PennDOT is taking a leading role nationally in advancing e-Construction and Partnering (eCP), one of the Every Day Counts (EDC) program innovations set by the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA). To support this EDC Round 4 innovation, FHWA and PennDOT co-hosted a workshop in Pittsburgh in spring 2019 that drew more than 200 individuals from 28 states.
Workshop presentations focused on three tracks: innovation, technology, and collaboration. Presenters included representatives from several state DOTs, product vendors, and consultants. Presentations highlighted case studies and best practices related to specific technological tools and mobile applications; use of technology to improve data collection, project management and processes; and the use of construction partnering throughout the life of a transportation project.
Since 2013, PennDOT has developed and release eight mobile construction apps and two more are in development. The goals of the mobile construction program are to provide tools that increase field staff productivity, transform processes through efficient technology, and improve data collection and reporting. These mobile apps and other improvements have cost between $18 million to $19 million to develop, but the team calculates a productivity savings of more than $80 million across all users.
John Myler, assistant construction manager in PennDOT's District 11-based in Allegheny County, reviewed progress at a recent Pennsylvania State Transportation Innovation Council (STIC) business meeting; the STIC helps champion EDC innovations such as eCP. He told the gathering that his team is working on e-Ticketing 2.0, the evolution of using electronic tickets. Currently, e-tickets are used for asphalt, and District 11 is piloting the use of e-tickets for concrete and aggregate loads as well.
The improvements are much more than merely replacing paper with technology, Myler said.
"We are creating living documents," he said. "The information we are capturing is not just information from paper but data that can be used for all sorts of analysis. We can look at how materials are performing over time and over companies. We can see where we are having success and not doing so well. This is information we never had before, and now we are capturing it every day."
Even more so, Myler noted, these advances are demonstrating that PennDOT is a cutting-edge agency where careers can be built for the long term.
"With our future employees coming out of school, they are very familiar with these technologies," he said. "We have interns who are very impressed when we hand then an iPad and show them the tools we have developed within PennDOT. That helps us in the challenge to find new employees and puts us a step ahead of a lot of other groups. It tells them we are not the Titanic that cannot turn around. We are accepting and developing new technologies."
The team is also exploring ways that data captured by these construction apps can be stored and made available for maintenance crews. Radio-frequency identification (RFID) tags are another technology on PennDOT's radar. These tags can be used to track materials and assets, and they store information about each item that can be referenced when the asset needs future maintenance. PennDOT also is beginning to expand access to these applications to contractors and make the apps functional for both PennDOT staff and contractors.
Associated Pennsylvania Constructors (APC) received 2018 FHWA STIC Incentive Program funding to study the level of workforce preparedness for implementation of eCP across Pennsylvania. More than 200 people participated in the study. Bob Latham, APC executive vice president, reviewed the results at a recent STIC business meeting.
Most respondents had at least heard of e-Constriction technology. However, less than half use e-Construction technology on a regular basis. Only one in five respondents is using mobile technology for "job-specific applications" as opposed to simply reviewing documents and web searching. Respondents felt the top benefits are increased efficiency and ability to share real-time information. Top obstacles were training and app accessibility. Respondents identified a centralized access point for the apps, online training and statewide guidance and standards as the most desired support tools.
Most respondents had heard of and/or participated in Partnering. They said benefits included increased communications, transparency and efficiency. Less than half of respondents noted reduced costs as a benefit. Time needed to build consensus was noted as the top obstacle. Respondents felt statewide guidance and in-person training were the top support tools needed.
Looking ahead, APC staff said there was a general sense of interest in paperless, efficient processes, but there is a need for greater awareness, training, and encouragement and support. The next goal is a strategic plan for eCP implementation tied in with PennDOT's "Planless by 2025" effort.
Phil Petrina, mobile program manager in PennDOT's Bureau of Information Systems, said his team has developed 22 apps for PennDOT's use. They focus on short timeframes to release a product in portions as soon as possible. This allows the team to adapt quickly to needs and challenges and find problems sooner. Petrina's team also engages in focus groups to gain feedback from users.
"Currently, we are meeting with aggregate suppliers to gather detailed requirements around the bill of lading for trucks leaving the plant," Petrina said. "Our goal is to see how we can automate and digitize the ticket process and receipt of said materials at the job site."
Editor's note: Much of the information in this article comes from Carrie Machuga with McCormick Taylor, who prepared a report on this topic based on the July 2019 business meeting of the State Transportation Innovation Council.