A New Approach to Improving Travel Times
A suite of tools developed under SHRP2 is helping transportation agencies institutionalize systems management and operations with the goal of reducing congestion and increasing safety and reliability.
Congestion is a persistent problem on U.S. highways, stealing an average of 38 hours a year from commuters. Snarled traffic not only increases travel times but also has an adverse effect on motorists’ safety and costs to travelers and businesses. Facing this challenge with increasingly constrained resources, State and local transportation agencies are looking beyond traditional methods of adding capacity, such as more lanes, and exploring a concept known as transportation systems management and operations (TSM&O) to increase mobility.
As defined in the Moving Ahead for Progress in the 21st Century Act, TSM&O means “integrated strategies to optimize the performance of existing infrastructure through the implementation of multimodal and intermodal, cross-jurisdictional systems, services, and projects designed to preserve capacity and improve security, safety, and reliability of the transportation system.”
Examples of integrated operations-related strategies and solutions already at work to maximize the capacity of existing infrastructure include dynamic speed limits, adaptive ramp metering, real-time traveler information, and traffic signal coordination. The transportation industry’s increased reliance on information and technology, especially intelligent transportation systems (ITS), supports the move toward systems management and operations. Although this approach addresses congestion with more efficient and less invasive solutions than constructing new roads, most transportation agencies lack a formal strategy or program for TSM&O.
That is where the second Strategic Highway Research Program (SHRP2) comes in. A partnership among the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA), the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials (AASHTO), and the Transportation Research Board (TRB), SHRP2 exists to accelerate implementation of proven transportation solutions to save lives, money, and time. The SHRP2 program of research, development, and deployment is organized into four focus areas: safety, renewal, reliability, and capacity.
One of the SHRP2 solutions is called Organizing for Reliability Tools and consists of several components designed to advance systems management and operations. The first is a set of case studies and guidance to help transportation agencies integrate and improve business processes related to operations, such as planning, budgeting, programming, and procurement. The second is a self-assessment guide accessible online or via facilitated in-person workshops that helps practitioners evaluate their agency’s institutional and process-oriented capabilities in systems management and operations and create an action plan to systematically improve those capabilities. The latest tool is a customizable slideshow presentation that targets middle- to senior-level transportation executives.
Use of the Organizing for Reliability Tools can lead to improved performance of the highway system, greater reliability in travel times, and enhanced safety. Agencies across the country now are taking steps to implement this SHRP2 solution and transform their operations to improve mobility for motorists and freight.
Rising Costs and Expectations
A product to help States grow their capabilities in transportation systems management and operations could not have come at a better time, given the high cost and changing public perceptions regarding congestion. For example, in 2011, congestion in 497 metropolitan areas caused urban motorists to endure 5.5 billion more hours traveling to their destinations and purchase an extra 2.9 billion gallons of fuel, all at a cost of $121 billion. Perhaps more important than the direct costs are the secondary costs of frustration, missed appointments, and late deliveries due to nonrecurring or unexpected events such as traffic incidents, construction zones, special events, and inclement weather that increase travel times.
More than half of all congestion (urban and rural) is the result of nonrecurring events, which adversely affect the predictability of the travel times that motorists can expect for a given trip, otherwise known as travel time reliability. Further, nonrecurring congestion increases safety risks to travelers and those who encounter and respond to those events. In fact, approximately 20 percent of all traffic incidents are secondary incidents--crashes, mechanical problems, and running out of fuel--that occur as a result of congestion associated with a prior incident. These secondary incidents further increase congestion, putting additional travelers and responders in harm’s way.
At the same time, driver expectations are evolving. Although motorists can plan for and tolerate a certain amount of recurring congestion, both commuters and shippers are less tolerant of nonrecurring congestion. For one thing, this kind of congestion is difficult to plan for and thus affects personal and commercial schedules in unexpected ways.
In the past, transportation agencies addressed congestion by building more lanes and roads. Today, however, with financial constraints on design, construction, and acquiring additional rights-of-way, transportation officials find it challenging to secure approval for projects to add lane miles. Therefore, strategies for transportation system management and operations that maximize the use of existing capacity are critical to addressing the congestion problem.
|This underlying organizational framework helps an agency identify the needed processes that ultimately help grow its TSM&O capabilities into a formal program.|
From Research Toward a Solution
The SHRP2 solution known as Organizing for Reliability Tools grew out of a research project designed to identify and examine the critical relationships, business processes, and organizational structures that lead to successful systems management and improved travel time reliability. As part of this effort, researchers at TRB surveyed 22 State departments of transportation (DOTs) found to have mature or emerging systems management and operations functions.
The research found that the most important factors in having effective systems management and operations were not the result of using particular technologies or strategies. Instead, improved TSM&O requires systematic improvements to an agency’s business and technical processes and institutional framework, as well as a formal program to improve over time. This requires a significant shift in priorities for agencies that traditionally have focused on core programs such as construction and maintenance.
To help agencies make this systematic change, experts at TRB worked together with a consultant team to design a set of resources packaged under the SHRP2 solution called Organizing for Reliability Tools. The solution includes an online assessment and guidance tool, as well as a guidebook for improving TSM&O capabilities, a series of case studies, and an executive presentation and guide, all published by TRB.
The core of Organizing for Reliability Tools is the Capability Maturity Model, a management tool designed to guide improvement of TSM&O over time. The model combines into a single framework the key features of quality management, organizational development, and business process reengineering that transportation agencies have long used as strategic management tools. The model is described in detail in the TRB publication Institutional Architectures to Improve Systems Operations and Management (Report S2-L06-RR-1) and currently is available on AASHTO’s Web site at www.aashtotsmoguidance.org.
To expedite adoption of the model and its framework, FHWA offers a self-assessment workshop for practitioners. The workshop is a facilitated interactive discussion among transportation agency executives, managers, staff members, and key partners to assess their capabilities related to TSM&O.
“FHWA is committed to providing this innovative tool to State and local agencies,” says FHWA Associate Administrator for Operations Jeffrey Lindley. “The Capability Maturity Model framework is a proven tool to help practitioners assess their own capabilities and develop a roadmap for how they can most effectively improve the mobility and reliability of their transportation system.”
The capability assessment workshops bring together staff members from across an agency and its partners, often for the first time, to discuss how they coordinate internally and in partnership. They look closely at how they can reorganize their agencies to better operate the transportation facilities they have in place. Attendees identify opportunities to advance the processes and institutional culture of their organization to improve operations.
“[The workshop] guides agencies to look beyond the traditional engineering solutions and into areas that are often neglected, such as business processes, culture, and relationships,” Lindley says. “By asking very targeted questions, it encourages agencies to break down silos and engage internal and external partners to enhance the efficiency with which existing services are delivered. Organizing for Reliability Tools helps agencies take a more proactive approach to operating the system.”
Description of the Model
SHRP2 research identified six interdependent dimensions, or capabilities, that are most important in determining successful execution of systems management and operations. The dimensions are as follows:
- Business processes describe the level to which TSM&O is integrated into State and regional planning processes, programming, and budgeting.
- Systems and technology describe an agency’s ability to use, standardize, and improve systems and technology that support TSM&O.
- Performance measurement captures an agency’s ability to acquire, analyze, and use information about system and operational performance effectively.
- Culture examines the knowledge, leadership support, and authority an agency commits to TSM&O.
- Organization/workforce captures the level to which an agency possesses the staff capabilities and organizational structure to support TSM&O.
- Collaboration with local and regional partners is a key factor in an agency’s success implementing TSM&O.
During the self-assessment process, conducted during the FHWA workshop or as part of the online tool, an agency examines a variety of factors affecting each dimension. That examination leads the group to assign one of the following four progressive levels of capability maturity for each dimension.
- Performed. Agency TSM&O activities and relationships are largely ad hoc, informal, and champion driven.
- Managed. Agency is developing processes and training staff, but there is limited accountability for TSM&O.
- Integrated. Agency is nearing a formal program with documented processes, performance measures, and budget.
- Optimized. A formal program exists with continual improvement and formal partnerships.
Excerpt from Capability Maturity Model Matrix
|Dimension||Level 1||Level 2||Level 3||Level 4|
(Planning, programming, budgeting, implementation)
Processes related to TSM&O activities ad hoc and unintegrated
|Multiyear statewide TSM&O plan and program exists with deficiencies, evaluation, and strategies||Programming, budgeting, and project development processes for TSM&O standardized and documented||Processes streamlined and subject to continuous improvement|
|Systems & Technology
(Systems engineering, standards, and technology interoperability)
|Ad hoc approaches outside systematic systems engineering||✔
Systems engineering employed and consistently used for concept of operations, architecture, and systems development
|Systems and technology standardized, documented, and trained statewide, and new technology incorporated||Systems and technology routinely upgraded and utilized to improve efficiency performance|
(Measures, data and analytics, and utilization)
|No regular performance measurement related to TSM&O||✔
TSM&O strategies measurement is largely via outputs, with limited after-action analyses
|Outcome measures identified and consistently used for TSM&O strategies improvement||Mission-related outputs/outcomes data routinely utilized for management, reported internally and externally, and archived|
(Technical understanding, leadership, outreach, and program authority)
Value of TSM&O not widely understood beyond champions
|Agencywide appreciation of the value and role of TSM&O||TSM&O accepted as a formal core program||Explicit agency commitment to TSM&O as key strategy to achieve full range of mobility, safety, and livability/sustainability objectives|
|Through AASHTO’s One-Minute Guidance Evaluation, practitioners can quickly decide which level of maturity best applies to their agency or region for each dimension. In this example from the self-assessment tool showing four of the six dimensions, a practitioner has selected the maturity levels shown in the blue shaded boxes. Source: www.aashtotsmoguidance.org.|
The first three levels describe observable activities that demonstrate increasing integration of TSM&O practices within the agency. The fourth level describes the ideal for how the agency would function within the given dimension. The end result of this process is a Capability Maturity Model matrix that includes all six dimensions and the existing level of maturity for each, as determined by the agency and its partners. With the matrix in hand, an agency can develop a tactical plan for systematically improving each dimension. An agency then can use the other Organizing for Reliability Tools, as well as other SHRP2 and TSM&O resources, to support improvement efforts.
A key concept to Organizing for Reliability Tools involves recognizing that each dimension of the model matrix is essential and dependent on the others. Therefore, dimensions at the lowest level of capability must improve first. For example, an agency will struggle to move forward in other dimensions if its culture remains at level 1 and is lagging behind.
To help State DOTs and metropolitan planning organizations (MPOs) deploy SHRP2 Solutions, including the Organizing for Reliability Tools, FHWA and AASHTO created the SHRP2 Implementation Assistance Program.
The 27 lead adopters in systems management and operations that were selected to receive support through the assistance program are developing implementation plans based on the assessments generated using the Capability Maturity Model. These plans will identify priorities and actions that agencies intend to implement over the next few years, with SHRP2 assistance focused on 2014–2016 to advance their capabilities.
During the implementation phase, FHWA and AASHTO will provide technical and financial support to the lead adopters targeted to their needs and priorities. This support might include the following:
- Training to increase staff proficiency in a range of technical and organizational topics and to nurture and grow new operations champions.
- Workshops and working meetings to bring together professional staff to advance specific activities of the action plan.
- Peer exchanges (in person and virtual) to expose staff to new ideas and concepts and share experiences with State and local peers.
- Technical assistance to advance programmatic and project priorities to achieve the outcomes defined in the action plan.
- Collaboration with local partners and nationally, building on the strong organizational framework of AASHTO’s subcommittees to foster the successful transformation of organizations to advance operations.
- Tactical assessments consisting of indepth reviews of current processes associated with one or more dimensions to identify possible enhancements.
- Followup briefings for senior agency leaders to help sustain momentum.
This 2-year endeavor is part of an ongoing process to fully mainstream operations into the institutional and organizational framework of every State DOT and MPO in the country.
“We envision that the lead adopters will become champions for the power and value of Organizing for Reliability Tools, serving as advocates to share the tools with their peers,” says Steve Clinger, operations deployment team leader in the FHWA Office of Operations. “In this way the SHRP2 products will be brought from the confines of reports and PowerPoint® presentations into widespread adoption and daily use--and continue to be applied long after the SHRP2 effort has been completed.”
Modeling in the Field
Already, more than 35 transportation agencies--including State DOTs, MPOs, and regional or corridor coalitions--are using the Capability Maturity Model framework and related tools to help improve TSM&O and the reliability of their highway systems. This includes agencies participating in the assistance program, as well as earlier pilot sites and a few additional organizations that heard about the tools and decided to put them to use.
What follows are descriptions of how several agencies have used the framework and what they plan to do next.
Tennessee Department of Transportation
The I–24 corridor between Nashville and Murfreesboro is near one of the fastest growing metropolitan areas in the Nation. Officials with the Tennessee Department of Transportation (TDOT), therefore, understand the importance of maximizing highway capacity and safety, and achieving more reliable travel times for motorists. In fact, TDOT was among the first agencies in the country to participate in a workshop on the Capability Maturity Model back in 2009.
Brad Freeze, director of TDOT’s Traffic Operations Division, recalls systems management and operations before the workshop. “Before 2009, TSM&O leadership was a bit disjointed because responsibilities were spread across different divisions,” he says. “Our Intelligent Transportation Systems Design Office took the lead, creating a coordinating committee that championed ITS and our highway incident management program. However, there were few standardized processes and procedures across operations.”
Since the workshop, TDOT has taken steps to move its TSM&O capabilities from a performed state of maturity (level 1) to the managed and integrated states (levels 2 and 3). For example, it organized a Traffic Operations Division, which was established in January 2013. “Now we have a division that can take the lead in systems management and operations,” Freeze says, “not just champion it.”
TDOT was awarded assistance from the SHRP2 Implementation Assistance Program, which is helping the agency further improve the dimensions of success within its systems management and operations. TDOT updated its self-assessment through a subsequent Capability Maturity Model workshop, and the resulting implementation plan includes action items such as providing technical training for staff, upgrading ITS design and deployment, developing an asset management plan, and creating a dedicated TSM&O committee. The assessment process also reinforced the importance of performance measurement for TDOT. In July 2014, TDOT participated in a peer exchange with the Washington State Department of Transportation and its partners to learn about their use of performance measurement tools and reports that provide data to both the department and travelers alike.
Says Freeze, “We are refining performance measures, such as travel time reliability and average annual delay, and how we can provide useful information to people using the roads. Now we have momentum and support from the top down, and we are pushing the limits on what we can do, such as ramp metering and dynamic speed control.”
Northeast Ohio Areawide Coordinating Agency
According to Josh Naramore, transportation studies manager for the Northeast Ohio Areawide Coordinating Agency, Cleveland’s MPO, his agency has always been interested in systems management and operations. “The organization’s projects were largely related to signal systems projects and incident management trainings, but the response was mostly ad hoc,” he says. “We had engineers who had done that work before, but we were not really leading it. We were waiting for projects to come to us.”
However, when planning began for the new I–90 Innerbelt Modernization project in Cuyahoga County, the agency took a more active approach, partnering with the Ohio Department of Transportation, Cuyahoga County, and the Greater Cleveland Regional Transit Authority to maximize improvements to enhance safety and reduce congestion. The agency received SHRP2 implementation assistance from FHWA to explore ways to maintain travel time reliability on the new facility, as well as during several other planned construction projects. The technical assistance included help in developing an implementation plan, providing peer reviews, and delivering trainings, such as a self-assessment workshop held in January 2014 focused on the Capability Maturity Model.
The agency invited to the workshop a broad cross section of partners, ranging from emergency response personnel to tow truck operators to city/county traffic engineers. Representatives from the largest cities and all of the related counties also attended.
“This was an opportunity to pull back and look beyond individual construction projects to find something broader,” Naramore says, “to ask how we can improve our regional approach [to systems management] and get buy-in from key partners.”
The workshop provided a detailed understanding of the region’s strengths and weaknesses in systems management and operations across the six dimensions and helped identify action items. Among the action items were developing a best practices toolkit for systems engineering (to improve the systems and technology dimension) and identifying and compiling necessary data and information for a strong TSM&O business case (to improve the culture dimension).
What’s next? The agency now has a draft implementation plan that includes actionable steps that will help the region improve across the board. “We want to build organizational structures, such as a safety and operations advisory council, that formalize the conversations that resulted from the workshop and provide a forum to share more ideas,” Naramore says. The agency also is developing a scope of work to fund the creation of 5- to 10-year strategic plans for operations, including traveler information, performance measurement, and priority projects.
“We want to focus on understanding where we should be targeting our resources and what our approach should be regarding interoperability and streamlining of technologies,” he says. “We want to start tying everything together.”
North Central Texas Council of Governments
Similar to the previous examples from Tennessee and Ohio, at the North Central Texas Council of Governments, systems management and operations were largely ad hoc prior to conducting a capability assessment workshop in August 2012. “A good thing within our region is that we already had a lot of collaboration,” says Natalie Bettger, the council’s senior program manager for congestion management and system operation. “But the workshop allowed us to focus that collaboration.”
With improving collaboration in mind, the council invited a large cross section of partners to the workshop, including the Texas Department of Transportation, the regional toll authority, local transit agencies, a number of city transportation departments, and private partners such as public-private partnership concessionaires. “It brought us all to the table to talk about where we are as a region and what our systems management and operations processes should be,” she says.
Consistent with the Capability Maturity Model process, the council now has a list of action items to help the region focus on improving its capabilities. “Each action item has lead coordinating agencies, and we meet to update the status of the list every 6 months,” says Bettger.
The council continues to address action items that resulted from the workshop. For example, council officials conducted a deficiency analysis of the region’s major corridors, examining freeways, frontage roads, parallel arterials, and limited-access facilities, and identifying and prioritizing opportunities to improve travel time reliability. The region also is improving incident management training based on results from the modeling effort, having recently held a regional workshop with incident managers that established a standard definition for performance measures.
Says Bettger, “We wanted to make sure everyone had a shared set of terms and could communicate effectively with each other and traffic management centers.”
North Carolina Department Of Transportation
North Carolina is a predominantly rural State that does not experience the same level of congestion as some of the more urban States. According to Jennifer Portanova, State traffic operations engineer at the North Carolina Department of Transportation (NCDOT), this means that State and local officials still approach congestion issues largely from a construction and capacity-building perspective. However, unlike many States, North Carolina has dedicated funding for systems management.
“We have been able to do a lot with that support,” Portanova says, “such as connecting planning to operations. The Capability Maturity Model process helped us define what level of maturity we were at and steps to help get us to the next level.”
NCDOT’s workshop was held in September 2011 and came at a critical period for the department. “At the same time, we just had a fresh group of people come into the department with a background in traffic management,” Portanova says. The emphasis also changed from ITS operations to traffic systems and operations with a departmental restructuring that brought arterial and freeway management into one unit. The baseline provided by the model framework enabled NCDOT to take advantage of these opportunities.
What’s more, the model framework has been a catalyst for continued growth in TSM&O in the State. NCDOT built on the workshop by developing a strategic plan for TSM&O a year later. “We were able to use that as a tool to sell TSM&O to decisionmakers,” says Portanova. “It gave us more credibility.”
As part of the plan, practitioners from different backgrounds also attended the University of Maryland’s Operations Academy™ Senior Management Program, an intensive 2-week training program focused on TSM&O. Some partners who participated in the workshop, such as law enforcement representatives, have since received additional training at the academy and are helping advance the State’s TSM&O capabilities.
With this momentum, Portanova’s department is interested in doing more with Organizing for Reliability Tools to further demonstrate to higher level decisionmakers the need for a formal TSM&O program and how it would support the tradition that already exists in the State. “It’s a part of our culture more than we realize,” Portanova says. “For example, we have captured traffic incident data and provided this information to the public for 10 years.”
Summarizing the need for a focus on TSM&O and travel time reliability, Portanova adds, “Our highway system is a utility that we manage. Would we accept our electricity not having reliability? It’s the same concept. We manage this road utility. We should be concerned with its reliability.”
When Metro, the regional governmental agency for the Portland, OR, metropolitan area, held a workshop on the Capability Maturity Model in September 2012, the region’s TSM&O plan had been in place for 2 years and partners already were moving forward with implementation. “We’ve long had great collaboration on TSM&O,” says Deena Platman, former principal transportation planner for Metro’s Regional Mobility Program, “so we came into the workshop with significant capital.”
Metro experienced immediate benefits from the process. Says Platman, “We held an executive session prior to the workshop that was reasonably well attended by managers and elected officials. This meeting and the workshop itself provided decisionmakers with a reminder about what TSM&O is and why it’s a good investment for the region.”
The workshop also formalized Metro’s role as the facilitator, policy lead, and grant administrator for programmatic funding for TSM&O from the Metropolitan Transportation Improvement Program. “This had been a point of contention with several of our partner agencies, and the workshop was able to make the case for this role,” says Platman. “We’ve also been able to increase collaboration with our primary transit agency.”
Since the workshop, Metro worked with the Oregon Department of Transportation to identify 2014–2015 Surface Transportation Program funds for improving data capture and archiving via the region’s portal for transportation data. Other projects include enhancing software for signal controllers and the central server to capture and transmit log data to the archive, and investing in detection and communications to capture data in key locations.
Formalizing TSM&O Nationwide
The end goal is improved transportation operations nationwide. That includes institutionalizing systems management and operations within DOT and MPO cultures and continuously measuring and improving operational performance and the business processes supporting it. Other goals include establishing sustainable mechanisms for funding and growing staff capabilities in this area.
Adopting Organizing for Reliability Tools is just the first step. As with all SHRP2 Solutions, the product was not developed to be used in a vacuum. A host of other products are or will soon be available to help transportation agencies capitalize on organizational improvements in TSM&O. For example, the fourth round of the SHRP2 Implementation Assistance Program included Reliability Data and Analysis Tools, a suite of products to help transportation planners and engineers improve monitoring and analysis of operations-related data.
SHRP2 also developed a Web-based knowledge transfer system, available at www.tsmoinfo.org, to provide easy access to current and forthcoming TSM&O information, including all SHRP2 products designed to help agencies address congestion and improve travel time reliability. A presentation and presenter guidance are available to help communicate with chief executive officers and senior managers at DOTs about the value of incorporating operations as a core mission and business practice within their respective agencies. Similar materials are available for communicating with MPO leadership about incorporating TSM&O into the planning process.
FHWA, AASHTO, and TRB developed these products with a shared vision of turning transportation systems management and operations into a standard practice across the country and realizing the safety, economic, and customer service benefits of a more efficient and reliable highway system. The Capability Maturity Model framework and other Organizing for Reliability Tools provide the foundation for this vision, empowering transportation agencies to assess their own capabilities and then take logical steps to systematically improve TSM&O within their organizations.
Joe Gregory is a program manager for the FHWA Office of Operations and manages the Organizing for Reliability initiative. He holds a bachelor’s degree in civil engineering from the University of Tennessee and is a licensed professional engineer in Utah.
Ben Irwin is a senior communications specialist who works with the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Volpe National Transportation Systems Center to help Federal, State, and local agencies promote transportation safety programs and innovations. He has a bachelor’s degree from the University of Iowa.
For more information, visit www.fhwa.dot.gov/goshrp2/Solutions/Reliability/L06_L01_L31_L34/Organizing_for_Reliability_Tools or contact Joe Gregory at 202–366–0610 or firstname.lastname@example.org. See also AASHTO’s “Transportation Systems Management and Operations” Web site at www.aashtotsmoguidance.org, where you can explore 1-minute and custom guidance evaluations or browse the complete set of guidance. For more about the SHRP2 Implementation Assistance Program, which accepts applications approximately twice a year, visit www.fhwa.dot.gov/goshrp2/ImplementationAssistance.