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U.S. Department of Transportation U.S. Department of Transportation Icon United States Department of Transportation United States Department of Transportation

Public Roads - Summer 2019

Summer 2019
Issue No:
Vol. 83 No. 2
Publication Number:
Table of Contents

Transforming Transportation in Tampa

by Govindarajan Vadakpat, Kate Hartman, Robert Frey, and Edward Fok

THEA's connected vehicle demonstration project is paving the way for improved safety and mobility in a bustling urban area.

A driver receives a warning about the presence of a pedestrian in the vehicle's predicted path in the rear-view mirror of a car equipped with CV technology in Tampa, FL. Pedestrian safety is one of the main goals of the Tampa CV pilot.

Connected vehicles (CV) are poised to transform the Nation's streets and communities and have the potential to improve safety and mobility. In Tampa, FL, these emerging technologies may help to revolutionize transportation in the multimodal downtown area while mitigating issues such as traffic congestion and delays, vehicle crashes, pedestrian safety, and transit conflicts.

In a competitive process in 2015, the U.S. Department of Transportation selected the Tampa Hillsborough Expressway Authority (THEA) in Tampa as one of three pilot sites—along with sites in New York City and Wyoming—for deployment of CV technology. The goals of the CV Pilot Deployment Program are to determine what barriers exist and how to address them, document lessons learned, and serve as a template to assist other early technology deployments.

USDOT awarded THEA $17 million as part of its pilot deployment program. Currently, the three-phased pilot deployment project is in the final operations and maintenance phase. The project uses vehicle-to-vehicle, vehicle-to-infrastructure, and vehicle-to-everything connected technology.

This map shows the pilot deployment area, indicated by a red box and an arrow, in relation to the surrounding area, including nearby interstates and THEA's Selmon Expressway and Reversible Express Lanes.

"The goal of the Tampa CV pilot," says Joe Waggoner, executive director of THEA, "is to transform the experience of drivers, transit riders, and pedestrians in the downtown Tampa area by preventing crashes, enhancing traffic flow, improving transit trip times, and reducing emissions."

Tampa's Multimodal Pilot Site

Downtown Tampa is bordered by the Ybor Channel, which serves cruise ships and a commercial port, to the east; Garrison Channel, a local waterway, to the south; Florida Avenue to the west; and Scott Street to the north. A virtually flat topography near sea level helps to simplify the evaluation of traffic flow parameters. THEA owns and operates the Lee Roy Selmon Expressway and the elevated Reversible Express Lanes (REL), which run parallel to one another and provide vehicle access to the downtown area.

The REL is an all-electronic toll facility that serves as a main commuter route, connecting the large residential community of Brandon and I–75 with downtown Tampa, the Port of Tampa Bay (serving commercial and cruise ships), and MacDill Air Force Base. REL traffic exits at the intersection of Twiggs Street and Meridian Avenue in downtown.

The morning commute on the REL ends in the heart of the central business district, and drivers often experience significant delays during the morning peak rush hour. These delays are caused by the traffic light at the end of the limited access highway and can result in rear-end crashes and collisions caused by red-light running. Because the lanes are reversible, wrong way entry is also possible.

The Selmon Expressway provides ingress and egress for downtown traffic, as well as traffic going to and from Pinellas County to the west. In addition, the westernmost exit is at Dale Mabry Highway, the location of the main gate for the Air Force base. Since September 2010, all vehicles on the expressway are tolled electronically as they pass under toll gantries.

The area targeted by the deployment pilot is multimodal. Hillsborough Area Regional Transit bus lines run through the area, and express routes use the Selmon Expressway to serve commuters from the Brandon area. The Marion Transit Center is in the northwest section of the pilot focus area, near I–275. It also serves other express bus routes. The TECO Line Streetcar System extends through the project area, serving local businesses and the Amalie Arena, which frequently generates traffic from sporting and special events. Meridian Avenue is a major gateway to downtown Tampa and feeds the REL. It is the focal point for several of the pilot's applications, such as wrong way driving and speed reduction warnings. Channelside Drive, on the east and south borders of the test area, connects to Amalie Arena.

Locations with high volumes of mixed traffic, such as that found within the focus area in Tampa, offer greater potential for conflicts between streetcars, pedestrians, and passenger cars.

Pilot Objectives

The diversity of modes—bus and streetcar transit, highway and surface street interfaces, and a high density of pedestrians—in a concentrated area of downtown Tampa provides many traffic situations in which THEA can test CV technology for effectiveness. The broad goals of the THEA pilot project included developing and deploying CV infrastructure to support CV-based applications, improving mobility within Tampa's central business district, improving safety and reducing environmental impacts within the pilot deployment area, increasing agency efficiency, and developing an environment to help sustain businesses.

"A focused 12-month effort helped distill these broad objectives into six specific use cases to address key issues of the project, and that will help measure the benefits of deploying CV technology," says Steve Novosad, a systems management lead at HNTB.

Use case 1: Morning backups. To address safety- and mobility-related issues of travelers exiting the REL, THEA developed four applications: end-of-ramp deceleration warning, emergency electronic brake light warning, forward collision warning, and intelligent signal control.

The pilot team identified appropriate CV applications for six key use cases: morning backups (rush hour collision avoidance), wrong-way entry, pedestrian safety, transit signal (bus) priority, streetcar safety, and traffic progression (flow optimization; two locations). The circles within the highlighted areas represent roadside units that enable wireless communications between infrastructure and onboard vehicle units.

Use case 2: Wrong-way entries. Three applications address safety issues surrounding vehicles entering the REL going the wrong way: wrong-way entries, intersection movement assist, and intelligent signal control.

Use case 3: Pedestrian conflicts. To address pedestrian safety issues at a marked mid-block crossing at Hillsborough County's Edgecomb Courthouse, THEA deployed pedestrian collision warning.

Use case 4: Transit signal priority. Three applications provide priority for buses that use major routes within the central business district: intelligent signal control, intersection movement assist, and transit signal priority.

Use case 5: Streetcar conflicts. To minimize conflicts between TECO Line streetcars and vehicles, THEA deployed the application warning against vehicles turning right in front of a transit vehicle.

Use case 6: Traffic progression. THEA uses intelligent signal control to address traffic congestion along Meridian Avenue during the morning peak travel period.

Facing Challenges

By nature, pilot projects come with technical, institutional, and financial challenges. Discovering and addressing these concerns is one of the main reasons to run a pilot program. THEA's deployment pilot was no exception and faced a variety of challenges. Details of several of the Tampa team's challenges and solutions follow.

Downtown Tampa's multimodal traffic, including streetcars and buses, creates conflict points between private vehicles, transit vehicles, and pedestrians.

Maintaining a strict separation between networks. As a toll road operator, THEA collects data on toll transactions and sends data to relevant vendors for collection of the tolls. To make sure that customer data was not accessible to outside networks, it was critical to maintain a strict separation between revenue-generating toll data and CV pilot data. To ensure complete separation of tolling network data and data generated by the CV pilot, THEA invested in upgrading its information technology equipment.

Availability of technical personnel for device installations. Piloting cutting-edge technology means a lack of professionals trained to install or service the equipment. Because the THEA pilot involved installing equipment in vehicles owned by private drivers, the team had to ensure that the installations were done in a professional setting with certified vehicle mechanics.

THEA established a partnership with nearby Hillsborough Community College to use the college's facility and staff to oversee installation by students in its master mechanic program. This symbiotic relationship turned out to be a win-win for both THEA and the community college by reducing labor costs for installation and giving the students real-world mechanical experience with this exciting new technology.

Flexibility to perform live on-road testing. Real-world testing is an essential element of pilot programs but can be difficult to accomplish because of safety concerns. Because the REL serves the same area as the Selmon Expressway, THEA was able to close the REL during nonpeak hours for onroad testing. This enabled the team to conduct tests of the system deployed in private vehicles safely in a real-world environment.

Events at Amalie Arena and other attractions in Tampa's CV pilot demonstration area can cause significant traffic delays.

Radio frequency interference. The Federal Communication Commission allocates the 5.9 GHz radio band for intelligent transportation systems (ITS) applications, but the band is not immune to interference from amateur radio operators under auxiliary licenses. During the deployment testing, THEA encountered this type of interference.

THEA worked with the Florida Department of Transportation, which is the primary license holder, to mitigate the interference from the amateur radio operators. THEA will have to continuously monitor its spectrum to flag potential interference, which might negatively impact the pilot deployment.

Addressing Security and Privacy

Beyond the challenges already identified, security and privacy related to the CV technology presented huge hurdles. THEA's project team recognized that the security requirements of the CV technology needed to extend to the agency's networks and computer systems, and would likely require changes to existing systems and operations. To address these security needs, the pilot team made several changes to THEA's security procedures regarding operations, communications, and maintenance.

Security improvements to operations included increased password control (strength) and expiration, enhanced security for physical access to facilities such as traffic management centers, and improved encryption of databases. To improve communications, the team upgraded the ITS environment, including virtual private network tunnels, datagram transport layer security protocols, and disabling local access ports without security. THEA also implemented the authentication of field personnel in real time when replacing failed devices and required keypad interactions to use USB access ports to reload and initialize devices.

In addition to system security, THEA recognized the importance of maintaining the privacy of the participants in the pilot. One key requirement of USDOT's deployment program was that the data generated during the operational phase of the three pilots would be stored and shared with independent evaluators and researchers. The Tampa pilot team created extensive data sanitization processes that removed personally identifiable information.

Partnering for Success

The busy area chosen for the pilot deployment necessitated communication and coordination among many agencies and entities. Stakeholders include Hillsborough County, Amalie Arena, Tampa Police Department, Florida Highway Patrol, Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office, MacDill Air Force Base, Tampa Port Authority, Tampa Convention Center, Tampa Downtown Partnership, and the Tampa Bay Lightning (the city's professional hockey team). All of these could be directly affected by the pilot deployment project because of the impact of transportation on their operations.

Because of the large number of stakeholders involved in the project, perhaps the most challenging aspect was communicating to diverse groups and coordinating between them. The Tampa CV pilot team built a cadre of professionals to engage in outreach with and education of the stakeholders to gain support critical to the success of the project.

THEA is a self-financing agency that relies entirely on toll revenues. Therefore, the team first needed to explain how the emerging technology could play a larger role in the operations of the agency and then secure commitments from its Board of Directors. Joe Waggoner, THEA's chief executive officer, played a key role in championing the project and also was able to enlist the support of local lawmakers to advocate for the project.

"This award is a game-changer," says Waggoner. "ACES technologies—automated, connected, electric, and shared—are the cutting-edge future of transportation. This CV pilot will positively impact the people of Tampa by ensuring that new technologies preserve pedestrian safety, while improving traffic flow and reducing congestion."

To meet stakeholders' expectations, the team developed memoranda of understanding that clearly spelled out the roles and responsibilities for each party involved. For example, Tampa's traffic management center is co-located with THEA's traffic management center. The addition of new infrastructure at signalized intersections maintained by the city of Tampa and additional capabilities established at the traffic management center created a need to establish the roles and responsibilities as the project moved into its operational phase. THEA and the city of Tampa signed an agreement detailing the arrangement.

The team also needed to develop data governance management policies and communicate them to potential participants. Developing a strong informed consent document during the participant recruitment and training stage proved to be immensely helpful in communicating how the data generated from the pilot would be used.

Many stakeholders were interested in the possibility of future applications of CV technology in Tampa to improve the long-range fiscal sustainability of the city. As part of the CV pilot program, THEA has installed critical roadway infrastructure that will not only cater to the immediate mobility and safety needs of Tampa, but also enable future efforts to increase mobility, especially within the context of mobility as a service.

CV technology can also provide an open framework for urban parking applications, both identifying open spaces and paying for parking through the system. Through the CV platform, drivers with properly equipped vehicles could find, reserve, access, and pay for parking as they approach an urban area. Third-party providers could offer different quality or price incentives for different locations, integrated with the vehicle's navigation system to provide directions to the parking facility or spot, and provide merchant or restaurant discounts, parking validation, or other perks.

Current Status and Next Steps

Since successful completion of phase 1 (planning) in September 2016, the THEA pilot team has been diligently working on designing and building the CV system. To date, THEA has installed more than 45 roadside units and equipped more than a 1,000 privately owned vehicles, buses, and streetcars with onboard units.

The team successfully demonstrated the overall system as part of the CV Pilot Showcase on November 29, 2018. The highlights of the showcase included demonstration of applications focused on streetcar, bus, and pedestrian safety.

The system is scheduled to go live in July 2019 and will collect operational data throughout 2019. THEA will make the data available to researchers worldwide through the ITS Data Hub at

"Operational data collected by the Tampa CV pilot and lessons learned from inception to operation will be instrumental to advancing the technological and intuitional readiness of connected vehicle safety systems," says HNTB's Novosad. "Advancing understanding in these areas will smooth the way for the next group of deployers."

To get to the Edgecomb Courthouse, pedestrians must use a mid-block crossing that increases the likelihood of conflicts with vehicles.

Govindarajan Vadakpat is a research transportation specialist at FHWA, where he manages the THEA CV pilot. He holds a Ph.D. in civil engineering from Penn State. He is a professional traffic operations engineer and a licensed professional engineer in Maryland, Ohio, and Virginia.

Kate Hartman serves as the chief of research, evaluation, and program management in the ITS Joint Program Office at USDOT. She is the program manager for the CV Pilot Deployment Program. She holds a B.A. in economics from the University of Virginia and an M.B.A. from the University of South Dakota.

Robert Frey serves as the planning director for THEA and is the project manager for THEA's USDOT CV Pilot Deployment. He has more than 25 years of experience working with local, State, and toll agencies. He holds a master of public policy degree from Baylor University and is a member of the American Institute of Certified Planners.

Edward Fok is a transportation technology specialist in FHWA's Resource Center, where he focuses on assessing emergent technologies for opportunities and risk for surface transportation. He has B.S. degrees in mechanical engineering and electrical engineering.

For more information, see and or contact Govindarajan Vadakpat at 202–493–3283 or