Coordination of Construction Projects in the New York/New Jersey/Connecticut Region
The New York/New Jersey/Connecticut region is the most highly populated and one of the most highly congested areas in the country. The region's geography (e.g., numerous river crossings), a significant use of transit, and its complex jurisdictional structure (i.e. numerous agencies responsible for operating the network, often in close proximity over short distances) makes coordination and information sharing essential, especially when it comes to multiple concurrent roadway construction projects. This coordination is important both among organizations within individual States, as well as among cities and States across the entire region. The various transportation agencies within the region have long recognized this need. While each transportation agency makes its own efforts to coordinate construction projects within their own jurisdiction, they also coordinate across state boundaries through a coalition of 16 transportation and public safety agencies from all three states, known as the Transportation Operations Coordinating Committee (TRANSCOM).
TRANSCOM was formed in 1986 to provide a cooperative, coordinated approach to regional transportation management, specifically to region-wide coordination of construction projects. Prior to TRANSCOM, the region often was faced with conflicting construction projects and overlapping alternate routes used by multiple projects at once. Over time, TRANSCOM's role has expanded to include the distribution of traffic and incident information and the management of regional ITS programs; however, it still places significant focus on coordinating construction projects. This coordination helps to ensure that concurrent projects occurring across the region do not cause significant impacts to travelers by encouraging agencies to use impacts mitigation strategies such as posting project information on variable message signs far in advance of the project, accelerating construction where possible, ensuring lane or road closures are staggered in schedule, and ensuring adequate alternate route availability.
TRANSCOM holds no authority over its member agencies and cannot force them to work together or coordinate construction schedules and activities. Instead, TRANSCOM makes recommendations for how agencies should or could coordinate and provides a forum for guidance and advice on how to handle conflicting project schedules. Member agencies understand that they have a shared, region-wide customer base and that regionally coordinating work zones has a mutual benefit across all member areas and leads to reduced work zone impacts and higher customer satisfaction. This understanding brings the member agencies to the table and motivates them to implement the recommendations the majority of the time.
Although TRANSCOM is a formal organization that facilitates coordination of projects across a large multi-state region, other States can benefit from using the same strategies in their own work zone coordination efforts. TRANSCOM's methods can easily be scaled down to help coordinate projects across various regions or districts within a State, through similar types of construction coordination meetings or the collection of upcoming project information in a statewide project database.
Project Database and Construction Coordination Meetings
TRANSCOM's construction coordination efforts hinge on its construction coordination database and an annual construction meeting in which the member agencies discuss upcoming roadway construction projects. There are two annual meetings in March of each year, one each for the southern and northern parts of the region. Some of the major agencies in the center of the region attend both. In preparation for the meeting, in December TRANSCOM sends the member agencies the project coordination database and asks them to update it with their projects for the coming year. Projects that are planned for more than a year out may be included if they are anticipated to have significant impacts. Utility projects are not included as part of this effort, however, information is collected from member agencies on special events. Special event information is not stored in the construction database, but it is shared with all members at the construction coordination meeting.
After collecting inputs, TRANSCOM produces a report listing all of the upcoming projects and potential conflicts and a special events calendar. The report and special events calendar are sent out to the member agencies two weeks prior to the annual meeting. The projects and special events are then all discussed among the members at the annual meeting.
During the annual meeting, agencies are given the opportunity to ask questions of each other in order to learn more about the projects and potential impacts. Police and transit member agencies attend, as well. The agencies also begin to work together at this meeting to identify hotspots and formulate plans for how to best handle and mitigate impacts. Follow up meetings between the appropriate agencies are typically held to identify impacts mitigation strategies and how to handle traffic management for those projects that potentially have large regional impacts.
Member agencies have indicated that they find the annual meeting valuable because it is a meeting with a tangible outcome — it allows agencies to become aware of and begin to proactively mitigate work zone impacts and increase customer satisfaction, thereby reducing the daily challenges of managing multiple roadway construction projects. They also enjoy coming to the meeting as it gives them a chance to network with their peers across the region.
Following each annual meeting, TRANSCOM provides a summary of the discussion to the member agencies. For the projects that could potentially have greater regional impacts, TRANSCOM continues to meet with the agencies involved on a regular basis. For some projects, monthly face to face meetings are held, while others might involve weekly phone calls and emails. These meetings enable TRANSCOM to monitor the projects and also provide suggestions and guidance to the agencies impacted by the projects. Recommendations provided by TRANSCOM may include scheduling changes, sequencing changes (i.e., one agency works in one direction of the roadway while the other works in the other direction), or timing changes (i.e., one agency works at night while the other works during the day). Typically the project coordination is carried out as discussed during the meetings and formal agreements do not need to be made among agencies, though written confirmation is often produced to confirm the mutual understanding among the agencies.
Data and Information Sharing
TRANSCOM's operations depend on real-time and archived data shared among the involved agencies. The Operations Information Center collects and disseminates real-time construction and incident information to members and affiliated agencies 24 hours a day. TRANSCOM will contact the relevant agencies if adjustments to traffic control plans or variable message signs (VMS) are needed in order to better manage traffic in work zones and will make recommendations on the type of message to include on a VMS or on the 511 system. For example, if there are two projects occurring at the same time that have regional impacts and neither project can be pushed back on the schedule, TRANSCOM may recommend that the agencies affected should provide information on 511 and specific warning messages on VMS further away from the project location than would normally be done to give motorists enough advance notice.
Individual Agency Coordination Efforts
In addition to the TRANSCOM coordination efforts, the individual member agencies work to coordinate projects within their own jurisdictions as well. For example:
The New Jersey DOT has a task force that meets in person on a monthly basis and holds weekly phone calls to coordinate projects, ensure that weekend closures are closely coordinated, and address any other project issues that may occur between New Jersey regions.
The New York City (NYC) DOT uses an online mapping system, a guidance manual, and incentives to help improve coordination among utility companies, contractors, and agencies to minimize the number of times streets are dug up, reduce construction congestion, and extend the life of resurfacing projects. An executed agreement between NYC DOT and major utility companies provides for the monthly sharing of permitting and project scheduling data. This information is shared via the city's public online map portal, NYCityMap, enabling utility companies or any other entity that performs street excavation work to find details on NYC DOT projects included in the city's 10-year Capital Budget, as well as more imminent NYC DOT and New York City Department of Environmental Protection capital projects currently in design or under construction. More information can be found in the NYC DOT example on http://www.ops.fhwa.dot.gov/wz/construction/crp/index.htm.
Benefits of Regional Project Coordination
In the New York/New Jersey/Connecticut area, motorists commute between the States on a daily basis, and major roadways, such as I-95 flow through all three States. Concurrent projects occurring in all three States have the potential to bring large traffic impacts affecting all three States and even multiple metropolitan regions.
Although it is not necessary to have a formal organization in order to coordinate projects to mitigate work zone impacts, an organization such as TRANSCOM is helpful to facilitating this regional coordination. From a regional standpoint, TRANSCOM brings two primary benefits to its member agencies. First, it has the ability to provide a regional outlook and regional understanding of work zone impacts. This regional understanding is not something that individual agencies necessarily have, nor are they expected to have. Second, TRANSCOM has the ability to provide multimodal coordination, which is imperative in a metropolitan area where transit is a key component. TRANSCOM not only works with highway agencies, but also works with transit agencies to ensure they are aware of construction projects and have tools and information to plan for alternate routes. The bus operators often attend the annual construction coordination meetings and have noted that they find it helpful. When a project or projects might affect bus routes, TRANSCOM will contact the affected operators to provide advance notice.
In terms of benefits to the general public, the majority of the benefits of regional project coordination are common sense. In a region with a high volume to capacity ratio, it is imperative that measures are taken to ensure that impacts to capacity and delay are minimized. Agencies know that if they do not coordinate projects, there is the potential of negative reaction from elected officials and the media, dissatisfied customers, and stress within transportation agencies that could have been avoided. Member agencies generally trust that a recommendation will have benefits not only to the specific agency but to the region in terms of mobility, safety, and customer satisfaction based on past successes. In the limited cases when conflicting projects cannot be avoided, TRANSCOM continues to work with member agencies to mitigate impacts as much as possible. They may provide suggestions on how to manage VMS, 511, and project web sites to notify motorists of anticipated delays, alternate routes, or other useful information to help them navigate the work areas.
Member agencies recognize the benefits of collaborating and coordinating road projects and it has now become part of their standard way of operating. Member agencies pay annual dues to be a part of TRANSCOM and would not be willing to participate in TRANSCOM if they did not see a return on investment of their time and resources1.
1 Regional Transportation Operations Collaboration and Coordination, 2003, http://tmcpfs.ops.fhwa.dot.gov/cfprojects/uploaded_files/regional%20ops%20collaboration.pdf