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Cross-training can improve efficiency and helps employees become knowledgeable and productive in several divisions. Employees from the construction division may be deployed to the maintenance division to operate a loader in the salt dome at the maintenance station, for example. Photos: UDOT
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After being involved in the initial roadway construction, conducting maintenance work on the same road by a cross-trained employee can provide many benefits.

In the past decade, Utah has enjoyed economic success and expansion as the population has increased 30%. At the same time, lane miles on the state's highways have increased at an even faster rate than the population. Transportation indicators predict an increased expansion in lane miles, and the Federal Highway Administration expects travel to increase. To respond to these trends and increase its efficiency, the Utah DOT (UDOT) has begun deploying its personnel in innovative ways. I was fortunate to have been included in this cross-divisional working and training and found it beneficial to both UDOT and to me.

UDOT Region 2 includes heavily populated metropolitan areas and thinly populated desert areas, snow-covered mountains and barren salt flats. Although some projects continue year-round, the majority of road construction takes place from March to October. UDOT is made up of two divisions: the maintenance division, which maintains the roads, and the construction division, which provides design, construction, and inspection services.

In 2004, in an effort to improve efficiency in both building and maintaining its roads, UDOT combined the personnel in the maintenance and construction divisions. This included sharing and cross-training employees so that they became knowledgeable and productive in both departments. As construction needs increase in the warmer seasons, maintenance division employees are reassigned to the construction division. In the colder winter months when additional personnel are needed to plow snow, lay salt, or make road repairs, employees from the construction division are deployed to the maintenance division.

Although the change initially was not embraced by all employees, the majority now consider cross-training a success. It has resulted in acquiring new and valuable skills for all employees involved in the program. Change is difficult for most people and it was not an easy task for managers and supervisors to convince employees that the cross-training would benefit them. Once the employees reported to their new temporary work locations, however, many found the new assignments not only different, but also motivating.

Combining the construction and maintenance divisions has increased the overall efficiency of UDOT's practices while decreasing costs. The added workers from the maintenance division allow staggered work schedules, which eliminated a considerable amount of overtime, and kept personnel levels adequate on construction projects. And the maintenance employees take a special interest in the construction projects in their own maintenance areas, knowing that they will need to maintain this infrastructure long after the project is completed. This provides a valuable incentive to make sure the project is properly constructed and that thorough inspections of all phases are taking place. Skills developed by the maintenance workers included documentation, materials testing, and organization.

Sharing Workers

My first experience with the maintenance/construction division program was summer 2004. To alleviate the burden of the demanding construction schedule, maintenance workers were assigned to my construction group. My group's objective was to be consistent and accurate in contract administration and construction management. We also had to ensure that the work completed by the contractor complied with the plans and specifications. We were responsible for monitoring the various aspects of the construction project including scope, schedule, budget, quality, and safety.

The maintenance employees sent to my region had various levels of construction experience and attitudes. Some enjoyed the new responsibilities and coworkers, while others would have preferred to stay with the familiarity of their maintenance team and work routine. After just a few weeks, my construction group realized that the additional staff increased our effectiveness and efficiency without increasing personnel costs for UDOT. At the same time, the majority of the maintenance employees enjoyed learning new skills while developing a sense of the responsibilities of the construction division employees.

UDOT has provided opportunities to maintenance division employees to increase their technical skills, and most have taken advantage of it. UDOT participates in the Western Alliance for Quality Transportation Construction (WAQTC). It is "dedicated to improving the quality of the transportation products and services we provide." To initiate quality improvement, the WAQTC has a Transportation Technician Qualification Program (TTQP) and a Laboratory Qualification Program.

The TTQP consists of instruction and qualification in field materials testing for aggregate, asphalt, concrete, embankment, and base. It also includes courses such as in-place density and the basics of Superpave mix design. The program must meet, in part, the requirements of the Code of Federal Regulations 637, subpart B—quality assurance procedures for construction. We anticipated that the WAQTC will provide training and qualification in additional disciplines in the future.

I was assigned to a maintenance station located on the west side of Salt Lake City, south of Interstate 80. The responsibilities there included both interstates and local arteries, which means there are a wide variety of maintenance tasks since these two types of travel routes are quite different. In addition to snow removal, the maintenance division also maintains the roadways, shoulders, drainage systems, roadway markings, signs, and associated fences and guardrails.

My time in the maintenance division not only increased my appreciation of their work, but it also made me realize how essential their work is in keeping traffic moving smoothly throughout the year. Unfortunately, I also found that even though maintenance work is vital, the accomplishments often go unnoticed and unappreciated by the public.

In the maintenance division, I was on call from November to March since the work is weather-dependent. Working in construction, I have always paid attention to weather forecasts. When it involves the possibility of being called out to plow snow at any time, though, I am especially attentive. I have been fortunate to work in a maintenance station with a great deal of camaraderie. The theme of the station is, "Work together and get it done." The management style of the station leader truly exemplified this theme and brought the group together through open lines of communication, guidance through example, and a sense of humor.