Patrick DeCorla-Souza, Tolling and Pricing Program Manager, FHWA
Lee Munnich, Humphrey Institute, University of Minnesota
Kenneth Buckeye, Minnesota Department of Transportation
John Doan, SRF Consulting
Center for Innovative Finance Support
Federal Highway Administration
Thirteenth Part of a Webinar Series on Overcoming the Challenges of Congestion Pricing.
Good afternoon or good morning to those of you to the West. Welcome to the Overcoming the Challenges of Congestion Pricing webinar series. My name is Jennifer Symoun and I will moderate today's webinar, which will focus on Incident Management and Access for Managed Lanes. Please be advised that today's seminar is being recorded.
Before I go any further, I do want to let those of you who are calling into the teleconference for the audio know that you need to mute your computer speakers or else you will be hearing your audio over the computer as well.
Today we'll have four presenters - Paul Jodoin of the Federal Highway Administration Traffic Incident Management Program, Javier Rodriguez of the Florida Department of Transportation, Todd Merkens of the Washington State Department of Transportation, and Brian Kary of the Minnesota Department of Transportation.
We will be taking questions after each presentation. If during the presentations you think of a question, please type it into the chat area. Please make sure you send your question to "Everyone" and indicate which presenter your question is for. Presenters will be unable to answer your questions during their presentations, but I will ask the questions typed into the chat box following each presentation. We will spend about five minutes on questions for each presenter. If we are unable to get through all of the questions in the time allotted we will get written responses from the presenters and send them out with the follow up information.
The PowerPoint presentations used today are available for download from the file download box in the lower right corner of your screen. I would also like to remind you that this session is being recorded. The recording, presentations, and a transcript will be posted to the Tolling and Pricing web site within the next few weeks and I will send out a notice when they are available.
Our first presenter will be Paul Jodoin of the Federal Highway Administration Traffic Incident Management Program.
Thank you, Jennifer. Thank you everybody for participating. Today we'll do an overview of the national program and then we'll get into the specifics congestion pricing. There's been a lot of progress and a lot of excitement about traffic incident management in the last few years. There are more and more players coming on board. I'm really thrilled to be working with my colleagues within the Office of Operations to drill down even deeper into how we can better traffic incident management (TIM) and how it plays into operations efforts. I look forward to learning a little bit more today about how TIM is applied into some of these other facilities.
Over the last few years, we've flipped around TIM and stopped talking about it as an operations strategy; we have been talking about it as a safety program. We're getting the attention of police and fire and public safety communities at the highest levels in this nation because we're talking about it as a responder safety program for first, and then a motorist safety program second. This is an example of a little incident in Pennsylvania in 1998 that turned into something else entirely for responders. It was one of the worst incidents involving responders in this country. This is an example of what actually can happen. There's also a safety issue relative to secondary accidents; 20-25% of all accidents are estimated to be secondary in nature, but we don't know that for sure. That's why we're asking more and more folks to get on board with collecting secondary incident information. It's also estimated that the likelihood of a secondary incident increases by 2.8% for every minute we're out there. Eventually, there's going to be a secondary accident. How severe it is remains to be seen, but all the experienced people on the line know that it's often more severe than the primary incident.
It's also a money issue: $299 billion a year according to an AAA study on traffic crashes that was just conducted in early 2012. That's up 83% from four years ago. The average cost per person is on the screen as well. We're heading in the wrong direction. We need to continue to make improvements and do what we can do to reduce the cost of crashes and the impact that they have on society.
Here are some of our major initiatives from 2011. We'll talk about the advanced workshops and executive briefings we've been conducting around the country. With the TIM Self-Assessment, we had a big move nationally, jumping up 5 or 6 points, but we had made it more difficult and less objective in 2011. We were very encouraged about the progress that was made in 2011 and we expect to see more progress as the self-assessments are being completed. They're being completed now and due August 15. We're working on a national TIM framework that will be on how the TIM effort fits together. We'll talk about the training standardization project we're working on at three levels in a minute. We also just went live with a Public Outreach Toolkit that's available. You can Google it, and what they put together is pretty neat. If you want to reach out to the public, there's a generic PowerPoint and templates and that sort of thing. It's pretty easy and generic so that you'll be able to use quite a bit. Performance measures are coming. They're pushing and pushing on TIM, and we'll talk about that. We have a pretty aggressive TIM Peer-to-Peer (P2P) program, and we're having very good success with the International Association of Chiefs of Police (IACP) and national executive leadership.
We have been all over this country conducting advanced TIM workshops in the top metropolitan areas of the country. We have completed 40 and have 3 more to go. We've talked to mid-level managers all over the country. It's been quite an experience. We have learned a lot from the folks out there doing the real job and from police, fire, and DOT. It has been pretty eye opening and has been an honor to conduct it.
The critical needs of the mid-level managers include developing and enhancing an overall TIM program. It has to be more than just on-scene operations; it has to be planned and discussed up-front. Develop and implement multidisciplinary TIM training was also a common action item. These are the action items that you folks, the mid-level managers and senior managers, have identified.
The national TIM program vision is to reduce or eliminate responder and motorist injuries and fatalities; promote rapid incident clearance, thereby reducing traffic congestion and vulnerability; develop and enhance local TIM programs; emphasize TIM as a system operations "core mission" for all responders and not just a pain-in-the-neck thing you're doing on the highway. It's a core mission and there are benefits when it is applied.
This is a video of a pit stop at a NASCAR race, and that's what we want TIM to look like. We talk in the workshops about how we can learn a lot from the pit stops and it shows an incident commander and coordination and training. That's not why I am showing it today. I'm showing it today because coincidentally, my friend Brian Kary, who is one of the presenters today, made an analogy to the NASCAR races. The racers realized they needed to save time in the pits to win races. In 1960s they were at about 45 seconds and they had some equipment changes and were able to bring it down to about 25 seconds in 1963. But they still needed to save time in the pit stops, so they trained, they practiced, they used technology, they had, and they brought it down to 12 seconds, where it is today. Brian wrote to me about his region of the country and said "I feel that we've gotten stuck at 25 seconds." That's a great analogy for this country. We've done a pretty good job with TIM around the country, but we have gotten stuck and I think there's room for improvement with a little bit of coordination.
At the core of all of our operations strategies is traffic incident management. All other strategies are minimized if you don't have effective TIM. As you're planning your facilities and thinking about how you're going to better operate the system, at the core needs to be that planned and coordinated multidisciplinary process to detect, respond to, and clear incidents so we can restore traffic as safely and quickly as possible. Effective TIM reduces the duration. If we're going to have people in these facilities, we need to plan ahead.
The National Unified Goal for TIM was formed when the National TIM Coalition and FHWA organized a larger group of responders to agree upon this. The goal is responder safety, safe and quick clearance, and prompt, reliable, interoperable communications. There are 18 strategies to support that as guidance for moving TIM around the country.
We're talking about two programs. On the right is your typical response: detection, verification, response, site management, clearance, and removal. On the left, to support response, is our program: the development of relationships; needs assessments; training; performance evaluation; asset management; contracting; administration and staffing; finance/budget; and everything on the program side that will make for an effective response.
The performance measures we have are not tangible; ribbon cutting ceremonies are nice, but we don't get that in our world. We need to qualify and quantify exactly what we do. What gets measured gets performed. There's evidence of that all over the country. If people are being measured, they're more apt to step it up and have more of an effort going forward. These are the three standard TIM performance measures. The first is "roadway" clearance time, which is from the first recordable awareness of an incident to when all lanes are open. Incident clearance time is from first recordable awareness to when everyone has left the scene. The last measure is the number of secondary crashes. We are really asking folks to gather that information, and you can gather that information in a small facility that you're operating, on your larger facilities as well, or start off small and become a statewide effort. It's up to you, but we're asking folks to gather the information based on those definitions.
We're looking at a national training framework with three different tiers. Tier 1 is "boots on the ground," at the scene training under SHRP-2. Tier 2 is advanced mid-level management workshops. That's what we have been doing around the country. It doesn't have to be FHWA; standard materials will be available for Tier 2 and Tier 3. Tier 3 is information for executives. These three levels are what we'll be focusing on over the next several years. You'll be hearing more and more about training if you haven't already.
One training effort with a significant push behind it will be the National TIM Responders training, coming out of the Transportation Research Board's Strategic Highway Research Program-2 (SHRP-2). Congress gave TRB millions of dollars to research better ways to operate our system. A lot of the projects are still under research, but one of the first projects to come out was the National Responder training program. FHWA and AASHTO have been assigned the responsibility of implementing the research. These are the objectives that we have for the SHRP-2 training. It's a multidisciplinary approach; we want to get multidisciplinary folks in the same room, to the extent possible. We want to cross-train the core competencies so that everyone is on the same page. It's actually about 10 hours' worth of training, but it's modular. There will also be a 4-hour version available when we present the train-the-trainer sessions.
Under development now, is an e-learning component that will be available in about a year from September. That's going under contract now with TRB. There will also be an extensive evaluation process to look at how well we're doing with the training as we go forward. The first round of pilots has already been conducted in Tennessee, Virginia, and Montana. There will be a transitional workshop in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, and then FHWA starts implementation in the last week of August. We start off with Arizona and will be conducting train-the-trainer sessions all over the country at a pretty aggressive clip. We'll have classroom training available as well. If you want to do some classroom training, you could potentially get someone into the area to do the training there if the train-the-trainer session isn't appropriate.
As I said, these are multidisciplinary sessions. There will be two instructors in the train-trainer-sessions from police, fire, DOT; two out of the three disciplines will be represented so that we're getting different perspectives. There will be a lot of training options pushed out all over the country in a bunch of different methods. These are the implementation goals. I won't read it to you, but we are looking to train thousands of people over the next several years.
We have reached out to public safety associations in this country as well as AASHTO. IACP has been very involved and wants to help spearhead this effort. We expected formal endorsement from them at their annual meeting in September. The International Association of Fire Chiefs has formally endorsed it. We had separate meetings with these folks and asked does this work for you? What can we do? They all said it was a great idea; we need to start training together and working together. AASHTO has been on board as a partner, as well as National Volunteer Fire Council, and several others, too. A couple of weeks ago there was a Public Safety Summit. Colonels, secretaries, commissioners, chief engineers, and fire chiefs from around the country talked about how we can push this training forward.
I wanted to talk about a couple of programs that are unique. There are multiple programs around the country, but one I want to mention briefly is the Towing and Recovery Incentive Program (TRIP). It's one of three or four programs around the country that actually pay the towing contractor an incentive to remove the incident within 90 minutes. It's having tremendous success, and you can see how the reduction in clearance time has gone down from 2007 to 2011. It has been a very effective program. They are expanding it, and more people are expressing interest in that program. Do incentive programs work? Looking at this Atkins report, you can see the savings and benefits that come out of that. They swear by the TRIP program, and I just thought I'd offer it up to you guys as an idea.
Other programs include the Rapid Incident Scene Clearance Program in Florida. It's very similar to the instant tow program out of Washington State where they dispatch a tow without verification, and if it's false alarm they give the tow company a small amount of money. It's a very small budget - under $1,000 a year for the WSDOT program - and it has been very successful.
I learned the most about TIM doing after-action reviews at Massachusetts DOT. You learn a lot about your partners and it has a lot of value to it. Safety service patrols are critical. I won't give a sales pitch on those, but we're asking to get more and more out of the full function service patrols. They aren't just changing gasoline anymore; we're asking them to do more and more. That's often easily accomplished by giving them extra training. That's it for my presentation.
We'll take some questions now. For secondary incidents, is there a universally acceptable time and distance from the primary incident?
No, there isn't. We're just asking folks to use common sense. That's what we're asking the police; if you know it's most likely a secondary incident, log it in as a secondary incident. It's within the queue from either direction, or within the emergency work zone, but no, there isn't a specific distance and time.
Where can I find more information on special towing programs?
Sending me an e-mail would be the easiest thing. There's an AASHTO program to coordinate some of the programs that are out there. There are only three incentive programs out there. There's one in Washington State. Florida has been doing it for years; they were the first in the turnpike. Then there's the Georgia TRIP, which I explained today. Send me an email and I'll give you specifics, but you can also Google the DOTs for each one of those locations and they have information about all the programs.
Is there a separate incident management program for work zones?
I don't know if I absolutely understand the question, but there are two separate programs: the work zone program and the TIM program.
Thank you. If anyone thinks of additional questions for Paul, please type them in. We'll now move on to our next presentation, given by Javier Rodriguez of the Florida DOT.
Thank you, and good afternoon. My presentation is going to focus on the incident management effort supporting operations on the express lanes in Miami, Florida. I'll give an overview of our transportation management center (TMC) operations, and then we'll get into the actual incident management program for the express lanes.
Currently, the express lanes are located in Miami-Dade County. As you can see, we have a large number of visitors in our area. When we were developing our incident management plan and our messaging strategy, we took that into consideration. Our TMC is responsible for five limited access facilities, and they're instrumented with ITS devices. The services that we provide from the TMC are incident management, traffic management, and traveler information. The express lanes in Florida are being built in different phases. In southeast Florida, Phase 1A of the express lanes began tolling in 2008, shown here in yellow. It's the northbound direction of I-95 from SR 112 up to the Golden Glades Interchange area, and we began tolling in December 2008 on this portion of roadway. Phase 1B, which is the southbound component of the express lanes in Miami-Dade, began tolling in 2010. We're currently under construction for Phase 2 of the express, which is the expansion of the system into Broward County and the Fort Lauderdale area. In addition to our express lanes, we implementing ramp signaling, and one of the most important components of our express lanes operations is the bus-rapid transit program.
Let's talk about the geometry of the roadway. There was no additional widening for this HOV conversion. Prior to the express lanes, the roadway configuration included one HOV lane and four local lanes in each direction of travel. With the implementation of express lanes, we converted the HOV lanes and some of the inside shoulder to two express lanes, and we kept the same four local lanes. The express lanes are separated from the local lanes by delineators. In order to accomplish this reconfiguration without widening, we had to reduce our lane width to 11 feet. Also, the inside shoulders were reduced to less than 8 feet, which isn't an ideal scenario for incident management.
We recognized early on that the express lane operations needed to be well integrated into our existing TMC operations. The folks using the roadways want to have the same experience whether they're using the express lanes or the general use lanes and local lanes. As a result, we had to expand procedures and we had high expectations for the operators designated as express lane operators. To give you an idea of the activity level in the District 6 TMC, for fiscal year 2010-2011, we handled over 37,000 events or incidents. Prior to the implementation of the express lanes in Miami-Dade, we had a full blown incident management program for our limited access roadways where we were providing road rangers or safety patrols 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Our fleet consisted primarily of tow trucks and pickup trucks. Also, all of our roadways maintenance is provided by an asset maintenance contractor. All of the TIM activities are coordinated from the TMC.
To give you an idea of the traffic that uses the express lanes, for fiscal year 2010-2011, our average weekday trips were about 60,000. As you can see, northbound and southbound average speeds during the peak periods were about 55 mph or over. Our TMC managed approximately 1,500 lane blocking events or incidents on the express lanes and over 13,000 on the local use lanes.
At the onset of the express lanes project, FDOT conducted an operational risk assessment. This risk assessment identified incidents as a high risk and high probability, and we were tasked with coming up with an incident management plan to mitigate the impact of these incidents. We held several workshops with our partner agencies in this area, and through the workshops we were able to develop some protocols/agreements and quick clearance procedures, and we were able to explore video sharing capabilities among the different agencies that were responding to incidents within this facility. Prior to the opening of the southbound express lanes, we reviewed and updated the incident management plan to make sure it would be in line with the current operations.
What the plan called for was additional resources at the TMC and additional road rangers. It also called for additional incident responders and the need to provide multiagency outreach and training for the different agencies to make sure we would all be on the same page. Like I mentioned before, we added dedicated TMC operators for express lane operations. These operators are some of our most experienced operators, and they are our central contact point for all of the agency coordination and incident management that takes place within the TMC. These folks receive special training. We need to make sure that they understand the whole theory behind express lanes and how the tolling is supposed to work on this facility.
On the responder side, working with our Florida Highway Patrol (FHP) troopers, we were able to add an additional trooper Monday through Friday, 6:00 a.m. to 10:00 p.m. While they provide enforcement on the express lanes, their primary role is to assist us with incident management and quick clearance. We also added additional incident response operators, who coordinate all the different activities and resources from the FDOT perspective out in the field. These individuals are specially trained, and their prior experience is in law enforcement or fire rescue; therefore, they have good knowledge of incident management. We also added additional vehicles. We added additional road rangers and what we call the incident response vehicle, which is an F350 heavy duty vehicle that's able to carry additional MOT equipment, such as cones. We also added flatbed tow trucks to our Road Rangers fleet.
One of the key elements of our incident management plan was the need to provide multiagency training. This is a recurring effort. We realize that people change jobs and new people come in and we need to make sure that everyone is on the same page to have a successful incident management plan. We held various one-on-one meetings with the different agencies. We established the need to conduct post incident analysis to share lessons learned, especially when we have large scale events. Again, we developed several MOT schemes and scenarios for dealing with incidents in the express, lanes and additional procedures were also developed.
This is a quick summary of the procedures developed through our different workshops. FHP granted permission for the Road Rangers to cross double white lines and delineators for incidents to be able to quickly access the express lanes. We also realized that disabled vehicles needed to be quickly and safely relocated to designated areas off the highway. We're now working the wreck and investigations off of the highway itself. We're loading up the vehicles on the flatbeds and taking them off to station locations to work out the details there. Â We also realized that abandoned vehicles needed to be handled expeditiously. During the morning shift, the troopers will do a sweep of the express lanes for any disabled vehicles to make sure we expedite the clearance of those vehicles.
As I briefly mentioned, we have strategic station locations that have been designated for our project, and they give us access to the facility quickly, specifically for our incident response vehicles and tow truck operators. Also, if we have to work an incident, change any flat tires, or the like, we do that at the station locations off the highway.
As I mentioned before, we have close to 1,500 incidents a year. Most of them require closing the express lanes due to the fact that we have reduced shoulders and want to ensure the safety of the motorists and the responders out on the field. We have different procedures for our closures. If we anticipate the closure will last less than 30 minute, we'll use our messaging boards to post "closed," and hopefully motorists will take notice of that and avoid going into the facility. We do this because we know it will take us close to 30 minutes to actually dispatch resources to the different entrances of the facility. If we anticipate the event is going to take more than 30 minutes and less than 60 minutes, we immediately dispatch road rangers to block the entrances to the facility. If it's going to require more than 60 minutes, we'll dispatch our asset maintenance contractor to provide long-term MOT services. We have also worked out different DMS strategies to keep motorists advised.
I just want to highlight some of the benefits we have seen since the implementation of the different strategies for incident management in the district. We have seen a reduction in travel lane blockage duration of 55%, and our response times have been reduced by 19%. You can see the instances of closures on the express lanes due to incidents are relatively minor; less than 2% of the time we're closing our express lanes due to incidents. That's all I have for the presentation for today.
Thank you, Javier. What do your daily reports consist of?
We have a summary report that is provided by our TMC operators, and in them we tabulate all of the different events that took place. It's a summary table that tells us the number of events that took place in the express lanes, any significant events, and more details for those events. If we had any issues with our partnering agencies or resources, that's also highlighted. Also, for both directions of travel we have our average speeds for the local lanes and the express lanes, as well as the total traffic that used the express lanes on a daily basis. We also break it down by the different peak periods for both directions of travel. We can send out a sample or post it on our website so you can take a look at it as well.
Do you anticipate any significant changes to the incident management plan when the 95 Express facility expands?
Yes. We'll use some of the stuff we did for the first phase and implement that in the second phase, but it's going to be a lot more complex. Now we're talking about multiple segments, so there will be a lot more coordination. We're also doing this project across different districts, so we'll have to share resources. We'll have to be well coordinated with the two districts. We're in the process of identifying the additional resources for the second phase of the express lanes, as well as the different scenarios.
How do you anticipate the incident closure time?
It's based on the type of event taking place. If it's a broken down vehicle, we have a pretty good idea that we can handle it within 30 minutes. If it's a crash that might have injuries, it might be longer, and with any major crashes or fatalities, we'll be there for a while. It's based on our experience - not only from the TMC, but from the guys in the field. The incident response vehicle operator is crucial in giving us feedback.
How does the closure of the express lanes coordinate with pricing?
When we close the express lanes, we're not charging any tolls.
What is the cost for this incident management program to achieve the time reduction benefit shown?
I could get the numbers for you guys. We have it broken down into the different aspects of our program. We had existing services on this facility, but we did add several additional resources such as the FHP trooper and the additional Road Rangers. I could share that information broken down by different segments, and then share with the rest of the responders.
Who has the overall traffic responsibility for accidents?
We follow the national incident command structure. Most of the time, our guys are the first out in the field. We'll be the incident commanders until FHP is on scene, and we'll play a supporting role to FHP until fire rescue gets there.
Are private, nongovernment tow trucks (like AAA) allowed to assist management, or just the Road Rangers?
Road rangers are the initial response. Obviously, FHP has their own rotation list. The Road Rangers just clear the vehicles from the travel lanes; they're not going to do any recovery. They move the vehicle to the station area or to the shoulders, and then AAA or another service on the FHP rotation list will tow the vehicle to a location. We're just moving them out of the travel lane.
How often do you replace the express lane delineators?
That's a good question. We provide maintenance once a week for each direction. We close in each direction on Thursday night and replace the ones that are damaged. We go through a full cycle replacement on a yearly basis. We replace all of our delineators at least once every year.
What are the charges for the motorists who are in the express lanes after the lanes are closed?
There are no charges for the folks that go through when we have an actual closure. We hope that by posting "closed" on the DMS, folks will not enter the facility, but we're seeing people ignoring those closure messages and using the facility, which is creating problems for us in trying to manage the incidents and protect the safety of our responders.
Going back to the question about who has the responsibility, to clarify, is the State Police in charge or is it the DOT? In Delaware, it's the Fire Department.
The DOT is responsible for keeping the roads open to traffic, but we do follow the incident command structure, so it's a tricky question. It all depends. Our role is to make sure that the road is open to traffic, and it's up to the different agencies here to make sure we get the roads open to traffic as quickly as possible. That's the best answer I can give you now.
We're going to move on to our next presentation, which will be given by Todd Merkens of the Washington State DOT (WSDOT).
Thank you, and good morning to everyone. I'm going to talk about our SR 167 HOT lanes pilot project in Washington State. I'm a toll development engineer, so my role here is primarily to plan and get systems up and running. I helped develop the initial system here on SR 167 and went through the initial operations period. I'll be talking about where we are in terms of our incident management response efforts on SR 167, and I'll talk a little bit about how that's changed over time, because we have gone through a little bit of evolution since we started the system in May 2008.
I'm going to give everybody a quick introduction to the SR 167 HOT lanes here. We opened them in May 2008. We chose the SR 167 corridor, which is in the southern Seattle metro area. It's a fairly common alternative to I-5 and is heavily congested. The HOV facility on this route was one of the few that were underutilized at the time, so we saw the ability to maintain our HOV occupancy and still sell capacity to solo drivers. We also had an opportunity on the facility to do capital improvements at a modest cost. We weren't looking at changing the roadway prism very much; we were able to use the existing pavement out there. We do have electronic tolling only and an automatic algorithm that's adjusting our price to keep us at free-flowing conditions.
We are tolling during the daytime hours from 5:00 a.m. to 7:00 p.m. During the nighttime hours, it is toll free for all vehicles. Our revenue helps to pay for operations and maintenance of the toll system itself and, more importantly to this conversation, increased enforcement and added incident response. This is a big point we discussed with our stakeholders and customers and drivers as we were developing the system, which was not only are we adding a new option for you as a driver, but we're actually adding additional services to the roadway as well. I'll talk more about those in a little bit. State Patrol enforces the HOT lane rules. The rules are violating the HOV requirements, failure to pay a toll, and crossing the double white lines, which separate our general purpose traffic from our HOT lanes. The schematic on the slide shows the approximate locations of our access points - we have six northbound and four southbound, each of them with a rate sign and a tag meter location. The sections of roadway between access points are marked with a double white line, which is illegal to cross.
The top picture on this slide shows the roadway prior to the HOT lanes, when we were operating just an HOV lane in each direction, and the second picture shows the rate sign with the beginning of an access point and the double white line that's illegal to cross. Currently, buses, motorcycles, and carpools with two or more people are toll free in the facility. Solo drivers pay a single toll if they're driving any distance within the corridor. We only have a single lane in each direction on this facility. The double white lines here are profile MMA, so it provides feedback if you're driving over it, but we did not elect to use delineators.
We have ten access points, and each one was designed around weaving distances to be able to provide access in and out to proximate mainline entrance and exit locations. We have been doing additional studies with the University of Washington to look at driver behavior, addressing customer complaints, transit usage, and ways we might be change the access points to something more continuous or lengthening them. That is something we're looking at from a design standpoint.
This is a quick summary of how the usage of the HOT lanes has been growing over time. Average toll trips per weekday, looking at the Tuesday through Thursday time frame, have been on a steady ramp-up period since we started the facility; a few bumps along the way, but growth over time. Corresponding to that growth, we have also been tracking our revenue and expenditures over time. This is very important to stakeholders and politicians. You'll see our revenue by quarter has been going up, mirroring the number of customers and transactions we have been seeing. We've also been able to decrease our expenditures through several efforts, some of which I'll talk about here in a moment.
Let's get into the incident management a little bit more specifically. Our TMC is responsible for overseeing the northwest region in Washington, and the Seattle metro area is our main hub. We have 24-hour operations there. Staff in that center is responsible for our local VMS signs, highway advisory radios, tunnel control systems, ramp meters, CCTV, and our new active traffic management systems. They have a fairly lengthy list of responsibilities. They also do the coordination with all of our IRT and Washington State Patrol response efforts. They are able to coordinate both with State Patrol officers in the field as well as State Patrol centers. At this time, we're funding one FTE from the SR167 revenue to support this center, and that includes support for both monitoring of the HOT lane facility from a toll operations standpoint and the incident management work.
One of the selling points of opening up the SR167 HOT lanes was the fact that we were going to add additional incident response teams (IRTs). Prior to turning on the SR167 HOT lanes, we did not have any dedicated service on this corridor, and with the help of the toll revenue, we were actually able to support - when we first started - two FTE for additional IRT support on the facility. The IRT is there to help with traffic in all lanes, so this is not just a benefit if you're a paying customer; this is really here to benefit the traffic flow through the entire corridor. Over time, we have seen positive results. Our numbers of responses to incidents have continued to go up on a month-by-month basis. At the same time, we're dropping our average response times. This is good for all drivers. We've looked at the ability to use smaller trucks over time, and since about September 2010, we've actually diminished the program funding that came out of toll revenue down to one FTE on the corridor. Their focus is primarily roving service throughout 10 miles northbound to 10 miles southbound, primarily in the peak periods. Even with that change, we have still been able to maintain our response to incidents overtime.
State Patrol is a critical partner of ours out on the roadway. One of the points of this project is the fact that we're adding dedicated enforcement service, so we're paying State Patrol to be out there specifically for enforcement of the HOT lanes. Their typical enforcement efforts are to monitor traffic to see if motorists are crossing the white line where they're not permitted to, and monitoring the enforcement beacons we have in each of the toll zones and verifying that the customers are actually paying correctly. They're not using any automated enforcement technology at this point, although we are looking at future HOT lanes in Washington using photo tolling aspects. We have also gone through some efforts to right size the State Patrol efforts since we first opened. For the first six weeks, we did a very heavy emphasis out there; for the first couple of days, we had a large number of troopers. When the striping originally went down just prior to operations commencement, we also had a lot of troops out there. After we got past the first 6 weeks, we ramped down a little bit to focus primarily on the peak periods and the weekends, and after September 2010, we were able to ramp that down again. Focusing primarily on the peak periods, we're paying for about 130 hours a month at this point. Our compliance rates stayed about the same and perhaps even improved over time. State Patrol actually really likes the HOT lanes for a lot of the secondary enforcement actions that they're able to complete as part of it. They see a benefit to being out there as well.
This chart is an attempt to diagram our standard operating procedures for incidents on the 167 HOT lanes. When we have an incident out there, it might be seen by IRT, which is out there roving, or State Patrol, or it could be a call to 911 that comes in through another source, and then that information is shared across all of our different platforms. It might also be an incident that one of operators at the TMC is able to see directly. We have computer systems that dispatch information to State Patrol, who is actually plugged into our TMC. We're able to share that information over WSDOT radio with IRT and back and forth. Then we have a coordinated response out in the field, depending on the arrival of services to the incident as well as the particulars of the incident. If IRT is able to arrive on the scene first, they have their standard operating procedures that they carry on. As we were talking about with the Florida presentation, State Patrol can assume the responsibility of the situation if it's warranted and they're there; we have other emergency vehicles and services as needed.
At the same time, the TMC provides a coordination hub and continues to control toll rates and other driver notifications. From an operations standpoint, we typically close the facility everywhere upstream of an incident if there's a blocking incident in the HOT lane or if both of the general purpose lanes are blocked. Depending on the location of the incident and the length of the corridor, we are able to operate our HOT lanes downstream of the incident. If the incident happens a third of the way northbound on our facility, we can still operate the last two-thirds of our facility under a tolled scenario.
Just to follow up on some of the questions from the Florida presentation, we at this point don't charge customer if they're in the lane and it's in a closed status, but if they continue in the lane downstream and pass the rate sign with the dollar amount, they're set at that rate. IRT and State Patrol follow our standard procedures. We have been doing IRT in the Seattle area for about 30 or so years. We have been heavily involved in the national program, so we're trying to maintain that process even though we're looking at a new operational scenario with tolling.
Here's my contact information if you want to reach out to Tyler or myself, and I'm certainly happy to help answer any questions now.
Thank you. How well do motorists abide by the double white line, and are special enforcement efforts needed?
I don't have a quantitative answer to that question. I can tell you that it's not one of our biggest complaints from other drivers and customers, and the research we have done indicates that motorists are more likely to violate the white line restriction to enter the HOT lane than exit the HOT lane. To date, we have not seen a particularly high number of folks trying to avoid paying the toll by crossing the double white line. It tends to be a theme that customers see a queue back up, they reach the back of that queue, cross the double white line to enter the HOT lane, and continue on and exit the HOT lane legally and pay their toll legally. It's the entrance to the HOT lane that seems to be the highest likelihood of them violating it, and it's one of the reasons we're starting to look at whether we need to be taking a different access approach.
Have HOVs increased along with toll-paying single occupancy vehicles?
I don't know the answer to that question off the top of my head. I don't believe we have seen HOV numbers increase.
How does law enforcement ensure single occupancy vehicles are using AVI to pay tolls?
We have an enforcement beacon connected to our tag status file, which indicates the validity of a particular customer's transponder. In real time as a customer drives through the toll zone, if the tag is on that list, the beacon illuminates and State Patrol knows that car is paying. If the beacon doesn't illuminate, it's their key to look and see how many heads are in the vehicle. If the vehicle has two heads, they are using the lane appropriately.
What factors will influence your decision to change the design of the current access site?
We initially took our standard design manual approach and looked at the weaving distance downstream and upstream of entrances and exits and tried to accommodate that movement safely. We're going to want to continue to make sure we're looking at that. If we go down this path, we'll want to take into special consideration the moments where we do want to prohibit lane changing - maybe there are particular curved sections where we might want to restrict movements between lanes for safety reasons. Direct access ramps, particularly ones that are directing into local arterial signalized intersections, we may be looking at other kinds of operational challenges that we might want to be prohibiting as well. I don't know that we'll ever go to a fully continuous access setup if we go down that path, but we're starting to think about some of the options.
Did you say there's vibration to the double white lines?
Yes. They're profile MMA, so they're raised up; it's basically like driving over raised pavement markers. They're two 8-inch stripes with an 8-inch gap, so you definitely feel it when you drive over the lines.
Do you charge motorists upstream for an incident way downstream?
No, our pricing policy right now is you pay the price you see when you enter, so regardless of what happens to the toll rate, after you've locked into that price, that's what you pay. The only exception is if you enter going northbound and we have an incident in the facility during your trip, part of our procedures for closing a lane includes a retroactive look-back to close the lane. If we were to close the lane, all the signs would change from a dollar amount to closed. Typically our operators add a cushion of time to that closure, and it is retroactive, so it might be 30 minutes prior or 10 minutes prior to make sure we avoid somebody coming in and paying and being stopped because of an incident. We want to give customers the benefit of the doubt, at least in the operations of this facility.
Are motorists ever allowed to use the HOT lane for free when there's an incident in the general purpose lane?
Certainly - a good example might be if there's a one or two lane blockage in the general purpose lanes (we have three lanes in each direction, so it's a relatively small facility), State Patrol could and has directed traffic around an incident and into the HOT lane and back out. Crossing the double white line without having any delineators or physical barrier, that opportunity is there for them if they need to do so. Because our toll points are spaced pretty far apart (about every mile or so), if customers are just detouring around at one location, it's usually not a situation to be worried about. If we're already doing that, in concert, our TMC has switched the status of the HOT lanes to closed and customers are no longer being priced for the transactions that are generated.
Thank you. I think we got through all of your questions, so we're going to move on to our final presentation. Our final presentation will be given by Brian Kary of the Minnesota DOT.
Thank you. I'm the freeway operations engineer for the Minnesota DOT. First, I'm going to give you a little background on our regional TMC. Our congestion pricing falls within that. I oversee the center as well as our MnPASS system, so there's a direct relationship there between the two systems. Our TMC is a shared operations center. We have been here since 2003. It includes our traffic operation folks, our maintenance dispatch, and our State Patrol dispatch, so we are co-located with our law enforcement. State Patrol is the primary responder for the metro freeway system, which helps ease some of the coordination efforts with our responding agencies and partners. We have about 400 miles of freeway management system within the Twin Cities metro area. We've got full fiber optics cameras, signs, etc., and that system has provided the backbone for our managed lanes system - our pricing as well as our active traffic management and lane control system.
Our freeway service patrol is our Freeway Incident Response Safety Team, or FIRST. We changed the name from Highway Helper about 7 or 8 years ago. The program been in existence for probably about 20 years and has continued to involve into more of an incident response group rather than just a standard motorist assistance group. You can see them in action, providing traffic control for an incident scene. They also provide incident response on our two corridors that have the congestion pricing and managed lanes, I-394 and I-35W. You can see the hours of operation there; we're not 24/7. We technically start a little earlier than 5:30 a.m. We have a couple of guys that start at 3:30 a.m. to do the switches of the reversible lanes on I-394, and then a couple of guys that stay until 9:00 p.m., but we just advertise it as being from 5:30 a.m. to 7:30 p.m. because that's when our primary coverage is. We provide coverage on the weekends more for the reversible lanes rather than for actual incident response. It's mainly to change the reversible lanes due to any events going on downtown.
We have a couple of different incident management policies and legislation. First, we have an open roads policy, which is a statewide policy between MNDOT and State Patrol to make re-opening roads and lanes a priority. That's been in place for a couple of years. We're still trying to continue to pursue that thought process; it's been a little bit of a challenge to try to break the old habits. We're trying to come up with new techniques and procedures to fall in line with the open roads policy. We also got quick clearance within the last year, which was a change in State law restricted to the Twin Cities metro area. It gives State Patrol and MNDOT additional legal force to clear obstruction promptly should there be a truck rollover or such.
This is an example from last week on I-94. We had a truck rollover that was blocking pretty much all three lanes plus an auxiliary lane, so traffic was just squeezing by on the left-hand shoulder. If you move left to right and then down to the bottom row of pictures, you see they took the semi and dragged it on its side so that after about 20 minutes it was only blocking the auxiliary lane coming on from the ramp. The ramp did have to remain closed, but we were able to get three lanes of traffic open as opposed to just having traffic squeeze by on the inside shoulder. That's what we're doing now with our quick clearance and open roads policies.
That directly translates into what we do on our MnPASS lanes. For the most part, our incident management program isn't any different between our normal corridors and our HOT lane corridors. We basically have the same situation with the freeway service patrols using the same open roads policy. It's a high priority to clear the lanes, regardless of what kind of lanes they are. As far as congestion pricing in Minnesota, the name of our system is MnPASS. We're trying to provide a faster, safer, and more reliable travel option for the motoring public, providing benefits for transit and carpoolers as well as motorcycles and MnPASS customers. Here you can see the picture of an access point on I-394 leading into the MnPASS lane. Our system is broken up into different segments, and what price you pay depends on what segment you drive.
We have a little bit of difference in our access control between the I-394 corridor and the I-35W corridor. Â I-394 was opened in 2005 and has a much more closed access. Probably about 8 miles out of the 11-mile corridor are continuous lane, and it's separated by a double white line with a 2-foot buffer, providing limited access points at certain key locations. This price sign would fall just before the access point. In 2010, we opened up I-35W. That's about a 15-mile corridor. On that corridor we did things differently in that based on some of the experience we were seeing with the double white line on I-394, we decided to have a much more open access control on that corridor. As a rough percentage, I would say I-394 is probably 80% closed and 20% open, and I-35W is probably the exact opposite of that, where we are only closing access going into major interchanges and bottleneck areas; otherwise, for the most part, it is open.
Since we have two different corridors with two different designs, we currently have a study with the University of Minnesota looking at the performance of the corridors and what kind of effect different access control has, based on mobility as well as safety. At this point, some of the early results are find no real significant difference. That might change as the densities of the lanes increase and there's more traffic volume in them. We're currently operating at about 1,400-1,500 vehicles per hour in the peak period. As that continues to increase in the future, we might have to look at closing access at key locations, but for the most part it's looking like open access is working fairly well for us.
We will open the lanes during major incidents, making it open to all single occupancy vehicles for free. We really only do that if we've lost half of the capacity of the general purpose lanes. Typically we range from two lanes to four lanes on both corridors, so on the four lane corridor, we're looking at two out of the four lanes being blocked before we start looking at opening up the MnPASS lane to all users. That said, if we get a crash in the general purpose lane adjacent to the HOT lane, our State Patrol will detour traffic into that lane. Here at the TMC, we have the capability of overriding the tolling system. Should we feel that we need to do it for traffic purposes or because we see State Patrol is already detouring traffic into the HOT lane, we can override the system. The price signs will change to open and users in that lane will no longer be charged. It's interesting, though, that even though we change the price to open, there's still a misunderstanding and misconception by the general purpose traffic that it's still a restricted lane, so we don't see a whole lot of traffic jumping into the HOT lane during those times. It's still probably limited to the carpoolers and the MnPASS users, who would not be getting a charge on those days.
Here's a map showing where our existing system and future system are located. I already mentioned I-394 and I-35W corridors; those are highlighted in green with I-395 on the western side of Minneapolis and I-35W on the southern side. The red corridor in the northeast metro area on the St. Paul side is our next expansion for the MnPASS system, which will add another 4 miles of HOT lanes on I-35E in the 2015 timeframe. Everything in yellow is what is in our 50-year vision of where we intend to expand our MnPASS system and HOT lanes, so it's a key priority that anywhere that we add capacity, there's going to be a HOT lane component to it. As we work with our responders and stakeholders in expanding the system and operating the existing system, we certainly express the importance of the MnPASS system to our responders so that they recognize the importance of getting those lanes open as quickly as possible.
To talk a little bit about our freeway service patrol coverage with the FIRST program, we have a looped 25-mile route that they travel. We get a lot of double coverage in high congestion areas, so we did try to plan our routes to have double coverage on these MnPASS lanes since they were already high congestion corridors as it was. We wanted to make sure we had additional coverage in the area not only because they're MnPASS, but because they're very high volume corridors.
MnPASS enforcements go hand-in-hand with the incident management program. We fund two dedicated troopers on I-35W and one dedicated trooper on I-394 during a.m. and p.m. peak hours. We have instrumented them with additional equipment to assist with their enforcement capabilities. There's a picture of that on this slide. There's a unit in the squad that's able to pick up whether or not the vehicle next to them has a valid transponder. There's the antenna on the roof, the reader in the truck, and the PDA terminal in the squad for the officer to see. Our HOV carpool users are not required to have a transponder, so the squad has to sit adjacent to the lanes and determine if they have a valid transponder as they drive-by. If they don't, then they have to do the same head counting thing they do in Washington State. It's a manual effort as well as an automated effort for them. We had the beacons on I-394 but chose not to use them on I-35W because State Patrol was having difficulty using them in that they couldn't find a good spot to park that would allow them to get out and enforce the lanes. More so, they found that the equipment in their squads was far more beneficial to them because they could continue to move along the corridor rather than stay in a fixed location. After discussions with them, we found the in-vehicle equipment was a much better system. Having increased enforcement helps with incident management, because oftentimes they'll end up being one of the first ones on scene of an incident along that corridor.
I want to touch on the smart lanes on I-35W as well. When we added MnPASS to that corridor as part of the Urban Partnership Agreement project, we also added intelligent lane control signals. "Smart lanes" is the buzz word we use with the general public rather than "active traffic management" or something to that extent. We have the lane control signals spaced every half mile on the corridor, so we have a total of about 187 lane control signals. They are full 4x5 foot full color matrix signs. We're primarily using them for incident management purposes, but also for speed harmonization and to designate when the priced dynamic shoulder lane is open.
These are some of the message sets we use on the lane control. You can see everything from green arrows when the lane is open, red X when it's closed, yellow X and merge arrows when it's closed ahead, and our variable speeds as well. The results that we're seeing show that they're pretty effective in high speed locations. If you have a lane that's blocked and traffic is still generally free flowing, people tend to obey the sign because there's not a penalty in moving over since the adjacent lane is moving at about the same travel speed as the lane that they're in. However, in congested times, compliance to the signs is not as high. Motorists will continue to stay in the blocked lane until they get closer to the scene and get confirmation that there really is an incident in that lane, and then they'll start to move over. I think that for the most part, it's providing safety during high speed situations, and during slow speeds, it's maybe not as critical. The best we can hope is that they're paying more attention and watching for an emergency vehicle or stalled vehicle or whatever may be up ahead of them.
Our variable speed limits system is an advisory system to warn people of congestion downstream. We'll post speeds up to 1-1.5 miles back to gradually ease motorists into a congested area. Whether it's recurring congestion or incident congestion, the variable speeds will act in an automated fashion and will start deploying as traffic speeds warrant, so our operators don't have to do anything with that system. We are finding it responds very well to recurring congestion, but a lot of times when you have an incident and multiple lanes are blocked suddenly, the congestion builds more rapidly than our system can respond to. We're working out different ways to kind of get through that so it responds to incident-related congestion as well as it does to recurring congestion.
We also have a section of roadway on I-35W that has a priced dynamic shoulder lane, which has made incident management and enforcement a bit of a challenge, but by using lane control and working with our partners, we're able to help mitigate that as much as possible. The last three miles of I-35W as you come northbound contains a priced dynamic shoulder lane. We have five lanes to the south that were added as part of a reconstruction project. We would have ended up having a five lane to four lane conversion as we came into the older section of road, so we had a lane drop and major bottleneck three miles shy of downtown. The lane that would drop was the MnPASS lane. We wanted to make sure we were providing the MnPASS benefit all the way to drivers' final destination, so we ended up using the priced dynamic shoulder lane. We converted the inside shoulder from a shoulder to a MnPASS lane or HOT lane during peak hours Monday through Friday and on weekends during major events. What we had to do to make that inside shoulder wider was to shift the traffic lanes to the outside, to the right, to effectively end up with a corridor that has no shoulder on both sides when fully operational. To help mitigate the lack of shoulder, we have a number of emergency pull-offs along the corridor. We have static signing that shows when the shoulder use is permitted, only when the arrow is activated. We chose this language intentionally because that way if we have a power failure and the sing goes down, the default would be that the lane was closed even if a red X wasn't displayed. We wanted shoulder use permitted on the green arrow only.
We have three locations on the 3-mile stretch of the priced dynamic shoulder lane that have an emergency pull-off on the right hand side. Two are a couple of hundred feet long, and the third is about 800 feet long. That's approaching the I-94 interchange and is known as a high crash location, so we wanted to make sure we had pull-off area within that vicinity. We also have areas located in conjunction with the lane control gantries that actually provide refuge for our maintenance vehicles to provide service to the lane control. They are only about 60 feet long, but they also provide a location for law enforcement to park or for relocating incidents. You can see here the emergency pull-off on the top, which much longer in length, and the circled area is the area adjacent to the lane control systems for maintenance purposes as well as incident management.
We have been looking at how response times have been in the priced dynamic shoulder lane section compared to other corridors, and we're finding that there's not a huge difference in the response time. This is actually hot off the press in the last 24 hours. We looked at response times for last year, and we found that response time for State Patrol metro-wide is in the 12 minute range. When we looked at the I-35W corridor as a whole with the MnPASS lane, it also falls in the 12 minute range, as was the priced dynamic shoulder lane section. So we're really within the average for the metro area. We're not seeing a huge impact in terms of the ability of State Patrol to respond. The biggest challenge is there are probably a lot more blocking incidents in that area, so we need to make sure we respond quickly and get those out of there as quickly as possible so they don't impact the traffic flow.
We have done a number of incident management training classes over the years with all of our responders on all of our corridors. As we focus in on the HOT lane corridors, we continue to stress the importance of the HOT lanes and the importance of clearing incidents on these corridors as well as others. As we continue to develop them and operate them, we include our response partners, whether it's State Patrol or local law enforcement, and we make sure we're working together for the same end goal of trying to get the system moving again.
When you were discussing rate, were you discussing rate per mile or for the whole trip?
The rate is for the whole trip. Our corridor is broken up into segments, and you only pay for the segment you drive. Both I-394 and I-35W are broken up into two segments, probably anywhere from 4 to 7 miles, and they're really to major destination points. If you jump in and only drive for a quarter of the segment, you still have to pay for the full segment.
Do you typically reverse the lanes on weekends or just on weekends with special events downtown?
We pretty much do it every weekend. We tend to have base hours that we do. There's enough of an entertainment district downtown that even if one of our major sports teams isn't playing, we still get enough traffic generation that we will switch it on a regular weekend as well.
If State Police decides to detour traffic into the HOT lanes because of an incident, how do they communicate that information to the operations center?
We observe it on camera. We don't get feedback. We observe that they're forcing traffic into the HOT lane and we adjust the tolling system so that it changes to being fully open and not charging the customer.
How are the readers in the squad car updated with MnPASS account information to ensure the tag is associated with an active account with a positive account balance?
I'm not sure of the exact technology being used, but they are wirelessly communicating with the main system so they are getting active information and can determine yes, they have an active transponder and have recently paid to be in these lanes. They also have a very close relationship with the customer service center, so if they have any additional questions on the person's account, they have a lot of one-one-one interaction over the phone with the customer service center to look up any more detailed information if they need it.
On the dynamic shoulder, did you consider allowing the shoulder to be used exclusively for buses and give transit a benefit?
We have about 250 miles of bus-only shoulder in the Twin Cities metro. That's primarily just the right hand shoulder. The buses are restricted in that they can drive no faster than 35 mph and they can drive no faster than 15 miles over what the general purpose lanes are doing, so if general purpose traffic is going 10 mph, they can only go about 25 mph. In the MnPASS lane as well as the price dynamic shoulder lane, since it's running on the inside as opposed to the outside, we allow them to run a full 55 mph just like the rest of the HOT lanes traffic. So it is available for buses, for carpools, and for MnPASS users, they're able to move at the posted speed limit as opposed to the reduced speed limit on the bus-only shoulders.
What incident management issues have arisen in the barrier-separated reversible sections of I-394?
Probably the biggest thing is the access. It's about three miles long. There's limited access into it. It's really just at the end points where there's only one intermittent access. The good thing is that it's two lanes wide and has 8-foot shoulders on both sides. The crash rate in there is very low. We really don't have a whole lot of incidents that occur in there, and when they do, there's usually enough space in there that we don't have significant problems. That's not to say we haven't had issues; we've had rollovers, stalled buses, and other issues, but for the most part, we can get in there pretty easily. We're able to get a FIRST truck out there right away and we'll try and close off the gates as soon as possible so we can restrict any more traffic flow going into the reversible section.
In regards to the variable speeds, what do you display for the speed limit as the system breaks down during congested periods and traffic is at a standstill?
We do it a little bit differently than Washington has been doing it. We're just providing the speeds as they're coming into that congested zone. Once they get into the congestion, we're going to dark. The main thing is that it's advisory only. We already have the posted, regulatory speed limits on the static signs, so we just go to a dark message since they're not able to even do 35 mph.
I don't see any other questions typed in at this time, so we'll go ahead and close out for today. I want to thank all of our presenters. I think everybody would agree that your presentations were much appreciated, and judging by the number of questions, people definitely have an interest in this topic. I want to thank everybody in attendance as well. The presentations will continue to be available for download in the bottom right box of your screen. They will also be posted along with a recording of the session on the Congestion Pricing website in the next two weeks or so, and I'll send out an e-mail once they are available. We will be holding another congestion pricing-related webinar in the near future. Once we have the date and topic determined I'll send out an e-mail announcing it and the registration information. With that, we'll close out for today. Again, thank you to all of our presenters and to everybody in attendance. Have a great rest of the day.