By Kyle LeBlanc, P.E.
From the December 2018 Issue
Texas is big. The Lone Star State’s size, landscape, and ever-increasing population means that its transportation system can also boast an “everything is bigger in Texas” tagline. With more than 675,000 lane miles, Texas outranks the next closest state—California—by nearly twice the amount of public roadway. Much of this sprawling infrastructure is maintained by the Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT). To support this effort, TxDOT has a network of more than 2,700 facilities that range from 100 square foot storage sheds to 10,000 square foot administrative facilities that are, on average, 30 years old.
In 2008, TxDOT implemented its “Pennies to the Pavement” initiative, a program that ensures maintenance funding goes toward roadways, the agency’s primary responsibility. While the agency’s 26 districts have found innovative ways to stretch appropriated funding and improve overall road conditions, many administrative facilities in TxDOT’s network are in dire need of repair.
“Rehabilitating or replacing the facilities that support our state’s transportation system has been one of our long-term goals,” says Warren Rose, project development branch manager of TxDOT’s Support Services Division.
To accomplish this goal, in 2015, TxDOT selected Lockwood, Andrews and Newnam, Inc. (LAN), a planning, engineering and program management firm, to perform a comprehensive statewide facility condition assessment. A challenge to begin with due to the sheer number and various locations of the facilities, this assessment also came with a quick deadline. TxDOT wanted the work to be completed within six months.
“TxDOT needed the facilities assessment report before the start of the 2016 legislative session,” says Ted Armstrong, AIA, senior associate and senior program manager at LAN. “The information generated from our work would be the basis of its budget requests for the next two years.”
Teams Work Toward Streamlined Process
Most facility condition assessments operate on a much smaller scale. The campus of a corporation’s headquarters, or an average-sized school district, for example, could have 2 to 3 million square feet of facilities spread out over a relatively small geographic area. TxDOT’s 2,700 facilities, however, have more than three times the square footage and are spread out in 251 out of the 254 counties in the state. To cover this much ground in a short period of time, LAN worked in five teams of three.
“We got to a facility, did the work, and then moved quickly on to the next site to get this done in six months,” says Armstrong. “Our team had 15 people who never saw home for long stretches of time.”
And for a facility assessment like this one, “a few pictures and some general information about the building isn’t going to do the job,” says Armstrong. To do the job well, LAN needed a comprehensive database that allowed the team to interpret and make decisions with the data. Because this was the department’s first ever comprehensive statewide facility assessment, TxDOT and LAN documented the process from start to finish. To avoid getting overwhelmed by the large project, the two parties worked together to define their goals and communicate how well they were reaching those goals.
To initiate the process, TxDOT provided LAN with facility information from a database inventory of their facilities. This initial set of information included facility names, building ID numbers, building sizes, and addresses for the large majority of the facilities in the portfolio. TxDOT also provided record data which included as-built drawings and information from an asbestos study completed in the early 1990s.
This initial set of facility information provided a strong foothold in getting started in the assessment process; having a good understanding of the facility portfolio and the extents to which the teams would need to go was essential in planning the work and the processes that needed to be followed to complete the project within the time limit.
The amount of data collected also required the team to be very careful in assuring that the data was collected, stored, reported, and interpreted in a unified and consistent manner. Before embarking on this project, any facilities information that the department had was outdated and patchwork at best, explains Armstrong. The LAN team ensured consistency by developing a quality control process and by maintaining strong communication throughout the project.
“Communication is always an important part of any project you do, but especially with this project, it was paramount,” says Armstrong. “Not only do you have to communicate with your client, but you also have to make sure that you’re communicating within your team.”
LAN used a two-fold quality control approach. First, field assessors entered information into the database. Then, a reviewer signed off after a quality control backcheck of the entire dataset associated with the buildings’ components. The information was considered final only after both steps were completed.
As data was populated for all building components observed in the field, quality control measures were applied. Information at the asset level and the system level were exported for post-processing through data review, filtering, and formulaic calculations to indicate where and when data required further review, clarification, or adjustment. The quality control process for the complete building models included review of many different parameters such as building size, replacement value per square foot, facility condition index and requirement index review, system quantity, installation date, condition rating, and unit of measure.
Future Planning For TxDOT Facilities
This comprehensive assessment database will also give TxDOT the ability to automate much of the preventive maintenance process. “We want to automate the ability not only to know when maintenance on equipment is due, but tie that cost into the asset management system so we know how much has been spent and how much still needs to be done year after year,” says Armstrong. “That’s the direction this is all headed.”
Ultimately, this comprehensive facility assessment sought to answer several questions: Are TxDOT’s facilities functional? Are they meeting the department’s needs? Are the facility locations strategically placed to serve the state’s transportation needs a decade or two in the future?
Given the age of these facilities, some of the recommended fixes are going to be expensive. With a projected $773 million needed to improve or replace existing facilities, TxDOT hopes to implement these fixes over the next decade. Because of the facility assessment, the department has a thorough understanding of existing facility needs, cost estimates, and priorities going forward. With a complete inventory of the 2,700 facilities, and the necessary work needed for each of them, TxDOT will be able to confidently plan for its future.
“Prior to the assessment, information we had about our facility inventory was limited to a basic database and printed copies of facility reports that were outdated,” says TxDOT’s Rose. “Our new approach to facility management is data-driven and happens in real time. We now have a much better understanding of our inventory and its condition. Now, we can make smart decisions about the management of TxDOT’s facilities.”
The department has moved forward in completing an initial round of projects across the state. This effort was rooted in the overall understanding of the conditions of its facilities following the facility condition assessment. Projects such as roofing replacements, interior finish renovations, mechanical, electrical, and plumbing upgrades, and site and security improvements have been performed.
Since the completion of these projects, TxDOT has made updates to the database inventory to gain an understanding of the improvements to the overall facility portfolio condition metrics. Plans to continue moving forward in using the data to prioritize and complete more projects across the state are underway.
Building On The Findings
Through additional studies on accessibility and safety, TxDOT is continuing to build upon the effort that started with the comprehensive assessment. The statewide accessibility assessment will identify accessibility issues at older facilities still in use in facility inventory. TxDOT is also conducting an arc flash study to spot potential safety concerns with electrical systems and equipment. Both studies are intended to serve decision-makers with additional data to consider in their management of facility inventory.
Other agencies are taking notice. The Texas Department of Public Safety is exploring what a comprehensive facility assessment would look like for its department. The scale of this process would be comparable to TxDOT’s—in fact, the two state agencies often share properties, so they can use the TxDOT facility assessment as a model.
Kyle LeBlanc, P.E., is a project manager at Lockwood, Andrews & Newnam, Inc., a full-service consulting firm offering planning, engineering, and program management services.
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