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Publication Number:      Date:  Sept/Oct 1997
Issue No: Vol. 61 No. 2
Date: Sept/Oct 1997


Buidling Smart Infrastructure to Serve Travelers and System Managers

by Jeff Lindley

No single technology "fix" can meet America's growing demand for and changing patterns of travel. Although each intelligent transportation systems (ITS) product mobility or services has its unique merits, it is important that they are seamlessly united to support multimodalism and intermodalism in metropolitan and rural areas and on interstate corridors. A critical goal of the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT), therefore, is to develop an intelligent transportation infrastructure -- a communication and information backbone -- that will enable ITS products and services to work not only as strong individual players, but as a powerful and effective team to save time and lives and improve quality of life.

Many different agencies build and operate highways, surface streets, and transit. Others are responsible for emergency response, law enforcement, and other functions. Each is responsible for managing some limited slice of our surface transportation system. But for travelers, these jurisdictional boundaries are invisible; to them it is all one system.

In addition, public sector interest in ITS is growing. Municipal public works agencies are periodically upgrading their computerized traffic signals. Transit properties are gradually upgrading their bus and rail communications systems. States are investing in freeway management and incident response systems. And regulatory agencies are creating new technologies and information databases to track the safety and movement of trucks. But like traditional transportation investments, most ITS investment decisions are "stovepiped" -- separate sections added to extend the existing system. Departments within a public jurisdiction and jurisdictions within a region often do not see the value of or have the resources for integrating their systems. We see this as one of our greatest challenges in linking together ITS services -- changing transportation system planning, implementation, and management processes.

To meet this challenge, the National ITS Program is pursuing several activities to help states and localities make smart investments in smart infrastructure. These efforts include the development of a deployment strategy to build ITS infrastructure in metropolitan areas, sponsorship of model deployments, the identification of criteria to help localities and regions adopt the national architecture and supporting standards, the development of programs to train and educate new ITS professionals, and continued research and development to advance state-of-the-art ITS.

What is Intelligent Transportation Infrastructure?

Intelligent Transportation Infrastructure puzzle

Figure 1 - Elements of a metropolitan ITS infrastructure.

The term "ITS infrastructure" refers to the integrated electronics, communications, and hardware and software elements that can support ITS services and products. ITS infrastructure is not just a collection of components; it is a unified system that will allow components to communicate with each other and work together. The infrastructure will function much as the local- and wide-area networks used in most work places do. These networks allow electronic file sharing, mail, and other information exchanges within a single building or between geographically dispersed sites, even though individuals in the workplace may have different brands of computers and software of varying capabilities. Workers increase their productivity and utility, and so does the workplace as a whole.

ITS infrastructure can be configured to address the needs of three specific types of users -- metropolitan residents, commercial carriers, and rural residents.

How ITS Infrastructure Can Benefit System Managers and Travelers

Although individual ITS products and services produce specific benefits, integrated ITS infrastructure is expected to deliver multiple and synergistic benefits and provide more options for both system managers and travelers.

Enhancing the Use of Existing Capacity

ITS infrastructure can enhance the effective capacity (the throughput) of existing transportation facilities. The department estimates that by deploying ITS infrastructure over the next 10 years, taxpayers would save 35 percent of required investment in urban highways in 50 major urban areas.

As a dramatic example, when two sections of the Santa Monica Freeway collapsed during the 1994 earthquake, the Smart Corridor field test was put to an early trial. Using video surveillance, changeable message signs, and adjustment of traffic lights, the system diverted the equivalent of 20 lanes of additional traffic through the parallel surface-street network with no resulting gridlock. In addition, smart interactive kiosks were deployed to inform travelers of highway conditions and to help them plan transit trips. Originally, two kiosks were scheduled to be deployed as part of a test of this technology. After the earthquake, 78 kiosks were installed at major gathering places.

Promoting Data-Sharing for Better System Management

ITS is mostly about information -- its collection, analysis, and distribution to allow transportation managers to operate their systems in real time. The intelligent transportation infrastructure allows data from a variety of sources to be shared and compiled, so that the combined database is richer and more cost-effective to update. This richer database allows jurisdictions to better implement congestion management systems and other types of information management programs.

For example, at the core of the ITS effort for the 1996 Olympics was the Atlanta Regional Transportation Management Center, which provided surveillance and communications on all interstate highways through the use of road sensors, video, and fiber-optic lines. Other information on the network was provided by six transportation management and control centers in the counties surrounding Atlanta; these centers integrated local traffic signal systems with freeway operations for those counties. In addition, the Metropolitan Area Rapid Transit Agency (MARTA) gathered information on road conditions from MARTA's bus fleet; 239 buses were equipped with tracking and communications equipment that relayed data to the agency's transportation information center. Information also came in from airborne and ground-based traffic "spotters," a public cellular phone-in line, and a variety of other sources.

The major transportation agencies in the Atlanta area shared this information through a central clearinghouse, using a client-server architecture. The architecture allowed jurisdictions to operate their transportation facilities independently while having access to data from other jurisdictions in a format that was uniform, consistent, and current to all systems. The central system, which handled all compatibility issues, can also expand to accommodate additional types of data.

In addition, DOT is working with the U.S. Customs Service to develop the North American Trade Automation Prototype (NATAP), which is expected to be launched in September 1997. This system will enable data on goods, carriers, and drivers to be entered electronically only once but will allow for multiple use among 53 U.S. agencies and their counterparts in Mexico and Canada.

Creating "Virtual" Management Teams

Operators respond to an incident from inside the TransGuide Operations Room in San Antonio.Transportation management centers collect, analyze, and distribute real-time information to control highway operations and provide rapid incident detection and response. Operators Marcelino Romero and Christine Jauregui respond to an incident from inside the TransGuide Operations Room in San Antonio.

A myriad of agencies are responsible for operating, maintaining, and planning transportation systems, facilities, and support services -- state DOTs, transit agencies, municipal and county public works, metropolitan planning organizations (MPOs), law enforcement agencies, toll authorities, and emergency response services. These agencies, however, have different responsibilities and motivations, which make it difficult to create truly intermodal surface transportation systems.

Because intelligent transportation infrastructure will provide cost savings by allowing agencies to share infrastructure, it will also encourage these diverse jurisdictions to share ideas, tasks, and responsibilities. In Atlanta, for example, the ITS effort created de facto management teams that included several federal, state, and local traffic and transit agencies.

For commercial vehicle operations, no agency corresponds to the MPO -- an agency oversees transportation planning and provides a forum for diverse stakeholders -- although such coordination is needed to guide planning for interstate corridors and to bring together state DOTs, the U.S. Treasury, law enforcement, and other relevant agencies. The development of CVISN, which will integrate several motor carrier information systems, is already bringing together these agencies in 10 states across the country, and it will eventually expand to other interested states.

Fostering Intermodalism

Intermodalism is accomplished by increasing transportation options, providing seamless connections between modes, and coordinating the activities of public agencies. Intelligent transportation infrastructure accomplishes all three tasks by addressing the three interrelated elements of metropolitan transportation systems -- roads and highways, travelers, and transit -- and by providing better information on travel options and by coordinating the activities of multiple travel modes.

During the Olympic Games in Atlanta, for example, transportation agencies collectively used information to better manage traffic signals, freeways, and transit facilities. This information was also strategically provided to travelers through a variety of media. For example, public kiosks at the Atlanta Hartsfield Airport gave travelers an overview of their ground transportation options and the estimated departure times of bus, rail, and van services; weather and tourism information; and regional driving conditions.

Increasing Customer Access to Information and Control of Options

Individual travelers need up-to-date information about how they can reach their destinations safely and quickly. Regional multimodal traveler information systems provide the foundation in delivering transportation services. These systems can transfer data gathered by other ITS technologies -- information regarding traffic flows, incidents, and road and weather conditions -- into information programs on alternative routes, travel times, route guidance, and the comparable performance of other modes for the same trip. This information can be transmitted via a variety of media. In Atlanta, cable television, cellular phones, hand-held personal computer devices, and public kiosks were deployed throughout the city to help visitors and residents navigate the transportation system during the Olympics.

Reducing the Cost of Government Operations and Services

A 1997 national investment and market analysis prepared for ITS America and DOT by Apogee Research predicts that it will cost $24 billion over the next 20 years to build ITS infrastructure in the largest 75 metropolitan areas; however, the benefits will reach $212 billion, resulting in an 8.8-to-1 benefit-cost ratio.

In an environment of limited budgets and cuts in public-sector subsidies, the components of ITS infrastructure can also dramatically reduce the costs of transit management, toll collection, and truck safety inspections. For example, CVISN will greatly reduce the time and paperwork associated with issuing credentials and conducting other transactions with motor carriers. In other venues, deployment of ITS technologies for electronic toll collection and transit fare payment will reduce the costs of handling cash transactions. Sharing a common infrastructure also saves duplicative spending.

Advancing a New Generation of Products and Services

Building intelligent infrastructure will engender a new generation of products and services, much as the interstate system "created" the trucking industry and numerous other businesses and as the Internet is creating new products, business opportunities, and services today.

"The absence of a public core infrastructure represents a barrier to market growth. The infrastructure is extremely important for providing real-time traffic information," noted a representative of Motorola. The presence of an ITS infrastructure inspires confidence that products will be able to "plug" into an established system and provide intended services to consumers.

A vice president at Siemens believes that a basic ITS infrastructure is a crucial step toward further development of traveler information services. By building a core intelligent transportation infrastructure, the public sector will establish a rational sequence of ITS deployment to support commercially viable ITS products and services.

DOT's Continuing Steps

The whole of the ITS infrastructure is greater than the sum of the parts. But to what degree are states, regions, and municipalities building the whole (an integrated ITS infrastructure) as opposed to randomly purchasing and deploying the parts (individual ITS products and services)? Although system managers and travelers across the country are using ITS products and services, no area has all the components of intelligent transportation infrastructure in place, and with very few exceptions, none has integrated the components into a regional communication and information platform. As a result, DOT is pursuing several activities to support the deployment of ITS infrastructure across the nation.

Developing Deployment Strategies for ITS Infrastructure

The National ITS Program has developed an Intelligent Transportation Infrastructure Deployment Strategy to meet our goal to help build ITS infrastructure in the 75 largest metropolitan areas over the next 10 years. This strategy outlines a process that includes the promotion of general awareness of ITS infrastructure and its benefits; mainstreaming of ITS projects within the transportation planning process; the development of regional frameworks that are rooted in the National ITS Architecture; installation; and, finally, operations. The strategy also identifies the essential knowledge and skills that are required for each stage of deployment. This past summer, DOT also began finalizing the Intelligent Transportation Infrastructure Business Plan that provides a detailed work plan to meet the objectives established by the deployment strategy.

ITS infrastructure deployment process for metropolitan areas.

General Awareness Planning Administrative Technical Installation Operations Evaluation
General ITS

Project Overviews

ITS in transportation planning

Regional framework

National architecture and integration



Agency leaders


Procurement/ contracting

Legal issues


Telecom options

Federal requirements




Software/ hardware



Concepts of operation

Human factors

Contract management

Configuration management/ documentation


Personnel training

Evaluating operations

Maintenance issues/ options

Interagency operational issues

Cost/ benefit

Project evaluation

Knowledge areas required at different stages of deployment

Figure 4 - ITS infrastructure deployment process for metropolitan areas.

Showcasing the Benefits of ITS Infrastructure

The mission of the 1996 Model Deployment Initiative (MDI) is to exhibit ITS infrastructure in metropolitan areas and commercial operations (as well as to showcase successful jurisdictional and organizational working relationships) for public- and private-sector decision-makers. The four metropolitan sites -- Seattle, Phoenix, San Antonio, and the New York City tristate region -- will demonstrate the benefits of integrated advanced travel management services that feature a strong regional, multimodal traveler information component.

"We're not interested in buying a few devices and putting them out; we're interested in the infrastructure to support these devices," said the principal administrator for the Phoenix MDI.

The seven CVISN projects -- in California, Colorado, Connecticut, Kentucky, Michigan, Minnesota, and Washington/Oregon -- will demonstrate the benefits of exchanging CVO safety and regulatory information and conducting compliance transactions electronically.

The MDI projects are expected to conclude by the end of fiscal year 1999. The federal role includes shepherding ITS infrastructure deployment, evaluating the effects and benefits of deployment, and providing technical assistance. The National ITS Architecture is serving as a framework for building ITS infrastructure at these sites.

Creating Funding Incentives

A major gulf exists between traditional transportation planning processes and ITS. The National ITS Program believes that special incentive funding will likely be warranted on a transitional basis for ITS infrastructure to successfully compete for mainstream funding. A March 1997 report by the General Accounting Office entitled Surface Transportation: Prospects for Innovation Through Research, Intelligent Transportation Systems, State Infrastructure Banks, and Design-Build Contracting surveyed the perspectives of transportation officials in the nation's 10 largest cities. Officials in six of these cities supported dedicated federal ITS funding. Without this commitment, a transportation planner in New York, as an example, feared that ITS investments would not be able to compete for scarce dollars with higher priority road and bridge rehabilitation projects. The nature and extent of federal funding incentives will be resolved by the National Economic Crossroads Transportation Efficiency Act (NEXTEA).

Establishing Conformity Criteria for Architecture and Standards

The National ITS Architecture and technical standards, which define ITS elements and how they can work together, are prerequisites to integrated deployments of ITS. As a result, NEXTEA will require "architecture consistency" and the adoption of national standards for all ITS projects that use federal funds. The architecture was completed in July 1996, and the National ITS Program is pursuing an aggressive five-year effort to develop standards. A key effort now is to identify criteria so that localities can ensure that their regional frameworks for ITS infrastructure conform to the national architecture and agreed-upon standards. This conformance will ensure that ITS services in different cities and regions are interoperable.

Building Professional Capacity

The next generation of transportation planners, engineers, and managers at the federal, state, and local levels must be trained to design and build future intelligent transportation systems from a system-integration perspective, as effectively as the civil engineers designed and built the interstate highway system. Elected officials and the general public need to understand how ITS infrastructure can enhance "capacity" through better operations management. Planners need better tools to evaluate the effectiveness of ITS solutions compared with traditional build-or-buy alternatives. And new transportation professionals need to be developed in our universities and colleges. Because professionals with these skills currently do not exist in sufficient numbers to support the effective delivery of ITS, carrying out DOT's five-year Professional Capacity Building Plan is crucial to establishing ITS infrastructure. In Spring 1997, DOT developed implementation and business plans to guide this effort.

Pursuing Research and Development

Ongoing research and development is essential for advancing the real-time and dynamic capabilities of the components of ITS infrastructure. In addition, in 1997, DOT launched the Intelligent Vehicle Initiative (IVI) to accelerate the development, availability, and use of integrated in-vehicle systems that help drivers of cars, trucks, and buses receive information, make decisions, and operate more safely and effectively. IVI is coordinated by the ITS Joint Program Office, which will provide a single budget for ongoing vehicle-related ITS projects within the Federal Highway Administration, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, the Federal Transit Administration, and the Federal Railroad Administration. A key research question will be resolving how smart vehicles can work cooperatively with a smart infrastructure.


DOT intends to lead, not mandate, the development of the ITS infrastructure -- to encourage deployment through incentives instead of imposing rigid spending requirements. We do not propose to work alone, but instead encourage public-sector agencies, with appropriate private-sector support, to build this new infrastructure for the next century. We envision an infrastructure that applies information technologies to meet local needs within a framework that establishes a national, interoperable surface transportation system. We believe this infrastructure will strengthen multiple modes of transportation and link those modes to advance intermodalism. The infrastructure will enable smart sequencing of ITS deployment. Most importantly, we expect that the benefits of ITS infrastructure will transform surface transportation infrastructure, making it more efficient, safe, and cost-effective for travelers and system managers.

Jeff Lindley is the deputy director of DOT's ITS Joint Program Office. Since 1985, he has also held positions in the Federal Highway Administration's Office of Research, Development, and Technology; the Office of Traffic Management and ITS Applications; and Region 9 in San Francisco.



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