Explaining WZITS Value to Non-Practitioners

In my past two posts we discussed two common themes from the FHWA Peer-to-Peer exchange held May 21st and 22nd in Iowa. The people who participated shared their thoughts and frustrations associated with work zone ITS deployments and there were several common themes.

The third one we should discuss is the difficulty we all have explaining the value of work zone ITS to systems operations folks, director level leadership, and others who lack work zone experience. Often, these non-practitioners are the people who must approve the use of and expense of a work zone ITS system before it is included in the TMP. Participants wished they had a better way to explain how more work zone data results in increased safety, increased throughput and lower societal costs.

This goes back to the problem I discussed in Some “Get It” and Some Do Not (10/1/12). In that post I repeated what Jon Jackels of Minnesota DOT told me. He explained that unless someone has extensive work zone experience, he or she won’t understand work zone ITS. It’s like having the best tools but no idea of how to use them.

In one way, this is a classic Catch 22 scenario. You can’t prove the value of the system until you have better data. But you can’t collect better data until you get a system in place. There is also the need for good baseline data we discussed in the past two posts. Without it, it is difficult to measure the systems effectiveness.

But we must find a good way of explaining it. I believe there are at least five points you should make:

1)      If we know where the queue starts, it might point out needed changes in the traffic control. For example, if the queue begins at the taper, perhaps you need more signs or PCMS encouraging drivers to merge early.

2)      More sensors result in faster notification. Faster notification results in a smaller problem, fewer secondary crashes, and faster EMS response.

3)      These systems help us meet the requirements of the Work Zone Safety & Mobility Rule to track work zone performance and adjust as needed.

4)      When public, project specific websites are part of the system it increases driver awareness and reduces their frustration.

5)      These systems make sense to drivers. They appreciate the effort. Texas DOT and TTI got a very positive response to their recent efforts on I-35.

In short, when these systems are deployed properly they will result in improved safety, fewer incidents, better throughput, and a reduction in societal costs several times greater than the cost of the system.

What have I forgotten? Please comment with your ideas. We would also love to hear your stories, both good and bad, when you tried to explain the value of work zone ITS.

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