T3 Webinar Question and Answer Transcript

New Look, New Resources: Enhancements to the ITS Knowledge Resources Websites (June 23, 2011)

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Q. How do you keep the information on benefits and costs current and up-to-date?

Greg Hatcher: The answer is “Very carefully.” It does take a lot of effort to look through all the new reports that come out and try to keep the database up-to-date. But it is a process that we try to do, and try to maintain. We do have a few analysts which look through new reports that come out. And we're always looking for new sources. So the more you can provide sources of data to us, like local evaluation reports, the more we can keep the databases up-to-date. That's a very good question, though.

Q. What do the goal areas trace to?

Greg Hatcher: The goal areas trace to the type of benefit that was measured in the study. For example, if the type of benefit measured was “Delay saved,” that's a mobility benefit. So it's the higher level goal area that the lower level measure of effectiveness corresponds to. And we tried to classify the database in that fashion, so that people can find the relevant goal areas of interest, and the measures of effectiveness that fall within them.

Q. Can you sort by date and on the benefits?

Cheryl Lowrance: I will take that question. And I'm going to take us back to the website just real quickly on that. There isn't a specific way to sort by date other than possibly putting the date in the search feature. You could do it that way. However, one of the things that you'll notice in almost all the instances, if you “Search by application area,” under each of these, you'll notice the dates are presented, and almost always—I'm not going to say for sure—but almost always the most recent ones appear at the top of the sub-categories. So if you'll notice that, I'm in “Arterial Management & Surveillance,” the most recent ones that we have pertaining to that will appear at the top. And they do go down chronologically in most cases. That's the easiest way that I know of right off the top. But we don't have a specific way to search just by a date.

Q. Contribution of materials is apparently voluntary. Is there a way to compel the submission of materials? Are the submissions filtered somehow?

Greg Hatcher: On the voluntary part, it very much has been a voluntary process, except that in many cases, we do get reports from contracts that the Department of Transportation has issued to perform Evaluation Reports. So in that case, the report's going to probably come out, because they were being paid to do it. Also the Earmark Program within IHT [ph?], and T21, we did have requirements for self-evaluations and for some of the evaluations to come in. So there was some compelling of states and local areas to provide reports to the USDOT. But in most cases, it is voluntary, and that's why we appreciate getting the data from you. On the second part of the question, are they filtered? I think they are filtered in the sense that we look—we want to make sure that the source is a sound source, and it's not just a commercial advertisement, and that there's sound methodology behind the findings. So we do filter in that sense. So we do look for peer reviewed sources as a primary goal to ensure that we have good-quality data within the databases.

Q. Can there be a blanket request to DOT State, County, and Local to share project information with the USDOT as part of Federal performance reporting, or to incorporate the collection of additional materials within an existing process? There needs to be constant updating in order for the database to be useful when exact numbers are needed.

Greg Hatcher: We agree that would be useful, but that is definitely a policy question.

Cheryl Lowrance: And there are some projects that are currently underway that they do require some type of evaluation report, and that is usually sent to us when it's published, so that we can present the data.

Q. This is more an observation than a question, but I'll share it: Seems like the cost data is largely from the '90s, and some data from the early 2000s. Considering that ITS is fast-changing, and costs constantly changing within this, this might be a bit difficult to use. I think it would be good to require any project that receives federal funding to provide these numbers separately as part of the project delivery, which could then be used to update the Knowledge Resources System.

Cheryl Lowrance: I'd like to kind of add to something that I did forget to mention when I was talking about the “Sample Unit Cost.” One of the things that we did as we started to populate the database for “Sample Unit Cost,” was just that. Trying to find as much project data as we possibly could. And we still have a lot of data that we're still working on getting into the databases. But one of the things that we want to do once we get a large amount of data is to start looking at comparing that data to the unit cost data that has been available for quite some time now. Many of the elements we don't—unless we get specific updated data on for cost, don't get updated into that unit cost table. But what we would like to do is once we start getting large numbers of unit cost sample data, is actually do a comparison, and start doing some analysis with that data, and start updating those unit costs so that they might be more relevant to the user.

Jim Bunch: And actually trying to come up with some average values that can be used.

Q. The unit cost information can be very useful, depending on population of the database. How do you gather or select your “Sample Unit Cost” information? And how extensive are your efforts at collecting and outreach for data that represents various regions?

Cheryl Lowrance: When we first started populating this part of the database last year, we sent out a call to collect data. And we sent it out through many different avenues: through ITS America; we put it on several newsletters to get people to contribute data, and we did receive some data from dome different states. We've gotten state-level data, local-level data. It basically comes down to a matter of resources and getting as much of that data into the databases as quickly as possible. So we do have a backlog of data right now that we're still entering. And we do have a large amount. And we're constantly looking for more. And we do a lot of searching on our own, also, to see what kind of data that we can find for that. And we looked at many different options for collecting that data. But that was another reason why I pointed out during the tour that if anybody has data to contribute, pass it on to us, and we will get it into the databases as resources permit.

Jim Bunch: In any form that they have it, we will take it. We'll do the conversion.

Q. Is there a time limit when you take out a record, a survey, out of the site? Or do you keep old records, like a 1995 survey, if you think this is still useful. How often do you evaluate the validity of data?

Greg Hatcher: That's a very good question. We don't take out records as a matter of course. We do present the data sort of very—more or less very easily is found by the person looking at the data. Looking at the search results, for example, you can see the source date right away. So if you personally think that data from the '90s is too old to even consider, then you don't even have to look at that information. But there are evaluators which—there are some people who think that that data is still useful to them. And in some cases, we've found that it's not a good idea just to throw out data that was actually from a sound evaluation methodology. So yes, the technologies do change, and yes, the evaluation methods are enhanced and we get some changing results based on different environments, but we don't just routinely throw out data. Now, as far as how often we evaluate the validity of data, that's kind of an “as needed” basis. Particularly where we find that we didn't have a lot of backup information about a finding, we've actually purged data from the database that really didn't have a good backup source and we couldn't locate the methodology used. So in some cases, people have pointed out to us that particular reports need to be investigated and in some cases, we have been taking those records, and made them private in the database, so that they're not available for viewing by the public.

Q. Reports might not be the best source. Are you receiving bid tabs from project awards?

Cheryl Lowrance: That's a good question. We've actually started collecting data from as many different places as we can find it. Most bid tabs are put, at least at the state level, are put online. So we have done some searching online for bid tab information. When we put out the call for unit costs, we received several states that gave us specific bid tab data for ITS projects. Also, you will notice as you look at the Sample Unit Cost, we've identified these costs in four or five different ways, including “Bid Tabs,” “Actual to Actual Cost,” that we have estimated costs that might have come from a project study, or a feasibility report or that kind of thing. And then any other type of location that we might have gotten that information from. So yes, we are collecting bid tab data as much as we can. We have received a lot of the bid tab data as well. And then the rest of it is just us having the time to go state-by-state and start looking at what's available online as well.

Q. USDOT tracks ETC deployment by annual surveys of the toll agencies. Is it hard to do the same for selected ITS systems, like TMC deployment and upgrade?

Greg Hatcher: Well, the deployment tracking survey has been conducted for many years within—and sponsored by the Joint Program Office. And that, in the latest survey in 2010 did get into a lot of questions about TMCs, in addition to other ITS systems. So there is an effort underway to investigate and get better data on TMC deployment and the functions that different TMCs deploy, and there should be reports coming out within the next several months that relate to this question. So be on the lookout, and also be aware that the deployment statistics, which we didn't talk a lot about today, is one of the Knowledge Resources that you can click to from the portal and get into and look at that kind of data.

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