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Federal Highway Administration > Publications > Public Roads > Vol. 66· No. 2 > Internet Watch

Sept/Oct 2002
Vol. 66· No. 2

Internet Watch

by Keri Funderburg

Traffic Management Centers: A Cure for Common Traffic Congestion

As a transportation professional, you may find yourself spending all day solving transportation problems at work, only to sit in traffic at the end of the day. If this sounds familiar, you're not alone. Despite the steps transportation professionals across the country are taking to reduce congestion, a recent report by the Texas Transportation Institute shows that rush hour has grown to nearly 7 hours each day. People traveling during this peak period spend more than 60 hours per year stuck in traffic. All that sitting in traffic adds up to unnecessary air pollution, increased energy consumption, and wasted time.

To help Americans get out of their cars faster and on with their lives, the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) included congestion mitigation as one of its three main focus areas for the future. Two strategies that many State and local agencies are using to reduce congestion are traffic management centers (TMCs) and interactive TMC Web sites to alert the public about driving conditions.

Traffic management centers function as central collection points for traffic data, such as accident back-ups, work zone delays, and average travel speeds. High-tech computers at TMCs receive traffic data from a number of sources, including closed-circuit television cameras, Web cameras, weather sensors, ramp meters, and loop detectors. When posted on the Web or broadcast on radio and television, the data inform road users about traffic conditions and help drivers plan their travels and choose alternate routes. Transportation operators use the data to change traffic signals, reconfigure lanes to minimize delays, and decide how to respond most effectively to accidents. Finally, researchers use the data to study the effectiveness of traffic management tools and to develop new traffic-control technologies.

TMCs in the United States

The Internet has become one of the most effective ways to alert the public quickly about developing news such as traffic delays and congestion. States can customize their TMC Web sites to meet specific needs.

In Minnesota's Twin Cities, commuters can consult detailed congestion maps with incident icons, find road construction information, listen to traffic radio reports, and see up-to-the-minute snapshots of area highways on the State's TMC Web site at www.dot.state.mn.us/tmc/trafficinfo/.

San Diego, CA, has a similar system providing real-time traveler information for highways from Oceanside in the north to the U.S.-Mexico border in the south (www.dot.ca.gov/dist11/d11tmc/sdmap/mapmain.html).

Big cities are not the only areas with their own TMCs and Web sites. In rural Pioneer Valley, MA, the Massachusetts Highway Department, the University of Massachusetts-Amherst (UMass), and the Pioneer Valley Regional Planning Commission created the Advanced Traveler Management System to monitor traffic around the Coolidge Bridge Reconstruction Project. With support from FHWA, these three groups also are establishing the Regional Traveler Information Center (RTIC) on the UMass campus. They already sponsor a Web site (www.umass.edu/coolidgeinfo/home.htm) where drivers can access real-time traffic information. Researchers at the UMass Transportation Center plan to use the traffic data collected at the RTIC for future traffic and transportation research projects.

Screenshot of San Diego, CA, TMC web site
The homepage for the San Diego, CA, TMC Web site provides real-time vehicle speeds for major highways and access roads in southwestern California.

TMCs Overseas

Interactive TMC Web sites are popping up around the world as well. In Berlin, Germany, a public-private partnership among the State of Berlin, DaimlerChrysler Services, and Siemens led to the creation of a TMC known as the VerkehsManagementZentrale (VMZ). The VMZ Web site (www.vmz-berlin.de/vmz/) not only displays live traffic information about Berlin's driving conditions, but also is home to Germany's first intermodal dynamic-route planning service, which uses a combination of real-time traffic data, travel times, and transit departure and arrival schedules to determine what combination of driving and transit will produce the optimal trip for each traveler using the Web site's service.

In the future, drivers will be able to access the service through their vehicle's navigation system or from a Web-enabled cellular phone. The purpose of the route-planning system is to make the best use of Berlin's existing transportation infrastructure—a goal very similar to one recently identified by FHWA in its National Dialogue on Transportation Operations.

FHWA supports programs that use the Internet and other technologies to help alleviate congestion—whether by providing the public with real-time traffic information or by providing transportation professionals with accurate traffic data to respond to delays or enhance traffic control research. TMCs and their Web sites offer the promise of helping FHWA meet its goal of enabling the traveling public to get to and from work and play with a few less headaches.


Keri Funderburg is a contributing editor for Public Roads.

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