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21st Century Operations Using 21st Century Technologies

Traffic Control Systems Handbook: Chapter 14. ITS Plans and Programs

Diagram shows how two elements of Intelligent Transportation System programs overlap. The elements of Intelligent Infrastructure programs, which include metropolitan, rural, and commercial vehicles, overlap with Intelligent Vehicle programs, which include automobiles, buses, trucks, and emergency/special vehicles.
Figure 14-1. The ITS Program Structure (1)

14.1 Introduction

This chapter overviews ITS activities in the U.S. and abroad, and reviews ITS planning.

With regard to surface transportation systems, including the traffic control systems covered in this handbook, the national ITS program in the United States has a significant impact on their:

  • Planning,
  • Design,
  • Implementation, and
  • Operation.

The United States Department of Transportation (USDOT) is the administrative arm charged with moving these important technology areas from concepts to solutions that provide real benefits to travelers and motorists in the U.S. The USDOT has established an ITS Joint Program Office which is housed within the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA). The ITS Joint Program Office has been designated to provide oversight and management of the various programs to effectively and responsibly attain progress and meet goals as broadly contained within the initiatives. The FHWA, working through national forums such as the Intelligent Transportation Society of America (ITS America), has developed ITS Strategic Plans that address national issues and concerns, functional planning, and broad implementation plans.

The Intelligent Transportation Society of America was established in 1991 to coordinate the development and deployment of ITS in the United States. ITS America also has alliances with ITS organizations in other countries, most notably in Europe an Asia. Its goals are to:

  • Promote ITS Research, Deployment and Operations
  • Promote Leadership, Knowledge and Technical Expertise

ITS America maintains the following interest areas where news and information can be found:

  • Automotive, telecommunications and consumer electronics.
  • Commercial vehicle and freight mobility
  • Public safety
  • Public transportation
  • Research, integration, training and education
  • Transportation systems, operations and planning.

ITS America has published a "National ITS Program Plan! A Ten-Year Vision" (2).

14.2 ITS Program Planning in the United States

The ITS program provides for the research, development and operational testing of Intelligent Transportation Systems aimed at solving congestion and safety problems, improving operating efficiencies in transit and commercial vehicles, and reducing the environmental impact of growing travel demand. Proven technologies that are technically feasible and highly cost effective will be deployed nationwide as a component of the surface transportation systems of the United States.

The ITS program is divided into two key areas:

  • Research and Development
  • Deployment Incentives

USDOT, working with ITS America, maintains and updates as necessary a National ITS Program Plan. The scope of this plan includes the following:

  • Goals, objectives and milestones for ITS R&D
  • Standards development activities to promote and ensure interoperability
  • A cooperative process with State and local governments to develop plans for incorporating ITS into surface transportation plans

14.3 The ITS Planning Process (3)

The authority for transportation decision-making is dispersed among several levels, or "tiers," of government, and often between several agencies with each governmental level. The concept of an integrated surface transportation network (including freeway management and operations as a part thereof) needs to be considered and supported at each of the different tiers noted below.


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

  • The Intermodal Surface Transportation Efficiency Act of 1991 (ISTEA) authorized the creation of the Intelligent Transportation System (ITS) program and charged U.S.DOT with the responsibility of fostering deployment of ITS products and services nation-wide. The Transportation Efficiency Act for the 21st Century (TEA-21) reaffirmed the role of U.S. DOT in advancing deployment by mainstreaming ITS funding eligibility under the federal-aid program and by creating incentive funding programs to accelerate integration of systems.
  • FHWA Rule 940 implements section 5206(e) of the Transportation Equity Act for the 21st Century (TEA-21), which required Intelligent Transportation System (ITS) projects funded through the highway trust fund to conform to the National ITS Architecture and applicable standards. This rule requires that the National ITS Architecture be used to develop a local implementation of the National ITS Architecture, which is referred to as a "regional ITS architecture."
  • Federal-aid Eligibility Policy Guides are developed by FHWA to aid in determining applicability of Federal-aid funding for ITS projects. For example, a guide published in November 2001 regarding operations eligibility stated: "the operating costs for traffic monitoring, management, and control systems, such as integrated traffic control systems, incident management programs, and traffic control centers, are eligible for Federal reimbursement from National Highway System and Surface Transportation Program funding. Operating costs include labor costs, administrative costs, costs of utilities and rent, and other costs, including system maintenance costs, associated with the continuous operation of the system."

This is not just a top-down process. The state and local agencies (i.e., other tiers) interact and influence the Federal programs and national efforts. For example, Interim Guidance on Eligibility of Intelligent Transportation Systems (ITS) Projects for Federal-aid Funding indicated that the "guidance provides a broad definition of ITS projects that is based on ITS user services. Where no appropriate ITS user service currently exits that meets your partner's needs, we support the development of a unique ITS user service. Because it is expected that the National ITS Architecture will adapt over time to accommodate new user services, we ask that we be informed of any new services."

The national tier is also more than with the Federal government passing laws and authorizing funding, and FHWA publishing requirements regarding the planning, design, implementation, and operations of transportation facilities. Another function of this tier is technology transfer and support to the other tiers. Examples include the development and distribution of Handbooks (e.g., this document on Freeway Management and Operations), self - assessment guides (i.e., a tool for agencies with traffic operations responsibility to assess the effectiveness of their various programs and processes) and training courses.


The regional/statewide tier involves the appropriate strategic transportation planning, programming, and coordination efforts that include a longer-range time horizon (10 -20 years). Statewide and regional transportation planning is the structured process followed by states, metropolitan planning organizations (MPOs), municipalities, and operating agencies to design both short and long-term transportation plans. Products are project-oriented, typically providing the Statewide and Regional (Constrained) Long Range Plan (LRP), Statewide Transportation Improvement Program (STIP), regional Transportation Improvement Program (TIP), and Unified Planning Work Program (UPWP).

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 is particularly true given that ITS appears to be losing its special funding status that it enjoyed in ISTEA and TEA-21. The current trend to "mainstream" ITS (and operations) into the traditional decision-making process of transportation planning means that operations and ITS deployments will be increasingly funded through regular sources and compared with traditional transportation components, such as road widening and new construction. There is consequently a need to strengthen the ties between management and operations, ITS, and the transportation planning process.


The agency tier is where the infrastructure comprising the surface transportation network (e.g., freeways, bridges, tunnels, surface streets, rail lines, rolling stock, traffic control / management devices) is typically owned. This level develops a multi-year program and budget that defines resources and commitments for a three to 10 year time frame, with updates every year or two. As noted in the previous chapter, providing effective highway-based transportation consists of three component parts - building the necessary infrastructure (i.e. construction), effectively preserving that infrastructure (i.e. maintenance), and effectively preserving its operating capacity by managing operations on a day-to-day basis. All three of these "legs" that make up the "highway transportation stool" are defined and developed at the agency level; and it is at this tier where the relative balance between these parts are determined, and the associated priorities, budgets, and allocation of resources are established.

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

From the perspective of surface street traffic management and operations, it is at the agency level where the planning, design and implementation activities for the program takes place. A key product is often a strategic system plan and / or Regional ITS Architecture that focuses on the deployment of ITS technologies and strategies for the surface transportation network, including surface street controls. This plan may identify the key components of a system, future initiatives to expand the functionality or area of coverage, and identify the resources needed to support all of the life-cycle phases of the system. The general time frame with the future planning and coordination for either a system or an associated transportation operations program would be 3 – 10 years in scope. It is important that the process to develop the ITS-based strategic plan (or any such focused plan or project) support the overall transportation planning process; not compete with it. Moreover, the end products of these "focused" processes can and should be used to feed information back into the overall transportation planning process.

1. "Intelligent Transportation Systems in the Transportation Equity Act for the 21st Century," Federal Highway Administration Publication No. FHWA-jpo-99-040.

2. "National ITS Program Plan: A Ten-Year Vision," ITS America, Washington, D.C., January 2002.

3. Obenberger, J., and W.H. Kraft, "Surface Transportation Systems: The Role of Traffic Management Centers."

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