TTI Creates Paradigm Shift for Work Zone ITS

On Monday Ross Sheckler of iCone made an earth shaking announcement. He posted it on LinkedIn and included a YouTube video.  This news changes our industry in a profound and very positive way. You can view the announcement at: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_OwaRrffhC8 .

In short, he announced that iCone and their partners have deployed work zone ITS in more than 100 work zones in Texas over the past 10 months. Nothing like this has happened before. In fact, I doubt few, if any of us, even considered it a possibility.

Until now work zone ITS required planning. A system had to be designed and included in the project. Bid packages including the specification for the system and other requirements had to be published. Or a change order adding the system to the project had to be created and approved. All of these things take time….lot’s of time.

But the system now used in Texas eliminates all of that. Texas Transportation Institute (TTI) has created a simple system that any state can use. They model traffic through the corridor based on planned lane closures and their affect on traffic. Once they know what the impact will be they schedule delivery of a work zone ITS system from a preapproved local contractor who has the equipment in stock.

They use two different systems. For shorter closures (and shorter queues), they use what they call a Type 1 system: 1 portable changeable message sign and 4 iCone traffic sensors. For longer closures and queues they use a Type 2 system: 2 message signs and 8 iCone sensors. The contractor, N-Line Traffic, deploys the system just before the closure begins, then picks it all up the next morning.

Everything is budgeted and paid directly by TxDOT. The general contractors are not even involved. This results in a far more efficient use of work zone ITS. The systems only cost money when they are needed and communications run directly between the DOT office that schedules the deployments and the traffic control contractor. So, it will get better results and that means it is far more likely to be embraced by state policymakers.

Other states are considering a similar system. Indiana has already started. And at least two more states will soon follow suit. This will revolutionize work zone safety.  Everyone agrees technology should be used to reduce work zone crashes. But until now doing so involved a great deal of time and effort. Understaffed agencies put the decision off because they did not have the manpower or expertise to ensure a successful deployment.

This changes all of that. There is no longer a good reason not to use work zone ITS. Check out the video and let’s get started!

Work Zone ITS Implementation Guide

Last Thursday (January 30th) I sat in on the webinar on FHWA’s new Work Zone ITS Implementation Guide. The guide will be published in a few weeks along with a summary of the peer exchange we discussed in earlier posts.

We got a first look and a tour from Tracy Scriba of FHWA, Jerry Ullman of TTI and Ted Nemsky of Illinois DOT. It was a very informative webinar and I encourage those of you who were unable to attend, to download it once it is posted at: http://www.ops.fhwa.dot.gov/wz/its/index.htm .

I won’t try to repeat everything said during the webinar but I was struck by a couple of things I’d like to mention here.

Tracy Scriba lead off talking about the state of work zone ITS. I liked her choice of words. She told the audience that these systems have “evolved”. She described early “adventures” configuring, communicating with and maintaining work zone ITS systems. She told everyone there is far less adventure now. Her point being that our technology has matured.

Jerry Ullman took us through the Implementation Guide step by step. It uses a sort of Systems Engineering Light approach to choosing, deploying and evaluating work zone ITS.

Ted Nemsky closed the webinar by describing his experience using three different vendors on a number of projects. He is the first I have found who brought hard data to support the use of these systems. He compared 2010 when they did not use the systems to 2011 when they did. Projects were on the same stretch of road but the area under construction in 2011 was actually 3.6% longer and there were 52% more lane closure days. Despite that, they experienced a 13.8% reduction in end of queue crashes. This is just the first to quantify the effects of systems on work zone traffic. But it’s a good indication of the results we can expect going forward.

Congratulations to all three speakers. It was a very interesting webinar and I look forward to downloading the Implementation Guide very soon. The publication number is FHWA-HOP-014-008.