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

1. Introduction

1.1. Purpose

A Transportation Management Center (TMC) acts as the nucleus for collecting, monitoring, verifying, and responding to traffic conditions often disseminating important information to other agencies and the public. Traditionally, a TMC encompasses a physical building, which may be part of a single agency or a multi-agency facility and managed by TMC operators and emergency responders (e.g., highway patrol). Nevertheless, with the introduction of newer communication, computing, and software technologies a physical TMC may no longer be the only solution. At this time, virtualized TMC operations are a reality and may be a viable alternative. Some agencies have adopted the Virtual TMC concept wholesale or have incorporated some portions of it into their operations, while other agencies are still investigating this notion.

The purpose of this document is to develop guidelines for the creation, implementation, and operation of a Virtual TMC. These guidelines identify the recommended processes, procedures, roles, and responsibilities for planning, implementing and operating a Virtual TMC. This report also presents case studies of agencies that have gone or are considering going through this process.

It should be emphasized that the Virtual TMC model or a hybrid virtual model is viable solution given the appropriate conditions, including suitable technical, institutional, and political environments. It may not be a viable option for agencies with existing TMC facilities, co-located with other entities, or with established policies that prevent operators from working independently. However, this model may be a viable option and should be considered by agencies looking to open a new TMC, merging two or more regional TMCs, monitoring rural areas, or wanting to enhance their emergency and back up operations. Ultimately, it is up to each agency to determine whether this model is right for them. This document provides guidelines and recommended action items for agencies looking to entirely or partially virtualize their TMC operations.

1.2. Intended Audience

The primary audiences for this document include:

  • Agencies planning to implement, operate and maintain a TMC, and those considering partial or full functions of a Virtual TMC.
  • Agencies currently operating a TMC and seeking to improve or expand their operations to include Virtual TMC functions.
  • Agencies currently operating a TMC and planning to make operational changes in the near future.

1.3. Virtual TMC Related Definitions

1.3.1. Transportation Management Center (TMC)

The Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) defines a Traffic/Transportation Management Center as follows:

The Transportation Management Center (TMC) is the hub or nerve center of most freeway management systems. It is where the data about the freeway system is collected and processed, fused with other operational and control data, synthesized to produce "information," and distributed to stakeholders such as the media, other agencies, and the traveling public. TMC staff uses the information to monitor the operation of the freeway and to initiate control strategies that affect changes in the operation of the freeway network. It is also where agencies can coordinate their responses to traffic situations and incidents.

The role of a TMC often goes beyond the freeway network and the particular responsible agency, functioning as the key technical and institutional hub to bring together the various jurisdictions, modal interests, and service providers to focus on the common goal of optimizing the performance of the entire surface transportation system. Because of its critical role in the successful operation of a freeway management system (and perhaps the broader surface transportation network), it is essential that the TMC be planned for, designed, commissioned and maintained to allow operators and other practitioners to control and manage the functional elements of the freeway management system, and possibly beyond.1

This definition suggests that each TMC has its own features and organizational structure and operates in a unique setting appropriate to its geographical area, available technology, and jurisdictional needs. Clearly, this is a freeway-specific definition and there are TMCs that manage toll roads, arterial roadways, and transit systems, among others. Virtual TMC (VTMC) concepts can be applied to all these agencies and facilities.

1.3.2. Virtual TMC Definition

A definition of the word "virtual" is "being such in essence or effect though not formally recognized or admitted."2 Other definitions in the context of the computing world include:

  1. "Created, simulated, or carried on by means of a computer or computer network."
  2. "...simulated by a computer systems as a convenient was to manage access to shared resources."
  3. "Performing the functions of something that really is not there."

Taking the TMC definition from the previous section and fusing it with these definitions, the following is offered as the basic definition for Virtual TMC:

A Virtual TMC performs the function of monitoring, controlling, and managing the functional elements of a transportation management system through the use of computers and computer networks without having a presence at a physical nerve center or without the existence of such a physical nerve center. This includes monitoring, collecting, processing and fusing transportation system data; disseminating transportation infor¬ma-tion to outside entities; implementing control strategies that affect changes in the transportation system; and coordinating responses to traffic situ-ations and incidents.

1.3.3. Traffic Management Functions

Whether the TMC has a Virtual or a traditional setting, it will have a unique set of objectives, features, and defined organizational and operational structures based on its jurisdiction and subject to its needs. TMC activities will vary greatly depending on these factors. A VTMC may perform all or some of the "Traffic Management Functions" characteristic of a traditional TMC. These functions are described below and do not vary in the VTMC environment.

1.3.3.1. Typical TMC Functions

This section provides a brief overview of the most common functions supported by typical TMC operators as described the FHWA's TMC Operator Requirement and Positions Descriptions.3

The ability of the Virtual TMC to carry out the listed functions will depend on the scope of work for the center, the participation of partner agencies in the system's operations, the staffing model chosen for the center, etc.

Shown in Table 1, common TMC functions are the typical functions of a TMC and its relation to a Virtual TMC environment along with any possible constraints.

Table 1. Common TMC Functions
No. Typical TMC Function Description Feasible in Virtual TMC Model Observations
1 Provide travel information Involves reporting highway conditions, delays, accidents, scheduled construction or other events, and preferred routes. The information may be disseminated through various means, including dynamic message signs, highway advisory radio, the Internet, and telephone traveler information systems Yes
2 Records management Involves archiving and retrieving data about the operations and maintenance activities of the TMC. Activities include entering or recording data, generating and storing reports, and facilitating data warehousing. Yes
3 Congestion management Involves identifying and responding to recurring congestion resulting from peak travel periods, as well as non-recurring congestion associated with incidents. Responses may include activating ramp meters, posting messages to dynamic message signs, traveler information sites (e.g. 511, wireless apps, etc.), HARs, adjusting signal timing plans among others. Yes
4 Failure management Involves identifying, responding to, and repairing failures of transportation system-related field equipment. Yes Typically repairing failures would be responsibility of the field or maintenance crew.
5 Incident management Involves detection, verification, response, and clearance of events including multi-car accidents, vehicle breakdowns, and accidents resulting from road debris or weather conditions. Yes
6 Special event management Involves accommodating non-recurring events (such as sporting events, parades, motorcades, and construction) that are expected to have significant impact on the transportation system. Yes
7 Traffic flow monitoring Involves viewing traffic data and video images in real time to evaluate traffic conditions for delays and hazards.  Yes
8 Emergency management Involves coordinating the response of emergency service providers (such as police, fire, EMS, and towing agencies) to emergency conditions (such as incidents, disabled vehicles, and signal malfunctions). Yes Depending on the systems the VTMC has in place and the operational setting for the VTMC.
9 Provide/coordinate service patrols Involves identifying, verifying, and responding to requests for roadside assistance. Yes Depending on the systems the VTMC has in place.
10 Reversible and HOV lane management Involves reconfiguring reversible lanes and HOV lanes, by manipulating gates and lane-use signals and visually verifying their status, to manage roadway capacity. Yes Depending on the systems the VTMC has in place. Highly likely it may require coordination with other staff/parties.
11 Traffic signal system management Involves implementing appropriate traffic signal timing plans to optimize arterial street traffic flow, and responding to signal malfunction reports. Yes Highly likely to require coordination with Traffic Engineering Dept.
12 Transit vehicle monitoring Involves monitoring and evaluating transit vehicle operations to ensure schedule adherence and to identify and minimize delays. Yes
13 APTS system management Involves monitoring and evaluating the performance of public transit vehicles and systems to improve system performance, and providing transit information to improve service to users. Yes
14 Environmental and Roadway Weather Information Systems (RWIS) monitoring Involves monitoring weather related data (such as pavement temperature and surface conditions, visibility, and wind speed and direction) collected by remote sensors. The data are used to detect and forecast environmental conditions (such as icy roads or dense fog) that may affect travel on the roadway system. Yes
15 Over-height vehicle management Involves the detection of and response to over-height vehicles to prevent accidents and damage to overhead structures. Yes
16 Rail crossing management Involves monitoring railroad train operations and crossing control equipment such as signals and gates, and implementing appropriate response plans in the event of equipment malfunctions at crossings Yes Highly likely to require coordination with other staff/ agencies.

Furthermore, the National ITS Architecture provides a more detailed list of activities denoted in Table 2. Services that a TMC May Perform. Some of these activities may be difficult to perform in a virtual environment as they may require interaction and coordination with other groups within the same agency, external agencies, third-parties, etc.

Table 2. Services that a TMC May Perform4
List of Services Feasible in Virtual TMC Comments
Network surveillance Yes
Probe surveillance Yes
Surface street control  Yes
Freeway control Yes
HOV lane management Yes
Traffic information dissemination Yes
Regional traffic control Yes
Traffic incident management system Yes
Traffic forecast and demand management Yes It needs support from Traffic Engineers
Electronic toll collection No Likely only monitoring and reporting
Emissions monitoring and management Yes
Virtual TMC and smart probe data Yes
Standard railroad grade crossing No Too complex of a process
Advanced railroad grade crossing No Too complex of a process
Railroad operations coordination No Too complex of a process
Parking facility management No Likely only monitoring and reporting
Regional parking management No Likely only monitoring and reporting
Reversible lane management No Requires extensive coordination and sophisticated systems
Speed monitoring Yes
Drawbridge management No Too complex of a process
Roadway closure management Yes
Transit vehicle tracking Yes
Transit fixed-route operations Yes
Demand response transit operations No Requires coordination with others
Transit passenger and fare management No Requires coordination with others
Transit security No Requires coordination with others
Transit maintenance No Requires coordination with others
Multimodal coordination No Requires coordination with others. May be a much more complex system.
Transit traveler information Yes

The services mentioned above are accomplished by performing various "functions" described in Table 3.

Table 3. Functions Related to Services that a TMC May Perform
Functions Related to Services Feasible in Virtual TMC Comments
Barrier system management No Too complex of a system
Traffic surveillance data collection Yes
Highway-rail intersection (HRI) traffic management No Too complex of a system
Rail operations coordination No Requires additional coordination
System management safeguarding Yes
TMC environmental monitoring Yes
TMC evacuation support No Requires additional coordination
TMC for Automated Highway Systems (AHS) Yes
TMC freeway management Yes
TMC HOV lane management Yes
TMC incident detection Yes
TMC incident dispatch coordination/communication Yes It will require proper systems and tools
TMC input to in-vehicle signing No
TMC multimodal coordination No Requires coordination with others. May be a much more complex system.
TMC multimodal crossing management No
TMC probe information collection Yes
TMC regional traffic control Yes
TMC reversible lane management No Too complex of a process
TMC signal control No Requires additional coordination
TMC speed monitoring Yes
TMC toll/parking coordination No
TMC traffic information dissemination Yes
TMC traffic network performance evaluation Yes
TMC work zone traffic management Yes
Traffic data collection Yes
Traffic maintenance No
Transit center security No
Transit evacuation support No
Transit garage operations No
Transit environmental monitoring Yes
Transit data collection Yes
Transit center tracking and dispatch No Requires additional coordination
Transit center para-transit operations No Requires additional coordination
Transit center multimodal coordination No
Transit center information services No
Transit garage maintenance No
Transit center fare and load management No

1.4. Choosing the Virtual TMC Model

The implementation of a full Virtual TMC model or a hybrid model thereof (which performs certain TMC functions in a virtual manner) requires a series of considerations to ensure it is the most suitable option for an agency or region.

This section presents information that can help agencies determine whether a Virtual TMC model is right for them. Table 4 outlines the advantages and disadvantageous of Virtual TMC model followed by a series of questions that should be asked prior to deciding upon the implementation of a VTMC.

Table 4. Pros and Cons of the Virtual TMC Model
Advantages of Virtual TMCs Disadvantages of Virtual TMCs
  • Capital cost savings – Eliminates the need to construct TMC facilities which are large and more expensive to build compared to standard office space.
  • Recurring Cost Savings – TMC facilities require multiple recurring hardware and software maintenance contracts to maintain video wall systems, UPS/Generator backup systems, special lighting and fire protection systems, etc.  In addition, they require certain hardware systems to be fully replaced after a certain number of years; e.g., video walls.
  • Operate from any Location –Virtual TMC operations require computer and software technologies that enable operations from anywhere.  This enables operations to still occur during emergency situations when a TMC building may need to be evacuated or when inclement weather makes commuting to physical buildings very difficult.
  • Staff Flexibility – With Virtual TMC operations, staff can operate from anywhere including their homes during off peak and weekends.  Some agencies that have Virtual TMC capabilities allow such work location flexibility to their staff.
  • Staff Security – In certain locations where staff's physical security is at risk (e.g., at-risk government facilities), moving to a Virtual TMC model where staff are dispersed across multiple remote facilities can be an advantage.
  • Multiagency Operations – Virtual TMC operations is more conducive to regional multi-agency operations. Information sharing as well as shared device moni­toring and control are more easily enabled through this model.
  • Requires Broader Staff Capabilities – Staff must be able to work independently and be knowledgeable of all SOPS, functions and operations.  In a centralized model, tasks could be distributed to different staff more easily.
  • Expanded/Revised Training Programs – Operator training should be more extensive and comprehensive in the model so remote operators understand all TMC functions, not just some.
  • IT Security – In the Virtual TMC Model, network security systems and policies will likely need to be extended.  This will require more expensive hardware and software security systems.
  • More Difficult Multi-staff Coordination – Many agencies are dependent upon various staff being in the same physical location to interact; e.g., coordination between DOT and highway patrol staff during incidents.
  • Existing Agency Agreements – In many cases, there are existing agency agreements to share and operate facilities and systems together.
  • Higher Computer Software and Systems Integration Costs – To enable Virtual TMC operations, more complex and highly integrated software will be needed.
  • Need for Physical Command Control Center – Many agencies have the desire for command and control centers where many videos and applications can be displayed and viewed simultaneously on one common display.  This will be lost in the Virtual TMC model.

Presented below are a number of key questions that agencies should ask themselves in order to help determine whether or not a Virtual TMC is a suitable option for their given environment.

  • Are you thinking of building a TMC facility, but lack the necessary funding?
  • Is there a lack of O&E resources to maintain ITS systems including TMCs?
  • Are your existing TMCs facilities too costly to maintain/operate?
  • Is there a desire to start performing operations jointly with multiple agencies?
  • Are your existing TMC applications integrated into a single platform?
  • Are your existing TMC hardware and software systems conducive to Virtual TMC operations, e.g. web-based or do we have a plan to convert them to this?
  • Is there a desire to have operations staff dispersed across various physical locations?
  • Does your agency support the use of web-based, virtual applications?

If the answer to most or all of these questions is yes, then Virtual TMC operations should be investigated as a possibility. If the answer to most of the questions is no, then the next set of questions may further assist an agency not entirely certain that a VTMC implementation is the best solution for them.

  • Does your agency have existing TMC facilities in place?
  • Is there long-term financial and institutional support to maintain these facilities?
  • Are there institutional agreements in place to share TMC facilities?
  • Is there a lack of multiagency agreements to jointly perform TMC functions?
  • Does your agency have multiple separate applications used to perform TMC operations?
  • Is the IT security policy in place that would prohibit Virtual TMC technology?
  • Do you desire you TMC operations staff to physically sit together on one control center or facility?
  • Are your existing agency TMC software applications thick-client or enterprise based applications?

If the answer to all or most of these questions is yes, then Virtual TMC operations may not be the best solution for that agency. However, if the answer to most of the above questions is "no," then the agency should continue investigating the VTMC model. As an alternative any agency may also decide to launch a hybrid version of a Virtual TMC.

1 FHWA, "Freeway Operations and Management - Transportation Management Centers" website, http://ops.fhwa.dot.gov/freewaymgmt/trans_mgmnt.htm; accessed November 5, 2013. [ Return to note 1. ]

2 Merriam-Webster's dictionary. [ Return to note 2. ]

3 FHWA, TMC Operator Requirements Position Descriptions, unpublished draft report, December 2004. [ Return to note 3. ]

4 FHWA, Handbook for Developing a TMC Operations Manual, FHWA-HOP-06-015 (Washington, DC: November 2005). Available at: http://tmcpfs.ops.fhwa.dot.gov/cfprojects/uploaded_files/Handbook_TMC_Ops_Manual1.pdf [ Return to note 4. ]

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