In 2014, every state department of transportation (DOT) operated some form of traveler information dissemination system. The most common dissemination mechanism is a public website, but others include 511 phone systems, social media outlets, and mobile applications. Similarly, field devices such as Dynamic Message Signs (DMS) and Highway Advisory Radio (HAR) deliver en-route traveler information. Often, the center of an agency’s traveler information system is a Road Condition Reporting System (RCRS). The RCRS is often the focal point, populated by manual and automated data and information feeds, supplying information to various information dissemination mechanisms.
While the potential benefits of an RCRS are obvious, there are also costs associated with the development, management, and support of the software system, as well as costs associated with the operator time to perform entry. The benefits and costs are impacted by many institutional and technical issues that operations managers must face. This report presents a synthesis of current industry practices regarding the design, development, operation, maintenance, and use of a RCRS.
An on-line survey of transportation agencies throughout North America was conducted to understand the uses of a RCRS and to identify industry practices that have delivered benefits to the agencies operating a RCRS. The first half of the survey questions focused on identifying which RCRS system an agency is using, how long they have been using it, and any significant changes made to the RCRS. The second half of the survey focused on the data received by an agency’s RCRS (how data is entered, how frequently the data is updated, and what sources the RCRS receives data).
Following the survey, a series of one-on-one phone calls and in-person meetings were conducted to hear first-hand descriptions of what the agencies consider to be the industry practices that most benefited their RCRS operations. The research team worked closely with the Transportation Management Center (TMC) Pooled Fund Study (PFS) members, sharing the information as it was received through a series of milestone deliverables. Results were compiled in this report.
Summary of Key Findings
Current Industry Practices, Best Practices, and Emerging Best Practices
A total of 49 industry practices for the design, development, maintenance, and use of a RCRS were identified and documented. As part of the synthesis of information, 7 ‘best practices’ were identified. Each best practice is a culmination of several related industry practices. The distinguishing factor between industry and best practices is that the best practices are those activities with the greatest benefits described or those practices that were deployed by multiple agencies, demonstrating benefits to each agency.
The 7 ‘best practices’ identified are:
- RCRS automated ingest of law enforcement CAD data;
- Combining RCRS entry with other activities;
- RCRS ingest of weather data;
- Integrating lane closure databases into a RCRS;
- RCRS events trigger of field device messages;
- Generating automated performance measure data; and
- Development and operation collaboration.
In addition, this project identified three ‘emerging best practices’ that describe a set of industry practices used by multiple agencies who have experienced recognized benefits. What differentiates these from best practices is that they have only recently been introduced or the long term approach has not yet been as established as the best practices.
Agencies that operate a RCRS already recognize many benefits. Some benefits of RCRS use include:
- A structure that allows one central repository of data and information describing all types of events that can feed multiple information dissemination mechanisms;
- Multiple users within different agencies can enter and edit events in one central RCRS, allowing for the fusion of data and dissemination of traveler information that includes multiple jurisdictions;
- RCRSs often locate events against an established road network, allowing for events to be described according to their starting and ending points along the highway, enabling automated spoken announcements, text displays, or map displays of events;
- RCRSs can serve as a clearinghouse, allowing data and information sharing with other traveler information providers who will disseminate the information to their customers; and
- As travelers’ expectations have changed with new technologies and the use of mobile devices, RCRSs have provided an easy transition into information delivery that now includes social media outlets. Looking toward the future, whatever the next generation information dissemination approaches are, RCRSs will most certainly provide the common clearinghouse of information.
The key findings of this research are the benefits that those agencies that currently operate RCRSs or are planning to operate RCRSs might experience if they deploy the practices described in this report. The descriptions of each industry practice included in this report identify potential benefits for each practice.
The benefits common to nearly all the industry practices presented in this report are:
- Reduced workload if the practice is implemented;
- Increased information content (coverage and detail);
- Improved timeliness of information assembly; and
- Reduced overall costs of RCRS management.
Intended Use of the Findings
The intended use of this document is to enable agencies operating an RCRS to understand the approaches that other agencies are taking to overcome challenges that are common to most agencies operating a RCRS. In some situations, the industry practices include software modules that automatically ingest data into the RCRS. Readers of this document might consider deploying such modules based on the experiences and benefits cited. Other industry practices describe approaches for developing and managing software changes. Readers of this document might consider alternate approaches to software development based on these experiences. Other industry practices describe partnerships with other public agencies or the traveling public to assemble more comprehensive information. Readers might take these suggestions and consider similar partnerships in their states.