Why agencies are considering adoption and where to begin

Evolving technologies within intelligent transportation systems will make travel along our nation's transportation corridors and in our vehicles more reliable, faster and safer. This article highlights the steps agencies can take now to prepare for the coming changes and benefits ITS will bring.

A national movement
According to former U.S. Department of Transportation Undersecretary Peter Rogoff, intelligent vehicle technology will be a $35 billion industry in the United States. Several state departments of transportation are showing interest in or are actively seeking intelligent transportation systems solutions: 

•    Enabling legislation. Four states — California, Nevada, Michigan, Florida — and the District of Columbia have authorizing legislation for testing automated vehicles on their roads. Fourteen other states have pending legislation.

•    Pilot programs. Michigan, in conjunction with the University of Michigan Transportation Research Institute, the U.S. Department of Transportation and U.S. auto manufacturers, implemented the Safety Pilot Connected Vehicle Program in Ann Arbor. The Michigan DOT is supporting the development of connected vehicle technologies that will enable vehicles to communicate with infrastructure and other vehicles to improve safety and mobility. Further, MDOT has launched a “Connected Corridor” program in southeast Michigan and has been an active partner in several national connected vehicle programs, including the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials’ Footprint Analysis.

The Tampa-Hillsborough County Expressway Authority recently won a $17 million grant to participate in the U.S. DOT’s Connected Vehicle Pilot Program. This pilot program is designed to create technological advancements that make streets and highways safer, give millions of road hours back to drivers and alert travelers when trouble is ahead. 

•    Statewide initiatives. The Florida Department of Transportation’s Automated Vehicles (FAV) initiative is a groundbreaking effort to plan and deploy autonomous and connected vehicle technologies on public roadways. The FAV initiative is helping to create the framework for automated vehicle/connected vehicle implementation by engaging stakeholders and partners, developing research and pilot projects, and creating awareness of the technologies in support of the department’s mission. 

A preferred alternative
Why are agencies so interested in ITS? Implementation offers a high return on investment:
•    Increased safety. ITS will continue to reduce collisions and congestion and enhance emergency response and emergency management. For example, when the FAV initiative is fully implemented, FDOT estimates it could eliminate 90 percent of all crashes in the state. In addition to eliminating crashes, ITS will provide advance notice of traffic conditions and promote safer, more efficient evacuations. 
•    Greater capacity. Owners can squeeze more capacity from existing urban highway systems through ramp metering, dynamic message signs or adaptive signal control. According to the Federal Highway Administration, DOTs can expect improvements in efficiency, ranging from 10 percent to as much as 50 percent, in areas where signals are particularly outdated. 
•    Stopgaps. ITS improves performance of existing assets and buys time until sufficient resources can be found for expansion and/or improvements. 
•    Reliable travel times. State DOTs are providing reliable travel-time information on freeways in major metropolitan areas. 
•    Systematic solutions. For example, a DOT may have only enough funding to widen 2 miles of an 18-mile corridor; however, by adding ITS to the entire corridor, the DOT could improve the system versus simply a single segment. 
•    Greener options. More efficient movement of traffic reduces stopping, idling, congestion and emissions. 

Creating a program

There are several steps agencies are taking and can take now to plan for and understand the impact of ITS on the industry:

Step 1: Ready your technology.
•    Ensure your communications systems are robust enough to accommodate the “fire hose” of data connected vehicles will generate, so the data can be leveraged from a performance measurement and management perspective. 
   -  Identify and evaluate various approaches to effectively and efficiently manage the data generated by connected vehicles. 
   -  Use accelerated processes for testing, certifying and approving new technologies. 
•    Understand how current and upcoming projects can support long-term technology goals. If you are widening a corridor, for example, as the New Jersey Turnpike Authority recently did in its Interchange 6-to-9 Widening Program, capitalize on the opportunity by also installing fiber optic cables. Ten years from now, when the Turnpike Authority needs that infrastructure to accommodate connected vehicles, it will be in place and at a much lower cost than installing it under a separate project.  

•    Target areas where communication devices would be located (e.g., high-crash locations and heavily congested corridors).
•    Build a bullpen of system integrators, network designers, network security specialists, data analysts and software/application experts.
•    Inventory your back office to determine if it is adequately equipped to collect, store, analyze and disseminate the data. Information from connected vehicles can improve performance only if it is managed and analyzed correctly. 
•    Encourage staff to try popular smartphone apps and test-drive vehicles with the latest safety sensor technology to better understand how the driving experience is changing. 
•    Find new ways to leverage departmental assets and resources. For example, if dynamic message signs are no longer needed, could the gantries be repurposed to house dedicated short-range communication transceivers as well as additional wireless transmitters, receivers and camera equipment? 
•    Maintain and upgrade legacy assets, so ITS and autonomous vehicle/connected vehicle systems will work properly. This includes short-term strategies, such as improving lane lines, signs and signals, so smart cars can “read” them. Longer term, as smart and connected vehicles become more ubiquitous, consider adding lanes without additional right-of-way by reducing lane and shoulder widths. Because more cars will be able to travel more closely together at higher speeds, less space will be required to maintain safety. 

Step 2: Gear up institutionally. 
•    Visualize a deployment business model, as well as how and when to roll it out.
•    Tie ITS to agency goals. If freight movement is an agency priority, look at heavily traveled freight corridors and identify corresponding ITS solutions.
•    Apply for federal grants.
•    Collect information about the benefits of ITS, emphasizing safety and costs needed to help justify investment decisions.
•    Consider policy. Legislation authorizing connected vehicles to travel on your state’s roadways has economic benefits. It invites businesses to test their equipment in your state.
•    Think about security and privacy issues associated with wireless communications and data networks, the potential for malicious activity, as well as insurance and liability issues.
•    Re-evaluate core competencies. While civil engineering and program management expertise remains essential, DOTs must begin to identify new skill sets that will be needed as technology evolves and is adopted. In some cases, this could mean outsourcing traditional in-house responsibilities, such as traffic management centers. In other cases, additional technical expertise will be required, particularly in the areas of mobile application development, cyber security, GPS technology, network management and data management.

Step 3: Educate internal and external stakeholders. 
•    Learn from others. Sign up for ITS webinars and attend workshops. Seek advice from industry associations and other DOTs.  
•    Meet with stakeholders to understand their needs and perspectives on this topic.
•    List the resources your agency will need to execute an effective communication and public outreach program.
•    Help shape the next transportation reauthorization.

A new era in transportation
The benefits of ITS greatly outweigh the costs. Agencies that embrace this change will remain relevant and, ultimately, the transportation systems they operate and maintain will be safer and more efficient. However, while transportation agencies must move more quickly to address the changing technology landscape, planning and implementation should be at a deliberate, measured pace.