The Capabilities and Value of Electronic Communications

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Title: The Capabilities and Value of Electronic Communications

Phase(s):  Pre-Preliminary Engineering, Preliminary Engineering, Final Design, Construction and Startup

Category:  Management

September 8, 1997


1. Background
During design and construction of Phase One of the St. Louis Light Rail system known as MetroLink, which extends from Lambert International Airport in Missouri to East St. Louis, Illinois, the Bi-State Development Agency (Bi-State) developed a computerized Project Management system that provided control of key documents including the capability to record, store and control the documents during design and construction. This system controlled Design Directives, Contract Change Orders and Modifications, as well as the voluminous correspondence required for the project. This capability was limited to the project headquarters, and did not facilitate communications with the remote design consultant and construction contractor locations. Bi-State also initiated e-mail communications with FTA & PMO using FTA's remote mail capability. During Phase One e-mail communication linking the Bi-State with FTA and the PMOC was used frequently to expedite coordination.

Early in the Public Participation process for the MetroLink extension from East St. Louis to Belleville Area College in St. Clair County, Illinois, Bi-State's project staff realized that it would facilitate receipt of and response to public inquiries if some electronic medium could be employed for persons with computer access.  Bi-State project staff volunteered their personal Internet addresses for that purpose, and was able to respond to numerous requests for information about the St. Clair County Extension of the MetroLink system. Internet e-mail was also extensively used for the rapid transmission of draft documents to FTA, and the responses back to Bi-State. The FTA responses were often electronically "cut and pasted" into documents forwarded to consultants, with information copies to FTA showing that their comments were being incorporated in the revised documents.

Independently, the Bi-State Marketing Department developed a Home Page on the World Wide Web titled "St. Louis Regional Transit". That title was selected because it was considered to be more easily identified with transit than the Agency's title.  This Home Page is updated frequently with maps of bus and paratransit routes, information about the existing MetroLink Light Rail System that operates between Lambert International Airport in Missouri and its present terminus in East St. Louis, Illinois, and information on the extension project including times and dates for public meetings.

As Final Design commenced, Bi-State and its Project Management Consultant developed the concept for an integrated electronic communications capability that will significantly enhance the management and control capability of both Grantee and consultant, and provide improved communication with Project and Resident Engineers during the construction phase. Recognizing the magnitude of the changes to be introduced by this new communications system, its development was very methodical and documented in detail. Highly sophisticated software and currently available networking hardware will make the system both feasible and cost-effective.

The software selected for this system will include Microsoft Office 97, Primavera's "Expedition" for enhanced Project Management, and PC Docs for document control. Relatively "high end" hardware was specified to provide maximum reliability and high security. "Expedition" will provide the capability to attach documents from other software including CADD.

2. The Lesson
Much of the success of MetroLink's Phase One was due to the extensive efforts devoted to public participation by the Bi-State staff and the local support organization led by Citizens for Modern Transit. However, those efforts were very labor intensive and lacked access to the electronic media.

A well thought out plan for an integrated electronic communication system will enhance the capability of a small staff several fold, improve public access to needed project information and enhance communication among project partners.  The speed with which information can flow from field office to management consultant to grantee becomes the speed with which the Internet address within the project network is accessed.  A relatively simple network can be established which will provide rapid communications with all the parties interested in a particular issue. Remote access will be provided to employees of both Bi-State and the PMC through the use of dial up 33.6k modems. Employees working in remote locations will use a "dedicated" connection of 33.6k to access the NT servers. Those users will connect directly to the NT server and be able to retrieve e-mail messages or work on existing or new documents. All Bi-State and PMC users, especially the "Partners" for this project (FTA, IDOT, St. Clair County and Bi-State) as well as the design consultants, on the internal Ethernet network will "share" a 128k Internet connection for exchange of e-mail messages between Bi-State, the PMC and sub-consultants. There will also be Internet connectivity. Users of  the internal Ethernet network will also be able to browse the Internet through the same shared 128k connection.

The central Document Control capability will save time and space and provide improved control of all types of project documents. The vast piles of documents in boxes and file cabinets will be replaced by a more easily controlled volume of CD ROM diskettes secured by password protection. The system being developed by Bi-State is designed to serve about 40 users at Bi-State and 20 users at its Project Management Consultant. The number of users is critical in designing the network. The material requirements for this system are estimated at $399,000.

3. Applicability
Contemporary electronic communications capabilities are applicable to any public transit project for both public participation and internal project management purposes. Grantees should have e-mail connectivity with FTA and the PMOC starting with the Preliminary Engineering Phase. Planning should consider the number of users, their distribution, and the contractual relationships.

4. References
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