Webinars to Prep State Officials on What to Expect From FHWA ‘Reliability’ Standards

AASHTO Journal, 3 April 2015

A pair of upcoming webinars that will probe lessons from recently collected reliability data can help executives and technical staff in state departments of transportation prepare for regulations expected soon from the Federal Highway Administration.

That’s the view from Dennis Motiani, executive director of the new National Operations Center of Excellence. He said while the FHWA has already produced rulemakings on other performance standards for transportation, “the reliability performance standard is a whole new ballgame.”

0327Motiani.jpg Motiani

The center will hold its “Part One” free webinar April 7 on transportation systems reliability, based on information drawn from a national performance management research dataset that the FHWA purchased from a private firm.

That webinar, said Motiani, is “a 101 course” introduction to the dataset, for an executive, manager or director who can draw lessons from the data in planning for the new federal reliability standard. He said officials from metropolitan planning organizations as well as state DOTs can benefit.

Representatives from the vendor, a Nokia-owned company named HERE, will explain the dataset that is available at no charge to state DOTs and other agencies, and show how to mine the data to support their decision-making on future investments.

Besides the April 7 event, the center will later schedule a second webinar for a more detailed discussion on the archived dataset and systems reliability issues.

The center itself is a partnership of the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials, the Institute of Transportation Engineers and the Intelligent Transportation Society of America, with support from the FHWA.

The focus of that coming FHWA rulemaking, and of the center’s webinars, is the essential dependability of the whole transportation system.

Motiani said that “reliability” concept has become a much-discussed issue in the transportation community in recent years, since the second Strategic Highway Research Program made it one of four focus areas of research.

The concept covers such factors as how long people spend in daily traffic movements, how much stress or “pain” roadway travelers absorb in congestion and how much “buffer” time they add onto a trip to make sure they arrive on time and cover the risks of disruptions.

That involves tracking such data as a “pain index” and a “buffer index” to estimate the effects of transportation system conditions on its users’ quality of life.

“What we are focusing on right now is highway transportation,” Motiani said, “but ultimately will look at reliability in all modes of moving people” that includes urban transit systems as well.

Motiani said he hopes the FHWA will be considering simple measures such as travel time reliability to determine how to use them across different states.

While tying federal funds to performance management has been discussed among transportation professionals in recent years, he said that “for now, I think the Federal Highway Administration is just eager to know how federal funds are being spent and what sort of difference we are making with those spending levels.”

In last 15 to 20 years, he added, state DOTs have demonstrated how low-cost but high-yield traffic system or operational changes can improve traffic flows and reduce congestion. Traffic incident management procedures can also boost reliability in the event of accidents or severe weather, by combining proper response planning and provisions to quickly restore at least partial roadway capacity.

“They all contribute to keeping the system more reliable” for highway users, Motiani said.

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