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Freeway Management and Operations Handbook

Chapter 3 – Freeway Management Programs
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3.1 Introduction

Practically every transportation-related program and the associated deployment projects involve some sort of "process" – a series of actions by which ideals and concepts are brought to fruition, implemented, and managed on a day-to-day basis. Within every process there exists an underlying structure that shapes and controls events. This framework consists of formal activities (e.g., written policies and operational guidelines agreed to in a collaborative fashion) and informal ones (e.g., human relationships), all relating to the ways options are created and decisions are made to improve the performance of the transportation network. An effective approach ensures that investment decisions include full consideration of operations strategies along with capital improvements; that operations activities are addressed from a regional and multimodal perspective; that the operations thinking addresses economic, environmental, and mobility objectives as well as any institutional issues; and that once implemented, the effects of these decisions can be measured and evaluated.

Several processes have been developed for planning and deploying transportation improvements such as new infrastructure, ITS-based systems, and operational activities. Moreover, many transportation agencies have adopted some of these – often with variations – as their formalized approach for making informed decisions regarding the investment of public funds for transportation improvements. Given that several such processes already exist, an additional (and separate) process for establishing, deploying, and managing a freeway operations program is not needed. Instead, freeway management and operations should be an integral part of the established processes within an agency. Moreover, as discussed in Chapter 2, the freeway management practitioner must be cognizant of and, to the greatest extent possible (commensurate with his/her responsibilities), participate in these processes ensuring that freeway management and operations receives appropriate consideration and funding.

3.1.1 Purpose of Chapter

Chapter 2 identified and summarized some of these processes – specifically, statewide and regional transportation planning for developing and updating long-range transportation improvement programs; and "regional planning for operations", a more formalized program for developing a transportation operations program as recently developed by FHWA. This chapter focuses more on processes and activities specific to freeway management and operations. Following these introductory comments, a series of activities are presented for establishing, enhancing, and managing a freeway operations program. These "steps" are not to be viewed as a separate process for developing a freeway management and operations program. Rather, they represent an amalgamation of important activities from other established processes.

Intelligent Transportation Systems (ITS) have proven to be a significant enabler of operations. As such, many freeway management programs will include projects to develop, design, implement, and expand freeway management systems that incorporate advanced technologies and complex software. Accordingly, this chapter also summarizes a number of published processes that are geared towards ITS deployment (e.g., systems engineering, configuration management, regional ITS architectures). Finally, while not a process itself, the National ITS Architecture is also discussed herein as the associated conventions and terminology will often affect how these other system processes are applied. Only a high-level overview of these system processes is provided in this Chapter. Additional information and details can be found in subsequent chapters of this Handbook, and in a variety of references, many of which are identified herein.

While reading about, and perhaps someday utilizing, the information and processes discussed in this chapter, it is important that the freeway practitioner keep in mind that ITS-based systems represent just one potential aspect of a freeway management and operations program, and that the freeway itself is just one element of the overall surface transportation network. Accordingly, freeway practitioners must view the overall performance of the transportation network as a whole, and consider a vast array of potential actions to improve its performance. Moreover, practitioners must carefully consider how individual actions complement one another in the long run and how, when combined into an overall program, they relate to regional and community goals and objectives.

3.2 Establishing a Freeway Management and Operations Program

As defined in Chapter 1, a "program" is a coordinated, inter-related set of strategies, procedures, and activities (such as projects), all intended to meet the goals and objectives articulated in vision statements and policies. Figure 3-1 shows a series of activities that should be considered when establishing, enhancing, and managing a freeway operations program. This diagram and the "steps" shown therein should not be viewed as a separate, independent separate process for freeway management and operations. Rather, they represent a collection of important activities from other established processes, including the aforementioned planning for operations (Reference 1), systems engineering (References 2 and 3), regional ITS architectures (References 4 and 5), and incident management (Reference 15). This funnel diagram shows freeway management and operations within the context of the broader transportation planning process and the institutional environment as represented by the stakeholders. This becomes the basis for a vision, goals, objectives and strategies; and how these are used to identify required services, formulate the concept of operations, and help determine performance measures. These lead to decisions regarding the improvements, management systems, and staffing that are required. These operational tools are then implemented leading to the actions an operator takes on a day-to-day basis. These actions lead to results and outcomes, measured by the performance monitoring system, that consequently feed back and affect the formulation of the policies, goals, and objectives, and influence the planning and programming process. These various activities are discussed below.

drawing that shows the various activities that make up a freeway management and operations program in the shape of a funnel

Figure 3-1: Activities That Comprise a Freeway Management & Operations Program D

3.2.1 Transportation Planning

As discussed in Chapter 2, 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. Products are project-oriented, typically providing the Statewide and Regional (Constrained) Long Range Plan (LRP), Statewide Transportation Improvement Program (STIP), and regional Transportation Improvement Program (TIP). While the process has 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.

This concept of "mainstreaming" ITS and related management and operations activities into the traditional decision-making of planners and other transportation professionals is addressed in several documents, including NCHRP Project 8-35: "Incorporating ITS into the Transportation Planning Process" (Reference 7) and "Integrating Intelligent Transportation Systems within the Transportation Planning Process: An Interim Handbook" (Reference 8). The former has the stated goal of defining an integrated decision process where ITS and management and operations strategies are considered on equal basis with traditional elements of the transportation system. The latter "presents a framework for decision-making concerning ITS and aids practitioners in successfully deploying ITS in the context of the overall transportation program".

The documentation for many of the processes noted and referenced above stress the importance of linking their efforts to the overall transportation planning process, and using their end product as part of the overall transportation planning process. For example, the FHWA rule regarding regional ITS architectures (Reference 4) states that the "development of the regional ITS architecture should be consistent with the transportation planning process for Statewide and Metropolitan Transportation Planning". In general, any process used to develop and implement specific types of projects and activities (e.g., freeway management and operations, ITS - based systems, regional architecture) must 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. As noted in the primer on planning for operations (Reference 1), "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".

A freeway management and operations program must be an integral part of the regional and statewide transportation planning processes. 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. Additionally, the freeway management program (i.e., the associated improvements, systems, and operational tools) will provide information for updating both the Transportation Plan and the Transportation Improvement Program (TIP). The goal of the transportation planning process is on making quality, informed decisions pertaining to the investment of public funds for regional transportation systems and services. Using the freeway management and operations program to support these planning activities is an important step in the mainstreaming of operations into the traditional decision-making of planners and other transportation professionals.

3.2.2 Institutional Environment and Stakeholders

There are a number of institutional factors that can affect the requirements and decisions for a freeway management and operations program. These include (from Reference 9):

  • The Political Situation. The political situation creates the context in which a freeway management and operations program is implemented. The people who created the political situation are usually key stakeholders and have needs that you must meet. It is important to determine what those needs are and how much support they're willing to give to meet their needs. In addition, some of the people involved in creating the political situation may be involved in the decision-making process that affects the freeway management program and associated projects. The political situation should not necessarily be viewed as a negative constraining the program. It may be, but it could also be a very positive factor that drives the program to success. Even if you, as a freeway practitioner, don't have the political support when you start, you always have the opportunity, through good project management and astute expectation management, to win people over as supporters.
  • Receptivity to Innovation and New Ways of Doing Business. There are some who are receptive to innovation and change (the "early adopters") and some who resist change all the way. Most people fall in the middle; they're not looking for change / new ways, but they'll accept it if it's presented to them in a positive way. Part of a freeway practitioner's job is to help the middle group, which is usually the largest one, accept the change by pointing out the positive aspects of freeway operations, by promising only what can be realistically delivered, and by keeping these promises. If there is resistance, the practitioner must look for the reasons, keeping personalities out of the picture. It could well be that the reason for the resistance is that some key requirement isn't being met for a group that considers themselves stakeholders.
  • Willingness to Invest in Freeway Management Solutions. It may be necessary to provide information on the return on investment that the freeway management program offers the community it serves.
  • Local Laws and Regulations. Laws and regulations are frequently the source of many key requirements. They set conditions that the program must meet and boundaries within which the program must operate.

Stakeholders are interest groups who are benefit from, or are otherwise impacted by, freeway management and operations (a "stake" as it were). This includes the various entities identified in Chapter 2 – including users, decision makers, responders (e.g., police, emergency services), practitioners, and activity centers and service providers; from all "tiers" – in essence, any persons or organizations with a strong material interest in success or failure of freeway management. The stakeholders are sources of the vision, goals and objectives, and requirements, and they are also ones who validate or verify the requirements. Stakeholders need to be brought into the picture early on to make sure their needs are considered and to determine how they will be involved in the process. In some cases it may be necessary to educate selected stakeholders, such as target the management levels in an organization where decisions can be made to commit valuable personnel resources to support the freeway management program effort.

The Regional ITS Architecture Guidance Document (5) provides an extensive list of the range of stakeholders that have participated in regional ITS architecture development efforts around the country. Reproduced in Table 3-1, the table makes a good checklist of possible stakeholders that may be involved in a freeway management program. This list should not be viewed as complete. As discussed in Chapter 11, additional stakeholders will become major participants during emergency situations and disaster management.

Table 3-1: Candidate Stakeholders (Reference 5)

Transportation Agencies

  • State departments of transportation (DOT)
  • Local agencies (City & County)
    • Department of transportation
    • Department of public works
  • Federal highway administration (FHWA)
  • State motor carrier agencies
  • Toll/Turnpike & Bridge / Tunnel authorities
  • Port authorities
  • Department of airport or airport authority

Planning Organizations

  • Metropolitan planning organizations (MPOs)
  • Council of governments (COGs)
  • Regional transportation planning agency (RTPA)

Other Agency Departments

  • Information technology (IT)
  • Planning
  • Telecommunications
  • Legal/Contracts

Fleet Operators

  • Commercial vehicle operators (CVO)
    • Long-Haul trucking firms
    • Local delivery services
  • Courier fleets (e.g., US Postal Services, Federal Express, UPS, etc.)
  • Taxi companies

Other Agencies

  • Tourism boards/visitors associations
  • School districts
  • Local business leagues/associations
  • Local Chambers of Commerce
  • National Weather Services (NWS)
  • Air and Water Quality Coalitions
  • Bureau of Land Management (BLM)
  • Academia interests, local Universities
  • National and statewide ITS associations (e.g. ITS America, ITE ITS members, etc.)
  • Military (including Coast Guard)

Public Safety Agencies

  • Law enforcement
    • State police and/or highway patrol
    • County sheriff department
    • City/Local police departments
  • Fire Departments
    • County/city/local
  • Emergency medical services
  • Hazardous materials (HazMat) teams
  • 911 Services

Transit Agencies

  • Local transit (city/county/regional)
  • Federal transit administration
  • Paratransit operations
  • Rail services (e.g., AMTRAK)

Activity Centers

  • Event centers (e.g. sports, concerts, festivals, ski resorts, casinos, etc.)
  • National Park and US Forest Services
  • Major employers
  • Airport operators


  • Commuters, residents, bicyclists/pedestrians
  • Tourists/Visitors
  • Transit riders, others

Private Sector

  • Traffic reporting services
  • Local TV & radio stations
  • Travel demand management industry
  • Telecommunications industry
  • Automotive industry
  • Private towing/recovery business
  • Mining, timber or local industry interest

3.2.3 Vision, Goals, and Objectives

The vision is a broad statement of the long-term goals of the program, such as "seamless traffic flow across jurisdictional boundaries", "enhanced mobility through readily available information", "safe and efficient movement of goods", etc. Such themes enable all entities affected by freeway management to agree in simple layman's terms regarding its purpose. Moreover, as the development of a vision should be a bottom-up process with input coming from the stakeholders, it offers the opportunity to bring all the stakeholders to the table early in the process, leading to a continuing dialog. Visioning also helps establish priorities and ensure that the freeway management program is fully responsive to participants needs. The vision sets the stage for the development of goals and objectives.

3.2.4 Needs and Services

This is the initial activity in determining how the freeway network should operate relative to how it operates today. The needs may be identified from discussions with stakeholders coupled with the results of analytical evaluations. This assessment should also include resources, institutional considerations, and potential constraints (funding, staffing availability, schedule, facilities). Services are the things that can be done to improve the efficiency, safety, and convenience of the freeway network through better information, advanced systems, new technologies, increased capacity, better guidance for drivers, improved institutional relationships, enhanced maintenance and operations, etc. Services are defined at a very-high level, and then prioritized, based on the needs evaluation and stakeholder input.

3.2.5 Concept of Operations

The Concept of Operations is a formal document that provides a user-oriented view of the freeway management and operations program. It is developed to help communicate this view to the other stakeholders and to solicit their feedback. In essence, the Concept of Operations lays out the program concept, explains how things are expected to work once it's in operation, and identifies the responsibilities of the various stakeholders for making this happen. The vision, needs, and services are also documented. The process to develop a Concept of Operations should involve all stakeholders and serve to build consensus in defining the mission, goals, and objectives; provide an initial definitive expression of how functions are performed, thereby supporting resource planning; and identify the interactions between organizations (within and between "tiers").

By definition, the Concept of Operations does not delve into technology or detailed requirements of the program. Rather, it addresses operational scenarios and objectives, information needs and overall functionality, where the program should be deployed, how users will interact with the various elements of the program, performance expectations, etc. The Concept of Operations must also address the "institutional" environment in which the freeway management and operations program is to be deployed, operated, and maintained. This environment includes all the potential users and providers (i.e., stakeholders) and their respective needs and perspectives, the relationships between the freeway management program and the policies / procedures of the affected public agencies and private entities, and the necessary coordination (working relationships and agreements) between the stakeholders.

Per the "IEEE Guide for Concept of Operations Documents", the Concept of Operations:

  • Provides a means of describing users' operational needs without bogging down in detailed technical issues
  • Provides a mechanism for documenting a program's (and system's) characteristics and the users' operational needs in a manner that can be verified by the users without requiring them to have any technical knowledge beyond what is required to perform their normal job functions.
  • Provides a place for users to state their desires, visions, and expectations without requiring them to provide quantified, testable specifications.
  • Provides a mechanism for users and providers to express their thoughts and concerns on possible solution strategies. In some case, there may be technical or institutional constraints that dictate particular approaches. In other cases, there may be a variety of acceptable solution strategies.

3.2.6 Performance Measures

The performance measures provide the basis for evaluating the transportation system operating conditions and identifying the location and severity of congestion and other problems. The performance measures provide the mechanism for quantifying the operation of the network, and should also be used to evaluate the effectiveness of implemented freeway management strategies and to identify additional improvements. Another aspect of performance measurement is sharing and providing managers and users with access to real-time and archived system performance data. Additional information on performance measures is provided in Chapter 4 herein.

3.2.7 Decisions Regarding Improvements, Systems, etc.

In this stage, a determination is made – in a more detailed manner than in the Concept of Operations – what the freeway management program should do. This stage can run through several iterative cycles of defining, reviewing, and refining the requirements. A key point related to this phase is that the end product must be a set of requirements on whose meaning everyone agrees. In the parlance of "Systems Engineering" (which is discussed later in this Chapter), requirements are statements of the capabilities that the program strategies and supporting systems must have (i.e., "functions"), geared to addressing the mission-oriented objectives of the stakeholders. For requirements to be most useful, they should be statements of what is desired, not descriptions of how the need should be satisfied.

3.2.8 Implement Tools

This stage involves deciding "how" each requirement in the freeway management program is satisfied. It entails a determination of appropriate strategies, policies, actions, and systems and their components so as to satisfy the requirements. This will typically consist of several activities, including generating alternatives, assessing the alternatives (e.g., technical and operational feasibility, institutional compatibility, life-cycle costs, constraints), and considering the conditions that impact operations and maintenance (e.g., staff capabilities and availability, environment, available facilities, training and documentation needs). The evaluation of alternative strategies and system configurations / components should involve the following steps: estimate benefits or utilities for each alternative, estimate life-cycle costs of each alternative, perform comparative analysis, and select the alternative(s) offering the most potential. (Chapter 4 discusses some analytical tools for making such comparisons.)

The freeway management and operations program will likely be implemented via many individual projects and initiatives that occur over years, or even decades. A sequence, or ordering, of projects must be defined. The first step is to review the regional transportation plans (TIP, STIP), identify the freeway management projects that are already prioritized as short, medium and long term, and then use this as a starting point. Each freeway management project and initiative should be evaluated in terms of anticipated costs and benefits, and to determine whether there are any institutional or technical issues that will impede implementation. In addition, the evaluation may take into account the funding availability, agency and public support for each project, and other qualitative factors that will impact the actual sequence in which projects are deployed.

The projects and initiatives are then designed (e.g., preparation of plans, specifications, estimates, and other contract documents / work orders) and then implemented (including integration, testing, and acceptance activities, staff training, and documentation), making the freeway management and operations program real.

3.2.9 Operator Actions

The implementation of systems and other operational tools result in the actions an operator takes on a day-to-day basis. As discussed in Chapter 2, while the previous activities have been strategic and tactical in nature, operations are ongoing and performed on a real time temporal scale. This also includes maintenance of the freeway management and operations infrastructure (ensuring that it is functioning properly) and on-going configuration management (discussed later in this Chapter).

These actions lead to results and outcomes, measured by the performance monitoring system, that consequently feed back and affect the formulation of the policies, goals, and objectives, and influence the planning and programming process. This "feedback" element of the process allows practitioners to assess the effectiveness of their efforts, to identify areas for improvement, to demonstrate the benefits provided by the program, and to support requests for additional resources

A freeway management and operations program is a continuous process, one that must take into account changes in the local operational, technological, political, and funding environment. Based on the results of the evaluations, the freeway management program may be expanded (geographically and / or functionally), and the policies and operational strategies may be modified. It may also require developing a revised vision, new requirements, different approaches, etc. – in essence, continually exercising all the previous steps.

It is important that the operators understand that their actions directly contribute to achieving the program's goals and objectives. The more successful the operations program in meeting the overall goals of the agency (as measured by performance monitoring), the more strongly supported it will be. The program is not simply operating the system, but providing the resources needed (equipment, software, tools, staffing, training, etc.) in a systematic approach (e.g., systems engineering) to develop an overall approach to support operations and make it as effective as possible.

Another important consideration is that freeway management and systems are only one part of the many transportation management systems and operations activities that may exist within a metropolitan area, state, or multi state region. Freeway management should be implemented systematically on a regional basis and be coordinated with all the activities typically undertaken to operate the transportation network. This requires cooperation with neighboring governmental jurisdictions, regional transportation agencies, and organizations that provide or are involved with transportation-related services.