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2021 Annual Meeting of U.S. Representatives to the World Road Association


Agnes Velez
MRP Team Leader

Email: agnes.velez@dot.gov

FHWA's Executive Director Led Virtual Meeting of PIARC Representatives

The Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) and the World Road Association (PIARC) hosted the annual meeting of U.S. representatives to the World Road Association in a virtual environment on February 11, 2021. The meeting included U.S. Representatives to PIARC's various Technical Committees and Task Forces for the 2020-2023 cycle, along with senior leadership from the PIARC, AASHTO, and TRB.

The FHWA Executive Director, in his role as the United States’ Lead Representative to PIARC, convened the meeting which brought together more than 40 U.S. Representatives from the various PIARC technical committees. The Representatives shared insights on their work during the first year of the 2020-2023 cycle and discussed some of the challenges they faced during the COVID-19 global pandemic.

Gains in 2020

In his opening remarks, Mr. Everett addressed some of the beneficial outcomes of the 2020 Cycle and the importance of supporting the Association's special project on Road Related Data and How to Use it. He also spoke of the gained insights into the international landscapes of policies, technology-related transportation data, and best practices of other countries. Speaking about the impact and changes due to the COVID-19 global pandemic, Mr. Everett spoke of the changes that moved the Association's meetings to a virtual platform and the technology that allowed representatives to PIARC and members of AASHTO and TRB to adapt quickly to the digital communication technologies to conduct meetings, conferences, and webinars.

Outreach and Dissemination of PIARC Products

Mr. Everett told members that their involvement in the Technical Committees and Task Forces presents an important opportunity to ensure that the U.S. perspectives are captured in the Association's information products. The reports, guidelines, and other information tools, he said, are intended to support the professional roads community worldwide. Mr. Everett told representatives that the knowledge they gain through their participation in the Association can help guide other countries in their management and national network, and they must ensure that the U.S.' experiences, innovations, lessons learned, and expertise are included in the knowledge products that are developed across the four strategic themes.

Gender Equality

On the topic of gender equality, Mr. Everett spoke of the Association's challenges with attracting more women to its corporate and technical structures. Research, he said, shows that gender balance contributes to more efficient working environments and positively influences the competitiveness of organizations.

Review of the PIARC 2020 Highlights and Plans for 2021

Patrick Malléjacq, Secretary General, PIARC

Mr. Malléjacq provided a brief overview of PIARC's accomplishments during the 2016-2019 work cycle. During that period, there were forty-six new technical reports published in English, a seventy-five percent translation rate into French and Spanish, and positive feedback on PIARC reports. Mr. Malléjacq drew attention to the successful World Road Congress in Abu Dhabi (2019), where more than 5,000 participants from 145 countries attended.

Work for the 2020-2023 Work Cycle began with a kick-off meeting in Paris, where one thousand experts from 50 countries attended. Mr. Malléjacq noted that the 2020-2023 Strategic Plan was updated by the ExCom in April and October of 2020, and the launch of two new task forces: (1) Electric Road Systems and (2) Road Design Standards in November 2020. He talked about the 2021 special projects that are being launched with funding from member countries, including the U.S. These projects include Bridges and Tunnels Strikes by Oversize Vehicles, and Smart Roads Classification. He also talked about the upcoming elections for new executives in October 2021 and the Mid-Term meeting to be held in Prague in 2021. Additionally, he spoke of the preparations for the 2022 Winter Congress in Calgary.

Mr. Malléjacq also talked about the consequences of COVID-19 and PIARC's response to the global pandemic. He said that PIARC created a PIARC Response Team comprised of 14 members from various committees and countries. Christos Xenophontos is the Co-chair. Despite the pandemic, Mr. Malléjacq noted, PIARC has not seen a major delay in reports because PIARC committees and task forces were able to adjust to the pandemic and held their second meeting in the fourth quarter of the year via videoconference.

Mr. Malléjacq also drew attention to ongoing projects for the 2020-2023 Work Cycle.

Report from Jim Tymon, President of the National Committee, American Association of State Highway Transportation Officials (AASHTO)

Jim Tymon reported on AASHTO's plans for 2021 and about the changing work environment due to the COVID-19 global pandemic. During the meeting, he thanked the PIARC Representatives not only for their commitment to the work within State DOTs and at FHWA but also for continuing to find ways to engage in their PIARC committees through virtual platforms. Mr. Tymon noted that because of the speed in which the pandemic moved across the world, it was only through early webinars put on by PIARC that AASHTO was able to see how the pandemic would impact the U.S. and how the U.S. could possibly recover. Mr. Tymon thanked PIARC's Secretary General Patrick Malléjacq and his team for organizing the COVID-19 experiences of other countries into information packets in webinar form.

Neil Pedersen, Executive Director, Transportation Research Board

Neil Pedersen used his address to the virtual meeting to talk about the connection between the Association and TRB and to highlight the success of the Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) between PIARC and TRB. He noted that the MOU established liaisons between PIARC and TRB respective committees. Mr. Pedersen expressed his view that the open sharing between PIARC and TRB can be enhanced by the sharing of reports and information on activities between committees, having joint committee meetings, joint webinars, overseeing each other's events, publishing articles in each other's publication, and supporting each other strategic planning. He noted that these are all avenues for information sharing as envisioned by the MOU. One of the main goals of the TRB committees, Mr. Pederson said, is to have U.S. members of PIARC committees be liaisons to their associated TRB committees. He also talked about the newly established International Coordinating Council (ICC) to coordinate technical international activities across all PIARC technical committees. The Council, he said, recently drafted a strategic plan with goals and objectives for the ICC. It will also begin mapping TRB's critical issues with international issues within TRB standing committees. Mr. Pedersen encouraged all FHWA and AASHTO staffers who serve on PIARC technical committees and task forces to share their PIARC experiences with TRB by becoming members or friends of TRB through the TRB website mytrb.org.

Open Discussion/Individual Perspectives from Year One of the 2020-2023 Cycle

This being the beginning of the 2020 -2023 Work Cycle and the introduction of new technical committee members, the U.S. Representatives to the PIARC focused on their individual perspectives regarding how technical committees and task forces operated under the limitations imposed by the global COVID-19 pandemic in 2020. While there was consensus on the convenience of the virtual platforms to advance the work of the technical structures, the panelists agreed that time zone and language differences presented limitations to their work.

Steve Lund, Maintenance Engineer for the Minnesota Department of Transportation

Steve Lund is the U.S. Representative and the English-speaking Secretary to PIARC's Technical Committee 3.2 on Winter Services.

During the previous work cycle, Technical Committee 3.2 completed a report on snowplow blades, salt, and chemicals. The Technical Committee also looked at the cooperation between Road operators and Road maintainers. Six key items were consistent across the board for successful coordination between road operators and road maintainers:

  1. Real-time data drives decision-making;
  2. Automation saves time and labor;
  3. Collaborations do not succeed by accident - partners must be willing to work together and to communicate clearly;
  4. Integration of staff and assets improves efficiency and effectiveness;
  5. Training of staff is critical;
  6. Cutting corners provides only short-term savings.

Mr. Lund also spoke about the success of the true maintenance and winter maintenance activities. Additionally, Mr. Lund noted the AASHTO snow and ice cooperative program's strategic initiative, which parallels the PIARC initiatives, which examines liquids. Technical Committee 3.2 also produced a snow and ice data book. This reference book allows countries to input data about their geography, road networks, their characteristics, resources consumed, and other useful information to transportation and road specialists on winter related road issues. Mr. Lund also brought to the panel's attention his perspectives on the negative effects of time zones and language differences in relation to member participation in PIARC committees and task forces regarding virtual platforms. But he expressed that many of these issues are being addressed by the PIARC.

Karen Bobo, Director, Center for Trans Workforce Development, Federal Highway Administration

Karen Bobo is the FHWA Representative to the Technical Committee 1.1 on Performance of Transport Administrations. During the virtual meeting, Ms. Bobo apprised the panel of her experience as a newcomer to the PIARC and the Technical Committee's active involvement in issues related to gender equality and diversity.

During the 2020-2023 Cycle, Technical Committee 1.1 will be working on products that include a diversity and inclusion literature review and articles that will introduce and focus on diversity and inclusion. The Technical Committee 1.1 will also focus on measuring efficiency, and effectiveness of customer experience and public value creation. It will also examine the role of transport agencies in shaping disruptive technology and services models and investigate approaches to promote and define diversity and gender equality. Ms. Bobo said that the Technical Committee is working on a technical review and an article related to that technical review. This article, she said, is expected to be added to the committee's full report, which is due in December 2022.

Speaking on the challenges during Covid-19, Ms. Bobo noted that while the need to use a virtual platform to conduct meetings did slow her committee's actions, she is confident that her committee will be able to ultimately stay on schedule. Moreover, any difficulties encountered because of time zone differences, she said, can be overcome.

Jeffrey Shaw, Highway Engineer, U.S. Department of Transportation

Jeffrey Shaw is the FHWA Representative to PIARC Technical Committee 3.1 on Road Safety and a newcomer to the PIARC Technical Committee. During the current cycle, Mr. Shaw co-led a working group on proven countermeasures for safety for other countries.

During the 2016 -2019 cycle, the Committee had worked on the Safe System Approach, which is part of the Road Safety Manual (RSM). Mr. Shaw noted the benefits to leading the work on proven safety countermeasures as it allows the U.S. to get perspectives from other countries that will be useful to the United States, and it allows the U.S. to export its experiences on how to identify, promote, and implement proven countermeasures for safety to other countries. Mr. Shaw noted that by being involved in both TRB and PIARC simultaneously, he has been able to access research perspectives from other countries and their practitioners' experiences, which, he said, strengthens relationships with U.S. colleagues. Mr. Shaw also noted that both the research perspective of TRB and the practitioner experience found at PIARC can better inform how practitioners deal with upcoming issues.

Speaking on the challenges and opportunities during the COVID-19 pandemic, Mr. Shaw said that the far-reaching effects of the global COVID-19 pandemic was the inability to travel and meet in person. Mr. Shaw noted some difficulties and hardships imposed on committee and task force members to participate in virtual meetings from different time zones, but he reiterated the notion that committees, task forces, and organizations should survey virtual meeting attendees and use their feedback as a starting point to best conduct business in a virtual world.

Tamara Nicholson, Director, Iowa Department of Transportation

Tamara Nicholson is the U.S. Representative and English-Speaking Secretary to PIARC's Technical Committee 3.4 on Environmental Sustainability in Road Infrastructure and Transport. Ms. Nicholson apprised the panel of her experiences as the English-speaking Secretary and as a new Technical Committee member. During the current 2020 - 2023 cycle, the Technical Committee will focus on the air quality, noise mitigation, and wildlife habitats and their connectivity.

Speaking on the challenges and opportunities during the COVID-19 global pandemic, Ms. Nicholson noted the difficulties in keeping members motivated for long periods along with managing virtual meetings where the participants were in different time zones. She also spoke about the challenges of planning for seminars and other meetings when the format of the meeting is unknown. She gave suggestions on how to deal with these problems so that meetings can be productive in the virtual world.

Ms. Nicholson suggested that committee meetings should continue to be just one meeting rather than split to accommodate different time zones, and the meetings should be shorter with focused agendas with clear objectives. She suggested that these are ways of keeping the members focused and energized. She also suggested that advanced meeting planning will go a long way in dealing with the language issues.

All PIARC documents are available free of charge on the PIARC website.

To see PIARC websites and access publications and reports, please create your account: https://www.piarc.org/en/users.newaccount.htm

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