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

This report is an archived publication and may contain dated technical, contact, and link information
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Publication Number:  FHWA-HRT-15-071    Date:  January 2016
Publication Number: FHWA-HRT-15-071
Date: January 2016


The Use of Data in Planning for Operations: State-Of-The-Practice Review

Chapter 1. Introduction

Summary of Overarching Project

In 2012, the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) initiated a 3-year project entitled “Virtual Data Access (VDA) Framework” to develop a prototype framework for sharing planning and operations data between State and local transportation agencies from multiple sources within a region. The framework will bring together many types of transportation data to give planners and operators a multifaceted view of transportation performance both over time and by location. The purpose of the VDA Framework is to improve the breadth of available data and reduce the barriers to the use of that data so that transportation agencies across a region can advance their decisionmaking and performance reporting capabilities in the area of operations. Through greater access to data collected in a region, metropolitan planning organizations (MPOs) and State transportation departments will be better equipped to conduct performance management and performance-based planning and programming as emphasized in the Moving Ahead for Progress in the 21st Century Act (MAP-21).

FHWA’s project focused on using the VDA Framework to support planning for operations, including the use of data from the framework as input to planning for operations analysis and simulation tools. Planning for operations is a joint effort between planners and operators to integrate management and operations (M&O) strategies into the transportation planning process for the purpose of improving regional transportation system efficiency, reliability, and options.(1) In addition, the data will be used to support reporting operational performance measures.

The prototype framework will undergo a proof-of-concept test in the Kansas City region, where transportation operating and planning agencies have a high level of collaboration, a need for easily accessible integrated transportation operations data, and the capability to use that data for planning for operations. The framework is being developed in coordination with the proof-of-concept partners, the Mid-America Regional Council and Kansas City Scout, as well as other stakeholders from across the United States. To support the proof-of-concept test, the FHWA project team is developing a Performance Measurement and Analysis Tool (PMAT) that demonstrates one of the many options for using the integrated data from the VDA Framework. The PMAT will access public and private sources of data through the VDA Framework and calculate performance measures according to user-specified parameters. The performance measures will be displayed on a map of the region as well as through the use of data tables and charts. The PMAT will be a map-based web application that allows users to view travel time reliability, delay, and traffic volume throughput on arterials and freeways and extract calculated performance data in the form geographic information system (GIS) shape files. In addition, users will be able to export the data to Network EXplorer for Traffic Analysis (NeXTA), an analysis, modeling, and simulation (AMS) data hub that was developed by FHWA to support the exchange of data among multiple resolutions of AMS tools. The data exported from PMAT will support the analysis for operations strategies in a dynamic traffic assignment (DTA) modeling tool as part of NeXTA.

The VDA Framework and PMAT are being developed using primarily open source software and will be available to other regions to leverage. The results of the proof-of-concept test will be documented and shared as part of technology transfer webinars near the end of the project.

Objectives of the State-of-the-Practice Review

The purpose of this state-of-the-practice review was to identify current use of data by MPOs to perform planning for operations activities. This information will be used to develop the VDA framework and to help establish requirements for the data that should be accessible by planning agencies via the framework. In addition to data availability and use, this review also looks at the barriers to the use of data so that the project team can design the framework to help address some of these barriers to increase use of the resulting framework.

Relationship to Data Sharing State-of-the-Practice Review

This report was developed in conjunction with another state-of-the-practice review on data access, sharing, and integration. The data access, sharing, and integration review focuses on current data sharing and integration practices among State and local agencies, such as data environments, technical integration formats, and business rules for integration and sharing. It supports the project by establishing a foundation of previous experiences that can be used in defining how the data integration and sharing elements of the framework are designed, whereas the planning for operations review will be used to determine the data that should be input to the framework to support common or emerging planning for operations practices.

Organization of State-of-the-Practice Report

This report covers information from national literature and research in the first several chapters and then provides detailed information for eight metropolitan areas in case studies in the last half of the document. The first chapter of this report helps acquaint the readers with the purpose of the project and this report. Chapters two through four cover three key components of a performance-based approach to planning for operations that require data: monitoring system performance and tracking objectives, evaluating M&O strategies in the planning process, and assessing the impact of M&O strategies post-implementation. These three chapters contain information from national-level research and publications. Chapter five summarizes the barriers and challenges that have been identified through conversations with planning for operations practitioners and literature reviews. The last chapter contains case studies of eight MPOs and their use of data in the three key data-driven components of planning for operations: monitoring, analysis for planning, and post-implementation evaluation.


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