I remember the first time I bought a cordless drill. I love tools and I was excited to bring it home and try it out. Unfortunately, the batteries didn’t hold a charge for very long, and the drill lacked sufficient torque to do any real work. But I had already spent the money so I was stuck with it. I couldn’t buy another one. I wished I had done more homework before hand. Or that I rented one a few times to learn what features and capabilities I needed in a drill.
Work zone ITS is no different. ITS is now becoming common in work zones. Let me be the first to welcome many of you to our world. It’s a wonderful tool that can save many lives but, like most tools, you won’t know what you need until you have several projects behind you.
As you gain experience, you will add more requirements to your specification. Every job that goes wrong will result in a tougher specification, a new feature requirement, or improved response time from your vendors. This is normal. It’s called learning from experience.
But it would be nice if we had a study or process that leads us quickly and easily through the process of finding the best value system for our needs. Each deployment is a little different. The goals vary from project to project. What works well in one situation may not work at all in the next.
Work zone ITS, like cordless drills, come in a range of quality, features, and prices. Buying the cheapest is rarely a good idea. But how do you get the best value for your needs?
First, don’t buy right away. Rent through an experienced work zone ITS system provider. Get involved in the deployment (see “Get Involved with Work Zone ITS” – 2/24/13) and learn what works and what could use improvement.
Once you are ready to write a specification, I recommend plagiarism. There are several good specs out there. Borrow from them as much as you can. But also try to include something on the following topics:
1. Clearly define your expectations for system performance. What do you want to accomplish?
2. Specify the quantity of sensors, message boards, and other devices needed for your project.
3. Set and enforce standards of performance. If something is not repaired or replaced within X hours, you must deduct that from the monthly charge.
4. Be sure the system is scalable. You may find you need two more sensors or one fewer message board. Make it easy to adjust after the job starts.
5. Understand maintenance requirements. Will you have to expose workers to traffic every day to change batteries, or to do some other work? Or will the system operate efficiently for weeks at a time? And who will be responsible for that maintenance?
6. Communications are critical. Require redundancy in the system. If the devices can’t communicate, they can’t warn drivers of changing conditions. And that could lead to far more serious problems.
Still, I wish a university or research group would come up with a process to help agencies through the process of finding the best value system for their particular needs. It would have to involve some sort of decision tree. But it could also vary recommendations depending on traffic volumes, goals of the deployment, expected queue lengths, etc. Do any of you have a suggestion? Please share them with us.