Highway maintenance

Florida field system combines an asset database with GPS data to reduce the toll of turnpike management

Road Skill: 'The photos are synced with the file system and the database, and that's the last time we have to handle them,' said Jesse Day, TEAMS data maintenance manager.

WPN photos by Josh Ritchie

On Location: Trimble Pro XR GPS device

WPN photos by Josh Ritchie

'A stitch in time saves nine,' goes the old saw. William Thorpe, chief financial officer at Florida's Turnpike Enterprise, said its new, mobile Turnpike Enterprise Asset Management System is saving millions of dollars a year simply by ensuring that data is reliable and repairs and maintenance take place on time.

'Wrong decisions are made when you have incorrect data,' Thorpe said. 'So there are inherent cost savings in the overall TEAMS development. We now have not only a complete inventory of our assets, we have an accurate inventory of our assets.'
TEAMS is an evolving collection of data collection tools and database applications. Jesse Day, TEAMS data maintenance manager, said his staff collects a variety of data about the turnpike. 'Signage is the primary target,' he said, 'but we also collect data on roadway appurtenances, things like guardrails, fences and light poles.'

Day said two-person teams are sent out to cover the entire 460 miles of the state turnpike system. They are equipped with Panasonic CF-18 pen tablet PCs and Trimble Pro XR Global Positioning System devices installed on the vehicle dashboards. A click is all it takes to get a GPS reading from the Trimble Pro XR and enter an asset automatically into the database on the tablet PC via a Bluetooth connection.

'Typically, especially during the summer, they'll just drive up to the sign and take the position, and that's close enough. No need to leave the air conditioning,' Day said. If road conditions don't permit a close approach, the position can be adjusted on-screen.

The asset database updates automatically when teams return to the office and dock their computers. The system uses Leica's ADE Remote to bring the data into Oracle Spatial.

One of the system's biggest savings, Day said, is that photographs and other data don't have to be managed manually. 'It's all automatically linked to the asset. So when we get back to the office and dock the unit, the photos are synced with the file system and the database, and that's the last time we have to handle them.'

Before the TEAMS system was implemented, the process took as long as 60 days. Now, 'I could go out and collect a sign and take 10 minutes and have that sign in production in literally a minute or two minutes,' Day said.

That quick turnaround can be especially important when natural disasters strike. 'In the event of a hurricane, we've been tasked to have those signs back up in three days,' he said. 'If the event is limited in scope, I think that's not out of the question. But if we lost all the signs in a county, I think that would be Mission Impossible.'

Disasters aside, the new system has produced savings that are significant, if difficult to fully quantify.

As an example, Day cited a contract for pressure-washing turnpike signs. TEAMS data made it possible to renegotiate the contract based on the total square footage of signs to be cleaned. 'It came out to around $700,000 a year that we were able to reduce in pressure-washing costs,' he said.

Thorpe sees other similar cost savings. 'Is there culvert pipe under the roadway at milepost 23? [In the past,] somebody would have to get in a car and drive down there,' Thorpe said. 'We think we've saved about $500,000 a year in just the time and cost it takes to answer a question.'

In addition to cost savings, TEAMS has also led to cost avoidances. Thorpe said resurfacing has traditionally been one of the most costly functions of turnpike management. And if they waited too long to resurface a road, it ended up costing even more, especially if deterioration was so bad that the road bed had to be repaired. 'If we had bad data, and we continued to make the kinds of mistakes we made 20 years ago, we would be out there resurfacing too late,' he said. 'We think [we're saving] at a minimum $10 million a year by hitting it at the right time. It could be as much as $40 million.'

Day expects even better results when he is able to use radio frequency identification for monitoring asset status and move TEAMS to a Web interface so mobile teams can update data in real time.

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