Office of Operations
21st Century Operations Using 21st Century Technologies

Improving Transportation Systems Management and Operations – Capability Maturity Model Workshop White Paper – Collaboration

3. State of the Practice for the Collaboration Dimension

3.1 The Collaboration Dimension

Collaboration refers to cooperative arrangements between two or more entities working together to achieve shared goals, including public-public cooperation with other levels of government and the public safety community as well as public-private partnerships. (Note that “Collaboration” in this white paper refers to external agency cooperation, whereas internal agency collaboration is addressed in the Organization and Staffing dimension white paper.)

The capability-level criteria used in the self-assessments for this dimension are shown in Table 3.1.

Table 3.1 Self-Assessment Workshop Levels of Capability Maturity for Collaboration
Empty Cell. Collaboration Criteria for Level Achievement
Capability Level 1 Relationships ad hoc and on personal basis (public-public, public-private)
Capability Level 2 Objectives, strategies, and performance measures aligned among organized central players (transportation and public safety agencies) with after-action debriefing
Capability Level 3 Rationalization/sharing/formalization of responsibilities among central players through co-training, formal agreements, and incentives
Capability Level 4 High level of TMCs coordination among owner/operators (State, local, private)

Among the 23 workshops, the average self-assessed capability level for Collaboration is 2.27 – the highest of all dimensions – with only four sites less than Level 2, 12 sites at Level 2, and seven sites at Level 3 or more. Figure 3.1 depicts the scoring distribution relative to the other dimensions. Across all workshop locations, Collaboration was the dimension least frequently included in implementation plans.

Figure 3.1 Graph. Collaboration Compared to Other Dimensions of Capability

Figure 3.1 is a graph that highlights the business processes dimension line.

(Source: Cambridge Systematics, Inc. and Parsons Brinckerhoff.)

The discussion of the state of the practice regarding the Collaboration dimension is divided into key elements based on the approach used in the AASHTO Guide to Transportation Systems Management and Operations:

  • Public Safety Agency Collaboration
  • Metropolitan Planning Organization (MPO)/Regional Transportation Planning Agency (RTPA)/Local Government Collaboration
  • Outsourcing/Public-Private Partnerships

The following section discusses key observations regarding the current state of play in each element.

3.2 Public Safety Agency Collaboration

Much of the collaboration discussion in the workshops focused on the real-time collaboration with other agencies – especially public safety – required for effective implementation of incident, emergency, and special event management, as well as metropolitan planning and interjurisdictional corridor operations. A few states/regions operate with a legacy “business as usual approach,” often exhibiting modest collaboration or narrow definitions of their own jurisdictional responsibilities, simply informing the other party as necessary. This scenario appears to constrain the performance for those TMCs applications requiring involvement of several parties for practical or legal reasons. Workshop participant discussions illuminated the following issues related to collaboration.

  • The challenge of “leading from behind.” Many key TMCs mobility-related strategies of special interest to DOTs, such as incident and planned special event management, require collaboration with other service delivery partners. These partners, especially State and local law enforcement and fire/emergency management, have their own objectives, of which mobility is not the primary one; furthermore, leading responsibility for legal activity typically rests with these non-transportation entities. In some cases, as a result, DOTs find themselves needing to take the initiative in raising awareness among these partners about the mobility aspects of incident response and engaging in cooperative activities such as co-training and after-incident debriefings. This is not to say that transportation agencies place a lower priority on responder safety and the priorities of their traffic incident management partners, but focused coordination can help to raise awareness of all priorities.
  • Building collaboration habits from major events. Assessment of the current level of collaboration at the State DOT leadership level seems to be colored by the high level of cooperation applied to visible planned special events and maintenance of traffic where there are well-established procedures and roles. Conventions, major sports events, and recurring major weather challenges have produced very effective traffic management and traveler information collaboration, as well as improved incident management supported by State legislation and law enforcement. Nonetheless, TMCs workshop participants’ discussions of strengths and weakness and identification of priority actions indicates that the level of collaboration is lower when it comes to the more routine day-to-day incidents – the ones that have less agency and public visibility.
  • Formal team building. Multiagency teams or committees are often cited as a key to successful regional collaboration where they come together to conduct after-incident debriefings and/or co-training. Traffic Incident Management (TIM) “teams” and transportation management center (TMC) collocation have led to strong collaboration, centralizing incident management command and facilitating the sharing of data, resources, and experience. Two trends appear to be fostering greater collaboration. First, a focus on major corridors (Integrated Corridor Management) necessarily involves collaborations among multiple jurisdictions. Second, there is some indication that an explicit focus on performance (post-incident debriefings and performance reporting) in State administration and Federal programs is stimulating increased alignment.
  • Challenges with smaller local governments and rural areas. Special challenges are presented by States with strong home-rule governance or multijurisdictional rural regions. In these scenarios, multiple law enforcement agencies and fire and emergency services can operate and respond at State DOT facilities without notifying the State DOT or without regard to the broader implications of an incident beyond their relatively narrow jurisdictional boundaries. These issues are exacerbated by the fact that many rural services are staffed by volunteers who are often not as experienced or well-trained in notification processes and procedures as full-time employees. (In some instances, these processes and procedures might not be documented or integrated into incident response practices.) At the level of smaller local governments, State DOTs often must coordinate with several local police departments, each of which has responsibility for incident response at facilities within their jurisdictional boundaries, even when the incident occurs on an interstate road.
  • Championing. Strong and committed individual staff member outreach seems to be a crucial ingredient for TMCs program success and sustainability in States with the more effective programs. This observation from the workshops is based on the typical State DOT characteristics of TMCs not being a formal agency “program,” the fragmentation of TMCs-related activities in many States, and the lack of formal long-standing agency-to-agency relationships. Workshop anecdotes suggest that collaborative activities such as formation and leadership of interagency teams – those related to post-incident debriefings and performance measurement – require significant individual TMCs staff member “outreach” and regular person-to-person reinforcement to sustain. TMCs “champions” are therefore key players in external collaboration whether in state DOTs or their public agency partners. As a result, effective collaboration sometimes does not survive turnover in personnel who are the champions. For example, career opportunities in law enforcement appear to draw key regional players away from highway patrol to other parts of law enforcement or to other geographic regions/precincts, requiring DOT staff to continuously rebuild interagency personal relationships that are critical to effective cooperation. This underscores the importance of formal agreements, as discussed below.
  • Formal agreements. Many of the participating State DOTs recognize the importance of developing formal sustainable agreements with law enforcement and fire and emergency service organizations regarding roles and procedures for incident management and other emergencies. Memoranda of Understanding (MOU) and co-training appear to have been significantly stimulated by the SHRP 2 and FHWA-sponsored National Traffic Incident Management Responder Training Program. Although more than one-half of the States indicated that they have formal MOUs with public safety agencies, it appears that while the execution of the MOUs may be influential with those directly involved in their preparation, they tend to be ignored by successor staff. In many cases, existing MOUs, executed by staff who are no longer serving, are often out of date and not widely referenced in connection with current activities and relationships. The need for continual renewal and reference was mentioned as essential to maintaining their value.
  • Co-training for Traffic Incident Management Responders. Several of the workshops’ discussions reflected a more aggressive approach to collaboration, especially for incident management, that align objectives and performance measures, define effective procedures and protocols, and repeat co-training. Almost all the workshop States have participated in the SHRP 2/FHWA TIM Responder training in the last three years – especially in urban areas – and are aware of standard practice and the need to develop common procedures and protocols. This co-training itself has often played an important role in bringing law enforcement and fire and emergency services together with DOTs. In rural areas, there may be many dispersed police/law enforcement, volunteer fire, and emergency response units. This large number of smaller units presents a major collaboration and co-training and retraining challenge, even with the help of State public safety-related associations. For example, volunteer fire departments already have crowded training schedules in their home disciplines.
  • Cooperative use of performance measurement and data. Collaboration between DOTs and their public safety partners on performance measures and their routine use was largely absent. In most workshop locations, after-action debriefings were confined to major incidents, and secondary incidents were rarely addressed. A few workshop DOTs and partners reported difficulty agreeing on definitions of incident stages (where either had a key role), which are crucial for analyzing performance; nevertheless, there are an increasing number of locations with strong teams and task forces that increasingly combine measurement, debriefing, training, outreach, and equipment specification related to both incident management and performance measurement.
  • Resource sharing. Some workshop participants indicated that maximum coordination and mutual understanding between state DOTs and the law enforcement community was enhanced by physical collocation of DOT TMC and police dispatch activities in major metro areas or in statewide TMCs (which also may be part of statewide emergency management centers). In addition, there are some innovative examples of partnering regarding resources, including instances of State DOT financial support for law enforcement incident management positions and use of incentive payments to towing and recovery entities to encourage timely towing and recovery.

3.3 Metropolitan Planning Organization/Regional Transportation Planning Agency/Local Government Collaboration

A few workshop locations were pursuing collaboration with local government in the areas of planning, programming, and operational coordination, often through MPOs or special coalitions. Several regional entities that hosted a workshop were aggressive in pulling together both State and local transportation entities.

  • Collaboration in planning. Collaboration between State DOTs and regional planning entities varies widely in the degree of formality by which TMCs is treated in planning and programming at either the State DOT or regional level. Very few State DOTs have fully developed TMCs plans or programs at the regional scale. In addition, there are only a few MPO TMCs planning activities in workshop states with implementation plans. In the few instances where MPOs have taken the initiative to develop a TMCs regional plan, they have involved the state DOTs and often a range of other agencies and jurisdictions: transit and toll authorities, local governments, public safety agencies, emergency response, and private-sector entities. In these regions, State DOTs often participate through membership in the MPO’s “Operations” or “ITS” technical committees, even if the State DOT itself does not have a formal TMCs program. The larger MPOs conduct a congestion management process, and State DOTs often support and make use of this data. Regional architectures also have been developed by many of the larger MPOs, often working with State DOT staff to achieve consistency with the State’s architecture.
  • Common architecture and technology. Several States identified communications interoperability and Computer Aided Dispatch (CAD) data access as issues. Data sharing across modes (as with transit agencies) or at the arterial level (as with traffic control devices) remains a challenge, although several workshops identified existing data sharing relationships between State DOT and State police/law enforcement, either through integrated data exchange or TMC access to CAD data. Multiple layers of bureaucracy, lack of an appropriate platform or forum for sharing information across multiple jurisdictions, incompatible systems/software (such as CAD data and video sharing), and data privacy concerns contribute to these issues. A few workshop participants have developed teams to address this issue.
  • Collaboration in operations. Effective application of many TMCs strategies such as arterial operations, incident management, or integrated corridor management are dependent on a number of collaborative factors among state DOTs and one or more local governments. These include establishing appropriate roles, relationships, procedures, and protocols and to mobilizing staffing, operating, and maintenance resources. Most workshop locations indicated that their levels of collaboration vary widely. The visibility of special events usually incentivizes strong collaboration and the focus on corridor-specific programs does the same. Collaboration for incident management is less well-developed. For example, diversion plans have not been developed in many areas, TMC communications are not established with local governments, and many local jurisdictions have not obtained quick clearance and move-it authority. Recently, as State DOTs “build out” their freeway operations and begin to focus on arterial operations and corridors, interagency collaboration discussions are increasing. This occurs in several contexts, such as the following:
    • State DOTs contracting to local governments or MPOs to handle signal improvements and maintenance
    • State DOTs recognizing the impact of arterial operations on freeway level of service and undertaking selected arterial operational improvements
    • MPOs undertaking arterial signalization initiatives
    The concept of Integrated Corridor Management (ICM) also provides a particular focus on the need for jurisdictional network collaboration. Some workshop States are undertaking ICM pilots, and several other locations are considering major projects that are, in effect, integrated corridors. Collaboration in these projects moves beyond planning to real-time operational coordination, involving multiple or shared TMCs, agreed-upon decision support systems for diverting freeway traffic onto arterials, and agreed-upon field protocols.

3.4 Public-Private Partnerships

There was limited discussion of public-private partnerships in the workshops, but attendees at several included State DOTs’ private-sector support consultants, especially those supporting planning, TMC operations, and related technical specialty areas. Several issues were addressed.

  • Outsourcing. In an increasingly high-tech data-rich environment, public-private partnerships are common to access specialized private sector expertise. These arrangements capitalize on specific private-sector resources and capabilities, such as proprietary traveler information or highly specialized technical expertise needed only on an ad hoc basis. A majority of the workshop locations outsource two or more key TMCs functions, and several outsource many functions. These functions often include planning, systems engineering, and architecture development, and in several cases include TMC staffing, ITS device maintenance, and traveler information program development or delivery. The trend toward outsourcing is continuing as State DOTs cope with staffing and budget constraints, lack of key technical capabilities, and the occasional need for specific support.
    New forms of contractual arrangements with the private sector, beyond conventional outsourcing of products and services, include “in-sourcing” consultants as in-house staff to supplement agency staff, as well as new forms of contracts for external “public-private partnership” provision of functions. New technical challenges, such as those presented by deployment and operations of connected vehicle infrastructure and systems, are expanding the need for specialized technical capabilities. A few states/regions have identified the core staff capabilities that need to be retained or developed as part of systematic thinking about what expertise must be maintained in-house, even as outsourcing proceeds. Expanding outsourcing is introducing its own set of staffing and management challenges related to procurement, contract management training, standardization of contracting procedures, and the need to develop performance-based oversight.
  • Innovative contracting with incident management partners. States/Regions indicated that legacy towing and recovery arrangements are often an important constraint on incident management performance owing to towing rotation agreements, field personnel making calls, lack of standardized equipment, and dependency on lead agency initiative. Several workshops described their new forms of collaboration with the private towing and recovery community via the use of incentive and disincentive contracts, and a few locations indicated that they were in the process of pursuing such arrangements. These arrangements appear to have dramatic impacts on improving clearance times. Most workshop participants, however, indicated that they did not have the authority to initiate such arrangements and upper management appeared reluctant to disturb the legacy arrangements. In many instances, State police/law enforcement are the lead for towing program oversight and operations, and DOTs must work closely with them to effect changes. DOTs and transportation agencies have more direct contracting influence with freeway/safety service patrols, and a variety of public-private partnership arrangements are used, ranging from outsourcing to branded sponsorship.
Office of Operations