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|Federal Highway Administration > Publications > Public Roads > Vol. 68 · No. 3 > Regional Collaboration to Improve Safety, Reliability, and Security|
Publication Number: FHWA-HRT-05-002
Regional Collaboration to Improve Safety, Reliability, and Security
by Wayne Berman and Robin Mayhew
The transportation system can benefit from a strong link between planning and operations.
On an August afternoon in 2003, four vehicles collided on Interstate 5 near Olympia, WA, requiring the Washington State Patrol to close the freeway temporarily. Although it took several hours to clear and investigate this very serious crash, an exceptional amount of regional coordination and cooperation reduced the traffic impacts significantly.
A coalition of State and local police, fire, and public works officials recently had created a major plan for incident detours for I-5. The detour plan for this section of the interstate included detailed routes and agreed upon agency roles and responsibilities. So when the crash occurred, the detour plan was put into effect, enabling the Washington State Department of Transportation (WSDOT) to work with local officials to detour traffic through local streets and back onto I-5.
The Washington State Patrol and WSDOT also consulted with firefighters and the medical examiner's office and quickly agreed to a plan that expedited the scene investigation and increased privacy for the crash victims. The cooperation and coordination these agencies displayed in investigating the crash and rerouting to the detour kept traffic moving while the crash was being cleared, and the highway opened at least 2 hours sooner than it otherwise would have opened.
This level of collaboration toward a common goal can be the norm rather than the exception. "We get people together and identify the problem—partners such as fire departments that we'd never dealt with or spent a lot of time with in the past," says Toby Rickman, traffic engineer at WSDOT. "Once they're part of the process and brought in to help solve the problems, we're finding that they're keenly interested."
As the Nation's traffic systems become stretched to their limits, it is increasingly important to improve their operations by making elements work in harmony. Improving information systems, such as those found in intelligent transportation systems (ITS) technologies, can help. But it is even more critical to enable agencies and jurisdictions responsible for the day-to-day operation of transportation systems to work together through enhanced levels of collaboration and planning.
Interest at the National Level
Several national efforts have focused on linking planning and operations. For example, at the National Dialogue on Transportation Operations Summit, held in Columbia, MD, in October 2001, an important theme was how to improve planning for operations to ensure safe, reliable, and secure transportation. The summit brought together more than 240 professionals representing academia, planning, engineering, safety, transit, bicyclists, pedestrians, freight, and elected and appointed government officials.
The Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) and the Federal Transit Administration (FTA) also sponsored a Planning and Operations Working Group. During 2000 and 2001, the group met three times to envision how transportation planning and transportation operations can work together more collaboratively. The participants included professionals in transportation operations, planning, and public safety from all levels of government.
Transportation legislation supports the linking of planning and operations. For example, the proposed reauthorization of the Transportation Equity Act for the 21st Century (TEA-21) includes a section on "Transportation Systems Management and Operations" that emphasizes collaboration to improve regional transportation. The metropolitan and statewide planning processes, as mandated in U.S. Code (Title 23, Sections 134 and 135), also call for stronger consideration of management and operations in the transportation planning process.
Generally, two primary groups conduct planning to improve transportation operations: transportation planners who help decide how to allocate resources and operations managers responsible for the day-to-day operation of transportation systems. Operators and planners are sometimes viewed as entities from different worlds with different timeframes, perspectives, and needs. Typically the relationships between operators and planners are limited and may occur only when there is a special event, crisis, or short-term project.
The challenges are to sustain and expand the relationships between operators and planners. Collaboration is particularly critical in metropolitan regions and congested corridors where numerous jurisdictions, agencies, and service providers are responsible for safely and efficiently operating various aspects of the transportation system. Not only are the roadway and transit system operators themselves dependent on the transportation system, but so are police, fire, and medical services; emergency response and homeland security systems; and port authorities.
Major misunderstandings may occur between police officers and transportation operators. Eileen Singleton, senior transportation engineer for the Baltimore Metropolitan Council, describes how police and transportation entities may have different objectives when attending to a roadway incident. "Law enforcement needs to conduct an investigation if an incident is a crime scene," she says. "So the police may need to move methodically to make sure that any evidence is safe before things are moved. Whereas transportation operators may want to move everything out of the way, clear things, and get the road open as soon as possible."
Regional collaboration is also critical because many programs and strategies have regional impacts. They include incident management programs, traveler information systems, emergency management systems, roadway weather response plans, and electronic toll collection systems. To be effective, these regional activities typically depend upon considerable collaboration and planning between transportation, public safety, and other agencies.
FHWA coined the phrase "planning for operations" to describe the planning and collaboration required to improve regional operations. Planning for operations requires three related but distinct elements: sustaining regional collaboration for operations, enhancing the transportation planning process, and strengthening the linkage between operations and planning.
Regional collaboration—the first key element of planning for operations—consists of developing and sustaining unprecedented levels of teamwork and partnership between transportation systems operators. Although agencies, jurisdictions, and systems operators will continue to operate and maintain their own facilities and services, they need to collaborate more to improve regional system performance. This collaboration is especially needed when the strategies must cross agency and jurisdictional lines to be effective. Effective regional collaboration for operations may include the following:
Deliberate and sustained collaboration requires a framework of five key elements: structures, processes, products, resources, and the performance measures needed to gauge success. The framework helps to institutionalize collaboration as a way of doing business among transportation agencies, public safety officials, and other public and private sector interests within a region. These framework elements are interactive and evolving.
Transportation Planning Process
The second element of planning for operations, the transportation planning process, results in increased consideration of transportation operational investments within the regional transportation planning and decisionmaking process. This transportation planning process may be realized through the following:
Linkage Between Operations and Planning
The third element of planning for operations, the linkage between operations and planning, establishes a regional forum for transportation planning and operations, and can result in strategies for collecting and sharing data and information. This linkage may be realized through some of the following actions:
The final item—regional projects-may include systems or services for traffic incident management, advanced traveler information, congestion management, work zone management, roadway weather notification, and emergency response.
Operational data on congestion and travel times are critical to operators, planners, and travelers using transportation systems. "The planners are interested in congestion data from a system utilization point of view," says Rickman. "But the users are interested in travel time data so that they can make choices about how to travel. And people who operate the transportation system need this information so we can control the system by adjusting ramp meters, for example, or retiming traffic signals."
FHWA's Joint Pathway
The FHWA Office of Operations and the Office of Planning, Environment, and Realty are working together to carry out a 3- to 5-year joint program to advance planning for operations. Called the Joint Pathway, the program will carry out initiatives, actions, and activities that fall into three categories: awareness and outreach, development and delivery, and showcasing of best practices. The Joint Pathway will conduct outreach and provide technical assistance to increase stakeholder awareness and motivation.
FHWA had two goals in mind in creating the Joint Pathway: to enhance regional planning and operations, and to enhance the decisionmaking processes so that investments in operations are on par with investments in construction and preservation.
Some major activities of the Joint Pathway include:
The greatest challenge in "planning for operations" is creating an environment that supports ongoing collaboration and coordination to improve regional operations. Incorporating "planning for operations" and the corresponding collaboration into the culture of transportation institutions will fulfill a wide range of regional goals and will become a vital element in policy and programs.
"Operational programs, policies, and improvements are essential to sustaining the vitality of a region in the face of growing transportation demand," says FHWA Associate Administrator for Operations Jeff Paniati. "To be truly effective, they must be planned for in a collaborative manner, and they must receive sufficient funding over a long timeframe. Only in this way can we expect to realize and sustain an improved level of performance on our Nation's transportation systems."
Wayne Berman is a transportation specialist with FHWA's Office of Operations. He is responsible for developing, encouraging, and guiding more effective planning for operations within both the operations and planning communities. He has been with FHWA for more than 29 years and has held positions in the Offices of Planning and Traffic Operations and Safety before his present position. Berman received a bachelor of science in civil engineering from the University of Pittsburgh and a master of science in civil engineering, with specialties in transportation planning and traffic engineering, from the University of Maryland. He is active in the Institute of Transportation Engineers, the Association for Commuter Transportation, and the Transportation Research Board.
Robin Mayhew is a community planner in FHWA's Office of Planning, Environment, and Realty. Mayhew has 12 years of diverse experience in transportation planning, including service in the public and private sectors. Prior to joining FHWA, she worked for the Federal Transit Administration in Philadelphia, PA, and Washington, DC. In Denver, CO, she was executive director of Transportation Solutions, a transportation management association, and transportation director of the Southeast Transportation Management Organization. Mayhew also has worked for three Washington, DC, transportation consulting firms and has served as a transportation planner for the Delaware Department of Transportation (DOT). She obtained a bachelor of science in community and family services and a master's of public administration from the University of Delaware. She also served in the General Assembly as a legislative fellow and a governor's management fellow. Mayhew is a member of the Institute of Transportation Engineers, American Planning Association, American Institute of Certified Planners, and the Women's Transportation Seminar.
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