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Federal Highway Administration Research and Technology
Coordinating, Developing, and Delivering Highway Transportation Innovations

This summary report is an archived publication and may contain dated technical, contact, and link information

Traffic Research Laboratory (TReL) Assessment Summary Report

DATE: May 24 –27, 2004
CHAIRMAN: Edward Seymour, Ph.D.
Associate Agency Director
VICE CHAIRMAN: Paul Jovanis, Ph.D.,


Peter Kohl
Vice President,
Business Development
Joel Meena, P.E.
Assistant State Traffic Engineer
Anson Nordby
Principal Transportation Engineer,
City of Los Angeles


Barbara T. Harder
B.T. Harder, Inc

Overview of Traffic Research Laboratory

Randy VanGorder TReL Laboratory Manager 202-493-3266 randall.vangorden@fhwa.dot.gov

The Traffic Research Laboratory (TReL) is a unique combination of advanced hardware and software systems that can be used by researchers and practicing traffic engineers to assess and evaluate the impact of various combinations of advanced technologies, strategies, and policies prior to field installation. State-of-the-art traffic research and development of these systems are conducted in the laboratory. The laboratory provides an experimental test bed and analysis tool-box to facilitate the Federal Highway Administration’s (FHWA) Research and Development (R&D) program in Advanced Traffic Management Systems (ATMS).

TReL contains the visualization, simulation, and communication capabilities needed to effectively conduct traffic engineering R&D. TReL affords ATMS researchers the ability to conduct innovative real-time, hardware-in-the-loop evaluations and studies. Researchers at TReL develop and evaluate prototype adaptive traffic control systems that are being evaluated and demonstrated in field trials. TReL staff also developed and maintains the Traffic Software Integrated System (TSIS), a suite of traffic analysis tools used to assess the impact of transportation improvements to a network. The traffic simulation model CORSIM, contained within the TSIS suite, is the core of the studies and evaluations conducted at TReL. CORSIM simulates traffic and traffic control conditions on combined surface streets and freeway networks. It generates a wide range of operational and environmental measures of effectiveness to quantify the performance of a traffic network. Researchers at TReL utilize CORSIM to evaluate traditional and advanced traffic management systems and strategies, geometric design alternatives, and the effect of traffic incidents and events. They also refine, develop, and evaluate CORSIM algorithms. Other components of the TSIS suite, such as the traffic visualization tool TRAFVU and the graphical input processor TRAFED are also maintained at the laboratory.

TReL provides the simulation tools needed to test and evaluate real-time Adaptive Traffic Control Systems (ACS) algorithms under a wide range of geometric and traffic conditions. Results of the TReL evaluations have been used to select, refine and finalize the adaptive control strategies used in the field-testing and implementation of ACS.

Collectively, these activities and capabilities enable the ATMS R&D team to effectively conduct research and provide guidance for the integration and deployment of advanced traffic operations and management systems, as well as other Intelligent Transportation System (ITS) components. Developing and maintaining the enabling technology is the key to the ATMS R&D program. The Traffic Research Laboratory makes it possible.

Key Strengths and Observations

  • The TReL’s Team leader, Travel Management team, Raj Ghaman, has excellent ties to the transportation industry. These personal relationships help TReL identify research deployment opportunities with public agencies and private organizations.
  • The TReL staff, including contract personnel, is highly skilled, dedicated and motivated.
  • Many of the TReL research products have been well received and used by the industry (e.g., QuickZone, IDAS and CORSIM).
  • The researcher community has judged a number of TReL products a success, and initial deployments are in process (RT-TRACS, DTA).
  • ACS Lite is being developed in a nontraditional approach by partnering with industry for more rapid development. This strategy could become a model for future developments of this nature.
  • There is management support for TReL within the TFHRC organization.
  • The relationship between TReL and the Joint Program Office and Travel Management is more positive than it was 5 to 7 years ago.
  • The construction and use of the TReL local intersection for research in safety and mobility is a constructive step in broadening the lab’s focus beyond a roadway efficiency emphasis.

Key Recommendations and Status of Current Activities

  1. Panel Recommendation: A TReL Strategic Plan should be developed that clarifies the types of research activities the lab should pursue.
    Action to be taken: Develop Strategic Plan for the TReL.
    Status as of 12/02/05: Strategic Plan was completed February 2005. Completed

  2. Panel Recommendation: Turner Fairbank and the ITS Joint Program Office management should be partners with TReL leadership and strong advocates in the development of the strategic plan.
    Action to be taken: Form a Task Group with all the program areas to develop the Strategic Plan for the TReL.
    Status as of 12/02/05: A task force, which included the lab assessment review panel and the Offices of Operations, Safety and the ITS JPO, was identified and used as a resource for developing the Strategic Plan. Strategic Plan was completed and briefed to the JPO. Completed

  3. Panel Recommendation: Obtain additional funding for the longer-term research program supported by the TReL.
    Action to be taken: Within the Strategic Plan, identify opportunities for the TReL to support longer- term research, for example the Tier 11 Mobility Applications for Vll initiative.
    Status as of 12/02/05: The Strategic Plan focuses on areas where the unique capabilities of the TReL can support the ITS Tier I & II initiatives. The Strategic Plan and implementation matrix (see # 10) was circulated to the ITS Initiative leaders to get their input and help them understand where the Lab could support their programs and garner their support when it comes time for funding. Ongoing

  4. Panel Recommendation: The Strategic Plan should clarify needed infrastructure investments to support future activities appropriate to the mission of the TReL.
    Action to be taken: Address facility improvements in the Strategic Plan and include any infrastructure improvements as input to the TFHRC Capital Improvements Plan.
    Status as of 12/02/05: Upgrades to the Lab have begun. Surplus equipment has been removed from the lab and wiring upgrades are underway. Once the wiring is completed, the new furniture will be installed along with the upgraded network equipment. Work on physical upgrades to the lab is anticipated to be complete by the end of the 2nd quarter. March ‘2006, Target Completion Date

  5. Panel Recommendation: Develop a succession strategy for TReL leadership.
    Action to be taken: Develop a succession plan for the TReL Leadership as part of the RD&T workforce and succession planning.
    Status as of 12/02/05: A lab manager has been identified who will serve as a backup for the Team Leader. Completed

  6. Panel Recommendation: TReL should seek to leverage other facilities and projects in the definition, development and execution of their research projects and deployment activities.
    Action to be taken: a) Establish TReL.gov website and setup web server in the lab to provide an electronic connection to other research facilities and make the TReL’s assets available to external researchers. b) Explore opportunities to conduct joint research as recommended by this lab assessment.
    Status as of 12/02/05: A VPN has been set up to allow the researchers at NOAA’s Forecast Systems Laboratory (FSL) to access the data from the Weather Station and use it to feed the national weather models. Additional VPN’s will be set up as needed as other joint research projects come online. Establishing a TReL website will be pursued once the infrastructure upgrades are made and the data and systems to be shared are identified. Ongoing

  7. Panel Recommendation: Incorporate other relevant ITS technologies into the TReL program to expand its focus beyond roadway control technologies, especially traffic signals. This issue should be addressed in the TReL Strategic Plan.
    Action to be taken: Work with Enabling Technologies team to enhance the role of the lab in the Cooperative Intersection Collision Avoidance research. Involve as many of the other ITS Tier 1 initiatives as possible.
    Status as of 12/02/05: The next step is to design and create the connections at both ends of the fiber optic line to allow traffic signal controllers set up in the TReL to directly control the intelligent intersection. This should be able to be completed by the end of the year. Sept ‘2006, Target Completion Date

  8. Panel Recommendation: Clearly identify and communicate the role of CORSIM in future TReL activities.
    Action to be taken: a) Communicates status of CORSIM to user community. b) Address the need and role for simulation / CORSIM in the TReL Strategic Plan.
    Status as of 12/02/05: The final release of TSIS is in Beta testing at the Lab and it is anticipated that it will be released early next year. An announcement was made at the modeler’s workshop in September that this would be the last release by FHWA and the software would be turned over to McTrans for further development and release as a commercial product. February ‘2006, Target Completion Date

  9. Panel Recommendation: TReL should engage stakeholders throughout all its processes in a regular, sustained manner.
    Action to be taken: Involved and enhance involvement of stakeholders in the development of TReL roadmaps and research programs and engage different stakeholders. Post current projects and results on TReL gov website (to be established above).
    Status as of 12/02/05: Involved the peer panel and TReL stakeholders in the development of the Strategic Plan. We plan to continue engaging our stakeholders and fellow researchers through the ITS Tier I initiatives and the reoccurring lab assessment process. Ongoing

  10. Panel Recommendation: Better define the role of the TReL in regard to providing technical support, and conducting both applied research and long-term high-risk research.
    Action to be taken: Address the TReL’s role in providing technical support conducting applied research, conducting long-term high-risk research in the Strategic Plan.
    Status as of 12/02/05: An implementation matrix has been developed for the TReL Strategic Plan. We are working with Operations, the JPO and Mitretek to match up the TReL resources with the roadmaps. February ‘2006, Target Completion Date

  11. Panel Recommendation: Provide opportunities for customers (including the Panel members) to participate in the development of the Strategic Plan and serve in an advisory capacity.
    Action to be taken: Request panel input to draft of the Strategic Plan.
    Status as of 12/02/05: The Strategic Plan was circulated to Operations / JPO and peer panel members and their comments have been incorporated. Completed

All Key Recommendations and Activities were completed December 2, 2005.

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