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Maintenance and Roadway Operations Workshop Highlights New Asset Management Techniques, Technologies

By: 
Bill Cramer

Jeff Heilstedt, Vice President at AECOM, and Eric Hemphill, Director of System and Incident Management with the North Texas Tollway Authority, are Co-Chief Meeting Organizers for IBTTA’s Maintenance and Roadway Operations Workshop, May 21-23, 2017 in New Orleans. In this interview with Tolling Points, they talk about the technology opportunities and the safety and security issues that are bringing new dimensions to the work of roadway maintenance teams.

What are the most important innovations in maintenance and roadway operations since last year’s workshop?

JH: We’re seeing an even greater focus on comprehensive asset management of roadways. Over the last 12 months, we’ve seen many more toll agencies setting procedures, not only to do their annual, biennial, or triennial asset inspections, but to develop comprehensive maintenance and replacement programs to maximize the useful life of their assets.

If you can spend some money now and prolong the life of an asset by several years, that makes a lot of sense, just for the value of money and the increased useful life of the asset. That’s particularly important for tollways, because their ability to create revenue depends on keeping their assets in a state of good repair. At the extreme, if an agency didn’t pay attention to maintenance, it could jeopardize its ability maintain safe roads, collect tolls and remain true to its bondholders.

EH: Cybersecurity is very important today, and it affects your day-to-day maintenance and roadway operations out in the field, but we’re also seeing new opportunities, from connected vehicles to using new technologies for structural monitoring. We also have a conference track that will bring us the latest and greatest in employee safety, with a presentation from Italy this year that highlights what’s most important—the actual people on the roadway getting home safely each night.

Through the lens of asset management practices five years ago, what’s the most unexpected item on this year’s workshop agenda?

EH: Five years ago, drones were just some piece of technology that everybody thought was cool, just because they could go up 100 feet and take a picture of their roof. Now, LIDAR and structural inspections are saving agencies time and money, sometimes by gathering more information than the human eye can see. The technology is definitely accelerating as a tool to streamline processes, improve data gathering, and keep some employees out of harm’s way: Let the drone go in and do the dirty work.

JH: I’m looking forward to the session on threat and security assessment of maintenance operations. You always want to take a proactive approach to making sure your assets are resilient against outages, whether they’re climate-related or man-made. We’re seeing the need for annual maintenance and operations budgets to fund enhancements that help agencies anticipate a range of threats, whether that’s by increasing the drainage to absorb a larger storm, or having multiple utility entrance points into a building so that one well-placed “event” does not cut off all communication or power to an agency’s buildings. It’s a relatively new focus for DOTs and toll agencies.

How can the New Orleans experience with Hurricane Katrina deliver insights and lessons learned for tolling agencies?

EH: Unfortunately, they had to go through a major catastrophe. Along the way, they learned many lessons they can share with the rest of us before we learn them the hard way. Every agency always thinks it’s planning for every contingency. But when you can talk to a group that has been through the worst, you can figure out what you’re missing by discussing what went right, and what went wrong.

JH: Our opening speaker is the Secretary of the Louisiana DOTD, and we’re hoping he’ll touch on the changes they had to make in the way they think about how to build roadways, build tollways, build bridges, to accommodate the storm surges and increased frequency of hurricanes and the devastation that can occur. It’s not just building more levees and protecting the shoreline. It’s a comprehensive approach to the reconstruction of everything, even inland.

Business networking is one of the main purposes of every IBTTA event. What do maintenance and operations personnel get out of the informal conversations at this annual workshop?

JH: A conference speaker only has 15 or 20 minutes on the podium, and they really can’t give you all the information they might want to. But listening to the speaker gives you an idea of their expertise, so you can then follow up with them, either at the conference or weeks down the road. The other great thing about this conference is that maintenance and operations people and agency executives can get together and compare notes on how they handled a situation. The presentations give you a taste of the issue, then you can talk to other agencies about mutual concerns.

What else are you most looking forward to at this workshop?

EH: Our annual service project on Sunday, May 21, is at the Bastion Veterans Community, an intentionally designed neighborhood for returning warriors and families with lifelong rehabilitative needs. If you haven’t been a part of IBTTA’s community service projects in the past, it’s an awesome experience, just a great opportunity to go out and give back to the community that hosts the conference. You don’t need any specialized skills, and you will walk away knowing that you’ve helped build something to benefit others.

Register today for IBTTA’s Maintenance and Roadway Operations Workshop, May 21-23, 2017 in New Orleans, LA.