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

Executive Summary

The purpose of this document is to develop guidelines for the creation, implementation, and operation of a Virtual Traffic Management Center (VTMC). These guidelines identify the recommended procedures, roles, and responsibilities for planning and establishing a VTMC, as well as case studies highlighting transportation agencies that have gone or are considering going through this process.

It should be emphasized that the VTMC model or a hybrid virtual model is viable given the appropriate conditions, which include the right technical, institutional and political environments. It may not be a viable option for transportation agencies with existing Traffic Management Center (TMC) facilities; co-located with other entities; or with policies or procedures in place that prevent operators from working independently. However, this model may be a viable option and should be considered by transportation agencies looking to open a new TMC; merging two or more regional TMCs; monitoring rural areas; or wanting to enhance their back up or emergency operations.

What is a Virtual TMC?

Taking the definition of a TMC offered by the FHWA and fusing it with the computing world definition of "Virtual", the following is offered as the basic definition for "Virtual TMC":

A Virtual TMC is the function of monitoring, controlling, and managing the functional elements of a transportation management system through the use of computers and computer networks without being present at a physical nerve center or without the existence of such a physical nerve center. This includes the functions of monitoring, collecting, processing and fusing transportation system data; disseminating transportation information to outside entities; implementing control strategies that effect changes in the transportation system; and coordinating responses to traffic situations and incidents.

Current Practice

To achieve a better understanding of the current practices related to TMC Virtualization, various transportation agencies, including departments of transportation (DOT), were interviewed to determine their approaches to setting up and operating their facilities. All of the transportation agencies interviewed were entities known to have adopted Virtual TMC models, hybrid Virtual TMC models, or at least to have investigated Virtual TMCs as an option. Agencies that were contacted include: Alabama DOT, Los Angeles (LA) County, LA Metro, Michigan DOT, Minnesota DOT, New Hampshire DOT, Oregon DOT, San Diego Association of Governments (SANDAG), Oklahoma DOT and Kansas DOT, among others.

Types of TMCs

From the research conducted, TMC models can fall into four categories:

  1. Centralized – In a centralized model, all systems reside in one location or datacenter (typically the TMC facility). This includes domain authentication services, email, applications, shared files and field devices. Remote sites can still have access using Thin Client devices and bandwidth friendly enablers (e.g. virtual private network (VPN) technology). Thin client refer to a network computer without a hard disk drive. Acting as a simple terminal to the server and require constant communication with the server as well.
  2. Distributed/Decentralized - In this model, systems and staff reside in multiple locations/TMCs and certain functions or capabilities are distributed or shared between various centers. This arrangement provides agencies with the ability to maximize resources, increase efficiency, improve working relationships, and share costs. In this model, each site is mostly self-sustained, although some connectivity to the primary datacenter is required. However, each site is able to host its own email server, manage applications, control its internet access and host its own shared files. The TMC may have virtual control provided through the shared implementation of a wide-area network.
  3. Virtual – Within this approach, the software and system application are available and are accessible from any location, so no physical TMC facility is necessary. There is still the need for physical communications to ITS field devices and between centers, but this is done in a virtual manner.
  4. Hybrid – This is a combination of virtual and another model such as distributed or centralized. This can be a melding of performing certain functions in a centralized manner, as one example, and other functions as virtual. It also represents a model where a single large agency with multiple regions or districts elects to have one or two TMCs operate in some regions, but have other regions operate in a virtual manner without any TMC facility.

The map below provides a snapshot of the different models deployed throughout the United States. The research shows that the most common approached used is the Centralized Model, although there are Virtual TMC systems and several hybrid derivations.

Map depicting the locations of different model deployments. Centralized deployments are in Washington, Oregon, Caltrans, NDOT, Wyoming, UDOT, ADOT, CDOT, NMDOT, MnDOT, WsDOT, Iowa DOT, MoDOT, Arkansas, Florida, TnDOT, ScDOT, North Carolina, TnDOT, KYDOT, West Virginia, PennDOT, NJDOT, Maryland, Connecticut, and Massachusetts. Hybrid virtual centralized deployments are located in L.A. County, Idaho, North Dakota, Nebraska, Michigan, IDOT, LADOT, Mississippi, Alabama, Georgia, Virginia and New Hampshire. Virtual deployments are located in San Diego (ICMS), RIITS (CA), KDOT, and Oklahoma. Distributed or decentralized TMCs are deployed by TxDOT.

Selecting the Virtual TMC Model

Implementation of a full Virtual TMC model or a hybrid model thereof requires various considerations to ensure it is the most suitable choice for a transportation agency or region. The table below outlines the advantages and disadvantageous of Virtual TMC operations followed by a series of questions that should be asked prior to deciding upon 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.
  • Operate from any Location – Virtual TMC operations require computer and software technologies that enables operations from anywhere.
  • Staff Flexibility – Staff can operate from anywhere including their homes during off peak and weekends.
  • Staff Security – In certain locations where staff's physical security is at risk, 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 multiagency operations.
  • 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 this model.
  • IT Security – In the Virtual TMC Model, network security systems and policies will likely need to be extended.  
  • More Difficult Multi-staff Coordination – Many agencies are dependent upon various staff being in the same physical.
  • 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.

Here are some key questions to ask if you are considering a Virtual TMC:

  • Are you thinking of building a TMC facility, but lack the necessary funding?
  • Is there a lack of Operations and Engineering (O&E) resources to maintain ITS systems including TMCs?
  • Are your existing TMCs facilities too costly to maintain?
  • 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. This document provides guidelines and recommended action items/steps for agencies looking to entirely or partially virtualize their TMC operations.

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