Thinking differently - transportation asset management ramps up at Iowa DOT

TAMlogoDOT.fwThe Iowa DOT manages more than 9,400 miles of state-owned highways and ramps and nearly 4,200 bridges. Maintaining Iowa’s transportation system requires constant analysis and review of our investments to make sure we are able to keep travelers and freight moving smoothly throughout our state. Effective management of our transportation assets is a key focus area for the Iowa DOT.


What is transportation asset management?

Transportation asset management is all about making the right investments at the right time in order to get the maximum life from our transportation network at the least cost. 

The term “asset management” has been around for a long time, but only in the past 15 years has it been something we talk about in relation to the transportation network managed by state DOTs. Nationally we refer to what we do as transportation asset management or TAM to provide distinction from “asset management” which may be confused with banking or financial investments.

Transportation asset versus a transportation resource

NE-Iowa-Fall-005For the Iowa DOT, a group studying transportation asset management is developing a transportation asset management plan (TAMP) that will initially focus on highways and bridges. Other items along the road, such as signs, lighting, etc. are also considered transportation assets. Some of these may be added to the TAMP in the future.

There are also other items that support the transportation system, but aren’t actually a part of that system, such as DOT facilities, vehicles, equipment and employees. The TAM group has determined these things (and others) to be transportation resources,not transportation assets. While it is critical that these resources are managed efficiently and effectively, they are not considered a transportation asset.

Why should I care?

Transportation asset management helps the Iowa DOT stretch limited transportation funding, while keeping the roadways in the best overall condition. Matt Haubrich from the DOT’s Performance and Technology Division said, “These transportation asset management principles will help the DOT make the smartest choices with the money available, ensuring customer’s dollars are being put to the best and most effective use.”

A shift in thinking

In the past, many DOTs, including here in Iowa, have operated on a “worst first” approach. That means that the structures in the worst shape were fixed first. That approach seemed to work fine for many years. However, waiting to fix a road or bridge until its repair needs are significant, cost much more and typically the repairs don’t last or perform as well.

At the core of TAM is a renewed focus on preserving and modernizing our existing assets. The goal of transportation asset management is not only to extend the useful life of assets but also to manage them in a more cost effective way. While transportation asset management is a good practice for lean times, it is a smart practice anytime.

The principles are really no different than those used to manage your personal assets. Haubrich explained, “For example, you have two cars in your garage. One is 10 years old and one is two years old. You can only afford an oil change on one of the cars. Most people would protect the investment in the newer car rather than putting more money into the older car.”

How is the DOT putting transportation asset management into action?

The Iowa DOT has created an implementation team that meets monthly to determine the department’s transportation asset management strategy and develop the TAM plan for the department. The plan is expected to be completed by the fall of 2015.

The goal is to have everyone working with Iowa’s transportation system thinking differently.

Transportation Asset Management (TAM) 101

Transportation asset management represents a strategic approach to managing our transportation infrastructure. Our goal is to create a comprehensive, proactive, and long-term plan that includes:

  • building, preserving, operating, and reinvesting in assets more cost-effectively with improved performance.
  • delivering the best value for the dollar spent.
  • enhancing the Iowa DOT’s credibility and accountability in its stewardship of transportation assets.

What’s next?

Over the next year, the Transportation Matters for Iowa blog will continue to follow the progress of the TAM process and tell you more about key elements of asset management including answering questions like:

  • How do we know what assets we have and what condition they are in?
  • How do we plan for future maintenance needs?
  • How do we put a value on our assets?
  • Where does the money come from?
  • How do we determine how much to spend and on what to spend it?

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