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Freeway Management and Operations Handbook

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

2.5 Planning for Operations

A recurring theme in this chapter has been the need for the freeway practitioner to understand the transportation planning process and to develop a role within programming processes, as this is the conduit by which funding for freeway management and operations is allocated. However, this may not always be easy. As stated in a White Paper prepared by FHWA (Reference 9), identifying significant areas of change to achieve an adequate emphasis on operations in Federal surface transportation programs: "effectively and proactively operating the highway system has not traditionally been of equal emphasis (to capital projects), and even where operations activities have been pursued, they have been typically carried out in a stove piped fashion within an individual jurisdiction (e.g. State, City, county), functional element (e.g. freeway, arterial, local street) or mode (e.g. passenger vehicle, highway-based transit) basis. A regional operations focus is largely lacking and the regional institutions that exist (e.g. MPOs) have not, with a few notable exceptions, traditionally championed operations at all."

Reference 7 shares a similar sentiment, stating: "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".

Recognizing the need for a more formalized program for developing a transportation operations program, the FHWA Office of Traffic Management has published a document entitled "Regional Planning for Operations Primer" (1), an introductory document that discusses a formal collaborative activity called "regional planning for operations". The development of this primer was guided by three important principles:

  • The value of regional operations collaboration and coordination results from having formalized and sustained activity between operators and service providers in metropolitan areas regarding regional operations policies and projects that cross agency and jurisdictional lines.
  • Where regional operations collaboration and coordination takes place, institutionally, is not the question. What gets done is the important challenge. The focus is on improving operational performance for safe, reliable, and secure transportation systems across a region to better serve the customers.
  • The regional operations collaboration and coordination activity must be closely linked to the metropolitan transportation planning and decision-making processes governed by Federal law. Stronger links between operations and planning will result in meaningful programs and investments as well as improved service to the customer across modes, agencies, and jurisdictions.

As envisioned in the primer, "regional operations collaboration and coordination is 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" – much the same concept as discussed earlier in this Chapter. The document "encourages and enables regional operations collaboration and coordination for transportation managers and public safety officials from cities, counties, and States within a metropolitan region. These managers and officials may include traffic operations engineers and managers, transit operations managers, police officials, fire officials, emergency medical services officials, emergency response managers, and port authority (e.g., air and water) managers." While not specifically mentioned, freeway practitioners are also part of this regional operations collaboration and coordination.

Figure 2-2 shows the framework on which "managers with day-to-day responsibilities for providing transportation and public safety services can build sustained relationships and create strategies to improve transportation system performance. The intent of the framework is to help institutionalize working together as a way of doing business among transportation agencies, public safety officials, and other public and private sector interests within a metropolitan region".

framework shown as a series of iterative activities represented by five disks forming a circle and connected by arrows that flow from one to the next. Structure leads to process, which leads to products, which leads to resources, which leads back to performance

Figure 2-2: Framework for Regional Collaboration & Coordination
(Reference 1)

This framework creates structures through which processes occur that result in products. It implies a commitment of resources needed to initiate and sustain regional collaboration and coordination and for implementing agreed upon solutions and procedures. The collaborative spirit is motivated by a desire for measurable improvement in regional transportation system performance. The five elements of the framework are interactive and evolving. A brief description of each element and the associated "action steps" (taken from Reference 1) is provided below:

2.5.1 Structure

The regional structure that supports collaboration and coordination within a region is the set of relationships, institutions, and policy arrangements that shape the activity. It provides the "table" at which operators and service providers sit with public safety and other key transportation constituencies. This "regional table" may range from an ad hoc loose confederation to a formal entity with legal standing and well-defined responsibilities and authorities. It may be facilitated by or emerge from existing entities or be newly formed. Associated action steps include:

  • Identify key constituencies (e.g., employers, shippers, developers, communities) who support better transportation systems performance.
  • Enlist regional champions/leaders who are committed to working together (and encouraging others to work with them) in support of better system performance.
  • Develop a vision for regional transportation system performance that is shared by operators, service providers, and planners.
  • Establish operations as a regular item on the regional planning agenda.

2.5.2 Processes

Processes are the formal and informal activities performed in accordance with written or unwritten, but collaboratively developed and accepted, policies involving multiple agencies and jurisdictions in a region. Processes describe how the "regional table" works to achieve its objectives. Associated action steps include:

  • Make investments decisions based on the best combinations of capital investments and operations strategies (performance-based planning).
  • Ensure that the solutions (project) selection process and criteria provide a level playing field for operational improvements and investments. Tools are available to show the benefits of operational improvements.
  • Address operations activities (e.g., incident management, traveler information) in multimodal corridor planning.
  • Use operations performance audits (e.g., corridor-wide) as a tool for guiding investment choices
  • Leverage operations to achieve regional goals (or meet other commonly sought outcomes).

2.5.3 Products

The products of collaboration and coordination are the results of processes, informing regional entities (public and private sector) about the operation of the regional transportation system over time (including planned improvements). These products include studies, evaluations, a regional concept of operations, baseline performance data, current performance information, and operating plans and procedures. Associated action steps include:

  • Provide a current conditions baseline to calibrate long-range planning.
  • Develop a regional concept of operations that sets performance expectations for regional operators (priorities, projects, improvements, processes, performance, resources).
  • Get buy-in for the regional operations implementation agenda from public safety providers and agencies that operate elements of the transportation systems.
  • Make the regional operations implementation agenda a necessary input into the transportation improvement plan/long-range plan (TIP/LRP).
  • Use market research as the common link between operations (customer feedback) and planning (planning input).

2.5.4 Resources

Resources govern what is available within the region for sustaining and implementing the regional concept of operations and other operations plans on an ongoing basis. The resources include staff, equipment, and dollars. Also implied is the commitment on the part of organizations and individuals to allocate and share these resources. In essence, operations must be viewed as a resource priority to participating organizations. Associated action steps include:

  • Ensure linkages to the overall regional transportation planning process for needed investment in operations.
  • Use available funds to support convening activity for operators and planners.
  • Ensure that everyone at the regional collaboration and coordination table perceives a return on investment of time and other resources.
  • Make resources sufficiently available and flexible to effectively fund regional planning for operations activities and initiatives.

2.5.5 Performance

The performance element comprises how performance will be measured, and individual and collective responsibilities for monitoring and improving regional transportation system performance. Regional performance objectives, which are established collaboratively, most commonly address public safety, mobility, security, economic development, and environment. Associated action steps include:

  • Agree on expected levels of performance and the need for improvement.
  • Develop and accept relevant regional performance measures.
  • Provide regular status reports on regional transportation system operations performance.
  • Share, link, and provide system managers and system users with access to real-time and archived system performance data.

Freeway management and operations must be an integral part of regional planning for operations and the resulting strategies. These include a collective vision for how the region's transportation systems will operate in all situations, under a range of conditions, and with other related systems; a concept for how the system should be operated on a regional basis, and how to make changes to achieve desired improvements in system operating performance; and measures for assessing performance.

2.6 Human Relations

A recurring theme of the above discussions is that freeway management and operations is an ongoing, iterative effort requiring regional collaboration and coordination. The various agencies that are involved or impacted by the surface transportation network don't attend and participate in coordination meetings and decision-making processes, per se; rather, it is their representatives that discuss and (hopefully) resolve the numerous institutional, technical, and funding issues associated with regional operations. Freeway management and operations requires the talents of many people. In fact, most institutional challenges and barriers are really about human relations. As stated in the FHWA "Guidelines for Successful Systems" (Reference 10), "excellent human relations are therefore essential to a systems success. In fact, this may be the most critical aspect of the process. If the various participants cooperate, then a successful system is almost assured. On the other hand, when the relationships between individuals disintegrate and they start to work at cross-purposes, the success of the system is seriously endangered." The importance of personal relationships among leaders and staff members of key operating agencies and neighboring jurisdictions, who recognize common problems and opportunities and agree to work together to improve regional transportation systems performance, cannot be overemphasized.

The dependence on the social behavior of different individuals can be a bit unsettling. After all, the most critical element of the process to develop, implement, and operate a freeway a management program is also the least controllable. Reference 10 identifies a number of general principles that can help to promote and maintain good human relations, and therefore minimize many of the potential barriers to collaboration and coordination. These principles include:

  • Good communications, preferably face to face.
  • Appropriate knowledge and authority on the part of key individuals (agency representatives, managers)
  • Empathy – viewing problems and issues as others do, which requires careful listening.
  • Honesty – clearly presenting the facts and being truthful in all dealings
  • Individuality – approaching people as individuals, not as stereotypes.
  • Thoughtfulness – showing respect for the opinions and talents of others.
  • Positive Thinking – showing confidence in the concept of an ITMS
  • Flexibility – recognizing that circumstances change, and being open to new ideas.

2.7 Closing

In closing, it is worthwhile highlighting similar "practitioner roles and responsibilities" identified in other sources. For example, according to the ITE publication "A Tool Box for Alleviating Traffic Congestion and Enhancing Mobility" (6), written by M.D. Meyers, "some of the most successful efforts at adopting the transportation programs have exhibited the following characteristics:

  • Waging an aggressive campaign to inform the public of what is likely to occur if something is not done.
  • Clearly stating what the average citizen will gain from these actions.
  • Providing opportunities for citizens and interact groups to participate in the planning and decision making process.
  • Actively pursuing business support for the proposed actions.
  • Seeking media support in editorials and news reporting.
  • Developing a cost effective program that appeals to a broad a political base as possible"

The aforementioned FHWA White Paper (9), describing potential areas of change to achieve an adequate emphasis on operations in Federal surface transportation programs, proposes: "States be provided with a charge and the necessary resources to focus on regional operations collaboration and coordination. How this would be carried out in each State would vary, but the following functions would be performed:

  • Establish and sustain a 'table' where regional operations policies, protocols, activities, and projects are defined, discussed, debated, and coordinated by transportation system operators, including State and local transportation and public works agencies, public safety personnel and transit system operators. Representatives at the 'table' should be those responsible for day-to-day management and operations activities;
  • Develop, maintain, and monitor the effective implementation of a regional concept of operations;
  • Set performance targets; identify, collect and store regional data for performance measurement, trend analysis, and monitoring; report to the public on system performance;
  • Coordinate region wide operational improvement to enhance highway safety;
  • Carryout regional collaboration for security and emergency transportation operations on key evacuation and military routes and the protection of critical NHS and STRAHNET infrastructure and provide for continued operations during an emergency;
  • Prepare a Regional Operations Action Agenda; use performance data to identify operational problems, evaluate potential solutions and facilitate their accomplishment;
  • Ensure the coordinated delivery of timely traveler and user information on transportation system operations to the full range of system users; and
  • Provide substantive input to the Statewide and/or regional transportation planning process on necessary investments to improve system performance.

So long as all appropriate system operators are involved, performance of these functions could be led by an existing regional agency, such as an MPO; other existing agencies, such as State DOTs or large cities or counties; or an organization formed for the specific purpose of focusing on regional operations."

FHWA's "Self-Assessment process for Roadway Operations and System Management" (11) is a tool by which agencies with traffic operations responsibility can assess the effectiveness of their existing roadway operations processes, both in terms of its internal processes and the degree to which it serves its customers. This self-assessment reflects two important aspects of roadway operations: Organization (how well is the roadway operations process administered, directed, an evaluated) and Business Results (how well is the roadway operations process executed). Some of the assessment criteria – particularly those that mirror the discussions herein – are summarized in Table 2-1.

Table 2-1: Selected Criteria – "Self-Assessment Process for Roadway Operations and System Management"
(Reference 11)
Area 1 – Organizational

Leadership – This category rates the senior leadership of an agency. It is a measure of the degree to which this leadership has personal involvement in creating and sustaining values, agency directions, performance expectations, customer focus, and a leadership system that promotes performance excellence in roadway operations. Specific areas include:

  • Performance Criteria – The degree to which the agency has established objectives for roadway operations, including:
    • Have performance objectives been established that measure quality of service provided to motorists?
    • Have performance objectives been established for incident management services?
    • Have performance objectives been established for maintenance response times?
    • Are users involved in the identification of criteria?
  • Personnel Understanding of Objectives
    • Do clear visions and goals exist for roadway operations?
    • Has management communicated and documented the visions and goals for roadway operations?
    • Were all levels of personnel involved in developing the visions and goals?
    • Have responsibilities for these goals been clearly communicated?
    • Are the visions and goals reviewed on a yearly basis and revised if appropriate?
  • Outcome Orientation – The degree to which the agency relates the quality of its roadway operations performance to the impact on the community.
  • Structure – The degree to which the agency has established an organizational structure that encourages effective leadership throughout the organization, including:
    • Does the agency have an appropriate mix of individuals to achieve agency goals?
    • Are training courses given in leadership?
    • Are potential leaders identified from less experienced personnel?
    • Are the potential leaders mentored?

Planning – This category rates the manner in which the agency develops its roadway operations strategies and plans, and the effectiveness with which it communicates them to its staff. Planning includes a broad spectrum of activities, including:

  • Participation in the long-term strategic planning process that is typically conducted agency-wide
  • Annual planning and budgeting cycles for the roadway operations function
  • Planning of near-term activities such as allocation of staff to operations and maintenance functions
  • Decisions for periodic operational updates and reviews such as signing, signal retiming, and preventive maintenance activities
  • The manner in which the planning process is translated into an effective performance monitoring system to ensure that planning objectives are achieved.

Customer and Market Focus – This category considers the agency's relationship with its external customers including motorists, commercial vehicle operators, transit providers, transit riders, bicyclists, older drivers, hazardous material carriers, pedestrians, contractors, business owners and residents. It evaluates the agency's understanding and appreciation of its customers' needs and expectations, and the degree to which their needs are satisfied.

Integration – This category evaluates how well the agency's operations are coordinated and integrated with those of other modes and jurisdictions, and with "sister" organizations within the agency. Specific areas include:

  • Coordination – The quality of your agency's coordination with other agencies and organizations, including:
    • Does your agency meet regularly with other agencies and organizations?
    • During these meetings, do you discuss operational issues of common interest?
    • Do you discuss sharing of personnel and resource sharing (communications facilities, equipment required for emergencies, etc.)?
    • Have you executed memoranda of understanding defining responsibilities during periods for which operational coordination is required?
    • Have you practiced the coordinated operations under controlled conditions?
    • Do you review, discuss, and act upon the results of coordinated operations following major events or activities?
  • Integration of Operations – The quality of your agency's concept of operations, including:
    • Has your agency participated in the development of a regional concept of operations that defines the operational responsibilities of all agencies and organizations in the region under various types of incident and non-incident conditions?
    • Does this concept of operations describe the interactions between the agencies and organizations?
    • Is the concept of operations reviewed and updated periodically?
    • Have memoranda of understanding been executed by the participants that ensures management acceptance and support of the concept?
    • Is the concept of operations consistent with the regional ITS architecture if one has been developed?
  • Integration and Coordination of Routine Operations – The degree to which the agency's routine operations activities are coordinated with other agencies.
  • Data and Information Integration – The degree to which your agency recognizes the importance of shared information, and takes steps to facilitate this sharing. (The various criteria within this category explore "technical integration", which is discussed in Chapter 16)
  • Integration of System Planning and Designs – The degree of integration that occurs during the planning, design, and implementation of new traffic management and/or dispatch systems, such as the inclusion of other agencies and organizations in the planning process; and the plans reflecting the requirements and services needed by other agencies.

Human Resources (Personnel) – This category evaluates the manner in which the workforce (including consultants and contractors) is enabled to develop and realize its full potential with regard to operations and system management. It also evaluates the alignment of the agency's personnel policies with its other objectives. Specific areas include:

  • Involvement and Commitment – How well all personnel are encouraged and enabled to contribute to achieving agency operations and system management goals and continually improving the agency, including soliciting inputs from all personnel (as appropriate) during the development of the strategic and annual plans.
  • Professional Development Programs – The quality of the programs and facilities available to agency personnel as appropriate for their job performance as well as advancement to the next job level, including training programs in the categories of traffic engineering, project management, leadership, and negotiating skills.
  • Empowerment – Whether personnel are provided with the needed authority to permit them to interact with neighboring and other appropriate agencies.

Process Management – This category rates the processes of the agency uses to provide quality roadway operations, and the processes it uses to improve this quality. It deals with the degree to which processes are defined, monitored, evaluated and upgraded. A key criterion involves "Integration with Other Processes" – that is, the degree to which roadway operations is integrated with other elements of the agency and with other agencies; the extent to which roadway operations personnel are involved in the planning, design and inspection of new facilities; and participation of operations personnel in the activities of the appropriate Metropolitan Planning Agencies.

Data, Information and Knowledge – This category evaluates the effectiveness with which the agency collects data, processes the data, and creates the knowledge for effective decision-making at all levels of management.

Area 2 – Business Results

This area evaluates the current performance of the agency in a variety of areas, listed below, all of which are in the purview of the freeway practitioner.

  • Safety Analysis
  • Signing and Marking
  • Debris Removal
  • Snow, Sand, and Ice Control
  • Emergency Evacuation
  • Lighting
  • Traffic Monitoring
  • Vegetation Control
  • Service Patrols
  • Ramp Metering
  • System Performance Monitoring, Evaluation, and Reporting
  • Construction Management
  • Rest Areas
  • Incident Response
  • Incident Diversion Planning
  • Incident Clearance
  • Scheduled Incidents
  • Motorist Notification (DMS, HAR)
  • Media Interface
  • Information Dissemination (Internet)
  • Freeway / Arterial Coordination
  • Interagency Coordination

2.8 References

1. "Regional Transportation Operations Collaboration and Coordination, a Primer for Working Together To Improve Transportation Safety, Reliability, and Security", FHWA, Publication FHWA-OP-03-008, 2002

2. "Integrated Surface Transportation Systems: The Role of Transportation Management Centers"; Obenberger, J. & Kraft, W.; October 2001

3. Proceedings from the 4th Conference on Integrated Transportation Management Systems; July 2001

4. "Transportation Operations: An Organizational and Institutional Perspective"; Sussman, Joseph; ITE Journal; December 2002.

5. FHWA Rule 940, National Register, January 8, 2001

6. Meyer, M.D.; A Toolbox for Alleviating Traffic Congestion and Enhancing Mobility; Institute of Transportation Engineers, Washington D.C. 1997

7. Tarnoff, Philip J.; "The Changing Role of the Transportation Professional"; ITE Journal; October, 2002

8. "Freeway Operations in 2000 and Beyond", Members and Friends of the TRB Committee on Freeway Operations

9. Federal Highway Administration; "Operating the Highway System for Safety, Reliability and Security: TEA-21 Reauthorization Proposal"; March 2002

10. "Guidelines for Successful Traffic Control Systems"; Neudorff L; FHWA-RD-88-014; August 1988

11. Federal Highway Administration; "Self Assessment Process for Roadway Operations and System Management", Version 1.0; May 2001