Compass overview

Need | Values | Benefits | Process | ResourcesProgram Manager's role | History

NeedCompass logo

Compass is the WisDOT’s quality assurance and asset management program for highway operations. The program provides comprehensive information on highway operations conditions by conducting field reviews and integrating existing data sources.

It was created in response to highway operations manager’s call for a program that would help them:

  • Understand the current condition of the system
  • Provide a common understanding of how Wisconsin wants its roads maintained, what that will cost, and how close the roads are to that target.
  • Ensure consistent service on state roads.
  • Communicate the range of service options
  • Make a credible commitment to the legislature about what highway operations can deliver at what cost.
  • Prioritize maintenance activities.
  • Focus resources where they are most needed.
  • Effectively incorporate citizen preferences in budgeting decisions.
  • Make trade-offs among different choices in light of future uncertainties.
  • Demonstrate how decisions made in highway operations interact with those made elsewhere in the organization.


Compass's three major values are:

  • The people who do the work know the work.
  • We can continually improve this program.
  • Information on program decisions and actions are available to all Compass stakeholders.


Compass provides several benefits, including:

  • Better internal and external communication
  • Common goals & expectations
  • Quantification of the contribution of highway operations to overall system performance
  • Improved information provided to the legislature
  • Management tools
  • Similar service levels on similar roads
  • Integration of customer needs and expectations
  • Validation of field experience
  • Increased localized decision making
  • Links with other DOT programs
  • Creation of meaningful performance measures
  • Ability to measure outcomes provided by contractors public or private
  • Preparation for asset management


Compass gathers information from two data sources, inventory and field reviews. Where inventory data doesn’t exist, Compass participants conduct annual field reviews. The central mechanism of quality assurance is a sampling process that allows us to gather a meaningful, or statistically valid, sample of current maintenance service levels by having teams "rate the roads." These ratings - and the scores and grades into which they roll up - are objective measures based on the expert judgment of highway operations workers. See Measures and Statistics for more information.

In future years, operations managers will use these measures to determine and illustrate the current service level and alternative service levels. For each of these service levels, we will use the cost information from the Level of Service (LOS) model and the expert judgment of operations managers to create a "price tag" for keeping our roads at the level of service they need.


Compass currently supports one staff person to manage the program. Other staffing comes from maintenance personnel in the regions (primarily Area Maintenance Coordinators) and counties (Patrol Superintendents). Regions and counties are reimbursed for program-related costs by using Activity Code #096 (Compass).

Program manager’s role

The role of the program - and the program manager - is not to make decisions about how to maintain the highways, but to provide effective tools to highway operations managers. While the program manager may provide frameworks, statistical guidance, and program support, the expert judgment informing the program comes from the people charged with caring for our state highways.


Programs like Compass have a history of success. Quality assurance programs have been successfully    implemented at many other DOTs, including those in Virginia, Maryland, Arizona, Washington, Florida, California and British Columbia, Canada.

A National Cooperative Highway Research Program (NCHRP) study provides a template for creating such a program, and highway operations workers at other DOTs have shared what they've learned with us. Wisconsin's pilot program is based on this study, but is tailored to fit our state's unique maintenance structure and to incorporate lessons learned from other states.

Statewide launch

The full-scale implementation of the Compass program occurred in the fall of 2002. In every county, a two-person team of district and county highway operations personnel collected over 80,000 pieces of data on roadway elements such as shoulders, drainage, roadsides, and traffic control and safety. The first report was created in February 2003.

Pilot program

From June 2001 to January 2002, three teams of highway operations employees from the counties, districts and BHO developed, implemented and evaluated a quality assurance (QA) pilot. The purpose of the pilot was to determine how best the program could be structured to work for Wisconsin, and to gain the input and support of key players.

An initial road rating was conducted in fall 2001; sample reports were created and issued in January 2002. Feedback from these ratings and reports were critical in shaping the statewide program.

The Bureau of Highway Operations set an ambitious schedule for the pilot and, with a lot of hard work from the program's three teams, was able to meet that schedule by kicking off the pilot in late June 2001 and sending out the road rating reports in January 2002.