In 1998, the United States Congress designated the I-25 Truck Safety Improvements Project (I-25 TSIP) to support transportation improvements in the State of Colorado. This congressionally designated project was intended to improve transportation efficiency, promote safety, reduce emissions, improve traveler information, enhance alternate transportation modes, promote tourism and build on existing Intelligent Transportation Systems (ITS). The project value was $11.25M with funding split between the federal government (80%) and state government (20%).
The project was divided into 30 task orders to address the ITS needs of the Colorado Department of Transportation (CDOT) in areas ranging from planning through detailed design and implementation. Some specific activities included: deploying field devices such as Dynamic Message Signs (DMS); automating various Colorado trucking Ports of Entry (POE); improving the traveler information Web site (“Co-Trip”); and facilitating information exchange between CDOT and other agency partners including the Colorado State Patrol, the City and County of Denver (Transportation and Police) and the City of Lakewood.
Prior to the I-25 TSIP, CDOT had identified improvements needed in collecting, compiling and disseminating traffic information. The I-25 TSIP provided the single mechanism needed to address ITS deficiencies, strengthen and expand inter-agency partnerships, bolster related initiatives like incident management, and generate significant ITS Program momentum. CDOT believes achievement of the project goals and objectives on such a large scale makes the project a success story.
Colorado DOT (CDOT) learned during this project the importance of maintaining control and consistent oversight of the System Integrator. The System Integrator retained for the I-25 Truck Safety Improvements Project (I-25 TSIP) was also the integrator on another CDOT contract and the two contracts overlapped in schedule. Early in the I-25 TSIP, the professional relationship between CDOT management and the Integrator reached a point of distrust, resignation and "finger-pointing" and it was mutually agreed that the I-25 TSIP contract should be dissolved. CDOT was successfully able to recover the project by changing the I-25 TSIP implementation focus from the Integrator to one using State forces.
CDOT developed a number of suggestions specific to the CDOT-Integrator (or owner-contractor) relationship based on their experience that might have produced a more positive outcome.
- Hire in-house expertise in ITS specialty areas. CDOT believes that had it had the current levels of in-house expertise throughout the project, difficulties with the Integrator could have been lessened or avoided altogether. Addition of these skill sets ultimately allowed CDOT to subdivide technical responsibilities for completion of multiple task orders between five or six capable and knowledgeable individuals – rather than two or three "thinly spread" individuals. CDOT believes in-house skills in ITS-related technical areas are an indispensable resource definitely required for success in complex ITS projects.
- Secure the right contract mechanism. The task order contract configuration used for the I-25 TSIP provided much better control of the contractor than did the previous CDOT/Integrator cost-plus-fixed-fee contract – which essentially relieved the contractor of the responsibility to deliver finished products; as well as removing CDOT’s contractual "clout." Although a task order contract configuration is not necessarily more efficient for the contractor, it provides a better mechanism for the owner to track progress and control schedules and costs. The previous project was configured as a single large project with mixed results, leading to the set-up of the I-25 TSIP using task orders to allow better owner control. Based on the success of this project, the task order configuration continued on additional projects.
- Maintain open communications. Maintaining open communications is critical to project success. During the I-25 TSIP, open communications were crippled by a gradual eroding of trust as a result of the previous project work; activities on related state-funded (stand-alone) task orders; and selected task orders within this project. Once a certain level of trust no longer existed between CDOT and the Integrator, continuation of the contract became a losing proposition for both parties.
- Build the project in small pieces. Similar to the task order discussion above, CDOT has now moved to an across-the-board ITS acquisition philosophy that includes smaller dollar-value implementations using shorter schedules. Cost and schedule problems are typically reduced due to lesser complexity and easier manageability, along with a shorter period of time for "things to go wrong."
- Avoid "classic" mistakes. Once the relationship between CDOT and the Integrator began to deteriorate, both parties fell back into some of the repetitive mistake patterns seen on past ITS projects nationwide. These mistakes included (in specific areas and generally by both parties): too little management; micromanagement; immediate assigning of blame to the other party; unrealistic expectations; squeezing the schedule for CDOT; and falling back into "change order" mentality for the Integrator.
- Devote attention to contractor staffing and expertise. The Integrator was a large multi-national company with exceptional skills in systems engineering developed over many years participation in Department of Defense-related projects. Although this should have led to success, it may have been difficult for the contractor to attract its best and brightest employees to a "non-exciting" subject area such as surface transportation.
- Consider procuring smaller firms with integrator expertise. Generally, it is CDOT’s opinion that the smaller companies attached to the project (on either the Integrator or Manager teams) provided not only their best employees, but better customer service.
CDOT experienced a situation that is not uncommon and significantly impacts the cost, schedule and performance of the project. They were able to recover early enough to overcome the problems that occurred with the Integrator and complete the project successfully, but not without affecting the schedule and the budget. It is essential that the project management team have enough expertise to be able to provide the consistent oversight a project of this magnitude needs to maintain control of the project.
In recognizing that the situation was not going to improve and rectifying the situation early enough in the project implementation, CDOT was able to implement the project and provide a positive contribution to achieving several ITS goals including system quality, safety, mobility and efficiency of staff to deliver the project successfully.
Obtaining the services of a System Integrator has proven effective on past ITS projects and this lesson suggests several areas where there may be ways to improve the Owner-System Integrator relationship. Providing knowledgeable staff, maintaining open communications and providing clear direction are key to maintaining project oversight and control and will lead to successfully deploying ITS projects that will promote safety, increase traffic flow, improve traveler information, enhance alternate transportation modes and promote tourism.