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Remarks by Greg Nadeau, Deputy Administrator, FHWA
ITS America Real-Time Data Symposium
Boston, Massachusetts

Friday, April 11, 2014

Introduced by: Scott Belcher, President and CEO, ITS America

Thanks very much, Scott.

And congratulations to Governor Patrick and Secretary Davey on their much-deserved award. The Federal Highway Administration is proud to partner with you as you expand the real-time traffic system.

I had the honor of meeting Governor Patrick about a year and a half ago when we broke ground for the Fore River Bridge in Quincy.

My daughter, who lives in South Boston, came to event because I thought she wanted to spend some time with me.

That was wishful thinking on my part. She actually wanted to meet Governor Patrick, who was nice enough to take a picture with her and today to sign it. Thank you for your kindness, Governor.

I'm here today representing Victor Mendez, who, as you know, is now the Acting Deputy Secretary of the Department.

Since late last year, I've been fulfilling his duties at FHWA.

Victor and I welcomed the very generous invitation to join you today because we believe very deeply in the work of ITS America and – more generally – the importance of innovation and real-time data in transportation.

In many ways transportation is a long-term endeavor. While we're working hard to cut project delivery time – and having some real success – major projects still take years to design, plan and build.

And we can look ahead at all kinds of projections to try and anticipate future needs.

We're told, for example, that by 2050, there will be 100 million more people living in the United States than we have today. So we need to factor that into our long-range planning.

We project that in 2040, our freight system will need to haul 28 billion tons of freight – 60 percent more than we haul today.

But those numbers are so big and the horizon so far off, that it doesn't mean much to most people.

I hope to be well into my 70s by the year 2040, and frankly I'm not sure how concerned I'll be about freight movement.

No, most people are concerned about what's happening right here, right now.

Will I be late for work? Will I make it home in time for my daughter's dance recital? Can I get to Fenway by first pitch?

These are the questions that consume the average motorist today, who's perfectly willing to let 2040 or 2050 take care of themselves as long as they can get to work on time and with as few hassles as possible.

Increasingly, that means providing them with accurate, reliable, real-time data they can use to make informed travel decisions, like which route to take or whether to leave the car at home and jump on the T.

Just to digress for a minute, transportation in general is becoming much more data-driven.

Our surface transportation law, MAP-21, takes us into the era of performance measurement in key areas like safety, congestion, freight movement, and bridge and highway conditions.

We're implementing performance measurement through a series of rulemakings.

We published the first proposed rule, dealing with safety, in mid-March. Others will be published through early summer, followed by public comment periods.

There's going to be a whole system in place by which the Department sets performance measures, and the states and MPOs set their specific targets along with a plan for meeting them and reporting on their progress.

And just like the Real-Time Traffic Management system here in Massachusetts, performance measurement is customer-driven.

The performance data will tell people exactly what they're getting for their tax dollars. And it will give decision-makers, like Secretary Davey, the information they need to guide future investment decisions.

So the work we're honoring here today is part of a larger focus on data that's shaping our industry.

In fact, as states begin saving and archiving more real-time traffic data, it will become part of the process states use to measure if they're meeting their congestion and system performance targets.

Our hosts here in Massachusetts can be proud that this state has been a real pioneer in delivering real-time travel information to its citizens.

If you go far enough back in time, you could say that it was Paul Revere who set Massachusetts on this path.

I'm sure many people made some important real-time travel decisions after they heard his warning that the British were coming!

Fast forward to the early 1990s, and SmartTraveler was introduced to Boston motorists, giving them a more modern form of real-time traffic information.

Today, thanks to advances in both technology and data collection, we have the chance to serve travelers in a number of ways:

  • Better, more timely messaging about routes to take around congestion or accidents;

  • Greater access to real-time information through social media, smart phones and other portable devices;

  • Opportunities for app developers to continue finding new ways to reach consumers;

  • More widespread use of data in adaptive systems to better manage traffic and reduce congestion.

One of those systems is called Adaptive Signal Control Technology or ASCT. It's something we have a strong interest in at FHWA because we're advancing it through our innovation initiative, known as Every Day Counts.

Just to give you a little background, Every Day Counts is a state-based initiative for quickly deploying innovation – whether it's strategies to shorten project delivery or technologies that can save time, money or lives.

EDC really puts the state in the driver's seat to choose from a menu of ideas and implement the ones that work best for the state and its specific needs.

ASCT is one of the technologies we recommended to states in the first round of Every Day Counts.

It uses real-time data to adjust traffic signals to actual traffic conditions. This helps manage congestion and also helps the environment, because cars spend less time idling at traffic lights or stuck in traffic.

Massachusetts currently has three Adaptive Signal Control projects in different stages of deployment, including one in Peabody/Danvers that will be completed shortly.

Not surprisingly, MassDOT has really embraced the spirit of EDC by setting up a State Transportation Innovation Council – or STIC – to lead its efforts.

The STIC is made up of representatives from state and federal agencies – including MassDOT and FHWA – along with the private sector. It meets regularly to consider innovative ways to improve project delivery, save time and save money.

We're working with every state to encourage them to set up an innovation council so that eventually we'll have a national innovation network in place.

MassDOT is showing real willingness to deploy a range of new strategies, methods and tools that we're advancing in Every Day Counts.

The Commonwealth is a national leader in using new bridge technologies that get bridges in place quickly and reduce the impacts of bridge construction on the traveling public.

And Massachusetts currently has individual teams set up to advance nine different EDC initiatives.

I can tell you first-hand, that's a tremendous commitment on the part of Secretary Davey, public agencies and private companies here in the Commonwealth.

One of the common themes that runs throughout Every Day Counts is efficiency – whether it's a more efficient process to deliver projects sooner, a more effective use of technology to help people and goods move more efficiently, or more efficient use of resources to fund more projects - the proverbial more bang for the buck.

Secretary Foxx has made greater efficiency one of his priorities for the transportation community. And President Obama has proposed ways to speed up the permitting process so projects go from the drawing board to reality sooner.

But we also have to make more efficient use of the roads we already have.

It's cost-prohibitive, logistically difficult and frankly unrealistic in today's political environment to think that we can add more roads or more lanes to reduce congestion in urban areas.

Your Real-Time Traffic Management System is a tool for improving the use of the roads we already have – in effect, getting more bang for the bucks that have already been spent.

But at FHWA, we see real-time data as more than a tool for congestion management. We also see it as part of our effort to make travel as safe as possible.

Thanks to real-time data, we have the chance to give drivers and system managers accurate and reliable information on current and predicted road conditions in inclement weather – something we've been all too familiar with this winter.

Using real-time data information about what's happening in the sky and on the pavement, we can go a step beyond traditional "weather" information to actually provide "road weather" information. By that we mean:

  • What are the actual road conditions being caused by the weather; 

  • What effect are the weather, the road conditions, traffic and maintenance – like salting – going to have on travel;

  • How can this information be delivered to consumers in a useful format – like websites, dynamic message signs or social media – so they can make better travel decisions.

Salt Lake City, Utah is a good case in point.

They have a meteorologist embedded in the city's Traffic Management Center to further assess the in-coming data and make sure the right message is being delivered to consumers.

And they coordinate their message with the National Weather Service to ensure consistency.

The bottom line is a road system that is more reliable, even under the worst conditions.

New developments in connected vehicle technology promise to take the collection and use of real-time data to the next level.

As you know, the Department announced in February that it wants to move forward with vehicle-to-vehicle communication on cars.

This important advancement will help address one of the weaknesses of today's real-time data systems, namely the gap between sensors.

V-to-V technology will open the door to collecting traffic, weather and pavement data on virtually every roadway.

We're currently doing field tests with DOTs in Michigan, Minnesota and Nevada to gather weather and pavement data as their fleets drive the state's roads.

Of course, the challenge is to find ways to make this data useful and available to consumers so they can make their travel plans around actual "road weather" conditions.

V-to-V holds promise in one other area that's especially timely. This is our annual Work Zone Safety Awareness Week. I was in Seattle on Tuesday to kick off the event, which is always held at the start of construction season.

It's intended to remind people to be extra careful driving through work zones to protect their lives, the lives of their passengers, and the lives of the men and women who build our roads and bridges.

It seems to me that connected vehicles hold tremendous potential to give drivers up-to-the-minute information about work zones, which move or change – often on a daily basis – as work progresses on a project.

Let me close on this note, which is to put this subject in the broadest possible context.

President Obama talks often about giving people ladders of opportunity connecting them to better schools, better jobs and quality health care.

One of those ladders is transportation, and it's our job as transportation professionals to make sure that ladder is as safe and efficient as possible.

One of the best ways to do that is to make sure everyone has access to the same information at the same time.

People should be able to focus on the destination – performing well at their job, doing well in school, enjoying a Red Sox game – and not be distracted by a difficult journey.

And as we continue to make more use of technology and the data that fuels it, we will come closer to achieving that goal.

Thank you, again, for inviting me here today.

And, in closing, let me remind you to always buckle your seat belt, put away your cell phone when you're driving, watch out for pedestrians, joggers and people riding bikes, and simply drive safely.

Thank you very much!

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Page posted on April 11, 2014.
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