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

7.7 Use of ITS Equipment/Advanced Technology

Two of the incidents did not require advanced technology, nor was a need expressed for such technology. The other two incidents did use ITS technology to a degree.

7.7.1 South Salt Lake City, Utah

During this evacuation, fixed variable message signs were activated on the interstate system and portable variable message signs were provided on both the interstate and surface streets to alert the public to the roadway closures and provide detour instructions.

The Utah Department of Transportation also used its fixed variable message signs outside of the incident zone to inform the public of the incident. Message signs approximately 50 miles to the north and 120 miles to the southeast of South Salt Lake City were activated.

Two tools recommended after this incident are:
  • Additional portable message signs for a large-scale incident. The Utah Department of Transportation has to contract for these resources. The signs could be purchased and used by Utah Department of Transportation resources.
  • Fixed message signs on more surface streets. There is a “tendency to underestimate variable message signs on surface streets.”  However in this instance, traffic diverted away from the interstates were diverted to local surface streets, which could have used the additional information on traffic conditions.

7.7.2 Big Bear Valley, California

Caltrans has a district transportation management center located in San Bernardino that was used to manage traffic during the southern California wildfires. Big Bear Valley does not have ITS equipment installed such as changeable message signs, video feed, detection loops, or highway advisory radio. Caltrans had to rely upon staff for information about what was going on. Communication to Big Bear Valley residents was through traditional means.

Portable message signs were used to provide information to the evacuees. These signs were available through the Sheriff’s Department and Caltrans.

Caltrans received complaints about the accuracy and relevance of communications regarding roadway conditions. People wanted to know immediately which roads were opened or closed and wanted the information available while in their car. Information received through a cell phone, personal digital assistant, or radio, and not necessarily the Internet, could have helped provide a better communication link to residents and travelers.

Non-advanced technology was also used to establish road closures. Caltrans had pre-positioned traffic barriers and road-closed signs at various locations and chained them to various posts and anchors in the ground to ensure they remained there. If a roadway was to be closed, the equipment and barriers were already in place, and they unchained the equipment and set up the roadblock.

February 6, 2006
Publication #FHWA-HOP-08-014