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

3. Realizing Tangible Benefits: Key Strategies

This section describes 10 common collaborative strategies used in partnerships and other collaborative arrangements to obtain benefits. The benefits realized by the strategies are highlighted within each section using examples from research performed on the following nine collaborative partnerships for this manual:

  • Hampton Roads ITS Committee
  • High Plains Corridor Coalition
  • Merced County Transit—"The Bus"
  • Vancouver Area Smart Trek (VAST)
  • Denver Region Traffic Signal System Improvement Program (TSSIP)
  • Niagara International Transportation Technology Coalition (NITTEC)
  • AZTech
  • Maryland National Capital Region – Regional Operations Coordination Committee (ROCC)
  • Virginia, Minnesota Transportation Operations Communications Center

A profile of each partnership is featured in Appendix A.

Insights highlighted throughout this chapter offer observations on how to best apply the strategy to create benefits for participants.

3.1 Follow the Money

The research is clear that agencies find participating in joint funding applications to be an effective way to bring in additional funding for regional or agency-specific operations projects.

Individual agencies that collaborate with regional partners for funding applications enjoy increased access to outside funding. This is one of the most commonly reported benefits by agencies in many of the collaborations studied for this project. For example, joint applications for CMAQ funds can have advantages over individual project applications because they can show greater expected air quality and mobility benefits—a key evaluation criterion for CMAQ funds—than individual projects can. Also, some metropolitan planning organizations (MPO) explicitly reward multi-agency projects in their evaluation. Collaborative efforts championed by the MPO often enjoy the extra benefit of assistance by the MPO, an organization intimately familiar with preparing competitive funding applications.

"By forming together, we were able to carve out a pool of funding to be spent on traffic signal activities that wouldn't otherwise compete well against construction projects such as intersection improvements."

—Local traffic engineer participating in Denver TSSIP

Some examples:

  • Operating agencies participating in the Denver region's Traffic Signal System Improvement Program (TSSIP) share upwards of $3.9 million per year for traffic signal system improvements. Partners acknowledge they could not receive this level of funding support—which benefits the region—going it alone.
  • The Southwest Washington Regional Transportation Council (RTC), the region's MPO in the Vancouver, WA area helps the individual partner agencies in Vancouver Area Smart Trek (VAST) "bundle" together their respective project needs into a joint funding application, while the agencies provide the local match for their projects. Partners also pursue funding for joint projects. The VAST partners include the cities of Vancouver and Camas, Clark County, Clark County Public Transit Benefit Area (C-TRAN), Washington State Department of Transportation (DOT), and Southwest Washington RTC. They have received approximately $6 to $7 million in CMAQ funds and $5 million in earmarks since VAST's inception and reduced staff time to prepare applications. The VAST manager at RTC reports that some stand-alone ITS projects (such as fiber communications) have trouble competing in terms of congestion reduction and air quality improvements, so by bundling them together with directly competitive ITS projects, agencies are able to get more funding for ITS. In addition, RTC gives extra points for partnership projects.
  • In the Hampton Roads (VA) ITS Committee, participating agencies report that they are able to increase their chances of receiving funding for operations and ITS through ongoing participation in the Committee, which serves as a collaborative forum for operations and ITS. The ITS Committee assesses ITS project applications for CMAQ funding prior to formal MPO evaluation and provides its recommendations to the MPO. The support of the ITS Committee increases the chances that a project of technical merit will be successful in being placed on the TIP and receiving CMAQ funding. The region receives $16 to $17 million dollars in CMAQ funding annually and approximately half of those funds are allocated to ITS/operations projects.
  • In 2005, the Denver Regional Transportation District (RTD) received dollar-for-dollar matching funds from TSSIP for a transit signal priority pilot project which will allow RTD and the region as a whole to gain an overall better understanding of the impacts of transit signal priority on general traffic. This represents a major step forward for the region, and would not have been possible had the agencies involved not applied for funding collectively.

A transit priority signal in Denver, Colorado
An early example of transit signal priority in Denver, Colorado. (Source: William Hoople, Regional Transportation District)

Agencies that participate in collaborative funding applications often have a greater influence over how funding is spent in the region. Instead of competing with each other for a limited amount of funds, the partner agencies work together to set regional priorities and make decisions on funding applications or support applications based on these priorities. Partners may assist others in obtaining funds by jointly recommending another partner's application one year, but the next year, when one of their big priorities rolls around, they enjoy the support of the partnership for their priority project. In some cases, collaborative partners may establish a revolving loan fund from which member agencies may apply for loans to improve their operations.

Some examples:

  • The Maryland National Capital Region's Regional Operations Coordination Committee (ROCC) undertook a study to determine what was needed for the three main entities, Maryland State Highway Administration (SHA), Montgomery County, and Prince George's County along with the Maryland State Police to coordinate in real-time to mitigate congestion with an emphasis on non-recurrent congestion and improved safety. While Montgomery County and Maryland SHA had field assets, communications infrastructure, and central control facilities to support the regional coordination, Prince George's County did not. The partners decided that from a regional perspective it was important to assist Prince George's County in acquiring a Traffic Response and Information Partnership (TRIP) Center. The partners developed functional requirements and Prince George's County and the State of Maryland jointly pursued a Federal earmark grant. Prince George's County received $1.5 million from the earmark and Maryland and Prince George's County provided additional funds.
  • In the Buffalo-Niagara region of New York State, NITTEC administers a $5.3 million revolving loan fund provided by a grant from the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) in 1994 to enhance mobility in the region through ITS. Agencies may apply to borrow funding from the loan fund. Applications are reviewed by peers from multiple agencies at the NITTEC Technology and Systems Subcommittee. The New York State Thruway Authority received a $3.7 million loan for ITS construction and the City of Buffalo was recently granted a $2.5 million loan to upgrade its signal system and provide centralized signal operations within the NITTEC center.

Finally, agencies that collaborate for joint funding applications report experiencing both time and cost savings in the preparation of a funding application. Completing funding applications can be quite costly for large applications and often requires external consultant support. Agencies that collaborate on joint applications are able to share the expense of this. In some examples, a convener such as the MPO prepares the joint application as in the examples below.

Some examples:

  • In Denver, DRCOG prepares the applications for TSSIP funding after determining regional needs and priorities with the participating agencies.
  • RTC develops VAST grant applications with input from the agencies. VAST's transit member, C-TRAN, remarked that coordinated grant requests save participating agencies time in writing individual requests.

Perhaps the greatest testament to the benefits of collaboration in joint funding applications is that agencies that have chosen to collaborate with regional partners in funding applications have seen sufficient benefit to motivate them to work together collaboratively on future initiatives.

Some examples:

  • The model of TSSIP is considered so successful by the participating agencies that they are looking to develop a similar program for ITS.
  • After the FHWA Model Deployment Initiative grant ended in 2003, AZTech partners have continued to implement innovative operations strategies. They still apply for and receive funding for future work such as a regional communications system.


Collaborative participants found it helpful to have an open forum where all of the partnering agencies' needs can be discussed.

Partnerships that are repeatedly successful in obtaining outside funding for their initiatives often establish a formal strategy for improving regional operations that contains a prioritized list of projects or actions to pursue in the short- and long-term. In some cases, this list serves as input to the regional transportation planning process.

3.2 Get Smart

One of the most fundamental activities of a collaborative group is to share knowledge and learn together. Collaborative groups that meet on a regular basis provide an excellent opportunity for operations staff to talk to their peers and share solutions to common problems. Peers may share ways they have discovered to work with new technology or give recommendations on procuring specific equipment. Technology-savvy staff may help bring other agencies' staff up to speed with regard to a certain technology.

Agencies are increasingly developing joint training programs and products that are used across their region. Agencies may also use a collaborative forum to come together after major incidents and review their operations. This kind of collaboration benefits agencies in a number of tangible ways.

Agencies advance their operational capabilities. By coming together to review and develop solutions for current operations practices and learning from agencies who have successfully implemented similar concepts, practices, or technologies, agencies can increase the efficiency and effectiveness with which they operate by putting in place better practices.

Traffic directed around incident on an arterial
Arterial incident management performed by service patrol in Arizona. (Source: Maricopa County Department of Transportation)

Some examples:

  • The Hampton Roads RCTO Incident Management Working Group holds monthly after-action meetings to review selected incidents between the agencies involved in the response, including local and State police, local fire/emergency medical, and transportation departments. They share photos and statistics to develop an objective "picture" of what happened. The participants identified hazardous materials (HAZMAT) reporting as a specific area where improvements could increase efficiency in incident handling. They developed a standard procedure for HAZMAT reporting in the region that has increased the efficiency of HAZMAT incident response. The Virginia Department of Transportation reports that after-action reviews have helped make it more effective in incident management.
  • In the AZTech partnership, when an agency is trying something for the first time such as developing a traffic management center (TMC), it can look to collaborative partners that already have TMCs for assistance in answering questions familiar to more experienced agencies. Operations staff from the City of Peoria made good use of neighboring TMCs when developing a plan for its own. In another example, the City of Glendale relied on a contact at the AZTech partnership for information on purchasing wireless technology, enabling the city to make a good decision for its needs. AZTech agencies will also call upon each other to serve on hiring boards to evaluate candidates when an agency lacks the technical capacity to adequately assess candidates for a position.
  • Montgomery County was able to start an arterial service patrol as a direct benefit of its participation in the Maryland National Capital Region ROCC. The ROCC conducted a study and developed reports on how Montgomery County and the region could use an arterial service patrol to help police and fire/rescue agencies to manage traffic incidents. Montgomery County used this study to convince the county council to approve the program and it now has two service patrol trucks on the street.

Agencies retain their best employees by creating more stimulating working environments for their staff. The employees interviewed in the collaborative efforts featured in this research were unanimous in the high value they placed on the opportunity they felt their agency's "collaborative" attitude provides them to meet and interact with fellow professionals from a diverse range of partner agencies across their region. In today's global economy and workplace, employees increasingly expect, and seek, opportunities for exposure to innovative ways of solving problems, specialized expertise, and diverse perspectives. Peter Drucker, legendary management guru, predicted the emergence of the "knowledge worker" and the value employees would increasingly place on the opportunity to feel challenged and exposed to new ideas and ways of doing things.[2]

An example:

  • DRCOG, the leader of Denver TSSIP, has been able to attract talented people to work at DRCOG because they are so impressed with the traffic signal program. It is a rare opportunity for a traffic engineer to be involved with advancing signal systems from an MPO. One DRCOG engineer even took a pay cut to come work on TSSIP.

Agencies avoid "re-inventing the wheel," which saves staff time and money. Agencies that collaborate to share knowledge report saving staff time by learning from partners who have already developed solutions to their current problems. Agencies also save funding by not having to hire outside assistance. Collaborative development of joint training programs saves money because a substantial amount of the training content comes from the partners and does not need to be obtained from an outside source. This results in a higher quality training programs for a lower cost.

Some examples:

  • Through its membership in the Maryland National Capital Region ROCC, Maryland SHA assisted Montgomery County in training its patrol staff and provided them specifications for patrol vehicles. The Montgomery County incident management patrol has also helped Maryland SHA by reducing the number of requests that it receives to provide incident management support to Montgomery County. Both of these agencies are saving time and money through the mutual assistance they receive from each other in this partnership.
  • The NITTEC Incident Management Subcommittee members from fire, police, towing, and transportation professions decided to pool their expertise and time to develop an incident management training program aimed at first responders. The training is developed from both the perspective of public safety officials and transportation professionals and gives first responders the tools and knowledge to be more effective when working together on a scene. This comprehensive 3-hour program is now offered to member organizations at no cost.
  • The ITS manager from the City of Glendale reports that partner agencies are able to undertake larger, more advanced projects through the AZTech partnership than any could undertake alone by leveraging their expertise and resources. Instead of hiring a consultant when an AZTech partner agency lacks expertise in a particular area, the agency can tap into the AZTech partnership to find someone who may have that expertise. The trust and common experiences between the members increases the value of the information shared.


While it seems like smaller or less technologically advanced agencies are primarily on the receiving end of benefits when expertise is shared, elevating those agencies and increasing their operating capabilities allows them to be stronger partners in providing support to the other agencies during incident management and in sharing traffic information. This is an insight ingrained in the attitudes of partners in many successful collaborative efforts.

One commonality of collaborative groups that share learning and expertise is that the members hold regular, face-to-face meetings on an ongoing basis. The meetings provide members the opportunity to assist one another in problem-solving, and over time, trust, an important component to accepting advice, develops between members.

3.3 With One Voice

Agencies that speak "with one voice" are able to enjoy greater leverage and influence. Speaking with one voice means that agencies coordinate communications, provide the same message, or combine their individual messages through a unified interface. This benefits individual agencies in two concrete ways:

Agencies often improve their outcomes in negotiations with vendors. Agencies are able to get better service from a vendor because of combined requests and problem-solving discussions. This directly improves operational effectiveness and efficiency by enabling the participating agencies to do more. In another example, by communicating in a unified manner, agencies can more efficiently problem solve with vendors.

CCTV camera pointed at a freeway
View from CCTV camera. (Source: Niagara International Transportation Technology Coalition)

Some examples:

  • When issues arise with traffic signal equipment on Denver's arterials, the multi-jurisdictional partner agencies in TSSIP are able to get support from their fellow TSSIP partners when working with vendors to find solutions. In one example, several signal operators discovered they were having similar problems with their traffic control systems. DRCOG, their regional MPO, helped to facilitate users' group meetings on behalf of TSSIP agencies and the vendor to jointly discuss the issues and find solutions. The vendor was especially responsive knowing that multiple agencies and jurisdictions were involved. More recently, an FHWA representative has provided a single interface between traffic signal operators and vendors, helping the operators to acquire equipment and services.
  • Intergovernmental Cooperative Purchasing Agreements were established through AZTech so that public partners could purchase ITS equipment and services through Maricopa County DOT or Arizona DOT contracts at a discounted rate. The agencies of AZTech use a joint procurement vehicle for buying closed circuit television (CCTV) cameras and dynamic message signs. By using a statewide CCTV camera software license, AZTech partners and other participating agencies realized a combined savings of just under $1.2 million.[3]

Agencies increase customer satisfaction and motorist response by providing consistent information and a single interface. The public appreciates that their public agencies are working together and value having a single, consistent interface for transportation services such as traveler information or incident management.

Some examples:

  • Through their joint Maryland "Move It" Program, ROCC agencies have developed a set of outreach brochures that officials give to drivers in traffic incidents. These forms not only help to streamline the incident documentation requirements for people, they have resulted in quicker compliance with requests for people to move their cars after a "fender bender" type of accident with no injuries, therefore freeing up the roadway more quickly.
  • Partner agencies of VAST in the Vancouver area of Washington State know that their travelers do not want to factor in the various jurisdictional boundaries when using traveler information websites. This multi-agency, multi-jurisdictional partnership developed a VAST unified traveler information website that allows customers to go to one site for seamless access to Vancouver area traffic information.


Standardized interfaces, such as a "Move It" form, offer more credibility for personnel who must work with the public but do not have a badge.

Speaking with one voice enhances a group's ability to advocate for change and facilitates working with those who desire a single, efficient interface such as the public or vendors.

Person maintaining variable message sign
Variable message sign for Hampton Roads I-64 Bridge Tunnel. (Source: Virginia Department of Transportation)

3.4 On the Same Page

The collaborative strategy "On the Same Page" refers to developing a common plan, procedure, protocol, or standard that agencies use to maintain coordination in the field during incidents, in making investment decisions, and in routine operations.

Agencies that work together in incident management, special events, and emergency planning recognize the importance of following common procedures when working together in time-critical situations. Although challenging at times, these agencies find it highly beneficial to develop common strategies or protocols for managing traffic for anticipated events. Freeway and arterial transportation agencies may develop joint "game plans" for mobilizing equipment and staff to reroute traffic off of one facility onto another during a major incident. Partnering agencies will often set up a call tree with a list of contacts to allow agencies to request assistance from their partners during emergencies. Major sporting or entertainment events appear to jump-start multi-agency event planning to create a successful and enjoyable experience for the fans, circumstances that help ensure revenue for the agencies.

Agencies develop regional plans for developing operations capabilities often through ITS ranging from near to long-term in scope. These collaborative plans contain a vision for future operations in the region, general agreements on how partners will coordinate, and even a prioritized listing of projects or initiatives to advance the partners' vision. Additionally, partners agree to joint standards for signal timing, VMS messages, traffic cameras, and other traffic management systems for mutual benefit.

"We all knew what we had to do…it's almost like we don't have to talk to each other."

—John Rheil, Traffic Engineering Design Operations Team Manager, Montgomery County, Maryland

Agencies that collaborate to develop joint traffic plans are able to move traffic more efficiently in and out of the area.

Some examples:

  • The partner agencies in the Maryland National Capital Region ROCC have developed joint incident response manuals that contain a list of available resources and equipment in the region that could be used in an emergency and a list of primary contacts to be used in certain situations. Each of the members of the ROCC has the incident response manual. Recognizing the need to coordinate freeway incident management with arterials, Maryland SHA, with the assistance of Montgomery and Prince George's counties, developed common transportation management plans for incidents occurring on two of the major freeways in the region. On September 11, 2001, the partners felt they were able to evacuate the area more efficiently because of these plans and shared incident management experience. The ROCC partners could predict what roads needed to be kept open and where equipment should be placed for quick response.

    The ROCC has been involved in developing transportation evacuation plans for the Maryland National Capital Region since 9/11. The ROCC has been able to identify all of the routes in the ROCC region that can be used for evacuation. It has identified shelter locations and developed a list of available resources. Maryland ROCC has conducted several regional emergency exercises that have helped familiarize everyone with standard operating procedures and prepare for emergencies. The ROCC has used its plan to augment the District of Columbia's plan and the overall National Capital Region's plan developed though the region's MPO. The jointly developed plans and procedures were helpful during special events such as the Kemper Golf Tournament and the annual July 4th fireworks.
  • Through the VAST effort, the City of Vancouver has been able to bring most of its signals into a new central system developed through collaboration with its partners. In 2007, it began to retime those signals. The agencies work together through VAST to decide on signal controllers and software and then they go to the corridors and replace their equipment. The City of Vancouver expects to see measurable improvements in traffic flow by 2008 and believes it is now able to provide a more efficient service to the public, improving flow through the corridors regardless of jurisdiction.

Agencies that develop collaborative plans for ITS/operations reduce duplicative efforts and ensure compatible systems.

An example:

  • Initiated by the City of Vancouver, the VAST partners created a 20-year Intelligent Transportation System (ITS) Plan to direct their collaborative efforts over the next two decades. Through the VAST ITS 20-Year Plan, now managed by the Southwest Washington Regional Transportation Council, the partnering agencies reached a consensus on their collaborative purpose, developed a shared vision and goals, and identified specific projects they wanted to pursue to reach those goals. Examples of major program areas they consider within the scope of their collaboration include traveler information, transit operations and management, and freeway operations and management. Agencies report that the collaboration has reduced duplicative efforts among them and helped to ensure compatible systems, which increases the efficiency with which these agencies can work together in traffic signal timing and traffic data sharing – a benefit they all enjoy.

Agencies that have developed common operating standards benefit from optimized cross-jurisdictional operations such as signal timing and traveler information.

An example:

  • One of the most important benefits to Clark County of participating in VAST has been progress towards its goal of standardizing traffic signal operations in the area. Agencies in the region previously used different and often incompatible approaches to signal operations. Clark County and the VAST partners obtained CMAQ grants to purchase compatible signal equipment and optimized the signals along corridors that cut across multiple jurisdictions. Clark County contributes funding and staff to work on corridor signal optimization projects primarily with WSDOT and the City of Vancouver. For one of their most recent projects, the county contributed about $30,000 in funding and labor. For this investment, Clark County reports that the projects have greatly improved signal coordination in the region.


Several collaborative efforts have found it useful to conduct exercises that allow agencies to practice operating procedures developed for emergencies. This allows everyone to become familiar with what is required and improve the procedures.

To make progress on multiple initiatives or projects identified within a collaborative plan, partnerships appoint individual champions for each initiative who are responsible for regularly reporting back to the main group on the initiative.

3.5 Measuring Up

Partner agencies must have shared goals and objectives for collaboration to be productive and mutually beneficial. When mutual goals are advanced, participating agencies should also define together what will constitute success – outcome-oriented measures or indicators of effectiveness should be delineated for each objective. Developing a shared set of performance measures benefits collaborating agencies because it enables them to more readily assess the outcomes of their collaborative efforts. It also makes it much easier to piece the picture together when assessing the regional benefits or impacts of a specific strategy, plan, or technology. Shared performance measures can also help to quickly pinpoint and curtail any unproductive or counterproductive activities. These agreed-upon performance measures can help to promote future collaborative efforts by establishing both the value of the collaboration to the participating agencies (e.g., more effective use of available resources) and the payoff of investments in collaborative activities (e.g., access to funding, joint operations) in terms of operational improvements in system performance.

"People who aren't tooting their horn about their benefits are missing the boat."

—Steve Rudy, Transportation Operations Manager, Denver Regional Council of Governments

Performance measurement within a collaborative effort helps agencies to sustain funding for their efforts.

An example:

  • Partner agencies in Denver's TSSIP work together to develop performance measures for projects funded through this collaborative effort to enable an understanding of the benefits of the project. At the completion of each project, DRCOG, the TSSIP management entity, conducts a project review. DRCOG measures the benefits, develops a 1- to 2-page full-color benefits summary for the project, and then publicizes the results by distributing the summary sheets to stakeholders and elected officials in the affected jurisdictions. In the case of large projects, DRCOG will develop a press release.

    By implementing this kind of discipline, DRCOG is able to report, for example, that from 2003 through 2006, TSSIP reduced delay by nearly 36,000 vehicle hours per day, reduced fuel consumption by more than 15,000 gallons per day, and reduced air pollution emissions by more than 45,000 pounds per day.[4] Measuring performance and publicizing the improvements to the region has helped to bring CMAQ dollars in the region through TSSIP. These performance measures benefit each agency by sustaining funding for the program.

Performance measuring enables agencies to evaluate the effectiveness of their collaborative efforts and make adjustments to reach their agency goals and objectives.

Some examples:

  • NITTEC staff began incident management performance measuring in May of 2006 to bring awareness of the importance of quick clearance of incidents to responding agencies. The findings are shared with their incident management committee and published in NITTEC's Annual Report. NITTEC assists partnering agencies through performance measuring by giving them the information that they need to make decisions on the best practices to improve incident management efficiency. Performance measuring will allow NITTEC to estimate the impacts of changes that it makes, such as new call-out procedures or first responder training. NITTEC partners believe that by developing and tracking common performance measures, they can focus their efforts toward their shared goals, reinforce each other, and increase their likelihood of success.
  • The incident management working group of the Hampton Roads ITS Committee established three common performance measures to use as a group to evaluate the effectiveness of their work. In order to analyze the incident management data that will be needed for these measures and others, the Virginia DOT hired a staff member to work exclusively on analyzing incident management data. The group has begun to track incident duration, response time, and volume with the assistance of Virginia DOT and reports this to local agency leaders at the MPO. Partner agencies believe that common incident management performance measures show local elected leaders that they are accountable and are improving their performance—they understand traffic crosses jurisdictional boundaries and they are dedicated to making life easier for the traveling public. Developing shared performance measures also helps to focus the incident management working group on collaborative operations strategies that help the members reach their agency goals.


The keys to obtaining the benefits of measuring performance are sharing the results among the partners and finding effective ways to illustrate progress to the public and decision makers. Partnerships may use quarterly briefings to executive councils or project-oriented graphical brochures.

3.6 You Ought to Know

Sharing transportation information in real-time or nearly real-time is a common strategy that operators use to improve their transportation management capabilities. Sharing information occurs both between agencies within a single jurisdiction, such as between departments of transportation and police, and across jurisdictions, such as between local and State transportation management centers. Agencies may share traffic camera feeds, VMS message status, traffic flow data, weather information from road sensors, public safety dispatch data, or alerts for road closures, incidents, and major congestion. Methods for sharing information range from the simple phone call or cell phone text message to sophisticated fiber connections between transportation management centers transmitting video and sanitized CAD data. Agencies that collaborate to share real-time information are unanimous in their assessment of tangible benefits in this area.

Agencies can better inform travelers and prepare their own facilities to lessen the impacts of congestion spilling over jurisdictional boundaries. Operators can better advise travelers on route choice, divert traffic, or adjust signal timing to mitigate impacts of transportation problems within the region.

Damaged tractor trailer on side of highway
Source: Niagara International Transportation Technology Coalition

Some examples:

  • The High Plains Corridor Coalition States provide essential traveler information on interstate conditions and are developing a system to automate information exchange. These Midwest States share long expanses of rural roadways and have problems with travelers being stranded due to the severe weather patterns the region experiences. They have few alternative route options available to the high volume of commercial freight traffic that traverses the interstate roadways. By sharing information with each other, these States provide early warning to travelers about road conditions in the state ahead of them, which allows them to more easily make decisions to detour or delay their trips while they still have options for lodging or detour routes.

    In the summer of 2003, a bridge on I-80 was washed out due to a flash flood. Coalition partners called each other and the States of Nebraska, Colorado, and Wyoming immediately posted signs to warn travelers. They received many phone calls from truckers and other travelers thanking them. Due to increased communication, the State of Kansas can now alert truck drivers traveling on I-70 more often about severe road weather conditions in time for them to make decisions to divert early and wait out the storm while they still have lodging options. Previously, drivers often had no way of learning that Colorado's roadway was closed due to weather until they arrived at the border where there were few lodging options.
  • Local and State traffic management centers in Hampton Roads exchange video feeds. Additionally, the Virginia DOT Smart Traffic Center sends text messages via cell phone to local ITS Committee partners, enabling them to issue appropriate traveler warnings quickly on VMS or implement incident signal timing plans to help mediate the congestion.
  • Through the Maryland National Capital Region ROCC, both the Montgomery County Traffic Management Center and Prince George's County TRIP Center share traffic videos and other real-time traffic information through the Maryland SHA's CHART (Coordinated Highways Action Response Team) system. Montgomery County shares traffic information with the Maryland State Police and Maryland SHA from the airplane that they use during rush hour to monitor traffic. These agencies report that this expanded and more comprehensive "visibility" into roadway conditions across the region has enabled them to improve the effectiveness of their operations, and one agency describes this partnership as "vital" to its own operational effectiveness.

Agencies save time in responding to incidents. By sharing incident information in real-time with first responders, arrival time to an incident can be decreased. Responding agencies can also arrive with the appropriate equipment to handle the emergency.

An example:

  • The City of Hampton and the City of Norfolk transportation management centers share traffic camera feeds with the local 911 dispatch centers, a direct result of their participation in the Hampton Roads ITS Committee. Emergency dispatchers use the real-time video to pinpoint the exact location of an incident and provide better directions to first responders, allowing them to save valuable time.


Building communications systems to share traffic data, advisories, or camera feeds takes a substantial amount of time and investment. While working toward a more efficient system to share information, collaborative partners have been able to realize benefits through simple phone calls or text messages. The former Colorado DOT transportation center manager emphasized to staff that improving operations is first a "people game" and that technology is there to enhance that.

3.7 Can You Hear Me Now?

Transportation and public safety agencies in many regions of the United States are increasingly seeking better ways to communicate with each other and the public when they are working out in the field. Communications tools may involve high-technology, state-of-the-art wireless networks or decidedly "low-tech" tools such as a simple booklet that translates crucial phrases from English into Spanish. Transportation operations field staff need to communicate quickly with each other and with the public in the event of a traffic incident or emergency and they are increasingly leveraging their resources to create new pathways for effective communication. These tools allow field staff to get the resources and support they need within a shorter period of time, save time, and increase the safety of their workers by reducing the amount of time they are in harm's way, which all agencies appreciate.

Agencies increase efficiency in assisting stranded motorists. By developing a tool to communicate with motorists, motorist assistance/service patrol workers can quickly assess a problem, deliver the needed assistance, and move on to the next request.

"I would never want to go back to the old way. Our response is much better. We assist the patrol and they assist us."

—Tim Sheehy, District 1 Superintendent, Minnesota DOT

An example:

  • Maryland National Capital Region ROCC addressed a common problem that many of its responders were encountering—difficulty communicating with motorists who only spoke Spanish. The members of the ROCC decided to develop a Spanish aid guide with funding from Maryland SHA that they could all use to talk to motorists who were either stranded or involved in an incident.

Agencies more easily exchange information and assistance with partners in the field. By developing a tool that allows agency personnel to communicate in the field, partners can give and receive assistance with less effort and in a shorter period of time. Additionally, staff safety can be increased with better access to information.

Police officer speaking into microphone
Increased communication between public safety and transportation personnel improves efficiency and safety. (Source:

Some examples:

  • In the Arrowhead region of northeast Minnesota, the Minnesota State Patrol (MSP) and Minnesota DOT have collaborated to share a consolidated communications center located in the City of Virginia to increase the efficiency and effectiveness of staff response to emergencies and save money for ongoing operations. The joint communications center was developed in 1996 as a Federal operational test and was the first model of the Transportation Operations Communications Centers (TOCC) in rural Minnesota.

    Prior to the joint communications center, each agency maintained its own dispatching. Now, both enjoy a single point of contact for emergencies. The dispatcher uses a phone tree to efficiently obtain a response to a request. Both MSP and Minnesota DOT benefit by receiving a faster response to requests for assistance that has been facilitated by both the close relationships formed between the agencies and the consolidated dispatch service. MSP gained use of a new facility and an upgraded communications systems. As the concept is rolled out to eight other locations throughout Minnesota, MSP will also benefit from a statewide wireless data network acquired for its exclusive use and automated vehicle location (AVL) systems that will be installed in each patrol car. These systems were funded by Federal earmarks and a grant from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA).
  • The ROCC developed specifications for a system that would provide direct communications between responders and other field personnel from multiple agencies. This made so much sense that the initiative soon expanded outside the scope of the ROCC to become the precursor to CapWIN (Capital Wireless Integrated Network), an "interoperable first responder data communication and information sharing network" between the State of Maryland, the Commonwealth of Virginia, and the District of Columbia. CapWIN now allows first responders from multiple jurisdictions in the National Capital Region to communicate efficiently during incidents or special events and has become a model for this sort of interagency interoperability.


Several collaborative groups have taken a measured approach to the development of tools for communication. They start by creating a smaller model with only a few agencies and get that working well. Then they expand the tool to more agencies once the costs and benefits are better understood.

3.8 Sharing the Wealth

Transportation and public safety agencies in the same or neighboring jurisdictions have similar responsibilities and often need similar resources to carry out those responsibilities effectively. In some cases, these agencies require assets that are prohibitively expensive for a single agency to acquire alone. The investment required to obtain equipment, install infrastructure, or develop and maintain technology is not affordable. Or, the "opportunity cost" of the investment is perceived as high, and acquiring an asset would come at the expense of accomplishing other objectives.

By sharing assets, agencies save money and boost their operations capabilities. Collaborating to share mutually beneficial resources often helps agencies achieve more of their objectives at a better "price" than they can on their own. In some cases, the "sharing" is designed to bring together complementary assets from collaborating agencies that can work together toward a common goal (e.g., sharing assets that support a regional traveler information system). In other cases, collaborating agencies agree to share specific assets that can assist them in achieving their individual goals (e.g., sharing infrastructure such as fiber optics networks that support individual agencies), or, agreements may be formed in which agencies each exchange rights to access specialized assets possessed by the others.

An example:

  • The partner agencies in VAST share their excess fiber communications assets with each other as part of a formal inter-local agreement to save money and amplify their ability to manage traffic on a regional level. The agreement identifies available fibers that the City of Vancouver, Washington State DOT, and Clark County have available to share. The resource-sharing agreement saves the agencies time because they no longer have to go to their attorney general's office every time they want to share fiber. It has saved them money because they are not duplicating purchase and installation investments in infrastructure that they knew could just as easily be shared for mutual benefit, or unnecessarily leasing assets that have been purchased by partner agencies. Resource sharing was a major incentive for the Washington State DOT to join VAST. Washington State DOT desired to work with local agencies to leverage existing infrastructure, such as fiber lines that the City of Vancouver had already installed.

    Beyond saving money though, the fiber resource sharing agreement has also enabled the member agencies to make significant progress coordinating operations in real-time, such as traffic redirection during incidents. Access to these fiber lines has already increased the county traffic engineers' efficiency in detecting and managing problems on the road through remote access to any county signal and camera feeds from county and State cameras.

Woman pointing at traveler information display at airport
Regional traveler information sign at the Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport. (Source: Steve Uzzell)

Sharing assets enables agencies to create a better product than they could by working alone.

Some examples:

  • Three transportation agencies in the AZTech partnership combined their resources to develop surface transportation traveler information consoles for travelers leaving the Sky Harbor Airport in rental cars. Each agency contributes resources to provide a level of service to travelers that would be much more difficult for any agency to do alone. Maricopa County DOT provides most of the funding. The City of Phoenix contributes some operations funding, maintains power, and maintains communications facilities. The Arizona DOT supplies the traveler data and hosts the computer server. The project makes use of data from a regional archiving project to which all agencies contribute.
  • In the High Plains Corridor Coalition, three partnering States share the cost of developing an information system that none could afford alone. The States of Nebraska, Colorado, and Kansas have committed to providing $350,000 each over a 5-year period as part of a Transportation Pooled Fund Study to create and maintain a web-based traveler information network that will provide information to travelers on road weather and highway conditions. In addition, Nebraska and Colorado have each contributed $25,000 to perform the first steps in the engineering process. Individually, the States are investing to acquire the field equipment that will allow them to fully make use of the joint information system in managing safe and efficient interstate travel. By jointly investing in a shared system, and by each contributing resources to the system, the States will be able to offer commercial and non-commercial travelers a seamless service across the multi-state area.


Agencies with experience in sharing assets have found that it is important to establish written expectations for roles and responsibilities before sharing significant assets. This may include working out maintenance agreements and protocols for shared control.

3.9 Building Economies of Scale

The "Building Economies of Scale" collaborative strategy is similar to, yet distinct from "Sharing the Wealth." When "Sharing the Wealth," agencies receive access to assets owned by other agencies. In "Building Economies of Scale," agencies develop agreements that create consolidated operations services that fill a common need.

Large corporations often centralize administrative services to achieve economies of scale and the operational efficiencies that come from this. Similarly, transportation and public safety agencies can sometimes consolidate similar services and gain efficiencies for operations that may be provided on a regional basis. Agencies that collaborate in these kinds of consolidations report that they are able to reduce their costs to provide the service. Some also report being able to provide users with a service that feels more uniform and less fragmented.

Disabled person on bus lift
Through collaboration, Merced County has been able to increase levels of service, particularly to elderly and disabled through Dial-A-Ride. (Source: Merced County Transit)

Service patrol vehicle detouring traffic with electronic sign
REACT responds to an incident in the Phoenix metropolitan area. (Source: Maricopa Department of Transportation)

Agencies benefit by consolidating services through reduced operating costs and enhanced services and, in the case of incident management, increased responder safety.

Some examples:

  • Faced with a severe reduction in local revenue, four public transit systems serving the agricultural community of Merced County, CA found their services severely threatened. Elected officials from Merced County and its six incorporated cities realized consolidating the services of the four transit systems could reduce their collective operating costs enough to preserve the transit service to customers in this community. These discussions led to the formation of "The Bus"—Merced County Transit, and the signing of a joint powers agreement between the various transit agencies and jurisdictions. Through the consolidation, these agencies decreased combined annual operating expenses by over $150,000 in the first year while growing ridership by approximately 17 percent.[5] They eliminated duplication of administrative and overhead costs and managed to increase levels of service, particularly to senior citizens, disabled residents, and smaller communities. The new partnership has also increased customer service by providing a seamless transit network and single place to call for transit service. As an added benefit, they have also increased access to additional funding. Over the last 8 years, Merced County has received almost all of the CMAQ funds for the region to update its fleet and acquire environmentally friendly buses. The Merced County Transportation Manager reports that if these agencies had not consolidated their transit services, they would need to compete for those dollars and the money would not go nearly as far. The consolidation has shifted the momentum of Merced County Transit from one in which transit was threatened, to one in which the service is thriving.
  • Six cities in the Phoenix metropolitan area hold intergovernmental agreements with Maricopa County DOT to participate in REACT, a regional emergency response team operated by Maricopa County DOT that responds to major arterial incidents within their jurisdictions. REACT provides equipment and trained personnel to manage traffic during incidents that are expected to last at least 1 hour in duration and require the closure of at least one traffic lane. REACT teams respond in trucks fully equipped with electronic signs and barricades to quickly and skillfully manage the scene. The City of Glendale calls on REACT at least once a week, which relieves at least four officers from the responsibility to manage traffic for around 5 to 10 hours each. That saves the City of Glendale 20 to 40 staff hours at least once a week. The service provided by REACT helps to protect public safety personnel. Prior to REACT, the City of Glendale reports it had drivers "plow through" incident scenes and into police cars. A 2002 cost/benefit study of REACT reported a benefit-cost ratio of 6.4:1.[6]
  • NITTEC provides its member agencies with a 24/7 Traffic Operations Center. NITTEC employees operate selected ITS equipment for members, disseminate information to the public and member agencies, and provide call-out services for incident response, road weather management, and ITS infrastructure maintenance.

    NITTEC serves as a traveler information clearinghouse that gathers real-time video of roads in and around the region with cameras, incident data using vehicle detector stations, travel times with TRANSMIT readers, and road weather information with a series of sensors. This information is then shared with the NITTEC partners and the public through a single, state-of-the-art website. By pooling their transportation information through NITTEC, the agencies are able to provide the traveler with a comprehensive view of the region and a greater level of customer service than any one agency could alone. NITTEC partners are also able to perform their operations more efficiently. The road weather information is used by maintenance crews to efficiently treat the road surfaces. The live camera images provide valuable information to first responders on the location of incidents, making their work more efficient.


A common fear of agencies considering consolidated services is loss of control. Providers of joint services such as NITTEC and Merced County Transit help to resolve this issue by setting up a governance structure that allows each agency to have a voice in the direction of the service. Additionally, directors who work closely with member agencies and are responsive to their individual needs significantly reduce issues of control.

Cars arriving at raceway parking lot
Attendees arriving at the Phoenix International Raceway. (Source: Maricopa County Department of Transportation)

3.10 All Together Now

Agencies performing joint operations, working side-by-side to manage and operate the transportation system, increase their efficiency and effectiveness. Conducting joint operations often means sharing assets, leveraging staff, sharing information, and working from common procedures. This kind of joint operation may be routine in the case of a shared TMC or may occur on an as-needed basis to handle an intense but short-lived incident, special event, or emergency. Combining several collaborative strategies has been shown to be remarkably effective in increasing operational productivity and effectiveness.

Benefits realized by agencies that collaborate in joint operations include reduced staff time and operating costs, increased access to specialized equipment, improved effectiveness, and improved service to the traveling public.

An example:

  • A host of agencies in Arizona decided to execute joint operations for Phoenix International Raceway (PIR) Special Events Management. The 400-acre PIR is situated in the southwest part of the Phoenix metropolitan area with limited freeway and arterial street access. It is host to several major events such as NASCAR races that can attract more than 200,000 people. It is an understatement to say that traffic management is challenging.

    These partners—which include Maricopa County DOT, Maricopa County Sheriff's Office, Arizona DOT, the Arizona Department of Public Safety, PIR officials, and M&M Parking Consultants—conduct joint operations to plan and implement effective event management strategies to get out timely and accurate motorist information, manage traffic, and reduce demand.

A Clear Benefit

The joint traffic management strategies at Phoenix International Raceway (PIR) special events have reduced total time to clear the parking lot after a NASCAR Winston Cup Race from 5.5 hours in 1998 to 2.5 hours in 2005—a remarkable improvement given that traffic volume more than tripled over the three-day event.[7]

  1. The Essential Drucker, 2005.
  2. AZTech, "AZTech MDI Return on Investment: Still Paying Dividends," January 2005, unpublished.
  3. Denver Regional Council of Governments, "Traffic Signal System Improvement Program Draft 2007 Update Summary Report."
  4. 1997 National Transit Database and Shankland, Larry, Transit Consolidation "The Bus"—Merced County Transit's Story, 1997, unpublished.
  5. Battelle Memorial Institute for the Maricopa County Department of Transportation, Regional Emergency Action Coordination Team (REACT) Evaluation (Phoenix, Arizona, 2002).
  6. Swart, Nicolaas, Maricopa County Department of Transportation, "Phoenix International Raceway Traffic Management," Talking Operations Web Seminar, April 26, 2006.


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