The National Transportation Operations Coalition

Richard T. Romer, P.E., PTOE
Principal
Orth-Rodgers & Associates, Inc.
Las Vegas, Nevada
Member, APWA Transportation Committee

The National Transportation Operations Coalition (NTOC) is an alliance of national associations, private sector groups and practitioners representing interests at the state, local and regional levels with a broad range of experience in transportation operations, transportation planning and public transportation safety. These stakeholders include the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA), the federal agency that initiated the "National Dialogue on Transportation Operations" advocating a stronger focus on the operation of the nation's transportation system, the American Association of State Highway and Transportation officials (AASHTO), the American Public Works Association (APWA), ITS America and the Institute of Transportation Engineers (ITE).

The "National Dialogue on Transportation Operations" included initiatives to:

  • Develop a series of "white papers" to serve as the focal point for the discussion that will strengthen the commitment to transportation operations.
  • Develop an electronic forum to facilitate ongoing discussion on transportation operations.
  • Hold a "National Summit on Operations" to develop a consensus on the challenges of bringing transportation operations to the forefront on the local, state, regional and national transportation agenda and to determine subsequent actions.

Why is the management and operations of our transportation systems and infrastructure so important? In 2001 the Texas Transportation Institute (TTI) conducted a study of congestion in the nation's 75 largest metropolitan areas with the following findings:

  • 3.5 billion vehicle-hours of delay were experienced.
  • 5.7 billion gallons of the fuel were wasted.
  • Lost productivity amounted to 69.5 billion dollars.

Obviously, the cost of congestion has a significant adverse impact on the economic productivity of our nation. Strategies need to be developed to improve the efficient operation and management of our transportation systems and infrastructure and to improve its reliability. The "National Dialogue on Operations" has heightened the awareness of this pervasive issue.

The activities by NTOC set the stage for a "National Summit on Operations" that was held in October 2001. The Summit moved from discussion to action at various levels of government fostering institutional and paradigm changes on the approaches to provide improvements in mobility, reliability and the operation of transportation systems. Recommendations made as a result of Summit activities included:

  • Increase focus on transportation operations.
  • Define transportation operations in a meaningful way.
  • Develop performance-based decision-making; focus on safety, security and reliability; and develop an information infrastructure.
  • Support planning for operations.
  • Support homeland security.
  • Accelerate cultural changes through policies and practices.
  • Enhance interagency coordination.
  • Continue operations programs and policies.

Mission and Goals
This change in thinking led to the creation of NTOC. As stated by FHWA in its website, the mission of the NTOC is "to improve management and operation of the nation's existing transportation system so that its performance will exceed customer expectations."

The NTOC developed a series of goals of which attainment will define a measure of success:

  • Customer surveys indicate consistently increasing satisfaction with the performance of the transportation system.
  • The focus of decision makers and transportation agencies includes continuous performance-based delivery of services in addition to implementation of individual projects.
  • Performance measures are in place that are understandable, measurable, and are used effectively in making decisions improving transportation system performance.
  • Managing and operating the transportation system are integral parts of a funding and staffing continuum that also includes planning, design, construction and maintenance.

Actions were identified that would provide progress in the short term:

Performance Management:

  • Developing easy-to-use performance measure materials
  • Creating information and tools to support planning for operations
  • Encouraging consideration of operations into the planning process

State of Art:

  • Developing a toolbox of best practices
  • Developing performance benchmarks for changeable message signs
  • Developing performance benchmarks for traffic signal systems

Communications:

  • Developing a comprehensive/coordinated outreach program
  • Summarizing operations benefit data
  • Developing products aimed at decision-makers
  • Creating a shared management and operations website

The NTOC is comprised of several subcommittees and teams actively involved in developing and promoting strategies to improve management and operations in the following focus areas:

  • Communications and outreach
  • Freight operations
  • Linking planning and operations
  • Operation funding
  • Performance measurement and reporting
  • Traffic signal systems and variable message sign benchmarking

Volunteers serve on the subcommittees and action teams that meet regularly throughout the year. The NTOC meets biannually.

National Traffic Signal Report Card
Recently, the NTOC offered the opportunity for public agencies to participate in a self-assessment of traffic signal operations practices in the following areas:

  • Proactive management
  • Signal operations in coordinated systems
  • Signal operations at individual intersections
  • Detection system
  • Maintenance

The Traffic Operation Self Assessment was completed by 378 agencies in 49 states representing about one-third of the 260,000 traffic signals in the United States. It is known that transportation dollars are being stretched thinner and thinner and the public needs to know that the benefits of investing in traffic signal timing outweigh the cost by 40:1 or more.

The results of the self-assessment in the five areas and overall score indicated that more resources are needed.

National Traffic Signal Report Card
 
  Proactive Management                                   F
  Signals Operation in Coordinated Systems    D-
  Signal Operation at Individual Intersections    C-
  Detection Systems                                          F 
  Maintenance                                                    D+
  Overall Score                                                D-

If resources were provided to support traffic signal operations at an "A" level, the nation would enjoy the following benefits:

  • Reductions in travel delay from 15-40%
  • Reductions in travel times up to 25%
  • Reductions in stops from 10-40%
  • Reductions in fuel consumptions up to 10%
  • Reduction in harmful emissions up to 22%

In more meaningful terms, if you spent two hours per day commuting and for other trips daily, you can save 50 hours per year. Nationally, we could decrease fuel consumption by almost 17 billion gallons per year. Investment in traffic signal operations and timing is a wise choice with benefits accruing immediately to improve the environment, our economy, and our quality of life.

Resources: www.fhwa.dot.gov; www.ops.fhwa.dot.gov

Richard T. Romer, P.E., PTOE, is a member of APWA's Transportation Committee and served as the committee chair in 2003-04. He is a past member of APWA's Smart Growth Task Force and was the Nevada Chapter President in 1997. He can be reached at (702) 233-4060 or rromer@orth-rodgers.com.