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37 The "desired state" for most highway agencies in regard to Areas for Improvement railroad project agreements could be summarized in the fol- lowing considerations: The best practices ranked by the highway agencies and rail- roads obviously provide opportunities for improvement in · Timeliness. Exasperated pleas for timely reviews, timely the highwayrailroad project agreement process. Any agency that has not adopted a full array of the best practices is likely responses, timely meetings, and timely decisions are the most to improve its agreement process by doing so. common requests from highway agencies consulted for Although the cited best practices are proven tactics, they do this study. In their desired state, firm and predictable time not completely make up a strategic and methodical approach to frames would exist for when they could expect responses the agreement process. The adoption of process-improvement on requests, reviews, and agreements. models has been become standard in many professional fields · Reliability. Consistent information is desired about what and can be drawn on for improving the highwayrailroad railroads want in terms of right-of-way widths, construction agreement process as well. Four common frameworks for windows, vertical and lateral clearances, and other such process-improvement are summarized below. The intent is basic design and construction detail. The railroads have pro- to illustrate that many disciplines have elevated process- duced a substantial number of standard drawings, which improvement to a systematic framework that continuously are consistently used. However, the differences in terrain, improves the process outcome. Drawing on these frameworks elevation, curvature, geometry, and available rights-of-way provides models that could be adopted or modified for the create the need for exceptions to the standard drawings. railroadhighway agreement processes. Knowing promptly and consistently what the long-term track and right-of-way needs of railroads are at specific proj- ect locations is frequently cited as a highly desired outcome. Project Management Institute · Reasonable insurance limits. Railroads have increased The ongoing development of highway and railroad project their insurance requirements above the federal minimum agreements bears attributes to the disciplines of project man- levels. The current federal levels include $2 million for agement and process management. Project management has general liability and $6 million for Railroad Protective been defined as "the application of knowledge, skills, tools and Liability Insurance. However, highway agencies report techniques to project activities to meet project requirements" frequent insistence of insurance for $25 million or more (22). Projects have been defined as temporary undertakings for projects in urbanized areas. Such limits can be allowed that result in a distinct product. The ongoing management of under federal rules with justification. Consistent, reasonable collections of projects has been defined as program or port- justification for high levels has often been requested by the folio management (22). Project and program management highway agencies, as well as flexibility for lesser amounts for have developed their own professional standards of conduct, minor projects. best practices, and even ethical behavior. Professional study · Predictable force account timelines. Railroad forces are and training in project and program management can be generally required by union contract to perform any work obtained from the Project Management Institute, through needed on the railroad right-of-way as a result of changes various professional organizations, and trade associations. caused by a highway project. Highway agencies have com- The collective body of knowledge acquired by these groups plained about contractor delay if the railroad is not prompt provides analogous lessons that the highway agencies can and reliable. The agencies desire assurances as to force apply to their interactions with the railroads. The Project account time frames. Management Institute categorizes sound project and program · Availability. Having a reliable and empowered point of con- management as requiring the following general skills: tact who can provide dependable information--particularly early in the design process--has been repeatedly cited by · Knowledge of basic project management tools, such as highway agencies as a highly desired condition. critical path scheduling; · Collaboration on simple at-grade crossing rehabilita- · Subject matter expertise in the specialty area, such as railroad tion projects. Having a simple "cookie-cutter" approach operations; to rehabilitating at-grade crossings--with simple standard · Understanding of the project environment, such as the agreements and schedules--has been cited as a desirable attitudes within highway agencies and railroads; practice. · General management skills; and · Reasonable right-of-way pricing. Having reasonable nego- · Interpersonal and communication skills. tiated costs for rights-of-way is sought. This may include faster mediation and an improved process for appraising Although volumes of materials are produced on sound proj- values. ect and program management, several of the key strategies from
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38 those disciplines are particularly relevant to the highway frameworks for managing processes. These voluntary stan- railroad agreement process. These include the following: dards are developed by more than 200 technical committees with membership from more than 150 companies. "ISO · Clearly identifying stakeholders in the approval process Certified" means that an organization has been evaluated and identifying what their requirements are; and its processes comply with these internationally recognized · Clearly identifying cost, scope, and schedule for all deliv- processes for quality assurance. erables and sharing them with the stakeholders; DOTs in Illinois, Pennsylvania, and Florida have adopted · Monitoring performance of the schedules and deliverables; the ISO framework for several core business processes. The · Creating analysis or feedback processes so that stakehold- Florida and Pennsylvania DOTs rely on the ISO process to ers examine underlying causes for not meeting standards ensure their materials testing processes are sound. Illinois has of scope, cost, and schedule; and used ISO processes for project management and other man- · Adopting a "continuous improvement" ethos in which both agerial functions. parties agree to continue innovating until they regularly Like the other systems considered here, ISO provides a achieve their shared customer requirements. strategic managerial system that can be applied to processes for managing almost anything, including project agreements. Its principles include the following: Six Sigma Six Sigma is a widely used process-improvement framework · Customer focus. The organization begins with an under- that relies on continuous analysis of process defects. When a standing of its customers' needs and focuses all subsequent component or process fails to meet its desired specifications, it activities toward meeting them. is analyzed for root causes of failure, which are then addressed. · Involvement of people. The organization actively engages Six Sigma began at Motorola in the 1980s. Engineers deter- all process participants to contribute to solutions. mined they could dramatically reduce manufacturing defects · Process approach. Internal processes are reconfigured to by carefully controlling production processes. They aimed achieve desired results. for a virtually error-free manufacturing process that sought · Systems approach to management. Interrelated processes a 99.9997% success rate in producing products that met are viewed as parts of a system and as such must operate in specifications. complementary and mutually supportive ways. Six Sigma is expressed in statistical terms and appeals to per- · Continuous improvement. Continuous improvement of sons with a statistical or engineering background. Its concepts the organization's performance is a permanent objective. rely heavily on the "continuous improvement" and "insti- · Fact-driven decision making. Basing decisions on data tutional learning" practices of other process-improvement and analysis is a key corporate attribute. systems. It trains a workforce in how to statistically and · Mutually beneficial supplier relationship. Producers and methodically evaluate the cause of defects and then to contin- suppliers rely on one another and should have a relation uously improve production processes until they are virtually that increases value for both of them. eliminated. It combines quantified analysis of results with workflow Partnering process-improvement techniques. It is widely accepted in manufacturing sectors, and it contains many elements that Program Management, Six Sigma, and ISO are applicable for would be relevant to the interactions of highway and railroad recurring projects or programs. They are less applicable for organizations. If the "product" is defined as a review or agree- cities or counties that only occasionally interact with the rail- ment that is to be approved within a given time frame, the roads. In the case of a small city, it may only pursue a com- tracking of agreements that fail to meet "specifications" pro- plex railroad project once in a decade. vides both parties with data for root-cause analysis of process Another strategy that can be applicable to a stand-alone proj- failure. Six Sigma trains practitioners to categorize the defects ect as well as to ongoing programs is the "partnering" process. and to determine their root causes, and then to correct those This process was first articulated by the U.S. Army Corps of root causes. Engineers in addressing its large civil works projects. It also has been encouraged by FHWA, some state DOTs, and their asso- ciated contracting companies. In partnering, both parties ISO Founded in 1947, the International Organization for Standard- · Define what a successful outcome would be; ization (ISO) has produced more than 17,000 international · Formally agree that each wants to assist the other in achiev- standards, which include quality-control and quality-assurance ing this common success;
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39 · Develop a level of service agreement that spells out what each · Adopt formal concurrence points that both parties moni- expects from the other in terms of service and timeliness; tor for progress on the project. · Identify escalation paths for each to follow when problems · Provide dedicated personnel to focus on reviews and cannot be resolved at the lowest level; agreements. · Identify a dispute resolution path for when escalation fails; · Hold preconstruction meetings so that the contractors, · Agree to remain in constant communication to ensure that highway agencies, and railroads have common expectations problems are identified early and to monitor whether mile- for the construction project. stones have been achieved; and · Jointly develop standard plan notes or contract provisions · Periodically, through the course of the project, analyze what that are minimum standards of performance on the job site went right, what went wrong, and what can be learned for to ensure safety and the protection of rail operations. the future. · Schedule regular review meetings in which both sides review successes and issues. · Hire only experienced engineering firms recognized by the Strategic Framework with railroads for the development of project plans. Continuous Improvement · Adopt standard billing agreements that reduce the adminis- A major conclusion of this study to date is that a systematic, trative costs of both the railroads and the highway agencies. ongoing, continuously improving formal structure adopted · Adopt master agreements in which both parties agree to by both the highway agency and the railroad can significantly standard provisions within all projects to streamline the improve both parties' perception of the project agreement project agreement process. process. When the two institutions formalize their expecta- tions, definitions, avenues of communication, and ongoing Funded Staff Positions collaboration, a greater degree of satisfaction by both parties becomes evident. Anecdotally, it seemed clear that state offi- Another area of improvement that should be examined by cials whose processes included elements of partnering were state highway agencies is either to fund positions at railroads among the most satisfied with the agreement process. Other or to support additional task-order positions at engineering officials complained of recurring problems. The process- firms dedicated to highway reviews. WSDOT has funded a improvement frameworks of Six Sigma, ISO, PMI, and part- position at BNSF, and it reports positive results. nering are intended to identify such recurring problems and AASHTO reports that 34 state transportation agencies to focus both parties' efforts on solving them. fund positions at environmental resource agencies (23). These positions are dedicated to processing permits and conduct- ing reviews for the highway agencies. The practice began in Data Needs the 1990s and accelerated after the Transportation Equity All these process-improvement frameworks rely on data. With- Act for the 21st Century (TEA-21) was enacted in 1998. Sec- out data, formal root-cause analysis is weakened. Having tion 1309(e) of TEA-21 gave DOTs the option to spend federal- project-tracking systems are an essential component of aid highway dollars to fund positions at other agencies in order improving the project agreement process. to meet cooperatively determined time frames, if such amounts are "necessary . . . to meet the time limits for environmental review" and "if such time limits are less than the customary Tactical Improvements time necessary for such review." Even if adopting a strategic framework seems impractical to This authority was extended and broadened in 2005 with the highway and railroad officials, the best practices cited by the enactment of the Safe, Accountable, Flexible, Efficient Trans- states and railroads offer clear areas for agencies to improve portation Equity Act: A Legacy for Users (SAFETEA-LU). The their practices. The following best practices include many ele- law retained and broadened the funding authority, allow- ments of partnering and appear to be widely embraced by ing transportation agencies to support activities outside the both highway agencies and the railroads: National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) process. A survey of AASHTO members who are funding positions · Ensure ongoing and continuous communication channels at resource agencies produced a set of recommendations for between the railroad and the highway agency. this practice that are similar to some of the recommendations · Have one empowered central point of contact at the rail- made for this project. They include the following: road who can coordinate reviews. · Have one empowered point of contact at the highway agency · Devote sufficient DOT effort to prioritizing projects and to coordinate submittals. ensuring funded position attention to those priorities.