Removing Barriers for Successful Implementation of ITS: An Agency Perspective

December 2, 2021
Anthony Barbetto, PE &

Smart transport technology concept for future car traffic on road.

A new day is dawning for the future of transportation in America. The industry is shifting to new modes of transportation, smarter energy sources, intelligent technologies, and automation to transform travel into a smarter, greener, safer, and more enjoyable experience. Robust infrastructure and governing policies must be in place to support these advancements. This requires investments in Intelligent Transportation Systems (ITS) infrastructure and a carefully designed Transportation Systems Management and Operations (TSMO) philosophy to foster this technological revolution.

Despite the critical need for robust ITS deployments and TSMO support throughout the industry, future ITS initiatives and projects face significant headwinds that prevent implementation. These roadblocks are diverse and multi-faceted and are faced across all levels of government from state, local, and municipal agencies. Some of the most common headwinds faced by agencies are highlighted below.

Common Barriers to Implementation

Funding

Inability to garner funding is the most common barrier. Infrastructure funding is limited, and ITS and TSMO projects are often overlooked for higher profile, more visible projects. Dollars reserved for ITS pursuits must be spent as efficiently as possible. A well-planned Transportation Improvement Plan is critical for successful deployments of these specialized projects.

Politics and Public Support

Building upon funding struggles outlined above, obstacles with political and public support can impede greenlighting a project. Large roadway improvement projects that promise increased travel speeds, improved safety, and decreased traffic bottlenecks are easily understood by the public. Therefore, these projects frequently receive political backing. ITS-related projects are less understood by the public and require more resources to educate the public and garner support. This headwind makes it less likely for ITS projects to be elevated from a political standpoint.

Rapid Technological Advancement

Another challenge to implementing ITS technologies is the rapid advancement of the technologies themselves. While most roadway engineering disciplines evolve slowly over time, ITS quickly evolves year-to-year. This requires a workforce to be kept up to date of these technological advancements, both on the agency side and engineering side. Keeping a workforce focused on both the day-to-day operations of the industry and the rapid advancement of technology to stay ahead of the curve is no easy feat.

Workforce Challenges

In addition to technological advancements, an entire staff is required for the operations and maintenance of the devices once implemented and deployed. These devices require constant monitoring at Traffic Management Centers (TMCs) and require routine maintenance and repair in the field due to their fragile nature. It can be challenging to maintain, train, and expand a workforce capable of caring for such an intricate and complex network, especially in today’s challenging hiring environment, but it is critical to future network expansion plans.

Legislation and Regulations

An often-overlooked aspect of ITS deployments is the legislative and regulatory environments necessary to deploy new technologies. Active Traffic Management (ATM) ITS-based technologies are developing at a rapid pace, and the technologies of today are creating solutions that did not exist years ago. Examples of new, ATM-based solutions are:

  • Actively Managed “Smart” Lanes: Some states are converting roadway shoulders to travel lanes during peak travel times to increase highway capacity and improve level of the service without physically expanding the roads, adding significant capacity increases at relatively low cost. This requires a robust ITS deployment and clearly defined business rules paired with a well-staffed TMC to manage the system, monitor for incidents, and open or close lanes. In addition to providing increased capacity at predetermined intervals (such as rush hour, special events, and holidays), lanes can be actively opened or closed as part of an incident management plan, providing benefits to first responders and the motoring public.
  • Variable Speed Limit (VSL) Corridors: Sections of roadway across the U.S. are being converted into VSL corridors, where static, fixed speed limit signs are replaced by electronic speed limit signs that are connected to the TMC. These electronic speed limit signs are programmed based on a well-defined set of business rules, and the speed of the corridor is raised or lowered based on pre-defined conditions. In addition to the passive management of the variable speed limit signs, the TMC also has the flexibility to override the programming and actively raise or lower the speed limit as part of an incident management plan.
  • Toll-By-Plate: Tolling authorities across the nation are removing traditional manned toll booths for all-electronic tolling installations, where vehicle identification occurs electronically via in-car transponder identification or toll-by-plate, where license plates are individually identified by advanced image detection technology.
  • Violation Enforcement: Advanced image detectors are used to read license plates and remotely identify vehicles violating certain rules determined by the authority. The back office system then can log the violations for enforcement. This could include violations for tolling, red lights, speed, overweight truck, and other parameters.

While these technologies exist, states and municipalities may not have the legislative and regulatory framework to legally deploy and enforce these technologies. Drafting legislation is often met with public opposition.

While the challenges listed above are substantial, this is ultimately a short list of the challenges faced by state and local agencies to deploy these technologies on our roadways.