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21st Century Operations Using 21st Century Technologies

Using Capability Maturity Frameworks for Transportation System Management and Operations (TSMO) Program Advancement:
Case Studies and Lessons Learned

Chapter 3. Traffic Signal System Capability Maturity Framework

Framework Overview

Traffic signal programs should strive to achieve delivery of good basic service (GBS), which is defined as doing what is most important in the context of limited resources. GBS requires strategically aligning design, operations, and maintenance strategies to make sure that the agency can effectively design, begin, and use the traffic signals it constructs. Traffic signal management involves the planning, design, integration, maintenance, and proactive operation of traffic signal systems to achieve policy-based goals to improve the efficiency, safety, and reliability of signalized intersections.

The Traffic Signal System (TSS) CMF incorporates the concepts presented in the FHWA guidance document Traffic Signal Management Plans: An Objectives and Performance-Based Approach for Improving the Design Operations and Maintenance of Traffic Signal Systems.

Use of the Framework

The CMF is particularly useful for agencies or regions that are: Considering development or updating of documents that direct the daily maintenance, design, operation, and management or strategic implementation plans for traffic signal systems.

Link to the CMF

Level of Deployment

To date, seven DOTs have used the CMF process and have involved close to 100 personnel involved in traffic signal activities. While there is no requirement to use the framework, FHWA is working with the Institute of Transportation Engineers to include the CMF process in the 2018 national traffic signal benchmarking activity.

Sample of Actions from the Framework

The TSS CMF identifies over 100 actions across all the dimensions of capability. Below are some sample actions:

  • Develop a traffic signal management plan, also knowns as a traffic signal program plan, to align design, operations, and maintenance activities with program objectives.
  • Link design, operations, and maintenance business practices to maximize use of capital resources to ensure the reliability of field infrastructure.
  • Develop a long-range financial needs assessment to plan for the obsolescence of local controllers, and central traffic management systems.
  • Implement an on-demand engineering service contract for traffic signal operations support.
  • Design and maintain a regional communications architecture/plan.
  • Provide funding and encourage key operations and maintenance personnel to periodically attend technical training programs and professional conferences to keep abreast of the latest equipment and procedures associated with traffic signal operations and maintenance.

Case Study 3: Georgia Department of Transportation

Representatives from the Georgia Department of Transportation (GDOT) and key contractors with the Regional Traffic Operations Program (RTOP) met for the TSS CMF assessment in Atlanta, Georgia. GDOT's interest in the CMF stemmed from its strong interest in continuing to improve its corridor-based RTOP approach. GDOT assembled a group consisting of its planning and traffic operations divisions as well as consultants working on the RTOP.

In 2011, GDOT leveraged its communications network, central traffic signal system software, and local signal control standards to initiate their RTOP. The program is focused on improving traffic flow and reducing vehicle emissions through improved signal timing, specifically in the Atlanta metropolitan area. The RTOP initiative provided the framework for the agency to build a high level of capability in the corridor. Conversely, GDOT also noticed that the rest of the State lagged significantly in many of the dimensions of traffic signal management capability. The level of traffic signal management process documentation varied and needed improvement, especially as the needs of the agency grew to new corridors or newer parts of the State.

Snapshot of TSS CMF Use at GDOT

Timeframe: December 2014.

Sponsoring agency: GDOT.

Motivation: Build from the traffic signal capability assessments to accelerate regional and statewide traffic signal management capability.

Feedback on CMF: "The CMF process has helped us understand where our growth opportunities are in better managing our transportation system. It is also something that we can apply with our partners in Georgia to improve safety and mobility." — GDOT

Message for other agencies: The CMF process helped create a sense of challenge on the direction of the agency rather than acting as a "slap on the wrist," thereby creating motivation from optimism.

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Chris Robinson

Eddie Curtis

exterior view of a Georgia Traffic Management Center
Figure 6. Image. GDOT's strong Traffic Signal Management Program is managed in part out of the TMC (Source: GDOT).

Key Outcomes

GDOT continued to work on capability maturity, not only through its existing program but also by taking part in later workshops related to traffic signal management plans and benchmarking exercises. These follow-up events helped further identify areas of focus and define actions for the agency. Details of these actions are provided below:

  • Since the workshop and other capability assessments, GDOT continues to transition and grow its traffic signal program to have more regional focus. The program has matured and is now able to analyze geographic zones beyond the corridors in Atlanta. GDOT made organizational changes within the TSMO group to unify the operations across the State (in and out of the Atlanta region). This included identification of contexts outside the metro area where better arterial management could be employed.
  • GDOT also revised its official TSS plans with the goal of better documenting its traffic signal management policies in several areas. This improved documentation helped GDOT to better deal with staff turnover.
  • GDOT introduced Automated Traffic Signal Performance Measures (ATSPM), started during the fourth round of the Every Day Counts technology initiative. Automated reporting using signal performance measures has helped to balance resources and target GDOT's maintenance and operations efforts.
  • GDOT continues to improve workforce capabilities, with an emphasis on building more statewide and regional operations capabilities to supplement field technicians. However, requiring staff engineers to relocate to different parts of the State is challenging.

The preparation and planning efforts undertaken by GDOT and partners came to fruition when the national college football championship was held in Atlanta, as well as during the opening of the new Atlanta Braves stadium. GDOT's work from the previous two years demonstrated the value of the programs and has proven successful in supporting proactive management of traffic. For a long time, GDOT had dedicated funding for arterial management, but because of continued success at these key events, GDOT has ensured long-term funding support for the program.

GDOT noted the value in process improvement and used capability-related activities to start talking about longer-term strategy, and to step away from the day-to-day fires. Planners are adept at doing that, but operations staff focus on very near-term issues. Bringing these groups together is a valuable product of these exercises.


One of the biggest continuing institutional capability challenges noted by GDOT was changing workforce needs for TSMO. There are new job requirements in terms of information technology (IT), big data, and software development that are needed to effectively take on projects like adding dedicated short-range communications–based infrastructure to traffic signals, but GDOT's agency structure is geared only to hire civil engineers. The time it takes to get a new position lined up combined with the rapid pace of technology make it very hard for the agency to keep the right workforce on hand for some of the new developments in traffic signal management.

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