Arterial Management Program

2. State of the Practice

This section describes the state of the practice regarding traffic signal operations and maintenance. Section 2.1 provides the results of the literature surveyed. Section 2.2 documents the results of the field survey conducted under this project as well as relevant results developed under a related survey performed by the Puget Sound Regional Council (7). Section 2.3 summarizes the operations and staffing resources required. Section 2.4 relates current agency practices to the requirements for achieving OOO capability

2.1 Literature Survey

The following descriptions summarize key information relating to traffic operations and maintenance.


This handbook provides an update to the 1996 Traffic Control Systems Handbook and covers traffic signal maintenance as part of Chapter 13, System Management. In this chapter, the authors describe the increased complexity of traffic signal systems since the previous Handbook update and how agencies have often erroneously estimated the maintenance requirements of these systems. The example given is that agencies assume that technology upgrades associated with traffic signal systems would result in fewer maintenance requirements and therefore under estimate budget and staffing needs as well as staff skill levels for them. The authors suggest that agencies perform a cost trade off analysis during the design of traffic signal system upgrades that considers the potential impacts on maintenance that follow.

The Handbook defines three types of traffic signal system maintenance activities: Functional, Hardware, and Software. Functional maintenance activities include updating traffic signal system databases and optimizing signal timing plans. The Handbook describes hardware maintenance activities as remedial, preventive, or modification. Remedial hardware maintenance includes the immediate replacement of malfunctioning or failed equipment. Preventative hardware maintenance includes scheduled intervals at which equipment is checked to minimize failure probability. Hardware modification relates to design flaws or changes identified after design that are needed to improve equipment characteristics.

For software maintenance, the Handbook describes debugging problems identified following system acceptance or the modification of the software to provide additional features.

The authors identify the possible results associated with inadequate traffic signal maintenance. These results include a potential for increases in accidents, degraded system performance, and increases in equipment malfunction or failures.

The Handbook also provides a summary of staffing surveys for various Traffic Management Centers (TMC) and their respective City/Area population, TMC, and traffic signal system sizes. The survey results are summarized here in Table 2.1.

Table 2.1 Comparison of Various Traffic Signal System TMCs in the U.S.
Location City / Area Approx. Population TMC Size Number of Traffic Signals on System Staff
Los Angeles, CA (ATSAC) 3,700,000 5500 sq ft 2912 7 transportation engineers, including 1 supervisor. 2 systems analysts, 1 graphics designer, 1 traffic signal electrician, 1 secretary
Miami-Dade County, FL 2,200,000 5000 sq ft 2020 13 employees
San Antonio, TX 1,100,000 6000 sq ft 765 1 engineer, 3 technicians
Las Vegas, NV: Las Vegas Area Computer Traffic System (LVACTS) 1,500,000 (Covers Clark County) 2500 sq ft 700 4 administrative positions. 4 traffic operations positions. 4 maintenance positions
Atlanta, GA 416,000 2300 sq ft 650 Traffic signal operations: 1 engineer, 1 senior operator, 2 operators. CCTV: 1 engineer, 1 technician
Albuquerque, NM 449,000 800 sq ft 450 4 employees (2 engineers)
Seattle, WA 600,000 1420 sq ft 432 One supervisor, two operators
Phoenix, AZ 1,300,000 1500 sq ft 400 1 supervisor, 4 technicians
Denver, CO 555,000 2800 sq ft 450 No dedicated staff for TMC. Approx 1.5 FTE, more during special events
Boston, MA 590,000 2500 sq ft 320 7-8 employees
Renton, WA 53,000 700 sq ft 96 Initially, one part-time staff member. Can accommodate up to two full-time staff members
Redmond, WA 48,000 800-1400 sq ft (currently under construction) for traffic management area. 1200-1700 sq ft for signal shop area 25 (under construction) Control room: one supervisor, one operator
Signal shop: up to five maintenance staff


The National Traffic Signal Report Card was developed to answer the question: How well does the nation support its traffic signal systems? The report consolidated responses of 378 agencies across the United States on this subject. The overall score and grade related to maintenance practices as well as key findings from this report are summarized below.


Maintenance practices had an overall national score of 67, or D+. The minimum level of operation and critical maintenance for traffic signal systems scored high across the surveyed agencies which were mainly attributed to ensuring public safety and limiting potential for increased liability. However, despite meeting minimum requirements, other components of maintenance programs such as planning, management, and execution contributed to the overall low score.

The report defined key components of an excellent maintenance program. These components are:

  • Adequate maintenance staffing (or contract staffing) for traffic signals with a recommended staffing level of 30 to 40 intersections per technician.
  • Committing on-going funding to repair, replace, or upgrade signal controllers, detectors and other signal hardware.
  • Including as part of the project scope of work, timely replacement or repair to sensors or detectors that are destroyed or disabled by roadway maintenance or utility activities.
  • Providing and encouraging maintenance personnel to regularly attend technical training programs to familiarize themselves with the latest equipment and procedures associated with signal maintenance.
  • Regular assessment of the condition of traffic signal control equipment, including verification that detectors are working properly, traffic signal controller timings are entered correctly, verification that signal displays are operational, visual assessment of the alignment of traffic signal and pedestrian displays to make sure they are visible to motorists and pedestrians, and a semi-annual comprehensive assessment of all operating conditions.
  • Near real-time monitoring and emergency response, (7 days a week, 24 hours per day) for traffic signal system and intersection equipment using computer and communications facilities that provide reports to maintenance personnel within 5 minutes of detecting a failure.
  • Use of a maintenance management system database that tracks equipment failure histories, so as to avoid repeated purchase of unreliable equipment, and for scheduling proactive maintenance, rather than reacting to failures after they have occurred.
  • Policies or processes that define the time frame for responding to malfunctions and the agreed-upon criteria or prioritizing among multiple problems.

In order to achieve an excellent maintenance program and in turn improve scores and grades in future report cards, several needs were identified. These needs include more adequate maintenance resources, increased staffing levels, improvement training, more frequent signal hardware upgrades and timing updates, and more training for traffic signal technicians.


In the update to the 2005 National Traffic Signal Report Card, the report showed an increase in both score and grade related to maintenance practices. The report consolidated responses of 417 agencies across the United States and found the overall national score improved from 67 in 2005 to 70 in 2007 with a corresponding improvement in grade from D+ to C-. The key findings from this report are summarized below.


The 2007 report provided more specifics on the key components of an excellent maintenance program than provided in the 2005 report by adding the following:

  • Adequate policies and staffing (or contract staffing) to provide for timely response within one hour during normal business hours (within two hours outside of regular business hours) after a critical malfunction is reported.
  • Regular preventative maintenance and operational reviews, including a comprehensive semi-annual maintenance review, quarterly operational reviews and annual conflict monitor testing, including formal documentation for some or all equipment.
  • Complete configuration management information (for example, schematics, interconnection information and software documentation) and inventories of all traffic signal control equipment.
  • Continuous malfunction monitoring notification of critical components that provide reports to maintenance personnel within five minutes of detecting a failure.
  • Maintaining operation for at least 90 percent of an agency's detection system

The report findings showed that two-thirds of surveyed agencies had policies or processes to provide a traffic signal technician at intersections with a reported critical malfunction in the times specified above. In addition, 69% of the agencies reported regular preventative maintenance and operational reviews.


The US DOT website provides a summary of deployment benefits, costs, and lessons learned for a number of different transportation subject matters. One of these subject matters involves traffic signal control. The website was reviewed for information on traffic signal operations and maintenance. The findings of this review are summarized below.


The website described several important benefits related to proper traffic signal operations and maintenance. Examples were given of several case studies that showed optimizing signal timing as a low-cost approach to reducing congestion that ranges from $2,500 to $3,100 per signal per update. Updating traffic signal control equipment, in conjunction with signal timing optimization, was also shown in the case studies to have a positive benefit on reducing delays.

The website also provided several general rules of thumb for operations and maintenance of traffic signals. These include providing one traffic engineer for every 75 to 100 signals and one signal technician for every 40 to 50 signals and performing signal re-timings every 2-to-3 years at a minimum.

The website also described the practices needed to properly deploy traffic signal systems for maximum benefit. These practices include devoting sustained resources to the system and the professionals who design, operate, and maintain them, making wise investments in current signal hardware, timing updates, and maintenance resources, and providing training for signal technicians and engineers to ensure proper operation and maintenance of traffic signals and to preserve the investment in the hardware and timing updates.


This guide was prepared in 2000 by ITE and includes summaries of covers topics on traffic signal systems that include operations, staffing, and maintenance.


For traffic signal operations, the guide describes the monitoring devices used to determine how well traffic signal systems are operating. Among these devices are TV surveillance, detectors, dynamic message signs, and traffic signal controllers. The guide therefore stresses the need for regular care of these devices. The day to day operation is described as a number of basic tasks and procedures that include maintaining checklists, ledgers or system parameter inputs and changes, running daily summary reports, system back-up of data, and incremental improvements.

The guide also describes the use of modern computerized equipment to facilitate information processing. Over the years, the transition from paper filing systems to electronic filing systems has improved the speed and ability of operators to process information on traffic signal systems. In addition to improved information processing, the guide describes the benefits of automated data collection. A key benefit to this includes less costly data collection efforts as compared to manual labor. The guide also describes how ITS has improved information gathering for traffic signal systems such as by providing data streams of different equipment (e.g. on-board systems of buses, and commercial truck fleets) into traffic control systems and using this information to monitor the performance of a street.

Data Synthesis, or Data fusion, is another key component of traffic signal system operations described by the guide. The data coming into the traffic control system must be in a form that is useful to the operator. It is also important for this data to be easily manageable and not require large amounts of time to reduce. Finally, the guide describes the importance data information dissemination. The information gathered through traffic signal operations is useful to a wide audience and is therefore shared with groups such as service representatives, road users, and transit patrons.

Outside of information gathering, data synthesis, and dissemination, the guide stresses the need for quality documentation of operator functions, maintenance procedures, and operating software.


The guide also provides summaries of staffing levels from three sources: Hampton, VA, Menlo Park, CA, and NCHRP Synthesis 245. The City of Hampton surveyed 23 similar sized cities (approximate pop. 141,000) which found an average of one traffic engineer per 76 traffic signals and one traffic signal technician per 47.1 traffic signals. The NCHRP survey concluded that a traffic signal technician could maintain between 38 and 43 traffic signals. When evaluating staffing needs, the City of Menlo Park recommends one traffic signal engineer for every 100 traffic signals and one traffic signal technician for every 50 traffic signals.

From this information, the guide concludes that one single maintenance person can maintain 40-50 traffic signals or other field devices.


Common provisions for maintenance were also covered in this guide. The first provision covered in the guide was on the personnel required for traffic signal systems. This included a definition of five general personnel classifications including traffic signal mechanic, supervising traffic signal mechanic, traffic signal technician, traffic signal engineer, and traffic engineer. The guide also included basic guidelines for qualifications, training, and experience for each personnel classification. This guidance is as follows:

Title Responsibilities Experience Requirements
Engineer Management, operations, and design; system checks; modifications to timing; supervision of daily activities B.S. in Civil or Electrical Engineering (M.S. desirable), Engineer-In-Training (E.I.T.) or P.E., 1-3 years experience, IMSA certification
Supervisor Supervise crews; schedule work activities; oversee maintenance, operations, and construction; issue work orders IMSA certification, FCC license, CDL, journeyman skills level
Technician Responsive and preventative maintenance, troubleshooting, equipment repair and installation IMSA certification, CDL, electronics and electrical training or Associates degree
Mechanic Troubleshooting, perform repairs and maintenance, installation of equipment Controller and conflict monitor training, IMSA certification, master skills level

The guide also covers provision of various maintenance equipment including maintenance vehicles, test equipment and tools, replacement parts and supplies. For each of these categories, the guide offers an itemized list of equipment, estimated quantities and prices for average conditions. The guide also provides guidance on the preferred location of repair shops for traffic signal equipment as well as considerations for layout, size, organization, outfitting, staffing, and budget for these types of shops.

The importance of good maintenance records was also stressed within the guide. The records needed for effective maintenance are described as falling into maintenance service records, signal timing charts, and maintenance manuals and as-built plans. The maintenance service records include the two main types of maintenance performed by traffic signal departments which are preventive and responsive. Another type of maintenance record required of traffic signal departments described by the guide is design modifications. This includes the documentation of changes to the approved design and operation of existing system installation to corridor recurring problems, accommodate changes in prevailing conditions, or updates since installation.

The guide also provided information on estimated maintenance requirements associated with five common traffic signal configurations for example purposes. From these examples, the guide deduced that the "average" intersection requires a total of 60 hours of annual maintenance of which 70% is devoted to preventive maintenance, 25% to responsive maintenance, and 5% to design modification maintenance. The guide also concludes that signal mechanics have 1,627 estimated annual work hours to perform maintenance which translates to the capability of maintaining 17-27 intersections per year.

2.2 Field Survey

2.2.1 Overview

This section provides a summary of the survey responses received from various agencies on the FHWA sponsored Traffic Signal Operations and Maintenance Staffing and Resource Requirements questionnaire. The purpose of this questionnaire was to seek input on current traffic signal operations and maintenance practices and to use this information in the development of guidelines developed in subsequent project tasks.

The 2005 and 2007 National Traffic Signal Report Cards (NTSRC) highlight a number of better practices that are believed to contribute to effective traffic signal management, operations and maintenance processes. Table 2.2 summarizes recommendations from the report card gathered from a number of sources, for staffing and resource needs for traffic signal operations and maintenance. A survey was also conducted in conjunction with the development of this report and those survey results are presented in the following table as well.

Table 2.2 Comparison of Key Results from the National Traffic Signal Report Card
Criteria NTSRC Recommendation Project Survey Results
Traffic Signal O & M Maintenance Staffing 30 to 40 signals per technician 38 to 61 signals per technician (this includes the maintenance of ancillary devices as well such as CCTV, CMS, etc)
Signal Monitoring Near real-time 24/7 monitoring of signals to provide reports to maintenance personnel within 5 minutes of automatic failure report. 24/7 monitoring of traffic systems not the rule. Most isolated intersections have no automated failure reporting capability
Critical Malfunction Response Time Should not exceed one hour during business hours and 2 hours at other times. Reporting agencies averaged 1.4 hours during business hours and 1.9 hours at other times.
Detection System Maintenance Maintaining operation for at least 90% of an agency's detection system. This goal appears to have been achieved for local actuation detectors but not for system detectors.

The section describes the survey distribution process and the feedback received from respondents. The report then compiles survey responses by the following subject areas:

  • Classification of Signal System Characteristics
  • Redundancy Characteristics of System
  • Traffic Detection
  • Timing plan characteristics
  • Operations characteristics
  • Maintenance practices
  • Staff size and qualifications

2.2.2 Definition of Traffic Signal System Management, Operation and Maintenance

Transportation system management and operations is described by the Technical Corrections Act (6) as follows:

(A) IN GENERAL – The term 'transportation systems management and operations' means an integrated program to optimize the performance of existing infrastructure through the implementation of multimodal and intermodal, cross-jurisdictional systems, services, and projects designed to preserve capacity and improve security, safety, and reliability of the transportation system.

(B) INCLUSIONS – The term 'transportation systems management and operations' includes –
'(i) regional operations collaboration and coordination activities between transportation and public safety agencies; and
'(ii) improvements to the transportation system, such as traffic detection and surveillance, arterial management, freeway management, demand management, work zone management, emergency management, electronic toll collection, automated enforcement, traffic incident management, roadway weather management, traveler information services, commercial vehicle operations, traffic control, freight management, and coordination of highway, rail, transit, bicycle, and pedestrian operations.

Concurrently with the survey conducted under this task, a related survey was conducted by the Puget Sound Regional Council (7). Results of the Puget Sound survey that are relevant to survey topics under this project are also included.

2.2.3 Survey Distribution and Respondents

The questionnaire that was distributed is included in the Appendix A of this memo. While the Traffic Signal Report Card survey provided a broad overview of operations practices and established a basis for comparatively evaluating agency performance, the survey was intended to provide an in-depth view of the practices of a limited number of agencies. It was desired to obtain responses from 10 agencies that could serve to assist in establishing the basis for superior practices, however it was only possible to obtain seven in-depth responses. The initial distribution list included a total of 34 agencies of different sizes, type, and locations. The survey was first distributed in July 2008 via email to each of the agencies. This first distribution was then followed up by subsequent reminder emails and telephone calls. Of the 34 potential respondents, a total of seven agencies provided feedback. The responding agencies and their signal system network characteristics are shown below in Table 2.3. Note that the agency names are not presented to protect the anonymity of the respondents the type of agency, state and population of the jurisdiction are germane to this discussion and are provided to characterize each survey response. Appendix B provides a tabulation of the survey responses.

Table 2.3 Survey Respondents and Traffic Network Characteristics
Agency Agency Type Service Area Population (Approx.) State Total Signals Number of Signals in Each Network Type Approx. % Growth in Signals/Year
Grid Arterial Isolated
A Urban county 600,000 Florida 780 390 314 76 6%
B City 800,000 Florida 1,001 125 415 451 Not available.
C Urban county 800,000 New York 622 85 362 175 <1%
D City near major city 40,000 Georgia 115 0 25 90 4%
E City 350,000 California 300 180 80 40 1%
F County 900,000 Maryland 800 200 525 75 1%
G DOT N/A Georgia 2800 350 1050 1400 3%

Table 2.4 shows a partial set of responses regarding the operational characteristics of these traffic signal system networks. Those agencies providing responses on this indicated that traffic volumes were growing in the range of 1% to 5% and the level of saturation experienced.

Table 2.4 Traffic Network Operations
Agency Approx. % of signals operating under saturated conditions* Total Signals
Peak hour At least one hour outside of peak hour
A 30% 30% 780
C 3.2% 0.8% 622
D 15% 5% 115
E 60% 50% 300
F 40% 50% 800
G 15% 2% 2800
*Examples of saturated conditions include cycle failure (failure of a motorist to be serviced by the green phase subsequent to his arrival), long persistent queues and volume to capacity ratios that closely approach or appear to exceed 100%.

Traffic delays increase modestly until a volume to capacity ratio of approximately 0.9 is reached, at which point delay increases exponentially. Thus the capability of an agency's staff to identify saturation or near-saturation conditions (by on street observation, CCTV observations and data mining) and to remedy the situation strongly influences the level of delay that motorists will experience.

Additionally, it was found that these agencies operate traffic management centers. The hours of operation for these centers varied from nine (9) hours per day to 17 hours per day. Three of the agencies reported co-location in their traffic management centers with other operators such as Department of Transportations, State Police Departments, Transit, 911, and Emergency Operations.

2.2.4 Classification of Signal System Characteristics

The respondents were asked to provide an inventory of the field devices and operational strategies used with their traffic signal system. This included traffic signal controllers, traffic detectors, ancillary devices, and communication systems.

Traffic Signal Controllers

The type and age of the equipment has a bearing on some of the challenges that a municipal traffic engineer faces, the premise being that the greater the number of different types of equipment present in a signal system, the more difficult it is to operate and maintain. This additional difficulty results from the additional spares inventories required as well as the additional training and configuration management required. Similarly, it is likely that an agency that uses older technology will have differences in hardware and software that may result in different operations, making troubleshooting more difficult for the technician in the field. The traffic signal controller classifications used by the respondents are summarized in Table 2.5.

Table 2.5 Traffic Signal Controller Inventory
Agency Standard Classification Controller Age
Type 170 ATC/ 2070 NEMA TS1 NEMA TS2 < 5 Years Between 5 & 10 Years > 10 Years
A 0% 0% 0% 40% 60% 25% 67%
8% 6% 17% 69% 8% 27% 13% 60%
C 0% 0% 35% 65% 10% 55% 35%
D 0% 97% 0% 3% 100% 0% 0%
E 0% 60% 40% 0% 27% 40% 33%
F 0% 0% 0$ 100% 0% 75% 25%
G 0% 100% 0% 0% 36% 64% 0%

The agencies operate all of their traffic signal controllers in time of day mode with the exception of Agency A which operates approximately 12% of their network using traffic responsive mode. The number of timing plans used varied from three to seven plans per weekday and from two to four plans per weekend day or special event. The agencies reported using other non-periodic timing plans as well such as during emergency evacuation plans, detour plans, heavy volume plans. Agency A also reported the operation of peak and off-peak seasonal plans that take into account fluctuations in traffic volumes at different times of the year. The Puget Sound Survey reported that traffic responsive operation was used by 15% of the agencies.

Four of the respondents reported retiming at three year intervals or less and one respondent reported retiming at five to seven year intervals. Two respondents retime on an as needed basis. One of these agencies uses aircraft and cameras to assist in determining the need for retiming.

Traffic Detection

The respondents also provided a breakdown on the traffic detection strategies employed at their intersections. This breakdown is shown in Table 2.6.

Table 2.6 Traffic Detection Configuration
Agency Fully Actuated Configuration Semi-Actuated Configuration(No detection on main street, limit line detection on side street.) No Detection
Advanced & limit line detection on main street, limit line detection on side street approaches Advanced detection on main street & limit line on side street
A 1% 98% 1% 0%
B 75% 12% 0% 13%
D 100% 0% 0% 0%
E 30% 70% 0% 0%
F 5% 5% 75% 15%
G 2% 93% 5% 0%

Five of the agencies surveyed also provided estimates on the percentage of operable local actuation detectors. These agencies reported very high percentages (90% or greater). The agencies periodically check the operability of their traffic detectors through preventative maintenance programs, routine monitoring of central system software, and when complaints are made.

The survey results also showed that only one of the agencies is analyzing detector data on a regular basis. This data is being used to determine spot traffic flow conditions, real-time volumes, peak hours, and yearly daily traffic volume trends.

The Puget Sound survey reported that 28% of the agencies did not send real-time traffic information to a central computer or master controller.

Ancillary Devices

The ancillary devices also maintained by the responding agencies are provided in Table 2.7. These devices include emergency preemption/transit signal priority equipment, Closed Circuit TV (CCTV) cameras, Changeable Message Signs (CMS), and Uninterrupted Power Supplies (UPS).

Of the six agencies that reported using CCTV cameras operated by that agency, four reported on the use of these cameras to support on-line adjustment of timing plans, planning for signal timing/phasing, and incident management. One agency reported using CCTV monitoring to support on-line adjustment of timing plans and incident management and another agency uses CCTV only for incident management.

Table 2.7 Ancillary Devices (Number of Units)
Agency Preemption/ Priority CCTV CMS UPS
A 20 3 0 18
B 50 0 0 4
C 351 75 2 0
D 60 9 0 9
E 1 60 13 0
F 25 180 0 0 (near term plans includes installation of 250 UPS units)
G 70 2 0 100

The Puget Sound survey determined that 79% of the agencies used CCTV to monitor traffic and that 53% of these agencies used the cameras for incident management as well. 23% of the agencies used CMS.

Communication Systems

The survey sought information on the various types of communication systems being used by agencies with their traffic signal systems. These communication systems provide a data transfer link between traffic signals and in some cases provide a means for communicating remotely to a traffic management center. Table 2.8 provides a summary of the survey results showing the number of signals within each communication system type.

Table 2.8 Communication Systems (Approximate number of signals)
Agency Total Signals None (Isolated) 7-wire Cable Twisted Wire Pair Fiber Optics Coaxial Cable Wireless
A 393 76 0 292 5 0 20
B 1000 450 0 30 193 directly; 319 remotely 0 8
C 620 175 10 20 100 305 10
D 104 34 0 0 70 0 0
E 250 60 0 170 7 0 13
F 800 0 0 800 0 0 0
G 2800 1950-2250 0 200 300-500 0 50

For the isolated traffic signals, the survey respondents indicated that only one agency uses automatic failure reporting at some locations. The respondents also indicated that portions of their traffic signal system operate with remote monitoring capabilities either as a closed loop system or through central control. The information provided on this capability is presented in Table 2.9.

Table 2.9 Number of Traffic Signals with Remote Monitoring Capabilities
Agency Closed Loop Central Control
A 0 314
B 550 0
C 47 405
D 80 0
G 750 (additional 150 isolated intersections report failures) 0

The number of traffic signals reported in the table above includes coordinated systems as well as isolated locations. The redundancy characteristics of the traffic signal systems were also reported on by the survey respondents. This included redundancy of central controls and both backbone and distribution communication systems. The redundant characteristics of the central controls included software/server based systems that can be transferred to backup systems as needed, spare data storage and communication servers, and regular off-site backup of system data.

The agencies reported accomplishing redundancy with their backbone and distribution communication systems by providing alternate paths in the case of communication breaks.

2.2.5 Staff Levels and Qualifications

The number of staff responsible for traffic signal operations and maintenance along with their required qualifications were also provided by the agencies participating in this survey. This information is presented in Table 2.10 and includes the number of personnel in each of the identified positions. Where data was available, the qualifications, training, and experience level is also provided.

Analysis of the Puget Sound survey data for agencies operating in excess of 150 signals found that the number of maintenance technicians ranged from 18.4 to 78.9 per thousand signals. The large differences may be attributable to varying definitions of labor categories and maintenance tasks.

The data in Table 2.10 was analyzed according to the following Knowledge, skills and abilities categories described in Section

Table 2.10 Staff Levels and Qualifications
Agency Total Signals Number of full time equivalent positions2 Qualifications, training, experience level
Management/ Traffic Engineer/ ITS Engineer Traffic Signal Analyst/ TMC Operator Traffic Signal Maintenance Tech./ Electronic Specialist
A1 393 3.5 4.5 10 Require minimum of three years electrical experience, IMSA II, and IMOT certification for Traffic Signal Maintenance Technicians
B 1000 2 1 16 IMSA certification for technicians
D 104 2 1 6 Require Management to have P.E + 10 years of experience, Traffic Signal Engineer to have P.E., PTOE + 10 years of experience, Traffic Signal Analyst/Tech. to have 10 years of experience
E 250 5 9 5 No certifications required for engineers or technicians
F 800 5 7 14 No certifications required for engineers or technicians
G 2800 16 0 46 No certifications required for engineers or technicians

1Agency A also reported a public relations position that serves traffic signal operations and maintenance which is not reflected in the table.

2 The survey results found that agencies use a variety of job descriptions to characterize the typical functions of these positions. Therefore, the table generalizes these positions into the three categories shown.

The survey also provided information on the average tenures of both engineering and maintenance staff. The average tenures of engineering staff was found to be between five (5) and twelve (12) years while the average tenure of maintenance staff was found to be between five (5) and twenty (20) years.

Table 2.11 shows a comparison of these results for the medium and larger signal systems. The analysis is approximate in that the categories in Table 2.9 do not directly correspond to the questionnaire categories.

Table 2.11 Comparative Staffing by Agencies
Agency Number of Signals Number of signals per staff
Traffic Engineer Maintenance
A 383 85 35
B 1000 500 63
E 250 33 33
F 800 160 57
G 2800 175 61

The widespread variations in the engineering areas are at least partly attributable to the definitions of the positions by different agencies. Analysis of the Puget Sound data indicated that for agencies operating in excess of 150 signals, the number of maintenance technicians ranged from 18.4 to 78.9 per thousand signals. These large differences are most likely attributable to differences in labor categorizations, combined task assignments and variations in the definitions of maintenance tasks.

2.2.6 Maintenance Practices

The survey included a number of questions regarding maintenance of traffic signal systems. The feedback provided insights on the allowable and actual practices used by each agency when responding to maintenance requests. Feedback was also provided on the distance between traffic signals and maintenance facilities. The information provided is summarized in Table 2.12 and Table 2.13.

Table 2.12 Proximity of Traffic Signals to Maintenance Facilities
Agency 5 miles or less Between 5 and 10 miles Greater than 10 miles
A 76 57 257
C 481 125 20
D 100 15 0
E 170 120 10
F 200 500 100
G 175 250 2375

Table 2.13 Maintenance Response Times
Agency Signal Failure Repairs during Business Hours Signal Failure Repairs during Non-business Hours Ancillary Equipment Failure Repairs Communication System Failure Repairs during Non-business Hours
Allowable Actual Allowable Actual Allowable Actual
A 2 hours 1 hour 4 hours 2 hours 48 hours 24 hours 48 hours
E 1 hour 1-2 hours 2 hours 1-3 hours 2 weeks From 2 hours to 3 days 2-3 days
F 0.5 hours 0.5 hours or less 0.5-1 hour 1.5 hours or less Dependent upon device Dependent upon device 30 minutes
G 2 hours 2 hours 2 hours 2 hours Typically one week Typically one week Typically one week

In addition, several of the responding agencies reported on the annual number of traffic signal controller failures. The information provided showed a range of failures from less than 1% per year to more than 10% per year.

2.2.7 General Observations

The following additional observations were made based on a review of the survey responses.

Signal Operations

  • There is a suspected relationship between the degree of traffic congestion in cities and counties and their staffing levels.
  • Isolated signals generally do not have the capability to automatically report failures.
  • There is some use of changeable message signs (CMS) and increasing use of CCTV. Where available, CCTV is used for on-line adjustment of signal timing, planning for signal timing and phasing and incident management.
  • Although most signals have some form of detection, and in many cases the detector data is available at the TMC, this data is generally not mined or reviewed for intersection performance, or reviewed to determine the need for signal timing updates.
  • PE and/or PTOE certification is generally not required for signal system engineers (the survey sample may be too small to form a general conclusion.)


  • Field maintenance of controllers is generally accomplished quickly (0.5-2 hours during business hours and 1-3 hours during non-business hours).
  • Maintenance of detectors and other devices may not be performed for prolonged periods.
  • On the average, controllers are from five to ten years old.
  • Certification of maintenance technicians is required by some agencies but not by others. There is no consistent pattern.
  • There is a wide variation in controller failure rate. Determining the causality of this variation might yield productive modifications to maintenance practices.


  • There is little general use of measures of effectiveness measures or performance reports.
  • Future planning cycles generally range from three to five years.
  • Provisions for feedback from the public vary considerably in ease of accessibility among agencies.
  • Mission statements, concepts of operations and operations procedures are generally not provided by agencies.
  • Training provisions are generally inadequate and not systematized.
  • Funding inadequacy appears to play an important role in management and operational deficiencies.

2.3 Operations and Maintenance Staffing and Resources

2.3.1 Introduction

A traffic signal system conforming to Objective Oriented Operation (OOO) provides performance, reliability and functional requirements necessary to achieve a high quality of operation at a reasonable cost. This section identifies the resources that are most likely to be needed to achieve OOO. The resources include sufficiently qualified personnel and the staffing levels required to implement the functions. An estimate is provided for signal retiming costs.

While an agency's ability to achieve operational objectives is related to budget and number of staff management approach, staff commitment, dedication and training are intangible elements that dictate how effectively an agency can operate and maintain a traffic signal system. The level of maintenance and operations is not only affected by the agency's perception of its importance but also by the public's perception. Under budgetary constraints, cutting programs for training and professional development provides short-term relief but undermines the long-term viability of the system's operation and maintenance.

2.3.2 Resource Requirements for Traffic Engineering

The person responsible for traffic system engineering (planning, system operations, equipment selection, signal timing) should have professional engineering (PE) registration and should preferably have professional traffic operations engineer (PTOE) certification. Other engineering personnel should either have these qualifications or be in the process of actively pursuing their acquisition.

Staffing Level for Traffic Engineering Personnel

Table 2.14 provides a summary of the engineering staffing levels developed by various references:

Table 2.14 Number of Signals per Traffic Engineer
Reference Number of Signals per Traffic Engineer
Traffic Control System Operations: Installation, Management and Maintenance (12) 75-100
Survey performed under this project Average: 185
Survey performed under Puget Sound Regional ITS Implementation Plan (7) Average: 67. For agencies with over 150 signals the average s 93.Median: 62. For agencies with over 150 signals the median 81.62% of the responding agencies felt that their staff size was inadequate.

Survey responses show wide variations in comparative staffing levels. To some extent, this reflects the phraseology used for the survey questions and varying interpretations by the respondents. Based on the table above, it appears that a staffing level of 75-100 signals per engineer for agencies that operate a minimum of 150 signals will be appropriate to support OOO. Smaller agencies will likely require fewer signals per engineer because economies of scale are difficult to realize. The engineering staff to support these functions should, as a minimum:

  • Provide for the collection and analysis of traffic and accident data to determine the need for retiming, rephasing, and pedestrian treatment on a 30 to 36 month basis. Retiming should follow in a timely manner.
  • Analyze traffic system reliability data annually to determine those locations where unusual equipment failure rates result in excessive delay and safety problems. Steps to remedy these conditions should be planned and implemented.
  • Collect, analyze and report data yielding measures of effectiveness, in order to assess the quality of the traffic signal service being provided. Develop strategies to remedy deficiencies including traffic system and geometric upgrades.

2.3.3 Cost of Signal Retiming

The cost of signal retiming generally lies within the $2500-$3500 per intersection range (8,9). Table 2.15 provides a typical consultant's estimate of the time required per intersection to accomplish key activities associated with signal timing.

Table 2.15 Person Hours for Key Signal Timing Activities (10)
Task Person Hours per Intersection
Project management 0.8
Weekday turning movement counts 19.8
Saturday turning movement counts 4.6
Field intersection inventory 1.5
Qualitative assessment 1.5
Signal timing analysis 7.5
Fine tuning 6
Final delivery 1.3

2.3.4. Resource Requirements for Maintenance Personnel


Personnel in agencies that perform their own maintenance should conform to the following as a minimum (agencies that contract maintenance services should require contractors with similar qualifications):

The technician in charge of signal maintenance should have the following qualifications:

  • Combination of training, education and experience for a total minimum of five years.
  • Certification to IMSA Traffic Signal Level II.
  • Additional training beyond IMSA Traffic Signal Level II.

The number of subordinate positions depends on the number of signals for which the agency is responsible. Qualifications for two subordinate levels are described below:

Technician 2 – Minimum of 2 years as Technician 1 plus: certification to IMSA Traffic Signal Level II.

Technician 1

  • High school (minimum).
  • Knowledge of electrical standards, codes, practices and repair techniques.
  • Certification to IMSA Traffic Signal Level I within one year of employment

In addition, all technician levels must be able to work for long periods in inclement weather and may be required to lift heavy objects and work from bucket trucks.

Staffing Levels for Maintenance Personnel

Table 2.16 provides a summary of the maintenance technician staffing levels developed by various references:

Table 2.16 Signals per Technician
Reference Signals per Technician
2005 Traffic Signal Report Card recommendation 30-40
Traffic Control System Operations: Installation, Management and Maintenance (12) 40-50
Survey performed under this project Average: 51
Survey performed under Puget Sound Regional ITS Implementation Plan (7)

Average: 24 for all agencies, 29 for agencies with over 150 signals.

Median: 21 for all agencies, 30 for agencies with over 150 signals

Variations in the data are significant. In particular, data for the smaller agencies tends to vary to a greater extent and to skew the averages. Based on the table above, it appears that a staffing level of 30-40 signals per technician for agencies that operate a minimum of 150 signals will be appropriate to support the Constrained Ideal Traffic System. Smaller agencies will likely require fewer signals per technician because economies of scale are difficult to realize.

2.4 Evaluation of Agencies Relative to CITS Criteria

This section relates agency practices to OOO criteria. Section 2.4.1 describes this relationship for the agencies interviewed under this project while Section 2.4.2 provides a general over view of current practices relative to these criteria.

2.4.1 Evaluation of Agencies Surveyed

The interview responses were evaluated using the OOO criteria described in the preceding sections. A scale of 1-5 (5 being the best) was used to rate the interview responses against certain of these criteria. Table 2.17 describes the specific criteria used in the evaluation. A score of 5 represents achievement of OOO criteria. The results of this analysis are shown in Table 2.18. That table, and the survey responses themselves, were used to develop the evaluations described below.

Table 2.17 Survey Evaluation Criteria

1. Planning – Availability of planning procedures and documentation (mission statement, annual reviews, concept of operations, regional ITS architecture conformance, strategic plan) provides a rating of 5.

2. Data mining – Collection and analysis of traffic data on a 30-36 month basis to determine timing plan needs and evaluate system performance provides a rating of 5.


1. Monitoring at TOC – For the larger agencies, 24/7 monitoring is preferred (score of 5) while monitoring during weekday peak periods and at other critical times is awarded a score of 4.

2. Personnel qualifications - A score of 5 is awarded if the traffic engineering staff and timing plan preparation is supervised by a PE or PTOE.

3. Use of CCTV – The use of CCTV (and in some cases aircraft) is an estimation of the anecdotal capability to identify traffic signal timing problems. A score of 5 represents CCTV coverage of a minimum of one-third of the intersections

4. Number of timing plans – This is a measure of the agency's likely performance as well as the agency's intent to span the coverage of needs. The availability of 6 or more timing plans is awarded a score of 5.

5. Frequency of timing plan update – A score of 5 represents updates at two year intervals or less, 4 represents 2 to 3 year intervals and 3 represents 3-5 year intervals. Lower scores are awarded for longer periods.


1. Time to obtain indication of critical failure – Automatic failure reporting is necessary to achieve acceptable performance. To receive a score of 5, for systems in excess of 400 intersections, 70% of these failures should be detected automatically. For smaller agencies, 30% of the failures should be detected automatically. Lower scores are awarded for less detection capability.

2. Time to respond after receiving indication of critical failure – To receive a score of 5, a response within one hour during business hours and within two hours during non-business hours is required. Lower scores are awarded for longer response periods.

3. Maintenance technician qualifications and training – A score of 5 is awarded if IMSA or equivalent certification is required and training resources are available. Lower scores are awarded for lesser levels of certification and training provisions.

Table 2.18 Evaluation of Agencies Relative to Constrained Ideal Traffic System
No Value Agency A Agency B Agency C Agency D Agency E Agency F Agency G Total Responses Average Score
1. Planning documentation 4 2 -- 2 1 3 3 6 2.5
2. Collection, analysis and review of data 1 2 2 4 1 1 3 7 2
1. Monitoring at TOC 4 3 4 2 4 5 1 7 3.3
2. Personnel Qualifications 1 1 1 1 4 1 1 7 1.4
3. Use of CCTV 2 1 3 5 5 5 1 7 3.1
4. Number of timing plans 5 5 5 5 3 2 3 7 4
5. Frequency of timing plan update 4 2 -- 5 3 -- 5 5 3.8
1. Notification of critical failures 5 1 2 1 5 5 1 7 2.9
2. time to respond after notification 5 5 -- 4 4 5 4 6 4.5
3. Training and qualifications of maintenance staff 5 5 -- 3 2 3 3 6 3.5

2.4.2 Overview of Current Practices

Management, Operations And Signal Timing

Within the limitations of their resources, agencies generally strive to provide operations and maintenance services to the extent possible. Most of the agencies interviewed, however do not manage in a top down fashion, i.e. they do not generally systematically collect and analyze data and make systematic reviews of traffic system performance using established measures have procedures.

Among the agencies interviewed, the number of timing plans employed and the frequency of timing plan updates, while somewhat deficient, probably do not constitute the most serious deficiency. The agencies do not generally analyze detector data collected by the traffic systems for the purpose of determining the number of timing plans needed and the time periods for which they are required. These values appear to be established by anecdotal or judgmental means (that appear to be influenced by the increasing use of CCTV and, in one case, by surveillance aircraft.) This statement is supported by a the following similar observation in Tarnoff and Ordonez (1) "...more than 98% of the jurisdictions rely on engineering judgment to determine the best times of day for new plans. It must be emphasized that in many cases this approach is highly appropriate. However it is possible that within the 109 agencies that responded to this question, there are situations where a more quantitative approach should be used."

While the problem may, in part, be caused by the lack of qualifications on the part of the engineering staff, the deficiency principally appears to stem from:

  • The lack of a management plan for the review and evaluation of detector data and the determination of deficiencies, need for new timing plans, number of timing plans and for the time periods for which the plans should be employed.
  • The lack of guidance material and analysis tools for developing these requirements.

Maintenance Practices

While the response to field failures when the agency is notified of a failure is generally satisfactory, the following deficiencies are apparent among the responding agencies:

  • No capability is generally provided for control equipment at isolated intersections to report failures. Thus agencies whose operations include a significant percentage of isolated intersections are not able to detect these failures in a timely way.
  • Many agencies substandard personnel qualification criteria and training programs.

2.4.3 Relationship of Agency Practices to Objective Oriented Operation (OOO)

Table 2.19 compares characteristics of currently operating traffic systems with OOO criteria. The first column of Table 5.1 summarizes the general features that may be used to characterize a traffic control system. These are described in more detail in Section 3. The remaining columns classify how systems of different quality generally address these characteristics. Column A summarizes the CITS approach. It is generally characterized by strong management planning and control that in turn leads to the use of systematic processes for signal timing operation, and management of the entire signal system operation. It generally corresponds to a NTOC Report Card rating of A. Column B describes systems that range in performance from below CITS requirements to just above minimally acceptable operation. These systems generally correspond to Report Card Ratings of B or C. Column C describes systems that do not generally provide acceptable responsiveness to the transportation needs of the community and correspond to Report Card ratings of D or F.

Table 2.19 Comparative Key Characteristics of Traffic Systems
Characteristic A. Constrained Ideal Traffic System (CITS) B. Generally Above Average Systems that do not Meet CITS Criteria C. Traffic Systems with Below Average Performance
Supervision by PE and/or PTOE Always. Usually. Usually.
Planning reviews and documentation (mission statement, management plan, concept of operations, operating procedures) Reviews and updates of items needed on annual basis. All items may not be available. Reviews and updates non-periodically. Most items not available.
Performance monitoring and annual review to determine deficiencies and needs Comprehensive and systematic monitoring program and review processes. Monitoring may be limited to key areas or routes and may not be performed periodically. Little systematic attention, usually reactive to crises.
Communication path to public, surveys Well publicized and easy to use, proactive outreach. Responds to public contact but does not proactively seek. Minimal attention.
Conformance with Regional ITS Architecture and interaction with other stakeholders Proactive participation Responds to requests generated by others Minimal participation
Timing Plan Design
Signal timing reviews and updates 30 to 36 month updates using a documented methodology. May be reviewed more frequently if automatically collected data is available and processed. 3 to 5 year updates. Greater than 5 years, often in response to crises or other stakeholder requirements.
Number of timing plans Methodology used to determine number of daily plans needed. Sufficient number of plans provided to support daily needs, special events, weekends, diversion plans, transit needs, Spillback and saturation given special attention. Number and duration of plans determined by traffic engineer's experience. Relatively few plans available.
Real time traffic condition monitoring Adequate surveillance capability available for development of measures. CCTV at key intersections. Surveillance capability only able to provide partial measures. Little CCTV. Little operative surveillance capability except for detectors used for local actuation. No CCTV.
Equipment failure monitoring Failure monitoring available and operative for all signals featuring traffic progressions. Failure monitoring available and operative for most isolated signals. Failure monitoring generally available and operative for signals featuring traffic progressions, but not for isolated signals. Failure monitoring sometimes available and operative for signals featuring traffic progressions, but not for isolated signals.
Plan for upgrades Periodic review of data to determine need for geometric and signal system upgrades with emphasis on bottleneck and saturation relief. Reviews usually non-periodic or as required by other stakeholders. As required by other stakeholders.
Traffic management center operational periods Weekday peak periods and at other times as warranted by traffic conditions. For moderate and major metropolitan areas this usually includes all day for weekdays except for evening and early morning periods. Weekdays but certain key periods may not be covered. Varies for other key periods. Traffic systems usually monitored periodically but not continually.
Changes in functional requirements (e.g. preemption, transit priority, etc.) Periodic review and implementation. Non-periodic review or response to other stakeholders. Response to other stakeholders.
Time to obtain indication of failure For systems in excess of 400 intersections, 70% of failures should be detected by the operating agency, for fewer intersections, 30% of failures should be detected by the operating agency. Generally does not achieve CITS capability Generally does not achieve CITS capability
Time to respond after receiving an indication of controller or signal failure Within one hour during business hours.
Within two hours during non-business hours
Within two hours during business hours.
Within four hours during non-business hours.
May be longer than for Column B.
Maintain detector operation Minimum of 95% of detectors operational. May not achieve 95% operability. Considerable percentage of detectors often inoperable
Maintenance Personnel qualifications Meet qualifications stated in Section 4 or well managed contractor support Objective is to meet CITS qualifications. Personnel with lesser qualifications or poorly managed contractor support.
Preventive Maintenance Formal program May have formal program Usually no program. May correct potential problems if observed as a result of inspection for other issues.
Personnel planning Plan to assure that the number of required personnel will be available General staffing plan for budgeting purposes General staffing plan for budgeting purposes
Support for Training
  • Support for training programs to achieve proficiency requirements
  • Support for specialized training
  • Support to achieve proficiency requirements varies significantly
  • Support for specialized training
Support for specialized training

3 Categories correspond to the those defined in Row, S., Tarnoff, P.J. Traffic Signal Training Assessment Summary Report 7, Federal Highway Administration, July 2005.

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