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Publication Number:      Date:  Nov/Dec 2000
Issue No: Vol. 63 No. 4
Date: Nov/Dec 2000


ITS Peer-To-Peer Program

by James Pol

The ITS Peer-to-Peer Program provides free technical assistance to agencies seeking to improve transportation operations through the deployment of intelligent transportation systems (ITS). This program is designed to complement and expand the technical assistance available from the staffs of the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA), Federal Transit Administration (FTA), and Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA). Any public agency that is involved in the deployment of integrated ITS technologies is eligible to receive assistance through the program.

The tenets of the Peer-to-Peer Program are to be effective, responsive, confidential, and free of charge. The effectiveness of the program stems from the knowledge and experience of more than 130 ITS experts who participate as peers and provide deployment advice. The program is responsive to satisfy time constraints identified by the client, and the majority of requests are satisfied in 30 days or less. The program is confidential for the requesting agencies, allowing them to make strategic decisions quietly without prematurely engaging the consultant community. This assistance is provided free on request to enable agencies with limited resources to participate. These characteristics of the Peer-to-Peer Program make it an attractive resource for short-term assistance needs.

The program is not new. Because of its strong focus on satisfying the needs of its clients, the program has enjoyed favorable response and participation for nearly four years.

The program enables an agency to tap into the expanding knowledge base on ITS. Deployment of ITS throughout the nation is vast and is constantly advancing, and the Peer-to-Peer Program makes it easier for an agency to find the specific ITS information that it needs. This saves the agency time and money, enabling the agency to focus more of its resources on ITS deployment.

When a request for assistance is received, program representatives assess the request and determine the appropriate support -- providing relevant reports and other material, over-the-phone advice, or a site visit. The technical capabilities of FHWA, FTA, and FMCSA are tapped as the first resource to satisfy the client's needs.

The scope of the technical expertise available through the Peer-to-Peer Program cuts across two dimensions of ITS deployment. First, the program offers technical assistance across the ITS infrastructure program areas -- metropolitan, rural and statewide, and commercial vehicle operations -- and the overarching areas of the National ITS Architecture and the National ITS Standards. Second, the program expertise covers the entire life cycle of ITS development, encompassing problems and opportunities identification, existing system assessment, concept of operations/information requirements development, system design, system testing and validation, system implementation, and system evaluation and maintenance. The ability to furnish technical assistance in all stages of ITS deployment makes the program useful to any agency - whatever its level of ITS deployment maturity.


Challenge: Freeway Management Systems/Highways

The Texas Department of Transportation (DOT) faced a major challenge coordinating and refining a work plan among various agencies to implement a regional ITS architecture. To accomplish this task, Texas DOT needed a peer with expertise in ITS architecture who could foster good coordination efforts among the affected agencies.

Actions and Approach

Les Jacobson of Washington State DOT was contacted by the Peer-to-Peer Program to provide his expertise in ITS architecture and to develop strategies that would integrate ITS into the Texas DOT planning and programming processes. During a site visit, Les offered formal recommendations to explore alternatives to hiring in-house staff to rapidly expand existing ITS endeavors. In addition, Les led programmatic discussions that helped develop new regional planning relationships among metropolitan planning organizations (MPOs) and Texas DOT.


Texas DOT developed a balanced approach to ITS planning, programming, and architecture, and activities to enhance communication and coordination among the stakeholders were initiated. As a result, development was accelerated, and the relationships among MPOs and the Texas DOT were strengthened. The Austin District of the Texas DOT is planning additional multiagency workshops for its ITS corridor planning process.


Challenge: Procurement of ITS Services

Both the Missouri DOT and the Kansas DOT have embarked on the deployment of a bi-state Traffic Operations Center (TOC). The TOC will be located in Missouri and will support freeway and incident management for interstate highways in the Kansas City metropolitan area. The DOTs, in conjunction with FHWA, called on the Peer-to-Peer Program to increase their knowledge of ITS field components controlled by the TOC. Kansas and Missouri are currently planning the installation of numerous controllers, closed-circuit television, variable message signs, detectors, and other field hardware. The staffs of the DOTs wanted to become more comfortable with the many products available before they went to bid.

Actions and Approach

Manny Agah of the Arizona DOT and Terry Houkom of the Minnesota DOT -- program peers with experience building TOCs in Phoenix and Minneapolis, respectively -- offered to share their knowledge of ITS systems architecture and of equipment available to support freeway and incident management systems. They provided onsite assistance, evaluating the many technologies available to Kansas and Missouri and recommending a systems management approach and a two-step construction bidding process.


With the assistance of the peers, the DOTs gained the comfort level that they needed to move the project forward. The close interaction also provided a forum in which to develop close ties among participants that will help Kansas and Missouri with future operations and maintenance as the TOC expands to include more functions.

The program's peer experts have provided assistance on a range of issues regarding ITS deployment and the maximization of the clients' return on their ITS investments. Some representative topic areas encountered in the program are:

Clients include the offices of FHWA, FTA, and FMCSA; the headquarters and district offices of state departments of transportation; transit authorities; turnpike and tollway authorities; metropolitan planning organizations; city and county transportation and public works offices; and transportation management agencies.

The majority of the more than 130 ITS professional peers who lend their expertise to the Peer-to-Peer Program represent public agencies that have had experience in ITS deployment. The peers from the public sector are of great value to the program. They demonstrate to clients that ITS can be successfully deployed, giving clients a measure of confidence. Public sector peers also promote the technical assistance resources available through FHWA, FTA, and FMCSA when they describe their experiences.

Only a small portion of the program's peers come from the private sector; nevertheless, private sector peers are particularly helpful in the newer technical areas for which public support is not yet available.

New peers are being added continuously to the program through nomination or self-nomination, introducing additional expertise to the collection of available knowledge.

The program's success is evidenced by the growing number of requests for assistance. Approximately 420 requests have been received and processed since the program's inception in June 1996. The number of requests has increased at a rate of nearly 5 percent per year.

Historically, the program has received 45 percent of its requests from the transit-provider community. The remaining 55 percent come from other surface transportation agencies. Likewise, the requests originating from metropolitan areas greatly surpass the requests from rural areas although rural requests are steadily increasing.

The type of technical assistance provided by the Peer-to-Peer Program depends on the request. For roughly 40 percent of the requests, direct peer assistance is given -- either through onsite support or via other contact. Some onsite peer assistance is offered to help agencies to review plans and specifications, guide concept development, and to verify systems integration. The program also brings clients together at a site to be trained in a particular technical area. For the other 60 percent of requests, it is sufficient to identify points of contact and furnish resource materials so that the client can gain broader knowledge on a given topic.

Sometimes prospective clients are unaware of the products and services delivered through FHWA's resource centers, division offices, and metropolitan offices. The Peer-to-Peer Program takes great advantage of the vast federal resources and of dedicated outreach and technical assistance programs, such as those offered through the National ITS Architecture Team, the National ITS Standards Team, and others.

The support provided to the clients has been greatly beneficial. Most of the program's customers say that they would use the program again and that they would recommend the program to another agency.

The program is provided to support the continuing deployment of ITS, and the program's customers have indicated that after receiving support, they feel more confident in developing and deploying ITS and they are more likely to consider future ITS applications. A customer satisfaction assessment, titled Customer Satisfaction With the FHWA Peer-to-Peer Program: A Qualitative Assessment, was prepared by the Volpe Center for Transportation Research to gauge the program's success from the perspectives of clients and peers. A report on the survey results is available in the Electronic Documents Library (www.its.dot.gov) as Document No. 12489.

A request for proposals for the continuation of the Peer-to-Peer Program was issued in April 2000. The new contract, which is anticipated to be awarded in September, will preserve the successful qualities of the program and will offer an opportunity to enhance client assistance, activity management, and the analysis of how ITS deployment can be improved. The information that can be gathered through the peer interactions will reveal deployment issues that occur in the field. This will be used as input to further enhance the federal programs to ensure that ITS deployments are successful and to achieve the desired results of improved transportation operations.

For technical assistance, clients may call the program's toll-free number,1-888-700-PEER; e-mail the program at dotpeer@erols.com; or visit the Web page at www.its.dot.gov/peer/.htm.

James Pol is a transportation specialist in the ITS Joint Program Office. He has managed the ITS Peer-to-Peer Program since he joined FHWA in November 1999. Pol is also a travel management coordinator for several ITS program areas. Before joining FHWA, he was active in a number of ITS deployment projects as well as projects in highway design, construction management, and traffic analysis. Pol has a bachelor's degree in civil engineering from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, and he is a registered professional engineer in Delaware.



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