Photos of cars on freeway, speeding sign

Freeway Management and Operations Handbook

Chapter 2 – Freeway Management and the Surface Transportation Network
Page 1 of 2

Chapter 2 was revised in June 2006.  For more information on the extent of these revisions, see the Revision History Table at the beginning of this handbook.

2.1 Introduction

The surface transportation network consists of physical elements, modes, services, management systems, and operational strategies that enable the transport of people and goods. Freeways (as defined in Chapter 1 to include all expressways, limited-access toll facilities, entrance and exit ramps, and connecting bridges and tunnels), along with their supporting traffic management strategies and technologies, comprise just one element of this larger system. Moreover, the basic institutional fabric of the surface transportation network is multi-agency, multi-functional, and multi-modal. This framework often leads to a fragmented delivery system for transportation service, resulting in an "agency" focus rather than a regional, system-wide perspective – one that considers the entire trip over the entire surface transportation network by a variety of different users and customers.

The perspective of the "customers" (i.e., the users of the surface transportation network) is that there is only one system. The public generally does not care which jurisdiction or agency is responsible for the road or mode on which they are currently traveling. As taxpayers (and in some cases fare / toll payers), they want and deserve a safe, reliable, and predictable trip – one that is safe from physical and mental harm, provides a consistent level-of-service with minimal congestion, and is predictable in terms of travel time. To achieve this singular vision of the surface transportation network, the involved agencies and practitioners must recognize and address the many customer, inter-facility, inter-jurisdictional, and inter-modal dependencies. As noted in the introduction to "Regional Planning for Operations Primer" (Reference 1), an introductory document that discusses a formal collaborative activity called "regional planning for operations":

"More than ever, the safe, reliable, and secure operation of our Nation's transportation systems depends on collaboration and coordination across traditional jurisdictional and organizational boundaries. Nowhere is this more apparent than in our metropolitan regions where numerous jurisdictions, agencies, and service providers are responsible for safely and efficiently operating various aspects of the transportation system. Many of these operations activities in a metropolitan region must cross agency and jurisdictional boundaries to be successful. They may include traffic incident management, emergency management, communications networks, traveler information services, response to weather events, and electronic payment services. These regional operations activities depend on collaboration, coordination, and integration to be effective and truly benefit those that use or depend upon the regional transportation system."

The examples of operations activities provided in the above statement are integral parts of a freeway management program. Accordingly, the freeway practitioner has a significant role to play in achieving this vision of a "seamless" transportation network. At the same time, freeway practitioners must recognize that freeway management and operations represent but one "tool" for alleviating congestion, improving safety, and enhancing mobility; and other approaches merit due consideration. Additionally, in a pluralistic society such as ours with its numerous levels of government and organizational hierarchies, freeway practitioners must be cognizant of all the external circumstances that can impact the operation of the freeway network – either positively or negatively – thereby affecting how they define and pursue their individual responsibilities.

There are also temporal considerations. Decisions are made throughout the life cycles of transportation facilities – at a strategic level (i.e., long term), tactical level (i.e. shorter term), and operational level (i.e., real time). And all such decisions can affect the design, construction, operation, maintenance, and management of the transportation network.

2.1.1 Purpose of Chapter

This chapter looks at freeway management and operations from the broader view of the entire surface transportation network. Its goal is to provide the practitioner with an understanding of the many external factors and dependencies that can impact the performance of the freeway network and how it should be managed. These "cause & effect" interrelationships between the freeway and the overall surface transportation network include physical, technical, institutional, operational, procedural, and temporal considerations.

Following this introductory section, background information is provided regarding the types of constituencies and stakeholders that use and/or impact the surface transportation network in some fashion (Note: This discussion of stakeholders is at a very high level. Additional detail and discussion of stakeholders is provided in Chapter 3.) The various organizational "tiers" where decisions affecting the surface transportation network are made (e.g., national, statewide, regional, agency), and the associated time frames of these decisions are then discussed.

The remainder of this chapter – and its primary objective – provides the practitioner with several approaches for meeting the challenges that these dependencies often present, thereby further improving the operation of the freeway as well as the entire surface transportation network. Specific considerations include awareness of and involvement in the various transportation planning and capital programming processes that impact freeway management and operations; having an expanded and integrated view of freeway management and operations, and clarifying the potential benefits of freeway management and operations. The program entitled "Regional Planning for Operations" and the importance of human relations are also discussed. This "advice" applies to all potential freeway management activities and supporting technologies, and should therefore be duly considered when reading all subsequent chapters of this Handbook.

2.2 Background

A paradigm shift in transportation agencies' missions has been underway for several years. These agencies had long been providers and maintainers of the surface transportation network. But with an increase in congestion and crashes, particularly in urban areas, the mission and services that these agencies support has been expanding to include "operations". Moreover, with increasing levels of congestion, and the ability to expand the existing roadway infrastructure becoming more difficult, the importance of operations has increased significantly (2).

This shift in mission of "service provider and operator" is continuing slowly. Most agencies now realize that they must also be operators to maintain and/or improve the performance and reliability of their surface transportation system. Such a paradigm shift also requires agencies to change the way they have been strategically planning, programming and allocating resources (to include management and operational considerations), working in partnership with all of their customers and with other jurisdictions and affected stakeholders. In essence, all of the various elements – physical, technical, institutional, decision-making, operational, etc. – must not only work better, but also together in an integrated fashion.

Successful management and operation of the surface transportation network (including freeways) requires that the perspectives and concerns of several different constituencies be considered. These "stakeholders" include anyone who has an interest in the operation of the transportation network (a "stake" as it were), and may be categorized as follows:

  • Users are the primary customers of the surface transportation system. This includes those that use motorized transportation (e.g., motorcycles, automobiles, trucks, light and heavy rail, buses) as well as those that use non-motorized transportation, such as walking and bicycling. These customers are interested in safe, reliable, and predictable trips from their origin to their destination. They are generally not interested in the details of how the system operates, except when they encounter a system failure or disruption that influences the convenience or reliability of their trip. Additionally, users want real time and accurate travel condition information to guide them on their trip.
  • Decision Makers (i.e., elected officials, agency heads, etc.) develop legislation and policies addressing the funding, implementation, and management of the surface transportation network. They also decide where public resources are allocated. They need to understand society's needs and allocate available resources to best satisfy those needs. They also want to know the effects of their allocations.
  • Responders, such as police, fire, and other emergency services, represent a "special user" category. They utilize the transportation network as part of their critical missions, and often have decision-making and operational responsibilities for the network, particularly during traffic incidents, special events, and emergencies.
  • Practitioners (i.e., agency managers, planners, designers, implementers, operators, maintenance staff) are responsible for implementing the surface transportation network and for its day-to-day management and operation. In essence, they are the "providers" – providing the many functions and services requiring coordination and integration. They use the resources provided by the decision makers to provide travelers with the transportation services, travel modes and options, and information that meets the users' needs. These practitioners represent many different types of transportation agencies, including federal, state, county, city, transit, and regional organizations.
  • Activity Centers and Service Providers, such as private traveler information providers, airports and ports, private towing entities, stadiums, festivals, etc., can significantly impact the operation of the transportation facilities provided by transportation agencies.

As discussed throughout this Handbook, when developing a transportation-related program or project, it is important to identify the associated stakeholders, determine their needs and concerns, and engage them in the overall process as may be appropriate. As noted in Reference 1, such "collaboration and coordination" must be viewed as a "deliberate, continuous, and sustained activity that takes place when transportation agency managers and officials responsible for day-to-day operations work together at a regional level to solve operational problems, improve system performance, and communicate better with one another".

2.3 Decision Making

The authority for transportation decision-making begins well before transportation infrastructure is deployed, often beginning as far out as 20 years before deployment is scheduled to occur.  There is often a large time period between when projects are planned and deployed, and thus transportation decision-making is said to transverse several timeframes, or “tiers”.  Within each tier, transportation decision-making also occurs between several local, state, and regional agencies. These tiers and their associated activities (as related to freeway management and operations) are described below, with a graphical depiction in Figure 2-1.

drawing showing the various decision-making tiers that affect freeway management and operations

Figure 2-1: Freeway Management "Tiers" and Activities D

2.3.1 Tier 1 - Strategic Long Range Planning and Investment Decision Making

Tier 1 involves long-term planning and decision making that guides the overall development and implementation of state/regional/and local transportation infrastructure.  The focus of tier one is on the overall “big picture” of how transportation fits in with other elements of a state/region/local area to keep these areas in line with overall goals and objectives.  Activities within this tier include:

  • Regional transportation plans
  • Agency and community strategic plans
  • Modal/corridor strategic plans

Generally speaking, these plans are generally prepared for urbanized areas of more than 50,000 population covering at least a twenty-year planning horizon.  They also serve as input into programming specific investments over the mid- to long-term (see Tier 2).  In other words, plans prepared under this tier set the stage for program planning and ultimately for identifying projects that satisfy regional goals and objectives.  Plans of this nature should be updated every five years, or in the case of non-attainment or maintenance areas every three years.

2.3.2 Tier 2 -Program and System Planning and Investment Decision Making

Tier 2 involves relatively long – term planning and funding, as well as shorter term operations and management considerations.  A major focus of Tier 2 is the strategic transportation planning, programming, and coordination efforts that include a longer-range time horizon (3–20 years).  Statewide and regional transportation planning is the structured process followed by states, metropolitan planning organizations (MPOs), municipalities, and operating agencies to design both short and long-term transportation plans. This structured planning process often incorporates a Transportation Improvement Plan (TIP).  A TIP describes specific projects that will be deployed and/or operated over the next three years at a minimum. The TIP must be prepared by each metropolitan area and state, and is to be updated at least every two years.  The TIP is a prioritized program of transportation improvement projects or project segments, consistent with the Transportation Planning activities identified in Tier 1, and includes a financial element that constrains the TIP to be consistent with the available public and private funding sources.  Development of the TIP must offer citizens, agencies, and other interested parties the opportunity to comment on the proposed program.  Each metropolitan TIP automatically becomes part of the corresponding statewide TIP (the STIP). Freeway management projects need to be included in this document to receive Federal funds.

In addition to the TIP, key products of Tier 2 often include a freeway management program plan and an ITS strategic plan. These plans identify the key strategies and components of a freeway management program, the potential ITS technologies, areas of initial implementation, future initiatives to expand the functionality or area of coverage, and the resources needed to support all of the life-cycle phases of the system.  It is important that the process to develop the freeway management strategic plan (or any such focused plan or project) support the overall transportation planning process; not compete with it. Moreover, the end products of these “focused” processes can and should be used to feed information back into the overall transportation planning process.

The development of these plans, especially the TIP, usually rests with the Metropolitan Planning Organization (MPO). The MPO provides the forum for cooperative transportation-decision making in which local elected officials and the communities they serve can identify shared goals and negotiate differences so that transportation plans and programs can be developed in an effective manner. Numerous transportation planning activities on a regional and local level feed information to the development of the Transportation Plan and TIP. These planning activities include ITS Strategic Plans, Corridor and Sub-area Studies, Major Investment Studies, Congestion Management Plans and others.

While these processes have historically focused on capital projects, it is now recognized that the statewide / regional transportation planning process must take management and operations of the transportation network, and the ITS – based systems that support operations, into consideration. The current trend to “mainstream” ITS (and operations) into the traditional decision-making process of transportation planning means that operations and ITS deployments will be increasingly funded through regular sources and compete with traditional transportation components, such as road widening and new construction. There is consequently a need to strengthen the ties between management and operations, ITS, and the transportation planning process.

The functions and responsibilities of Tier 2 are evolving to also include a management and operations element, with a much shorter time frame as compared to the transportation planning functions noted above. This includes the development of regional ITS architectures, HOV strategies, and similar strategic plans. It may also include regional and statewide operations as represented by an “Integrated Transportation Management System”. 

The Freeway Operation Committee of the Transportation Research Board of the National Academy of Sciences defined an Integrated Transportation Management System as follows (Reference 3):

“An  ‘integrated transportation management system’ (ITMS) provides for the automated, real-time sharing of information between ITS based systems and the coordination of management activities between transportation agencies, thereby enhancing system interoperability and enabling an area-wide view of the transportation network.  These systems and agencies provide for the management and operation of a variety of different transportation facilities and functions, including freeways, arterial streets, transit (bus and rail), toll facilities (e.g., bridges, tunnels), emergency service providers and information service providers.”

Integrated transportation management systems and the associated statewide or regional organizations (where they exist) develop policies and plans intended to manage and operate the systems and programs – planned, funded, and deployed at other tiers – in a coordinated fashion (e.g., pre-planning for special events and major incidents). This requires the cooperation and involvement of the agencies and individuals that will be responsible for, or involved with, any life-cycle phase of the system. The general time frame associated with the process to initially develop traffic management plans and other items that support statewide / regional management and operations is typically one to three years.  These plans and the issues addressed could include operational strategies; traffic control plans; regional / statewide traveler information; staff procedures and protocols to coordinate services; response plans; resource sharing or agency agreements; performance monitoring and evaluation reports; and operations manuals that are used for the actual operation of an ITMS.

There appears to be a general consensus that “operations is not adequately addressed by the transportation planning process. Most, if not all, planning models are incapable of evaluating the impact of improved operations on air quality and level of service. While investments in operations are becoming increasingly important, they cannot be justified as part of the planning process.” (1) Recognizing the need for a more formalized program for developing a transportation operations program, the FHWA Office of Traffic Management has developed a formal collaborative activity called “regional planning for operations”, which is discussed in a subsequent section of this Chapter.

2.3.3 Tier 3 - Planning, Developing & Preparing for Day-to-Day Operations

Tier 3 has programming, design, and operations responsibilities. From the perspective of freeway management and operations, it is in Tier 3 where the planning and designing of individual strategies, plans, or projects takes place. It is where the infrastructure comprising the surface transportation network (e.g., freeways, bridges, tunnels, surface streets, rail lines, rolling stock, traffic control / management devices) is typically owned.  This level develops a multi-year program and budget that defines resources and commitments for a one-to-three year time frame, with updates every year or two.  As noted in the introductory chapter to this Handbook, providing effective highway-based transportation consists of three component parts – building the necessary infrastructure (i.e. construction), effectively preserving that infrastructure (i.e. maintenance), and effectively preserving its operating capacity by managing operations on a day-to-day basis.  All three of these “legs” that make up the “highway transportation stool” are defined and developed at the agency level; and it is at this tier where the relative balance between these parts are determined, and the associated priorities, budgets, and allocation of resources are established.

Another responsibility in Tier 3, and one that has become a priority, involves assessing the vulnerabilities of the infrastructure and physical assets; developing possible countermeasures to deter, detect, and delay the impact of threats to such assets; estimating the capital and operating costs of such countermeasures, and then budgeting the required resources; and improving security operational planning for better protection against future acts of terrorism.

2.3.4 Tier 4 - Day-to-Day Operations

Tier 4 (Day – to - Day Operations) deals primarily with the functions typically assigned to a Transportation Management Center (TMC). A TMC may be a physical structure, or it may be virtual. Regardless, the TMC is usually the heart of freeway management and operations program, providing the day – to – day operations of the transportation network. The TMC level performs several functions, including: gathering, synthesizing, and disseminating traffic and travel condition information; controlling a variety of field devices (Changeable Message Signs, ramp meters, cameras); and coordinating with other entities and stakeholders (e.g., emergency response providers). It is often an integral part of an ITMS, processing information that it receives from field devices and other TMCs, and sending out information. The TMC takes these data and then synthesizes, analyzes and stores the data.  Information is then sent out to the sources that provided the information and other users of information.  The users of information can be any of the customers discussed previously.

The TMC deals directly with all events that influence the actual operation of the freeway, including congestion, traffic incidents, special events, and emergencies. This is where the freeway is operated and managed in real – time, via ITS devices and strategies, control plans, traveler services (e.g., freeway service patrols), operational procedures, and responses / actions taken based on a specific traffic event. Decisions at this TMC level (and their resulting outcomes) are made by operators, based on operations plans, which in turn are based on the policies and strategies developed at other tiers, adjusted to reflect real-time conditions. 

2.3.5 Interaction Between Tiers

The Legislative, Regulatory and Research Tier in Figure 2.1 focuses on policy, direction, and support, and involves the authorizing legislation that establishes and provides priorities and resources for federal regulations, policies, programs, and research. The implementation of these regulations and associated programs are intended to positively influence the overall environment and how transportation management strategies and technologies are considered by the appropriate state, regional, and agency interests.  These federal programs and rules, corresponding research programs, outreach and technology transfer programs, and results of the various initiatives (e.g., field operational tests, model deployments), are intended to introduce new and innovative technologies and practices, improve the capabilities of public agency staff, and advance the state-of-the-art and state-of-the-practice of local agencies – in essence, setting the bar for the minimum allowable performance of the transportation network, while encouraging agencies to go well beyond.  Examples of how this can influence transportation programs and decision-making across tiers include:

  • The programming, budgeting and resource allocation decisions made in Tier 2 will significantly impact the range of plans, services, level of automation, and options available to operate or support a TMC or ITMS.
  • The aforementioned FHWA Rule 940 (requiring regional ITS architectures) could be the impetus for developing and deploying an ITMS, which in turn, will likely impact the system configuration and operation of one or more TMCs.
  • An Agency-wide assessment of the vulnerability of critical assets may very well impact funding priorities for other transportation improvements (as identified in the TIP), resulting in implementation delays. It is not inconceivable that a TMC and / or ITMS may be designated a critical asset by the Agency, thereby affecting its daily operations (e.g., new procedures and checks by which operators can enter and leave the facility, restrictions on the type of information (e.g., video images) that operators can disseminate to the public).
  • The design and subsequent implementation of a freeway reconstruction project (Tier 4) – particularly one that has inadequate provisions for maintenance and protection of traffic in the work zones; or that could disrupt system communications – will impact the operation of the TMC. At the same time, the freeway management system / TMC may enhance the maintenance and protection of traffic during the reconstruction (depending on the amount of coordination between the involved entities).

Freeway management strategies and systems need to be considered – better still, be an integral part – in the various decision-making processes in all tiers to ensure that the appropriate resources are provided for freeway management to succeed.  This also requires a commitment on the part of these agencies to consider freeway management at the appropriate tiers within each state, region, and agency. Similarly, freeway management practitioners must be cognizant of and, to the greatest extent possible (commensurate with their individual responsibilities), participate in these processes ensuring that freeway management and operations receives appropriate consideration.

2.3.6 Temporal Considerations

The various legislative, policy, programming, funding, management, and operational decisions are made throughout the “life – cycle” of the surface transportation network, potentially occurring during the planning, budgeting, design, implementation, operation, and evaluation of a program. Of all the activities that occur during the life cycle of the freeway network, the planning and programming activities are probably the most crucial to the long-term success of a freeway management program. In essence, the planning and programming processes distribute available funds and resources between the “3 legs” of the transportation stool (i.e., building the necessary infrastructure; effectively preserving that infrastructure through maintenance & reconstruction; and effectively preserving its operating capacity by managing operations on a day-to-day basis), and other societal needs.

As noted in the description of the various tiers, the various decisions can differ greatly in their respective time frames. Transportation planning typically deals with the strategic shaping of the transportation network, guiding the deployment of the system over long periods of time, perhaps decades. There is also a tactical consideration to planning – anticipating and responding to known events – which comprises a much shorter time frame. Operations, however, are ongoing. Operations planning guides the day – to – day functioning of the transportation network, and it is through operations planning that flexibility can be achieved. Operating situations are dynamic and driven by random factors. Real time is the temporal scale needed for operations, as the responses to changing conditions must be extremely fast if congestion, safety, and security hazards are to be ameliorated or avoided. (4)

Another consideration – everything is in a constant state of flux. For example, 20-year long range transportation improvement plans are updated every one to two years, Congressional reauthorization (with its changes in funding and polices) occurs approximately every 5 years (plus or minus depending on circumstances and the political landscape), rulings and standards can change or be updated at any time, and technology is continuously moving from emerging to state-of-the-art to state-of-the-practice to (on occasion) obsolete. The freeway practitioner must remain up-to-date on all decisions and plans that can impact operation and management of the freeway network.

2.4 Roles and Responsibilities of the Freeway Practitioner

At the very minimum, the freeway practitioner must be aware of and understand the overall framework in which freeway management and operations takes place. This includes:

  • Recognizing that the freeway facility is just one component (albeit, a very important one) of the overall surface transportation network. Accordingly, freeway management must not be considered in a singular, isolated manner. Rather, it needs to be addressed in the context of an integrated and regional system.
  • Being cognizant of all the dependencies and external circumstances that can impact – either positively or negatively – the operation of the freeway network. As discussed in the previous sections herein, this includes enabling legislation, policies and rules, transportation planning processes and products, plans / designs for freeway reconstruction and maintenance, strategic plans, operating plans etc. These various processes and funding mechanisms must be understood in order to position freeway management and operations for inclusion and positive consideration.
  • Acknowledging that a variety of perspectives exist towards freeway operations and its integration within the surface transportation network. These stakeholders and constituencies include users, decision makers, other freeway practitioners, and service providers; representing numerous entities (e.g., traffic, transit, police, fire, emergency management, activity centers) and "tiers" of decision-making. Never forget that freeway management and operations is an ongoing, iterative effort requiring regional collaboration and coordination.

These and other considerations for the freeway practitioner are discussed below.

2.4.1 Involvement

Awareness is important. But for a freeway management and operation program to be successful, proactive involvement is needed at (and across) all the decision-making tiers. Freeway management practitioners – be they operators, planners, designers, or managers – need to become involved in the various institutional frameworks and decision-making processes to the greatest extent possible, given their individual responsibilities. Examples of this involvement include:

  • Becoming a "champion" within your organization for the concept that local, state and regional transportation agencies must make the daily, smooth operation of the surface transportation network a core mission; and promoting a more collaborative operations mentality within and among the organizations that manage and / or influence the surface transportation network.
  • Understanding the capital planning process and developing a role within it, as this is the conduit by which funding for freeway management and operations is allocated. As previously noted, transportation planning is a continuing process, with plans updated on a regular basis (i.e., every 1–2 years). These plans (and the process to update them) provide freeway practitioners with the opportunity to:
    • Identify and influence the vision, goals and objectives for the region (e.g., mobility, safety, quality of life, security, etc.).
    • Introduce policy / decision makers of the benefits that freeway management strategies and other traffic management initiatives may have on the regions problems and constraints.
    • Select appropriate performance measures on which transportation alternatives may be compared, and the transportation plan and its components are subsequently evaluated. (Performance measures are addressed in Chapter 4)
    • Develop a regional "Concept of Operations" – addressing the role, responsibilities, operational strategies, and functions of a freeway management program and systems – in the regional / statewide planning documents.
  • Obtaining funding for the deployment of freeway management systems, as well as funding for the ongoing management and operations of these systems. Understanding and becoming involved in the transportation planning process is important. But developing a role within the programming processes is critical. Without being included in the programming decisions, there will be minimal (or no) funding for freeway management and operations.
  • Engaging the appropriate stakeholders in every "process" that involves or impacts freeway management, thereby providing a framework for collaboration and cooperation. This constituency obviously includes the people responsible for policy decisions, overall management, and day-to-day operations of the transportation system and public safety services, including those involved in capital investment decisions. Nontraditional stakeholders also need a voice in regional transportation operations. These other stakeholders can include chambers of commerce, boards of trade, tourism and visitor agencies, the towing and recovery industry, major shippers and carriers, traffic reporting media, and major employers (or groups).
  • Continuously coordinating and collaborating with other managers who are directly responsible for operating elements of the transportation system on a day-to-day basis, aiming to reach agreement on a shared operations vision, a concept for how regional activities should be operated over time, what measures to use to assess effectiveness, and how to make improvements to achieve desired expectations in operating performance.
  • Understanding the political and institutional situation. After all, this is what establishes the framework and context in which freeway management and operations activities and systems are funded and implemented. The practitioner needs to be aware of the political and institutional sensitivities and opportunities, determining the associated needs and how much support may be forthcoming to meet these needs. The political / institutional situation should not necessarily be viewed as a negative. It may be, but it could also be a very positive factor that drives the program to success. Even if the program doesn't have political and institutional support at the beginning, there is always the opportunity, through presentations, good management skills, and astute expectation management, to win people over as supporters.

2.4.2 An Integrated and Expanded View

Freeway practitioners must view the overall performance of the transportation network as an integrated whole, and not just focus on the operation of the freeway. The words "integration" and "integrated" are used throughout this Handbook. The term "integration" is defined in the 4th Edition of the American Heritage Dictionary as: "to make into a whole by bring all parts together; unite". In the context of this Handbook, the term is used to describe a bridging function between all of the various components, activities, and related attributes that comprise and impact the surface transportation network. The goal of integration is to bring the management and operation of the surface transportation network into a unified whole, thereby making the various transportation modes and facilities perform better and work together.

The surface transportation network can be "integrated" in many ways, including:

  • Physical Integration – The various components that comprise the surface transportation network – freeways and interchanges, arterial and local streets, parking facilities, sidewalks and crosswalks, bus and rail transit lines and stops, airports, inter-modal facilities, etc. – are all physically interconnected (e.g., arterial street – ramp – freeway). If they weren't integrated in this fashion, movement could not take place. As such, improvements on one or more of these facilities – be they operational, physical / geometric, or some combination – can affect the operation of the other elements of the surface transportation network (e.g., inadequate acceptance capacity of the arterial or other traffic absorber near an off-ramp can lead to traffic backing up onto the freeway). Perhaps more common is the scenario where a problem on one facility significantly impacts the operation of other nearby facilities (e.g., major accident on the freeway causes traffic to divert to the surface street, which can disrupt bus service and freight deliveries). Accordingly, the impacts on other facilities need to be considered whenever making freeway management decisions, and vice-versa.
  • Operational Integration – As users travel from point A to point B along the surface transportation network, they typically use freeways, arterial streets and other elements of the system. Moreover, even if they stay on the same facility type (e.g., a freeway), they are likely moving from a facility owned and operated by one transportation agency to a facility owned and operated by another agency. Other entities and activities – such as the police, emergency services, roadway maintenance / construction, information service providers, etc. – may also impact the trip. As such, it is important to implement operational integration to promote information sharing and more coordinated operations between the various transportation entities. Examples include exchanging information between TMCs, and then combining the information to create a regional database for traveler information; changing signal timing to accommodate increased traffic flow diverted from an adjacent freeway; or all affected agencies jointly developing traffic management plans in advance, and then utilized to manage traffic during special events and emergencies.
  • Technical Integration – This is closely associated with operational integration, providing the technical means by which information can be shared and the impacts of operational decisions can be immediately viewed and evaluated by the affected agencies. An example of technical integration is the adoption and use of standards enabling different TMCs to automatically exchange information.

    Standards allow different systems or devices manufactured by different vendors to more easily share data.  Specifically, they define how systems, products, and components can interconnect, exchange information and interact to deliver services within a transportation network. Standards help overcome the difficulties typically associated with proprietary systems/devices owned and operated by TMCs by offering open architectures that:

    - Promotes integration and interoperability,
    - Encourages growth by minimizing development costs, and
    - Increases buyer and seller confidence in products.
  • Institutional Integration – If physical integration makes operational integration necessary, then institutional integration is what enables such integration to take place. The "Background" section of the FHWA Rule 940 publication in the Federal Register (5) states: "Institutional integration involves coordination between various agencies and jurisdictions to achieve seamless operations and/or interoperability. In order to achieve effective institutional integration of systems, agencies and jurisdictions must agree on the benefits and the value of being part of an integrated system. They must agree on roles, responsibilities, and shared operational strategies. Finally, they must agree on standards and, in some cases, technologies and operating procedures to ensure interoperability. This coordination effort is a considerable task that will happen over time, not all at once. Transportation organizations, such as transit properties, State and local transportation agencies, and metropolitan planning organizations must be fully committed to achieving institutional integration in order for integration to be successful. The transportation agencies must also coordinate with agencies for which transportation is a key, but not a primary part of their business, such as, emergency management and law enforcement agencies."
  • Procedural Integration – Institutional integration (as well as operational and technical integration) requires that those in authority make decisions to pursue integration of the surface transportation network, and then support this integration by providing the necessary resources. Decision-making is aided by a variety of procedures and processes – both formal and informal ones. Procedural integration focuses on the legislative, policy, planning, programming and budgeting environment in which the transportation infrastructure functions. The expanded mission of "operations" requires agencies to expand and better coordinate their procedures and processes for strategic planning, programming and allocating resources, managing, and operating the network, working in partnership with all of their customers, with other functional entities within their own agency, and with other agencies.

These various types of integration are interrelated – for example, the existence of physical integration is often the impetus for exploring and instituting other forms of integration; operational integration can be more effective when technical integration has been implemented; procedural and institutional integration go hand-in-hand; while successful technical and operational integration typically require institutional integration (and the associated managerial support and funding) as a prerequisite.

In essence, organizations and practitioners that have previously operated independently need to consider themselves as part of an integrated team. They must cooperate with neighboring governmental jurisdictions, regional transportation agencies, and organizations that provide transportation in those situations where the transportation problem is an area-wide phenomenon. In many cases, because of the dispersed nature of travel patterns and the multitude of organizations providing transportation services, solutions to particular problems in a region or corridor will require a multi-jurisdictional approach. (6)

Coupled with this "whole" and integrated view of the surface transportation network, freeway practitioners must also consider a vast array of potential actions to improve its performance. This requires an expanded view of what constitutes "freeway management and operations". For example:

  • Recognize that traffic congestion is a more difficult problem than simply too many cars at a particular location. There are institutional and land use dimensions to the problem that make it complex. Transportation improvements can be considered from the perspective of enhanced transportation services (i.e., the "supply" of transportation), from the perspective of those who use these services (i.e., better managing the "demand" for the transportation system), from the perspective of influencing where and when this demand occurs (i.e., the land use dimension), or any combination of the above. Practitioners should carefully consider how individual actions relate to one another and how, when combined into an overall program, they relate to regional and community objectives. (6)
  • The ITE Paper for the 2002 Theodore M. Matson Memorial Award (7) states: "there is a disconcerting tendency to confuse ITS technology with improved operations". Freeway operations and management definitely includes extensive applications of Intelligent Transportation Systems (ITS) technologies and strategies. ITS can be a tremendous enabler of freeway management and operations, helping ensure that the investments in the roadway infrastructure are being used wisely and to the maximum efficiency. But projects to deploy these technology packages are not ends in and of themselves. Knowledgeable and trained staff must be placed in charge of these systems, use them proactively to accomplish well-articulated system goals and objectives, and maintain them.
  • Reference 7 also states: "engineers must broaden their view of the profession to include new approaches that have not traditionally considered their responsibility". This expanded view may mean incorporating freeway management and operation strategies (e.g., ramp management and control, lane management, HOV systems, traffic incident and planned special event management, information dissemination, surveillance); giving consideration to other types of operational improvements and enhancements (e.g., increasing the roadway capacity at bottleneck locations; improving static signing, pavement markings, illumination, etc. to increase safety and driver convenience / comfort); examining better ways of managing demand, such as congestion pricing and telecommuting; and considering long-range strategies (e.g., future land use / development patterns) that will provide the foundation for avoiding similar problems in the future. It is easy to claim that aggressive approaches are far beyond the scope of the profession. If the transportation professional does not take the lead, who will? (7)

2.4.3 Clarifying the Benefits

Traditional transportation projects that focus on adding new capacity introduce visible changes in local accessibility and level of service. The direct benefits of many operational improvements are often much less apparent and widely distributed. The benefits accrue to the users, but the costs – which are on going – are the responsibility of the providers, a scenario that may not always be highly valued in the political decision arena. A key precondition to generating support for an increased operations focus is a more widespread appreciation of the relatively high cost-effectiveness of most operations improvements. Accordingly, freeway management practitioners must document the success stories. These need not be traditional benefit/cost studies. It is more important to document real examples of how the quality of transportation operations has been improved with freeway management and related implementations. These success stories should involve innovative applications that cross traditional institutional structures and can be understood for their intrinsic value – for example, improving the response time of an ambulance through improved integrated operations, "amber alerts" via CMS, Internet sites showing real-time traffic conditions (graphically and / or via video feeds) are all benefits that do not require a benefit/cost ratio to be understood.

At the same time, freeway practitioners must be realistic in their assessment of what is likely to be accomplished from the implementation of freeway management and operations strategies and technologies. The "millennium paper" prepared by the TRB Committee on Freeway Operations (8) provides several excellent points in this regard, as summarized below:

  • Traffic management does produce benefits, but one must be careful how these benefits are presented. The public must be given realistic expectations. For years, the public has been told that technology will solve all of its problems. Practitioners must be vigilant to ensure that the view of the public toward freeway management and the associated technologies / systems is not influenced by overoptimistic expectations and longer-than-expected delivery times. The benefits of these systems are real, and the benefits of investing in freeway management are already being realized. However, industry insiders must remember that whereas the benefits for society as a whole are large, the benefits perceived by individual drivers on a daily basis may not be so impressive. We have the larger picture, and we must communicate realistic individual benefits to individual users.
  • The safety benefits of traffic management always have been under-emphasized relative to congestion – reduction benefits, even though the two issues are related. Motorists appear to be increasingly concerned about safety and security. The safety benefits of roadway systems and improvements (e.g., ramp metering, variable speed limits, managed lanes, improved incident response) will require better documentation and publicity.
  • How practitioners promote traffic management to elected officials, decision makers, and agency managers is another challenge. Again, one must be careful in expounding the benefits of freeway management and ITS-based systems. As a stand-alone program, freeway management will not solve congestion; however, working with the other pieces of the puzzle, it will help to mitigate congestion. Freeway management must work with traffic management on the arterial road network, traveler information providers, and regional planning to make an impact.