, accessibility, and mobility of New Jersey’s residents, workers, visitors and businesses.
REGISTER TO PARTICIPATE. Once you are registered, you may submit ideas at any time. If you registered last year, you do not need to register again.
HOW DO I SUBMIT AN IDEA? Only registered participants can log in to submit a new idea or vote on other ideas to show your support. Register at the NJ Transportation Research Ideas website welcome page here: https://njdottechtransfer.ideascale.com/
NEXT ROUND OF RESEARCH. Please submit your research ideas no later than December 31, 2021 for the next round of research RFPs. The NJDOT Research Oversight Committee (ROC) will prioritize research ideas after this date, and high priority research needs will be posted for proposals.
The FHWA is promoting the deployment of Digital As-Builts (DABs) in Round 6 of the Every Day Counts (EDC-6) Program. FHWA defines DABs as an accumulation of the data used during digital project delivery that provides a living record of built infrastructure for agencies’ future business needs. The latest FHWA Innovator, September/October, Issue 86, features a section on e-Ticketing and Digital As Builts that briefly defines the innovation and its benefits along with a short video of digital delivery efforts at Utah DOT.
During EDC-6, the NJ STIC has set forward goals for advancing Digital As-Builts, assessing the current stage of innovation as “development” and setting forward some near-term capacity-building actions.
This article reports on a brief Digital As-Builts Literature Scan and provides references to a select bibliography of research reports, strategic plans and other resource documents that may warrant closer inspection for innovation teams. The literature scan identifies some key definitions, benefits, emerging practices, recurring challenges and possible lessons when taking steps toward deployment of DABs.
Digital As-Builts Literature Scan
A Digital As-Built (DAB) innovates by transferring what are typically 2D, paper records into digital, three-dimensional (3D) datafiles that can be regularly updated and shared with stakeholders throughout a project’s life cycle. This information becomes invaluable in the asset management and operations phase, in which it is crucial for agencies to have the most current, comprehensive data covering their facility’s construction. DABs can also be referred to as digital twins, intricate computerized copies of a road or bridge that simulate real-time conditions, allowing for predictive maintenance and more cost-effective mitigation projects.
Across the country, state departments of transportation (state DOTs) are beginning to adopt DABs requirements for future road and bridge projects. The Pennsylvania Department of Transportation (PennDOT), for instance, has established ambitious agency goals that by 2035, all agency projects will be bid upon using 3D models—which will be updated throughout the project’s development through completion, and then stored in a centralized database (PennDOT, 2020).
While industry standard software and practices are still emerging, the research, experiences, and challenges from DOTs nationwide can assist in the identification of promising practices and planning the transition to DABs.
Benefits of Digital As-Builts
Digital As-Builts are digitized, detailed records of completed construction projects. These could encapsulate roadways, bridges, barriers, berms, and any other facilities. What is revolutionary about DABs is their capacity to be used as digital twins, sophisticated mock-ups of the actual structure that enable agencies to streamline maintenance and improvement projects. DABs are simple to store and distribute, reducing the time and material costs from producing traditional 2D as-builts. Created using Computer Aided Drafting and Design (CADD) software, and updated with real-world readings, such as laser-based LiDAR, DABs are versatile and, increasingly, trustworthy records.
DABs were selected as part of the FHWA’s EDC-6, featured for their advances in safety, time savings, and quality (FHWA, 2021). In addition to providing high quality records that can optimize maintenance and asset management, DABs can streamline the project development process by easily showing decision makers the location of existing infrastructure. The safety benefits come, in part, from shorter work interruptions of regular traffic flows.
DABs offer the capability to reliably retain information throughout the project process, as data is handed over from one department agency to another. A UC-Davis report, conducted on behalf of the California Department of Transportation (Caltrans), suggests that DABs can reduce the risk of lost information considerably (Advanced Highway Maintenance and Construction Technology Research Center, 2020). Another report, prepared for the Kentucky Transportation Cabinet (KYTC) by University of Kentucky researchers, found that digital documentation could significantly build trust in as-built records. In 2018, KYTC spent $217,000 on new forensic investigations because handmade, paper as-builts were deemed untrustworthy (Kentucky Transportation Center, 2019). But DABs, especially when well-updated and held to high standards of detail, can reduce the need for new surveys and ultimately lower costs.
DABs feed into an integrated workflow in which completed facility information is readily accessible for asset management and maintenance. This process is an element of Civil Integrated Management (CIM), and involves the entire lifecycle of a facility.
Though many aspects of life have been affected by increasing digitization, the as-built record-keeping process in state transportation remains rooted in the analog era. It was apparent, from the literature reviewed, that the majority of state transportation departments are still using 2D, paper as-builts for facility specifications.
When DABs were being used, they were as pilot projects to demonstrate their efficacy. Or, when a part of agency practice, as in the case of Caltrans, implementation was inconsistent and without sufficient coordination (AHMCTRC, 2020). Similarly, in Kentucky, some records were being stored digitally but without a designated central repository, or as hardcopies in a State Library and Archives warehouse for storage (KTC, 2019), offering little use for ongoing maintenance. States like Michigan and North Carolina, while looking to transition to digital records, were still working on their digital strategies and have yet to implement them as practice (FHWA, 2019).
Some states have recently established regulations requiring DABs, such as the Colorado Department of Transportation (CDOT), which updated the State Highway Utility Accommodation Code in 2021 calling for 3D subsurface models showing the location of utility lines in CDOT’s Right-of-Way (Colorado Department of Transportation, 2021). New York has established a 3D, 4D, and 5D requirement for certain megaprojects (such as the new Kosciuzko Bridge), that tie contractor payments to a continuously-updated model that is then revised with as-built information (FHWA, 2014). And Nevada, while requiring digital contract documents, has yet to add an as-built component. (Nevada Department of Transportation, 2021).
Many DOTs are being spurred to action by technological innovations and by prior EDC rounds (FHWA, 2015) and by the current FHWA’s EDC-6 e-Ticketing and Digital As-Builts initiative.
PennDOT appears at the leading edge in its development of a comprehensive DAB implementation plan, intending to adopt the digital delivery process as a department standard by 2025. For DABs, this involves a 5-year span spent developing standards and workflows for implementation. The planning process includes the functioning of various working groups for determining necessary infrastructure and modeling requirements, workspace needs, and training plans. Though PennDOT’s plan is still in progress, their Digital Delivery 2025 Strategic Plan offers a good example of a comprehensive, implementation document detailing steps the agency must take to make the transition to digital delivery (PennDOT, 2020).
Figure 1: Sample Digital Delivery Roadmap from PennDOT.
Agencies in other states are also piloting new standards. Many DOTs are planning to convert from paper records, and to capitalize on this transition by taking advantage of the new digital records in the asset management process.
The Utah Department of Transportation of Transportation (UDOT) has created a website describing the benefits of digital delivery, including the advantages of the use of Digital Twins (UDOT, 2021). UDOT’s site also contains sample deliverables packages for contractors, with technical specifications for roadways, drainage, and structures viewable in Bentley ProjectWise, and document management software used for DABs by several DOTs (e.g., Virginia, Washington, Kentucky, and others) (Virginia Department of Transportation, 2019).
Virginia is also working to establish new guidelines to support the Civil Integrated Management (CIM) process. The guidelines will set standards for Level of Detail (LOD) for 3D renderings, as some models can be inconsistent. Because they are intended to exist as exact records of the constructed facility, DABs are required to be the highest LOD (Level 400) (Virginia Department of Transportation, 2020).
Michigan and North Carolina are currently transitioning from 2D plan sheets to 3D models of contractual documents (FHWA, 2019). Both states plan to incorporate the records into asset and operations management over the project’s lifecycle.
NYSDOT, for a bridge reconstruction in the Catskill region, developed a 3D model for a contract document using Bentley iTwin Design Review software (CS Engineer Magazine, 2021). After the bridge is completed, the contractor is obligated to upload as-built information to the 3D model. This approach is being piloted in New York, but is not yet adopted practice.
In Minnesota, the state Department of Transportation (MnDOT), adopted special as-built requirements for certain regions in the state, starting in the Minneapolis-St. Paul Metropolitan area (FHWA, 2019). The agency also has a dedicated website with DAB specifications. For example, a barrier as-built report might include latitudinal and longitudinal X, Y, and Z coordinates, as well as a Plan ID referring back to the plan set.
Nearby, Iowa DOT has begun using geo-equipped devices from ESRI to capture vector and asset attribute data during the construction process (Iowa DOT Research, 2021). The geolocated data captures the location and geometry of facilities, and is then uploaded to a Microsoft SQL server. As opposed to developing a 3D model in the design process, and then updating it with as-built conditions, an after-the-fact approach captures three-dimensional as-built data outside of the Building Information Modeling (BIM) process.
Other states are exploring how they might apply these concepts to how they manage the planning, design, construction, and maintenance of their facilities. The literature resources reviewed made the benefits of DABs abundantly clear, and showed considerable progress being made, but they also identified challenges in the full-scale deployment of Digital As-Builts as standard practice.
Several of the resources reviewed identified barriers for DOTs for implementing DABs. For Developing a Strategic Roadmap for Caltrans Implementation of Virtual Design Construction/Civil Integrated Management (2020), researchers surveyed Caltrans employees from various departments to learn more about the obstacles that the department faced. Similarly, University of Kentucky researchers surveyed Kentucky Transportation Cabinet (KYTC) staff, in Redefining Construction As-Built Plans to Meet Current Kentucky Transportation Cabinet Needs (2019). FHWA has also prepared reports on innovative digital records practices at various states that detail various challenges (FHWA, 2019).
These reports reveal some recurring themes on the challenges experienced by state DOTs that can be broken into two axes — Workflow and Workforce — as well as some solutions to surmount them.
Table 1: Examples of Workflow and Workforce Challenges and Solutions to DABs Implementation
Develop robust, time-tested workflows
Facilitate interdepartmental coordination on projects and data updates
Extensively test software workflows for technical errors, such as incompatibility
Create file, format, and procedural standards (i.e. designated Levels of Detail). Require compatible software infrastructure to support DABs
PennDOT, UDOT, VDOT, NDOT, CDOT
Educate employees with ongoing trainings that ease into DAB process
Educate for and enforce DAB protocols
For example, the Caltrans report made clear that the development of an agency-wide workflow was paramount. Without one, various divisions were inconsistent and ineffective at capturing, maintaining, and communicating about DABs. Caltrans Roadway Design and Structures Design divisions fell short in updating and sharing the existence of updates with one another (AHMCTRC, 2020).
Regarding particular software, files, and workstations, care must be taken in the workflow design process to ensure compatibility. In Caltrans case, the Roadway Design and Structures Design divisions were using incompatible 3D modeling software. Iowa DOT experienced a similar issue, in which 3D, geolocated models created using ESRI software were then unable to be meaningfully edited in Bentley MicroStation (Iowa DOT Research, 2021). In addition, Iowa DOT’s 3D models, designed as part of a BIM process for a bridge girder replacement project, could not be edited because of the file type. An audit of Kentucky’s Transportation Cabinet found that, though there was a central repository for digital records (Bentley’s ProjectWise), files were uploaded inconsistently (KTC, 2019). While NYSDOT had planned, during the construction of the new Kosciusko Bridge, to continuously update a 3D model to show newly built components, they experienced severe network capacity constraints that prevented them from doing so (FHWA, 2014). Upfront planning, interdepartmental collaboration and testing ensures that DABs potential is unleashed.
The second tier of challenges arise from issues with workforce adoption. An FHWA case study looking at digital record keeping at MnDOT highlights difficulty with securing buy-in from construction staff to comply with new DAB requirements (FHWA, 2019). The KYTC study singled out a lack of digital competencies from older employees as one barrier towards adopting these new technologies. Change is difficult to implement, but especially when staff have become accustomed to the same practice for decades.
For Workflow design, a considered and deliberative process is required. Agencies must convene working groups of stakeholders and learn about department-specific concerns and established processes. Several years may be required to design new DAB workflows that maximize the potential of the new technology, and ensure that the infrastructure is in place to support and encourage staff to follow these workflows.
PennDOT’s plan for implementing digital delivery is an instructive and thorough model document on the subject (PennDOT, 2020). The agency’s Digital Delivery Strategic Plan breaks tasks down into actionable steps, such as Task 2.3, Post Construction Process and Procedures Development, scheduled from Q2-Q3 of 2021, which will map out new requirements and a plan to realize the new processes. An agency wishing to avoid siloization would do well to consult the UC-Davis study that provides itemized, exact solutions.
Figure 2: Another visual representation of PennDOT’s Digital Delivery Roadmap.
Architects of the new DAB workflow should be careful to promote interdepartmental collaboration, as well as select compatible software that supports such a goal. Bentley Systems design, engineering, and review software—MicroStation, OpenRoads, and ProjectWise, principally—appear to be the most consistently used across the country (AHMCTRC, 2020). For determining a cohesive workflow, it is imperative that varying software have compatibility with one another—and that they are consistently used across the department.
For the issue of designated detail levels, both Minnesota and Virginia have developed tables with standards specifying when and where to make DABs as accurate as possible, such as whether to survey the constructed facility at a detail of one foot or one meter (FHWA, 2019). The overall objective of the department may help to guide the development process: how does the agency aim to utilize BIM technology? A representative DAB could help to dramatically increase the efficiency of future maintenance or upgrade projects, but only if the appropriate standards are first put in place.
The Workforce presents complementary challenges and solutions. A technology is only useful if it is appropriately deployed—part of the workflow design process should include consultation with staff on specific barriers they face in their daily adoption of the technology. What might be preventing them from doing so? What types of trainings are required to achieve core competencies? Interviewing staff stakeholders will also help to determine accountability measures that could be put in place, for both staff and contractors, to help ensure consistent compliance with new workflows (KTC, 2019).
Digital As-Builts are a promising technological innovation that can reduce inefficiencies in the life cycle of a transportation facility. If appropriately deployed, DABs can maximize the value of a project, eliminating the need for new forensic investigations, and retaining information as it is handed off from one phase to the next. Many of the DOTs surveyed are considering and incorporating innovative practices into their DAB implementation. Both Caltrans and KYTC, for example, are studying the use of laser-based scanning technologies to develop geolocated 3D models post-construction. In the coming years, as DABs are adopted into practice, more case studies will become available for reference.
From the resources reviewed, it was apparent that Digital As-Builts are promising technology that can streamline record-keeping and save transportation agencies both time and money.
This article first appeared in the FHWA’s EDC News Weekly Newsletter of August 26th, 2021 and featured NJDOT’s application of high performance thin overlays (HPTO) as a pavement preservation tool.
Targeted Overlay Pavement Solutions
Last week, we discussed a case study involving bonded concrete overlays, part of the Targeted Overlay Pavement Solutions (TOPS) toolbox. This week, we’ll look at how New Jersey has used high performance thin overlays (HPTO) successfully as a pavement preservation tool.
Since 2015, NJDOT has used HPTO on more than 1,000 lane miles to seal pavement and improve ride quality. Benefits include short road closures reducing impact on traffic, and addition of approximately 10 years of service life. Timing of the application is crucial. A Rutgers University study found applying HPTO to pavements while they are still in “good” condition more than doubles the service life compared to applying the product to pavements in “fair” condition.
Contractors who construct NJDOT projects have not reported constructability issues or complaints about the mix. NJDOT believes including performance requirements for the mixture, understanding treatment selection and application timing, and requiring project engineers to approve specifications are key factors in the success of HPTO as a pavement preservation tool.
Based on this research and evaluation of projects to date, NJDOT considers HPTO a cost-effective solution that provides a safe, smooth, crack and rut resistant surface that extends the life of the pavement and causes minimal impact on the road users and environment during construction.
A Pedestrian Hybrid Beacon (PHB) is a signalized, pedestrian-activated device designed to increase crossing safety. A recent study conducted by the New Jersey Bicycle and Pedestrian Resource Center (BPRC), funded by NJDOT, examined the efficacy and public awareness of PHBs in New Jersey. The authors, researchers from Rowan and Rutgers universities, found a persistent need to better educate motorists and pedestrians in New Jersey on the PHB and its phases.
The five phases Pedestrian Hybrid Beacon’s (PHB) operations
Pedestrian Hybrid Beacons are one of FHWA’s seven Safe Transportation for Every Pedestrian (STEP) countermeasures, proven methods of reducing pedestrian collisions. STEP was promoted through multiple rounds of the FHWA’s Every Day Counts (EDC) Program. A PHB is typically placed to improve pedestrian safety at uncontrolled and mid-block crossings, in locations with high pedestrian demand and wide roadways. The treatment consists of two signal arms on each side, with pedestrian “push buttons” and a crosswalk. The PHB operates in five phases. In the first, the PHB’s signal is off. The second phase begins when a pedestrian activates it by pressing a button, prompting the signal to flash a yellow light. Then, for the third phase, the flashing transitions to a solid yellow light, communicating to drivers that they should prepare to stop. Then the light turns red, and, in the fourth phase, the pedestrian signal changes to “Walk.” After an interval, the fifth phase begins: the pedestrian signal displays a countdown timer, and the traffic signal flashes alternating red lights, telling drivers to stop and that they may proceed if the crosswalk is clear.
The study’s literature review found multiple examples of prior research demonstrating the efficacy of PHBs. In the case of Tucson, Arizona, where one of the first PHBs was deployed in the United States, one study found a 69 percent decrease in pedestrian-related crashes in the signal area. Another analysis in Tucson found a 97 percent yielding rate from drivers at PHB-equipped crossings. One of the chief findings from the literature review was that PHB signal evaluations were lacking in New Jersey. Thus, researchers aimed to more systematically analyze PHBs in the state.
The authors found ten implemented examples of PHBs throughout the state, from Bergen County to Atlantic County. For more in-depth research, they selected signals in three different community types (urban, suburban, and campus area), in Morristown, Medford, and New Brunswick, New Jersey, to undergo video analysis.
The five phases Pedestrian Hybrid Beacon’s (PHB) operations
One commonality observed in all three locations was an apparent confusion for motorists concerning the fifth phase, in which the signal flashes red, indicating that drivers should stop and then proceed with caution. In New Brunswick, 100 percent of observed motorists remained stopped, even after the intersection had been cleared. In Morristown, the vast majority of pedestrians (91.3%) failed to use the PHB during the morning period, and also failed to do so in the evening (83%). The authors attribute such behavior to the PHB timing being linked to two nearby traffic signals, contributing to extra delay after the crossing button has been pressed. When inconvenient, it seems, pedestrians may opt to cross on their own.
To better understand the familiarity of pedestrians and motorists in New Jersey with PHBs, the researchers designed an online survey that was sent to 79,567 randomly selected email addresses from 30 communities across the state. While respondents indicated some confusion as to how PHBs functioned, a plurality indicated that they would be very likely or somewhat likely to support implementation in their own community. A majority of respondents (85.9%) reported that they had never heard of PHBs, and later indicated that completing the short survey had increased their knowledge of the safety treatment, showing the potential benefit of more public education about their functionality.
The report concludes by stating that while PHBs are proven to be effective at increasing pedestrian crossing safety, a lack of public awareness on the part of both drivers and pedestrians currently limits the effectiveness of these devices. The researchers suggest updating the New Jersey Motor Vehicle Commission’s Driver’s Handbook to include the PHB, and to differentiate the flashing red signals at a PHB where the driver must yield and then proceed if the crosswalk is clear, from the flashing red signals at railroad crossings where the driver is required to stop and remain stopped. This addition could be complemented with a public education campaign to teach pedestrians and drivers about the intricacies of Pedestrian Hybrid Beacons.
The New Jersey Bicycle and Pedestrian Resource Center (BPRC) works to promote a safer and more accessible walking and bicycling environment in the state. The Center, located at the Alan M. Voorhees Transportation Center at Rutgers, is supported by NJDOT through funding from FHWA. Further information technical assistance, resources for Complete Streets, and current research is available on the BPRC’s website.