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21st Century Operations Using 21st Century Technologies

Applying Transportation Asset Management to Intelligent Transportation Systems Assets: A Primer

ChapterĀ 3. Asset Identification

A well-developed asset inventory (i.e., what do we have?) provides a basis for setting performance targets, allocating resources, and monitoring progress towards achieving objectives. Although an improved asset inventory for ITS assets is a desirable outcome to inform decisionmaking, collecting, maintaining, and managing an asset inventory can be expensive. Before undertaking inventory process enhancements and/or investing additional funds in data capture, agencies should understand what information is important for both current and future asset management decisions.

FHWA TAMP Element: Summary Listing of Assets (23 CFR 515.9(b)-(c) and (d)(3))

Asset identification aligns directly with one of the critical eight elements of a TAMP, a listing or an inventory of the agency’s key assets. Although ITS assets are not currently required in a TAMP, many agencies desire to have an inventory of all assets within the right-of-way corridor. ITS devices are increasingly being identified as critical assets to the successful operation and safety of the agency’s infrastructure. Knowing and understanding the status and condition of these assets will allow the agency to make informed decisions about lifecycle planning and investment prioritization. Further, agencies should pay close attention to the type of data they are collecting and tracking against their assets. Tracking too little information will not provide the necessary value to make informed decisions, while tracking too much information results in unnecessary costs and unused data.

When making decisions about asset identification, it is important to consider the following ideas:

  • Asset Definition—What to define/consider as assets?
  • Asset Attributes and Hierarchy—What information should be collected for these assets?
  • Inventory Management—How will the agency collect and manage asset information so that it remains accurate and reliable?

With all these ideas, it is important to consider how the data supports the agency’s decisionmaking relative to its overarching asset management goals, objectives, and performance targets.

Asset Definition

As defined in 23 CFR 515.5, “asset” means:

[A]ll physical highway infrastructure located within the right-of-way corridor of a highway. The term asset includes all components necessary for the operation of a highway including pavements, highway bridges, tunnels, signs, ancillary structures, and other physical components of a highway.

This definition focuses on physical assets and all components necessary for the operation of a highway. However, with regard to ITS, asset-management-related factors beyond the physical features and functionality of the ITS assets should be considered. For example, if all the components of a set of ITS devices at an intersection or collective site are in good physical condition, they may not function as designed because of old controller software or poor physical condition of a supporting asset. These items are critical for maintaining safety and mobility and their condition should be monitored carefully. Agencies should carefully consider including these types of items when adopting ITS asset management.

Most agencies categorize ITS assets separately from traffic signals for several factors such as asset ownership, varying maintenance and operational responsibilities, liability concerns specific to traffic signals, and for the capabilities of recording and managing asset information. While not as common, some agencies include ITS assets and traffic signals in one asset class, especially smaller agencies with fewer assets. Currently, agencies collect a variety of information, from geographic coordinates, conditions, serial numbers, and age to energy consumption, condition of structural support, and driving/work time associated with asset work orders.

Asset Attributes and Hierarchy

Currently, there is no FHWA guidance defining what assets are specifically considered ITS assets, and typically each agency determines what constitutes an ITS asset, as well as to what level of detail it will track asset data. Table 2 outlines some typical ITS assets along with common attributes. This list provides an initial snapshot of what agencies are starting to track for ITS assets. The language used in table 2 is an example.

Table 2. Common intelligent transportation systems assets and attributes.
ITS Cabinets
  • Type.
  • List of Associated Devices.
Field Communication Network
Junction Box
  • Type.
  • Size.
  • Manufacturer.
  • Software (version, firmware).
Closed-Circuit Television (CCTV) Systems
  • Type.
  • Active Date.
  • Software (version, firmware).
Road Weather Information System (RWIS)
  • Type.
  • Active Date.
  • Software (version, firmware).
Dynamic Message Signs (DMS)
  • Type.
  • Active Date.
  • Software (version, firmware).
Smart Warning Devices
  • Type.
  • Active Date.
  • Software (version, firmware).
Sensor Systems
  • Type.
  • Active Date.
  • Software (version, firmware).
Central Control System
  • Manufacturer.
  • Software (version, firmware).
ITS Asset Structure (varies)
  • Pole/Structure Type.
  • Pole/Structure Style.
  • Pole/Structure Base Type.
  • Pole/Structure Length/Height.

National Cooperative Highway Research Program (NCHRP) 08-36, Task 114: Transportation Asset Management for Ancillary Assets identifies ancillary asset inventory needs at an enterprise level and asset-specific level (Rose et al. 2014). At an enterprise level, knowledge of the complete asset inventory is recommended along with an understanding of interactions with other asset classes and the relationship of the asset class to overall safety, mobility, and asset performance. At the asset level, inspection and condition assessments, performance metrics, lifecycle management plans and practices, asset priorities, and decision support are all valuable. Further, an asset class and/or an asset subgroup level view of assets can provide powerful insights for addressing, maintaining, and managing a collection of assets. Figure 2 illustrates this framework.

A diagram illustrating the four levels of asset inventory definitions framework.

Figure 2. Diagram. Asset inventory definitions framework.
(Source: FHWA.)

Agencies should identify a clear set of baseline data necessary for ITS asset management planning. Numerous agencies are just beginning to build out databases and lack a precise understanding of what information will aid future decisions. Agencies should follow an iterative approach when it comes to identifying the type of data to collect for ITS assets.

The first decision is what ITS assets should be tracked and to what level of detail.

Relevant definitions from 23 CFR 515.5, are:

Asset class means assets with the same characteristics and function (e.g., bridges, culverts, tunnels, pavements, or guardrail) that are a subset of a group or collection of assets that serve a common function (e.g., roadway system, safety, intelligent transportation (IT), signs or lighting).

Asset sub-group means a specialized group of assets within an asset class with the same characteristics and function (e.g., concrete pavements or asphalt pavements).

State and local agencies using these definitions have flexibility to categorize their ITS assets. Although agencies may group their assets along traditional functions (e.g., ITS devices, traffic signals), they can also group assets with other assets that serve a broader function (e.g., intersections). Many agencies start by tracking the ITS device, while other agencies have begun tracking the individual asset components that make up the ITS device. Once an agency identifies which ITS assets it will start tracking, it then identifies the attributes as well as any components to track. Figure 3 illustrates one such example, for an RWIS.

Two side by side illustrations of an intelligent transportation system (ITS) device.

Figure 3. Rendering. Sample intelligent transportation systems device level of detail (road weather information system).
(Source: FHWA.)

Two side by side illustrations of an intelligent transportation system (ITS) device. The first has the entire device labeled as one asset: ITS Asset. The second is the same image with individual labels for each ITS component of the device: wind sensor, camera, radiation sensor, precipitation sensor, visibility sensor, temperature dewpoint sensor, and snow depth sensor.

Level of detail is linked to decisionmaking needs. Long-term needs can be calculated based on the expected life of a set of ITS devices. However, components of an ITS device have differing useful lives (for example, the mast pole might have a useful life of 40 years, but the technology device (e.g., camera, sensor) itself may become obsolete or fail after 20 years). If agencies require component-level information, they can also stage the development of this detail. The focus may start on assets that require periodic maintenance and replacement, which can be planned. If the component replacement is reactive and not planned, requiring a decision about when to intervene, then further asset information is likely to be less critical.

Asset Hierarchy Framework—Oregon Department of Transportation

Oregon DOT’s inventory highlights the importance of location in its asset inventory, for both ITS assets and traffic signals—capturing the location, asset class, and asset subgroups. At the highest level of its asset hierarchy, Oregon DOT has ITS cabinets and traffic signals, and then breaks those assets down to lower level assets and components.

Oregon DOT reviews its data regularly and is cognizant of what it is tracking and how the data are being used. The agency is reviewing what lower level ITS components should and should not be tracked, as the agency does not want its technicians to get bogged down tracking information that is not necessary. Further, Oregon DOT does track serial numbers for critical components, primarily for warranty management.

Asset Inventory Management

Asset inventories should include a procedure for collecting, processing, and updating inventory and condition data. Having a comprehensive, up-to-date asset inventory supports decisionmaking, performance target tracking, lifecycle modeling, projecting funding needs, and allocating funds; however, maintaining a comprehensive inventory of ITS assets can be a challenge. Because ITS assets often have short design lives, agencies frequently approach them with the mindset that they will be used until they become obsolete or are no longer functioning as originally intended rather than carefully managed over their entire lifecycle, although this trend is beginning to change as many agencies have identified the importance of this asset.

Asset Attribute Collection—Utah DOT

The Utah DOT TAMP outlines a data-driven, performance-based approach to allocate transportation funds to manage its pavements, bridges, advanced traffic management systems (or as referred to in this guide, ITS), and signal devices. The Utah DOT Asset Advisory Committee/Performance Management Group developed a tiered system to prioritize the most valuable assets and those with the highest risk to system operation. To achieve its safety and mobility strategic goals, Utah DOT included ITS devices and traffic signals in the highest tier for management (alongside pavements and bridges). Its highest tier is “performance-based management,” which requires accurate data collection, performance target setting and tracking, predictive modeling and risk analysis, and dedicated funding.

When ITS assets and traffic signals were added as a tier 1 asset in 2016, Utah DOT needed to ensure that the right data were collected at the right time. Utah DOT understood the importance of having a good management system and, more notably, the importance of having buy-in across the agency and a solid implementation plan for data collection. Utah DOT identified four critical factors for implementing a data collection framework:

  1. Limit the number of assets and attributes being tracked (i.e., focus on the actual assets and data to collect—not collecting data for the sake of collecting data).
  2. Use a robust work order management system (either as part of a comprehensive management system or a system that interfaces directly).
  3. Ensure staff understand the purpose behind the data collection.
  4. Make the hardware for data collection mobile.

These four steps are applicable throughout the Utah DOT data collecting lifecycle of the asset (inventory data, work management data, condition data). Utah DOT noted the importance of taking baby steps. For ITS assets, to ease into implementation, the agency first identified four key attributes it wanted to collect: type, key components of that device, manufacturer, and model. Utah DOT worked with its technicians to convey the need for the information and provide training. The technicians then went to the field and started tracking this information and populating work orders. After about three months, Utah DOT met with the technicians to see how the process was going and identify any problems. Utah DOT then incorporated this feedback, updated the system and/or process as needed, and provided additional training. Utah DOT has continued to expand upon this approach for ITS assets and traffic signals since 2016. The feedback from the technicians helps the agency pinpoint what data and information it wants to collect on its assets.

(Source: Utah Department of Transportation 2019.)

Key Actions

Agencies can adopt or improve upon several key actions when implementing asset identification for ITS assets.

Define and Collect Asset Attributes for Intelligent Transportation Systems Assets

Agencies should clearly define what information they are tracking against their assets and why they are tracking that information. Many factors may affect attribute collection, including institutional practice, location, safety, and operational criticality.

Key Steps:

  • Similar to what is being tracked for other assets within the agency, an agency should begin collecting basic attributes like name, manufacturer, and install date as well as some attributes that are specific to ITS assets. Having a clear list of these attributes will make it easier to explain to employees why certain information is being collected and to aid employees in asset collection and adoption. Further, this list can easily be shared with contractors when onboarding new assets.
  • Add attribute data collection incrementally by introducing new types of attributes over time and/or through a phased approach. The agency should closely monitor how the data are being collected, when they are being collected, and then obtain feedback from employees while both collecting and using the data. Based on these findings, the agency can adjust its processes around these attributes and begin to introduce additional attributes, if applicable.

Define and Collect Asset Attributes for Intelligent Transportation Systems Components

Agencies should also define the level of detail they are collecting. This can be done by developing an asset hierarchy, a framework illustrating the relationship between assets and components.

Key Steps:

  • Identify the most critical components of the ITS device. What components are failing the most or what components are regularly being worked on? Start by identifying these components, and this will become the second layer of the hierarchy for the ITS device. Table 2 provides a list of common components.
  • Begin collecting a modified list of attributes for these second-level components. As the data are being collected, identify additional components or subcomponents. This will serve as the foundation for the agency’s ITS device hierarchy.