VDOT Restructures: The First Step

The Virginia Department of Transportation has announced the most significant restructuring of its maintenance operations since 1932. The department will consolidate 335 maintenance facilities into 244 locations by July 2008, aiming to save some $4 million to $6 million per year. Much of the work on secondary roads will be outourced; all work on interstate highways will be outsourced by 2009.

Reports Kelly Hannon at the Free Lance-Star:

VDOT analyzed the administrative workload at each facility, the population it served and highway safety before announcing yesterday’s decisions. Agency officials said they found that current locations don’t necessarily match where maintenance is needed.

“People don’t really realize, most of our VDOT headquarters were built in the 1930s,” said VDOT Commissioner David Ekern. “It makes sound business sense to adjust our facilities to address today’s business needs.”

(As an aside, some legislators are expressing concerns about the restructuring moves. According to the Daily News Record in Harrisonburg, local lawmakers complained that were not kept in the loop as VDOT worked over the past eight months to think through the restructuring plan.

A couple of observations:

First, saving $4 million to $6 million a year is a step in the right direction — VDOT deserves kudos for making the effort — but that’s chump change in a $3.8 billion budget.

Second, what VDOT needs to implement is a system-wide asset management plan. I haven’t pieced together the full story yet, but here are parts that I know:

In 2002 a JLARC report noted, “There is no statewide systematic approach for measuring the conditions of the pavements on the secondary roads, although about 70 percent of Virginia’s lane mileage is on this system. … VDOT currently employs a reactive maintenance approach to addressing problems as they arise, although it is trying to develop and implement a preventive approach, known as asset management.”

As of 2002, VDOT had spent $39 million developing an “Integrated Maintenance Management Program” since 1996, but the system was not then operational. According to a VDOT spokesman, certain aspects of the program were found not to be cost effective. Since then, VDOT has implemented a “Version 1.0” of an Asset Management System, which “has helped VDOT quantify its maintenance needs and equitably distribute maintenance funds to its work units statewide based on needs,” according to a VDOT spokesman. Work is underway on a Version 2.0.

A state-of-the-art system for measuring roadway conditions and prioritizing maintenance work is absolutely essential. It is imperative that VDOT receive the financial support to take its Asset Management System to the next level.

Third, the state needs to accelerate the devolution of maintenance funding and responsibility to Virginia’s fast-growth counties. Not that the counties can do a better maintenance job than VDOT, but they can do a better job of aligning road building/maintenance decisions with land use decisions. (See my latest column, “The Devolution Solution.”)

One thing’s for sure: Today’s news of VDOT’s restructuring plan is only the first step in a long journey.

Update: I have modified portions of the original post to reflect information provided by Anonymous 2:20 in the comments section.

Update: Jim Wamsley has brought to our attention a November 2005 VDOT PowerPoint presentation on the status of the Asset Management System.

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20 responses to “VDOT Restructures: The First Step”

  1. vdot has a 5 million dollar office at springfield mall to “display” the mixing bowl project- they must have money to burn-ours

  2. Larry Gross Avatar
    Larry Gross


    “aiming to save some $4 million to $6 million per year.”

    “As of 2002, VDOT had spent $39 million developing an “Integrated Maintenance Management Program” since 1996, but the system was not then operational.”

    As Paul Harvey sez … It’s now 2006 – where is the rest of the Asset Management Program?

    Such a program .. by the way.. would be able to give each locality a much better picture of the condition of the roads in their jurisdiction along with the annualized maintenance costs.

    Perhaps .. that capability is on-line.

    If so.. give VDOT (Shucet?) a well-deserved tip of the hat…

  3. Anonymous Avatar

    So you guys can catch up to 2006 he’s a hint…google VDOT AMS and read some of the results…

    I think you’ll find the following to be true through your own research:
    1. VDOT has one of the most advanced Asset Management Systems in the country and the world
    2.Part of the reason that the construction budget for new roadways is shrinking so fast is that the AMS is a very current and accurate tool that is updated annually
    3. According to the AMS, maintenance has been way underfunded to keep them politicians cutting ribbons on the Route 288s of the world
    4. Maybe (just maybe) VDOT reacts very well when given proper guidance and policies set by the CTB and the GA.

  4. Larry Gross Avatar
    Larry Gross

    I had no luck with GOOGLE nor did I searching VDOT’s website.

    Perhaps others mileage varied.

    If someone has a URL.. I’d be grateful.

  5. Larry Gross Avatar
    Larry Gross

    Thanks Jim.

    I was looking on VDOT’s website.

    It’s interesting that this would be a major presentation at the TRB .. and apparently “submerged” on the VDOT website.

    I note this on page 4:

    “The vision for the future AMS is under review, and a roadmap will need to be developed for the next phase”

    So… is this or is this not a current institutional process at VDOT?

    Anybody Know?

    What part of the VDOT organization chart has cognizance of this?

  6. Larry Gross Avatar
    Larry Gross

    I hate to keep bombing folks for info.

    Is the closing and reallocation of maintenance sheds – associated with AMS?

    Is this the first “on the ground” action of AMS?

  7. Anonymous Avatar

    To spell it out for those that don’t like to sift through info…

    First, written in 2004 and snippet below pertaining to VDOT…

    Second, 2005 presentation to TRB (FYI it does not get presented at the TRB unless it is cutting edge) Look at slide 18…


    You kids have fun…

    Virginia Department of Transportation

    The Commonwealth of Virginia has the nation’s third largest State-maintained highway system (after Texas and North Carolina). This system includes approximately 91,732.61 km (57,000 mi) centerline miles of interstate, arterial, regular primary, and secondary roads, and more than 18,800 total structures, including 12,600 bridges located in 135 counties.

    To make the best possible maintenance investment decisions, the Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT) initiated a comprehensive maintenance and operations business process reengineering (BPR) effort in 1995. This effort laid the groundwork for what is now widely known as transportation asset management.

    Inventory and Condition Assessment System

    Based on recommendations from the BPR effort, VDOT initiated the development of infrastructure decision-support systems and a large data collection program, referred to as the Inventory and Condition Assessment System (ICAS).

    In 2002, the Virginia General Assembly passed legislation that requires VDOT to incorporate the principles of asset management into its maintenance and operations practices. This legislation was one of the main drivers for VDOT to develop a modernized integrated asset management system.

    This new data integration strategy has enabled VDOT to make significant progress in developing decision-support tools and integrating asset management data without waiting for the details of the final Asset Management System (AMS).

    A discussion of the ICAS and AMS systems follows.

    ICAS Description

    The scope of the ICAS project was to collect inventory and condition data for all roadway assets that existed within the VDOT highway fence-line boundaries. VDOT structured its approach in several phases: A pilot phase (Phase 1) to prove and fine tune the concept and procedures, a statewide implementation phase (Phase 2), and a steady state or full deployment phase (Phase 3). Additional measures used to mitigate project risk to VDOT included employing a fixed-price contract and conducting a phase-gate review or an end-of-pilot evaluation that allowed for adjustment and repricing before beginning the statewide effort.

    Development of the prototype ICAS system began in 1997. A contractor provided support to VDOT with BPR work from 1995 to 1996, and then developed the initial ICAS performance and business requirements.

    In 1998, following a request for proposal, VDOT selected a prime contractor and team of subcontractors. The prime contractor performed overall project management, data collection, and training. Subcontractors developed an ICAS system, performed system integration and systems training, and provided database support, GIS integration, mapping, and aerial photography analysis. The contractor also proposed a commercial off-the-shelf (COTS) data management system developed in the United Kingdom that accommodated multiple linear referencing systems. The system needed modification to fulfill the VDOT requirements.

    For the pilot project, VDOT selected Fairfax, Fauquier, and Augusta counties. Combined, these three counties represent about 10 percent of State-maintained lane miles.

    VDOT used video logging, GPS backpacks, and digital satellite imagery to collect data for the ICAS. Following is a list of key ICAS project deliverables:

    A complete inventory of highway-maintainable assets in three counties.
    A comprehensive data dictionary.
    A process for the consistent measurement of asset conditions.
    A statewide process for managing asset information.
    Modern information technology tools to access the information.
    Support to multiple location-reference systems.
    Statewide centerlines for the entire highway network.
    ICAS has also captured a GPS-referenced digital video log along every segment of highway. These were used to develop centerline coordinates of the roadway network.

    Infrastructure inventory data derived from these images are available in ICAS. The forward images, collected every 16.09 m (52.8 ft), are available in the VDOT geographic information system (GIS) and can be accessed through the VDOT intranet.

    The initial concept for ICAS was to be a tool to support the AMS and provide information for statewide budgeting and planning. The goal of the completed pilot project was to collect inventory, condition, and location information for a comprehensive set of assets. A secondary goal was to store, access, and demonstrate use of this data in strategic and tactical day-to-day asset management decisionmaking.

    ICAS is a PC-based client-server system based in Exor, a proprietary software system from the United Kingdom. VDOT had acquired licenses to use the system and decided not to upgrade it. VDOT is currently building the AMS and Oracle spatial database with in-house staff.

    The primary users of ICAS include district maintenance staff for budgeting, planning, and scheduling work. Users were trained by the contractor and VDOT.

    ICAS Data Collection

    VDOT collected information for 42 assets, including fences, ditches, and rest areas. ICAS was a complete assets inventory, fence line to fence line. It collected asset management data in the categories listed in table 5.

    Table 5. Virginia ICAS data collected.

    Asset Category Collected
    Roadway Signs
    Roadway Lighting
    Supports and Structures for Signs, Signals, and Lighting
    Guardrails, Barriers
    Pavement Markings and Treatments

    ICAS, now fully populated for the three pilot program counties, is being integrated with the RCA so that all data will reside in an Oracle spatial database. The database architecture is based on the NCHRP 20-27 data model. ICAS is fully integrated in the seven data categories in this study.

    Other AMS tools will be integrated with the AMS Oracle spatial database, including the following systems:

    Bridge Management.
    Pavement Management.
    Virginia Operational Information.
    Plant Mix Scheduling.
    Security and Emergency Management.
    Financial Management.
    ICAS Quality Assurance

    The highway network centerlines were accurate to a precision of 3.05 m (10 ft), exceeding the VDOT specifications. This accuracy was evaluated against known control points established by an independent subcontractor.

    A robust QC process was implemented for the project. For the data collection, a double-blind test was conducted. After the collection was complete, random, separate QC segments were assigned to QC inspectors, who independently examined the assigned area. The results, which were overlaid on the production results to check the correlation, showed that the data collection was easily meeting contract requirements of +/? 5 percent accuracy at the 95 percent confidence level. A similar procedure was used for the image collection QC.

    The QC effort during the pilot was extensive. The use of the double-blind QC procedure, while ensuring independent data verification, was also expensive and time consuming. An independent project evaluation confirmed that the data were within accuracy requirements and that the QC procedures on the number of segments to sample could be reduced.

    VDOT administered a well-defined quality review process. Highway sections were selected at random and verified by onsite visual checks. Quality issues were discovered in the data collection process, operation of the software, and the data loading process. All issues were resolved and documented to VDOT’s satisfaction. This review provided the basis for acceptance of the data and determined eligibility for payments to the contractor. In summary, data quality issues were not a major problem in this project.

    ICAS Current Status and Future Plans

    The ICAS pilot was completed in November 2002. The three-county data collection activities are complete, but VDOT has decided not to expand ICAS statewide (it did use the concepts and knowledge learned to develop the Random Condition Assessment). Video-logged images are available on the VDOT intranet, and VDOT personnel have the capability to access data, update and add assets, and obtain reports and information from the system. The three county jurisdictions are keeping the ICAS data current.

    The ICAS fixed-price costs were itemized as follows: Pavement data, $3.8 million; Phase I, $7.9 million; and Phase 2, $25 million. The actual costs of work performed, which included the accelerated Phase II centerline delivery, totaled $18 million. Statewide centerline delivery cost was $7.7 million and asset data collection cost was $4.6 million. The largest contract modifications, not counting the centerlines, were for collecting additional mileage in the pilot counties (beyond the official VDOT record), changes to the data dictionary during data collection, and delays imposed by VDOT during data collection.

    The ICAS project came to administrative closure in November 2002. Having finished a review of the pilot project, VDOT executive management decided that, because of fiscal constraints, continued data collection for asset management would be addressed with in-house staff and resources. VDOT will continue to use the ICAS system and procedures adopted during the pilot to populate the required data. Project deliverables were finalized and the contract closed out.

    ICAS Useful Conclusions and Lessons Learned

    One of the greatest achievements of this project was the delivery of complete statewide centerlines for all VDOT roads and highways in the Commonwealth of Virginia-more than 111,044.74 km (69,000 centerline mi). Under ICAS, the State collected information on asset inventory and inventory condition and evaluated the technology. In most cases, the tools and technologies in this project delivered good functionality and demonstrated capabilities to provide asset inventory and condition data for asset management.

    The ICAS project provided VDOT with extensive information, knowledge, and documented processes. The following list summarizes a sample of the gain for VDOT:

    A comprehensive inventory of highway-maintainable assets in three counties.
    Processes for the consistent measurement of asset conditions.
    A statewide process for managing asset information.
    Modern tools and a database to access the information.
    Support to multiple location-reference systems.
    Statewide centerlines for the entire highway network.
    Eighteen field data-collection units and related software licenses owned by VDOT.
    VDOT staff gained the institutional knowledge of all the steps required to collect data and develop a highway network-based database.
    An essential lesson learned was that the system used in the data collection’backpack units with voice recognition software technology’worked extremely well and enhanced safety by providing appraisers with a heads-up and hands-free capability. In addition, the inspectors were able to collect both aboveground and belowground assets and attributes and effectively assess conditions. This approach allowed an accurate and complete asset inventory and a full condition assessment.

    The GPS location referencing equipment and software also were effective and enabled precise location of all assets. The system worked equally well with the field inspectors and van-based image collection technology. Having the data collected with spatial coordinates using GPS was fundamental to obtaining repeatable, verifiable, and accurate locations of assets. Raters were not required to know specifics such as official route number, milepost, or intersection and offset to locate their position. Having the assets tagged with spatial information also allowed linear referencing technologies to be used easily to integrate data from different sources in the relational database.

    Despite the success of the pilot and advantages to the system, there were several reasons that VDOT opted not to proceed to the next phase and take ICAS statewide:

    Cost. The primary reason was the expense; it was a very expensive way to collect inventory data.
    Video Quality. Although the quality of the video generally was good, quality was a concern, and improvements would have been necessary.
    Completion Delay.Phase 1 completion took 300 percent longer than estimated, although change orders remained below 10 percent of the contract value. The pavement data portion of the project was deleted because of the exacting information required, the manual processes involved, and the state of the pavement evaluation technology at the time of the pilot. A lesson learned was that the asset and attribute set must be determined and locked before data collection begins. In addition, this data set also should be based clearly on business needs.
    Asset Management System

    VDOT did not select COTS software in developing its AMS because it determined that COTS software would not be cost efficient unless its specifications were close to current VDOT practices and customs. With ongoing budget constraints and the lessons learned from the ICAS experience, cost-efficiency concerns had been brought into sharp focus and played a key role in this decision.

    As a result, VDOT chose to develop an AMS by revisiting the original requirements of the BPR effort. In contrast to the single COTS system envisioned in early efforts, VDOT staff divided the BPR requirements into a series of components that could be developed individually and integrated incrementally. The new AMS has six key components:

    Random Condition Assessment (RCA).
    Needs-Based Budget Request Module.
    Planning and Scheduling Module.
    Work Order and Accomplishment Module.
    Inventory Module.
    Analysis Tools Module.
    Through the BPR, VDOT envisioned the management of assets through their entire life cycle: condition assessment, planning, alternatives evaluation, project development, and implementation. Decision-support tools would provide resource management capabilities such as attributing financial, equipment, and human resource investments to specific groups of assets. These systems would also enable VDOT to manage the use of its assets and provide an integrated approach for managing information such as land use permits; hauling permits; routing traffic flow; and capacity, impact, trip, and travel analyses.

    Of the six planned modules, the first two are completed and the others are in different stages of development. Work on the first two components of the AMS-the Random Condition Assessment Module and the Needs-Based Budget Request Module-began in 2003. In developing these modules, VDOT followed a formal systems development process designed to provide consistency between the individual development efforts and verify that data required for the AMS are fully integrated.

    The AMS, which is entirely Web-based and requires only a standard Web browser, will, according to its documentation, “enable VDOT to more efficiently and effectively manage roadway assets.” Based on the results of a cost-benefit analysis of the AMS, VDOT expects a 15 percent return on investment by 2006. This rate of return is possible because the system will enable VDOT to implement its management strategies, which includes the following objectives:

    Maintain current, accurate data on inventory and condition.
    Develop statewide maintenance budget requests based on needs identified during a formal condition assessment process.
    Plan and prioritize maintenance and operations work based on an understanding of available resources.
    Improve the cost effectiveness of maintenance and operations activities.
    Determine the effect of deferred maintenance strategies on network performance and resulting needs.
    Maintain a record of work on an asset throughout its life cycle.
    Automate aspects of maintenance management function that are currently performed manually.
    In addition, implementing the AMS will help bring VDOT into compliance with recommendations developed through an audit performed by the Virginia Joint Legislative Audit and Review Commission and a study conducted by the Virginia Auditor of Public Accounts.

    A description of the first AMS module, the Random Condition Assessment, follows.

    Random Condition Assessment System Description

    Development work on the RCA, the first module of the current VDOT asset management system, began in January 2003.

    The RCA is an inventory system with a statistically based random sampling approach for manual data collection. The RCA data are used to compute an unconstrained, needs-based budget to maintain infrastructure and VDOT assets. It includes the condition of the highway system based on extrapolating conditions of the random sample of the roadways. VDOT has the capability to extract cost information from its financial management system to support the needs-based budget analysis.

    The RCA contains nonpavement and nonbridge assets and focuses on pipes and drainage, roadside, and traffic features. The protocol for districts is to collect inventory and condition data in preselected 0.161 km (0.10 mi) sections of the roadways. VDOT rates all assets within the 0.161 km (0.10 mi).

    The RCA system includes a built-in help menu with definition of asset types and helpful asset pictures such as cantilever and regulatory sign types in the help menu. The menu items for signs include sign type, age, and number of panels. For each data entry, there is a comment field for the appraiser.

    RCA provides a drop-down menu of choices from which the appraiser selects. For example, under signs, “post damage” and “panels missing” are among the options. Appraisers are equipped with a computerized system, either a laptop or hand-held devices, and download information daily when they return to their offices. Appraisers use standard forms, and data entry is done using a touch screen application on a PC. Appraisers are field people who, on average, hold a 2-year college degree.

    On the interstate system, VDOT captured approximately 1,800 0.161-km (0.10-mi) sections out of 2,200 directional miles of Interstate roads. On primary and secondary roads, VDOT has captured 3,690 0.161 km (0.10 mi) sections. The approximate sampling rate in the RCI includes:

    10 percent to 15 percent of interstate roads in the State.
    3 percent to 4 percent of primary roads.
    1 percent of secondary roads.
    Using the RCA system, data for 9,000 statewide sites were collected by June 2003. The process was repeated in spring 2004.

    All RCA concepts are developed on an incremental basis in-house by the VDOT Asset Management Division, which is working closely with the IT department in developing RCA. The Asset Management Division has defined the system business application and needs, and the IT department performs system development. The IT department supports the Asset Management Division, and they are well coordinated and integrated. All work is performed in-house.

    RCA is an Oracle-based database system on a PC platform. The graphic user interface is built with a drop-down, menu-based system.

    The primary users of the RCA data are the district maintenance staff. Other users include State and district budget managers. To train these users, VDOT formed focus groups for each district and trained the focus groups at a central location.

    Random Condition Assessment System Data Collection Efforts

    Table 6 lists the categories of VDOT RCA data collected

    Table 6. Virginia RCA data collected.

    Asset Category Collected
    Roadway Signs
    Signals –
    Roadway Lighting –
    Supports and Structures for Signs, Signals, and Lighting
    Guardrails, Barriers
    Pavement Markings and Treatments
    Detectors –

    Relevant data from various systems are being processed and imported into a data repository. VDOT is proceeding with this work without fully understanding the details of what the target asset management system will look like. For example, the final AMS may consist of a series of individual tools, or it may resemble a comprehensive enterprise resource planning system that was once proposed. It is anticipated that if all relevant data are cleansed, normalized, and stored in a single data repository, VDOT can export data to any future system.

    This strategy provides VDOT with great flexibility in designing the final AMS. The design will continue to evolve based on organizational requirements, funding availability, and emerging technologies. In the meantime, this approach has enabled VDOT to make significant progress both in developing individual maintenance decision-support tools and integrating maintenance data without waiting for the final details of the comprehensive AMS to be developed.

    The RCA will be fully integrated to the other modules of the VDOT asset management system, including ICAS and two other systems:

    Bridge Management.
    Pavement Management (PMS).
    The RCA general confidence level statewide stands at 95 percent. This level varies by 5 percent to more than 10 percent for various locations and asset types.

    Random Condition Assessment System Current System Status and Future Plans

    VDOT has entered approximately 20 to 25 of the 42 assets per selected 0.161-km (0.10-mi) section into the database.

    In 2003, VDOT completed the first two components of the AMS: the Random Condition Assessment Module and the Needs-Based Budget Request Module. Based on the success of this initial effort, the agency proceeded to develop the Planning Module and a New Work Order and Accomplishment module. Four of its six modules have been developed at this time and are in various production and implementation stages. It is expected that the remaining modules are to be developed before the end of 2005.

    Looking beyond this next milestone, VDOT will work to integrate the AMS with the Commonwealth’s statewide GIS. Also, to date the scope of the VDOT AMS has been focused on maintenance and operations. It is anticipated that, when work is completed in these areas, the system may be further enhanced to provide additional decision support for the VDOT equipment program.

    VDOT has learned not to rely on a single-vendor solution, but instead to pursue open standards as much as possible. The agency is interested in implementing standards that may emerge from the National Spatial Data Infrastructure Framework Project in the transportation data layer. VDOT is also coordinating with the I-95 Corridor Coalition on a regional multistate transportation network for the interstate and State routes. The department is also embracing Web-based services and views Internet map servers as an integral part of its enterprise architecture. VDOT anticipates that in the future more services will be accessed remotely through the Internet including data uploads from local handheld computers, and provide the ability to query data and applications in the field, perhaps using wireless communications. The rapid changes in technology require a flexible, open-systems approach. VDOT is conscious of the need to take small steps to take advantage of these improvements in the context of an enterprise data architecture.

    VDOT has already used results from the Needs-Based Budget Request Module of its infrastructure AMS in presentations to its executive board and members of the General Assembly. Although there is much work to be done, VDOT’s ability to get meaningful information into the hands of decisionmakers has solidified support for further enhancements and provided a glimpse of the power of a fully developed AMS.

    The initial RCA cost for the first 3 months was approximately $300,000. The 2.5-year total RCA cost is expected to be in the low million-dollar range.

  8. Larry Gross Avatar
    Larry Gross

    Very much appreciate posting all the gory details.

    You alluded to key challenges…
    “but VDOT has decided not to expand ICAS statewide”, … “VDOT has learned not to rely on a single-vendor solution”
    VDOT decided not to use COTs.

    1. – I still don’t see a milestone chart – where IS this project right now?

    2. – This is a classic story about how efforts to computerize a major business process can flounder.

    The problem is that software folks often don’t understand the business model, and your VDOT folks don’t understand software yet each want to be in charge of developing the software.

    Further… some business processes are so dysfunctional that they, are in fact, the problem and computerizing
    them as is – is a huge mistake.

    I strongly ….. strongly … disagree about the decision to not use COTs software.

    I believe this is a huge mistake that will ASSURE that this will remain a hugely expensive system that will,
    over time, become harder and harder and more and more expensive to maintain… as it gets left behind by
    hardware/software advances in the marketplace.

    My perspective on this is from 34 years with software development with the Navy where – over and over –
    “roll your own” software/hardware resulted in huge costs, huge cost overruns.. and most important – major
    delays in rolling out new systems and even rolling out updates to the existing systems.

    Some of this cannot be avoided. For instance, there are no COTs Fire Control systems… by the stuff that drives
    them .. can be.

    I find it absolutely amusing that VDOT considers itself … “unique” enough among DOTs such that… it has to have unique software and hardware just for it’s own unique business processes. Give me a break.

    In other words .. VDOT is an industry unto itself and not subject to using industry-standard practices.

    This is the same approach that they used with Smart Tags.. their own needlessly unique duplication of EZ Pass functionality which required VDOT-only internal support and not COTs and not competitive-bid support and WORSE.. the system NOT interoperable with EZ-Pass until extensive mods were made.

    This means that out-of-state folks with EZ-Pass … can’t pay electronic tolls unless they buy Smart Tags before they come and use future toll roads in Va.

    WHY? Why did VDOT have to do their own separate and incompatible electronic toll technology in the first place?

    I’m sorry to go on – but this story… confirms my worst fears of how VDOT considers itself in a world of it’s own, makes decisions about money and things that cost money with respect to what that means to VDOT – and NOT what it means to their customers AND their stockholders – stakeholders – taxpayers who fund their ventures.

    So a simple request.. where is the current Timeline for statewide adoption of ASM? What is the current status?

    The point of ASM was NOT as a fun exercise… it’s goal was not to provide high-tech bells and whistles for VDOT employees .. it’s goal was to provide better, more cost-effective operation and maintenance of our 2-3 Billion dollar expenditures on our highway infrastructure. Why is the world.. does it take 10+ years to do this.. and now they say.. it’s “too expensive” to implement? This is bogus to the core.

  9. Larry Gross Avatar
    Larry Gross

    “VDOT has learned not to rely on a single-vendor solution, but instead to pursue open standards as much as possible.”

    OOPs .. I missed this.. Yes … good for them.

    This is hard to do because most vendors are trying to do the opposite. They want to build something
    that ONLY them can maintain but it is imperative that COTS and Open Software and Standards be used.

    This is one of the biggest differences between private industry and govt agencies.

    Private Industry cannot afford for some outside concern that they’ve contracted software to – to have them by the short-hairs and CEOs and their underlings are held directly accountable if they put the business enterprise at risk by such a “partnership”; in essence, what they’ve done is cede control of the enterprise to folks who write code.

    But Govt Agencies … learn slowly .. and as long as funding is available.. there is virtually nothing to keep them from doing exactly what private enterprise will not allow to happen.

    One would hope that VDOT has “learned” by this experience … institutionally as an organization.. and not just the ASM “team”.

  10. Ray Hyde Avatar

    The best software in the world is useless if you don’t have the business procedures it supports in place.

    Whether you use COTS software or homegrown you have a similar problem. There are two kinds of cots software: canned programs that do what they do, and programs that are really toolkits. Thes allow you to assemble your own program usng standard tools in the kit.

    Custom software is just one step farther away. Generally it too is assembled from a kit of existing tools, and these tools themselves are COTS. All you are really trading is degrees of flexibility.

    No one codes a pop-up calculator anymore, you just pick one out of the box and attach it where you want with the appropriate hooks.

    But, if VDOT doesn’t understand what the job is, what the procedures are, what the tests are, and the trade offs, then no software can help. The systems analysis nd requirements definition are 90% of the job. The rest is easy.

  11. Larry Gross Avatar
    Larry Gross

    I apologize for the harshness of my tone in my recent posts on VDOT.

    COTs and OPEN Software including toolkits all preferred to customized contractor-written code AND VDOT itself should NOT be in the business of writing code at all in my opinion. It’s a separate field and it would be akin to having people who write DOT software – design roads – because they write software for the DOT.

    But the central point is what Ray said. If your business processes are whacked out to begin with – computerizing them is an almost impossible job – because the essence of computer code is logic. i.e. “If x then do this – if y – then do that”. If you have a business process that goes like this “if x then do this.. unless Ray over in asphalt disagrees” then you’ve got big issues because it boils down to the business process not being institutionalized – which, in essence, means that for any given scenario – that it’s processing is repeatable no matter how many times that same scenario is presented for processing.

    I give VDOT kudos for being among the top DOTs nationwide on a range of issues in their field – including asset management. But think about this concept – as related to private entities – asset management is critical to their very existence in a competitive environment where badly run enterprises routinely go belly-up.

    In VDOT’s world – it is such a novel concept that they garner recognition and awards as one of the first DOTs to do this.


    Shucet somehow (I dunno how without asset management) got the Dashboard Online. The Dashboard was/is an honest attempt to institute some basic level of a business process approach to building and maintaining infrastructure.

    But now the Dashboard performs another important function in my humble opinion (IMHO) – it’s a Canary for whether or not VDOT continues to improve it’s business processes – without Shucet.

    The fact that VDOT has been working for over a decade on Asset Management – and anon here in this Blog speaks proudly of their progress … but it is not trumpeted on VDOT’s own web pages (like Dashboard is) is troubling.

    I think it’s arrogant to beat one’s own drums but in VDOT’s case, it’s normal and when they don’t do it – for even minor accomplishment.. it’s worrisome. Either their PR person is out of the loop or something else is going on.

    Another not so good sign. The JLARC report. VDOT responded to it – officially. Where is their response and what is the status of the things they AGREED to remedy (some they disagreed with)? All of this is NOT on their web page either; Why?

    If you ask VDOT this question – the likely answer will be that it’s not yet ready to release (remember the report was in 2002) and that it’s still “internal”. In other words – these issues are between them and JLARC and the public is not a party to it.

    a simple example: JLARC identified the issue of Road Classifications. Does ANYONE KNOW VDOT’s response on this?

    Remember – this is a publically-funded, taxpayer funded organization who is “supposed” to be open, transparent, and accountable to citizens as well as legislators.

    So, in this blog – when we talk about the chicken/egg – reform before money vs more money now then reform – I fell off the turnip truck a long time ago.. and been up and around… long since.

    When I see VDOT ACTIVELY pursuing reform – on a basis where the public can access and understand the what, why, where – similiar to what Shucet did with the Dashboard then the money/reform dialogue will have promise.

  12. E M Risse Avatar

    As you can see, VDOT professionals, including Dave Gher sacked by Gilmore for doing what he was told to do, have been trying to do the right thing for a long time.

    They cannot do anything but drive their trucks around in circles until there is a plan in every New Urban Region and every Urban Support Region — including those that cross state borders — that balances the travel demand of settlement patterns and the carrying capacity of the transport system. PERIOD.

    That will not happen until citizens replace the politicians who opt for getting reelected instead of being honest about what needs to be done to create a sustainable trajectory for civilization.


  13. Anonymous Avatar

    Alright kids…

    Do you think for just a second that for every decision made, then there is a professional opinion and then there is a political opinion which could either be inline with the professionals or not?

    Do you think that AMS may not be inline with political will because it removes construction money to just plain old boring maintenance funding?

    Do you think within the 9,000 people within VDOT, that they are all maintenance workers holding shovels?

    OR Do you think there may be a wide range of professions within any DOT and that some may have experience about software development? (I’m mean c’mon they are using the NASA incremental approach to deployment) You kids love the links to prove points http://www.vita.virginia.gov/ITIB/docs/2003/031201/Asset_Management_System-Proj_Charter.pdf#search='VDOT%20ITAD

    I think you may be way off about whether or not VDOT has the correct maintenance business process… Again if they are leaders in AMS, then one would think that many of the business processes used would be somewhere near those of other DOTs…

    What has happened here is the construction budget has been funded for too long at the expense of regular maintenance… did you know that 40% of the bridges statewide aren’t in very good shape? Look at page vi.


  14. Jim Wamsley Avatar
    Jim Wamsley

    Thanks pop!

    “A fish rots from its head” is an old proverb with many origins.

    The program your link pointed to ended in 2004. What is happening now?

    When most of the posters on this blog talk about VDOT reform, they are talking about asset allocation. You find little discussion about the quality of work performed by the VDOT staff. You will find a lot of discussion about spending money on the wrong things in the wrong places.

    When you are in a hole quit digging. The AMS system can either improve maintenance or allow funds to be transferred to hole digging.

  15. Ray Hyde Avatar

    Based onthe long post describing the VDOT process for getting their software and business processes in line tha VDOT attempted to do the right thing, and they did it according to the usual software development scheme.

    I suspect that scheme developed because far too many half baked software ideas got fired off without adequate preparation and resulted in buggy unworkable code that didn’t meet the needs.

    As a result we got a software process that is designed like a boat is built. You cut shape bend dryfit and screw down every part, and then you take it apart and clean out all the sawdust frrom drilling the screwholes. Then you treat the material to prevent rot and screw it all back together with glue.

    It works wonderfully, but you better hope you never have to take it apart and fix something. So, once you actually have software that supports your business prcesses, then your processes are cast in stone and you can’t ever change anything because the computer and code won’t allow it.

    Somewhere between loosey goosey and cast in stone, there must be a middle ground.

    I once worked for a start-up web based brokerage house. 200 of the smartest people I ever met put that thing together in 18 months, and it worked. I worked on a job of similar scope for a government agency and it was a total disaster.

    This is typical, of what happened. A government supervisory committee came to look at my work. They said they didn’t like the “Exit” button I had on one of my screens. The next time they came around the exit button was still there, and they said, “I thought we told you we didn’t like that exit button.”

    Yes you did, I responded, but you never told me what you would like. It will take two seconds to change it to Adios, Good-bye, Quit, Go Back, or whatever you want.

    “Oh, OK we’ll get back to you on that.”

    The brokerage house had a finite amount of money provided through venture capital. It had to work, on time and on budget, and it did, but it nearly drove me crazy. These were brilliant young people, and they were working mostly on stock options. There were lawyers, stock brokers, and government regulatory types, all feeding instructions to the programmers each of whom was working on their little square in the quilt.

    I came with a defense industry viewpoint, and I considered the whole thing to be totally out of control. We would slap together a test which would fail ten ways, and then twenty programmers would go off to engineer forty fixes.

    “Look”, I would tell them, “If you put a Stinger on some soldier’s shoulder and pull the trigger, you don’t get any release 1.1. You need to start making this stuff work the first time.”

    In the end, I was utterly wrong, and the geniuses pulled it all off through rapid fire trial and error.

    It was fascinating and terrifying, because millions of other people’s money was at stake, and even more money would depend on it if we ever got it off the ground. (It is up and running and it is one of the dotcoms that actually succeeded.)

    The process we used would have gotten any bureaucrat fired, and for good reason. But it worked, and surely we would have figured out well ahead of time if it was going to work but we couldn’t afford it. In which case we would have pulled the plug, or the investors would have.

    It is hard for me to believe VDOT got this far into the system before they decided they couldn’t afford to deploy it. Yet, I understand how it could happen.

    Maybe they would have been better off to go for the 80% solution knowing they couldn’t solve all the problems and going for the low hanging fruit. But the problem is that in the political arena we have a competititve system based on a winner take all strategy. As a result, any partial failure (even if it was a planned ommission) becomes cannon fodder for an all out war.

    VDOT isn’t perfect, and it never will be. That doesn’t mean we can’t expect continuous and incremental improvement.

    It also doesn’t mean that we can shut them off entirely until they reach business process nirvana.

  16. Guy Barry Avatar

    Got to get the business process right,by doing that none is going to get shut out

  17. Larry Gross Avatar
    Larry Gross

    “So, once you actually have software that supports your business prcesses, then your processes are cast in stone and you can’t ever change anything because the computer and code won’t allow it.”

    not if you do the design correctly. Like a car or many other products – you can design them with little
    thought of maintenance and changes or you can design them explicitly to enable change easily.

    That’s the difference between a team of “coders” and a professional software development team.

    You’ll see the former in many organizations that have converted one of their own.. to be a “programmer” – the thinking that if someone can say.. design an interchange.. .then surely they can write a few lines of code. NOT!

    You’ll also see the former in many contractor operations because the last thing they want is for the company they’re writing the code for – to have another company look at it… with an eye towards getting it done cheaper.

    The same thing.. by the way, is done, “in-house” as a way of assuring job security.

    To this day.. many folks still think that terms like “Software Engineering” are like calling a dozer operator at a landfill – a Waste Management Engineer (and I’m not dissing the later occupation either because – in fact there ARE Waste Management Engineers – but they do a WHOLE lot more than running a dozer just like a Software Engineer does a LOT more than write lines of code.

    The problem is… that in an organization like VDOT – they have no CIO – Chief Information Office whose entire job is this realm… and whose office is staffed by professionals whose job is to sign off on all VDOT Info Technology.

    Had they had that function… they would have NEVER designed an electronic tolling capability that was proprietary and not interoperable with EZ-Pass.

    When you see VDOT do this kind of thing – and then you hear that they are over budget and way late on something like automating Asset Management… let’s just say … when you are an employer of 9000+ employees and you are spending 3+ Billion dollars a year – of taxpayer money – that you ARE, in fact, in the big leagues and there is a justified expectation that you perform your mission – to the satisfaction of your shareholders.

    I do AGREE that VDOT has been and continues to be a victim of politics – but in my view – they themselves are at least partially responsible – because people don’t trust them. Their reputation – has .. been damaged.

    And that is because of the serious business-process flaws documented by JLARC and the Public Auditor – that they have chosen to not confront in the Public Realm in terms of step-by-step responses and a roadmap forward on the things they might agree need to be done.

    They treat these things like they are internal issues – not connected in any way with the publics perception and trust of them to perform their mission effectively.

    VDOT, in my view, in still in the business of trying to do “end runs” around issues that that they should be confronting head-on. Shucet knew this. That is why he initiated the Dashboard – and from what I understand, it was a very bruising… process inside of VDOT.

  18. Larry Gross Avatar
    Larry Gross

    Folks do know, I assume, that the VDOT District offices and their territories/boundaries were determined by 1922 Congressional district boundaries.

    Think about what this means in a world of MPOs and the Golden Crescent growth corridor.

    The Feds gave MPOs the right to decide priorities for their Region but few folks know that this is a joke for the smaller MPOs because VDOT … CONTROLS the funding for those projects.

    The Feds also require the MPO TIP/CLRP (build and plan lists) to be financially-constrained – which means you cannot have more projects than you have identified funding for.

    But did folks know…that ..

    An MPO can set up a TIP (6yr construction plan) and VDOT can – and does – decide what they will fund and what they will not fund.

    So – in reality – VDOT CONTROLS the process and indirectly (but effectively) controls priorities.

    This has caused mayhem in several MPOs throughout Virginia.

    JLARC specifically called for a clear boundary between VDOT’s authority and MPO authority and to let the MPOs do what they were intended to do.

    This is not some sort of radical idea. MPOs exist nationwide and function as they should in many states.

    But not in Va – where – for instance – the service area of an MPO can extend ACROSS VDOT’s district office boundaries.

    Imagine… from a business process point of view how this situation “works”. (It doesn’t)

    What has been done about it? What does VDOT think should be done about it?

    on.. and on.. major issues… about business processes .. are not being addressed …and instead…the dialogue is all about the “money”.

  19. Larry Gross Avatar
    Larry Gross

    re: “The program your link pointed to ended in 2004. What is happening now?”

    .. not only that… but WHERE on the VDOT website is the Status Info for this?

    Also… “deficient bridges”

    The most obvious question is WHY this information did not come from VDOT to begin with?
    Isn’t VDOT responsible for cradle-to-grave care of the bridges and wouldn’t that include
    maintaining up-to-date info on their condition?

    From the JLARC report that was referenced:

    “In November 2000, the Joint Legislative Audit and Review Commission
    (JLARC) directed staff to undertake a review of the adequacy and efficiency of
    the highway maintenance program provided by VDOT. Concerns were raised by
    the Commission regarding the organization, management, and operations of
    VDOT’s highway maintenance program. Specifically, those concerns focused on
    the department’s prioritization of funding for the maintenance program,
    management of the program, and VDOT’s development of an asset management
    strategy for highway maintenance.”

    .. okay.. it’s 2006 – what is the status of the agreed-on improvements?

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