A Qualitative Study of the Core Functions of Smart Traffic Centers at the Virginia Department of Transportation

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Virginia Transportation Research Council, 2006 - Emergency management - 25 pages
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The Virginia Department of Transportation's (VDOT) Smart Traffic Centers (STC) were established to address the growing problem of increased congestion caused by traffic demand exceeding roadway capacity. Initially, the core function of the STC was simply to get information to the public. However, VDOT's STCs were established at different times with different approaches to meet regional traffic needs. As a result, practices, processes, organizational structures, and relationships with other VDOT functions vary widely among STCs. With this complexity, the definition of the STCs core functions has evolved. To develop a clear understanding of these core functions, a group composed of STC operations managers was formed and this study was undertaken. The study found that the core function of VDOT's STCs has expanded beyond disseminating information to the public, although that activity remains a critical tool of traffic and incident management. Specifically, STCs have four core functions: (1) traffic management, (2) incident management, (3) emergency operations/emergency management, and (4) regional networking. Incident management activities and events define the vast majority of work and, therefore, drive the development of systems, procedures, policies, and relationships with communities, agencies, and private companies with whom an STC must work on a daily basis. Further, the study determined that a fully developed Safety Service Patrol (SSP) greatly enhances the functionality of the STC. Where the SSP is fully operational, the STC's ability both to gather information and to interact directly with the public and other state, local, and federal agencies is complete. Without a functional SSP, the STCs ability to manage incidents directly (and therefore traffic) is limited, impaired, or disabled. In addition, the study found that STCs are VDOT's most direct link to the public and that regional networking is critical to successful STC operations. VDOT's STCs are, therefore, critical to coordinating and working directly with local, state, and federal agencies. This is particularly clear in regions such as Northern Virginia and Hampton Roads, where the large number of cites and communities that directly abut increases the number of responder agencies and organizations. The inherent complexity of such regions requires careful coordination and networking to ensure the safe and efficient management of incidents and emergencies and to mitigate their impact on regional traffic flow. The recommendations offered in this report will help coordinate STC development. Although there will always be some variation because of regional needs, STC practices will benefit from increased and continual sharing of information and practices across locations. Fully developed SSPs are arguably the single most practical and powerful resource an STC has to manage incidents, as well as to develop strong relations with the public, local communities, and other agencies. Because of the necessary interface with communities, cities, and agencies at multiple levels, STCs are perfectly situated to develop regional relationships and structures; therefore, regional strategies for traffic operations should be shared among STC locations.

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