T3 Webinar Question and Answer Transcript

RCTOs in Action: Portland, Detroit, Tucson, and Hampton Roads Discuss their Regional Concept for Transportation Operations (July 25, 2007)

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Q:  Wayne Berman: Q. Paul Olson asked: Will you repost the web link to the new document Wayne mentioned? I would like to download it.

A.  Wayne Berman: I'm sure they will. We could, but essentially it's www.plan4operations.dot.gov. If you go to the operations website, there's a link to that as well.

Q:   Wayne Berman: Q. Belinda Bellaras asked: What is the name of the funding program that awarded the four demo sites?

A.  Wayne Berman: There really was no funding program. It was a research program funded it on a one-time basis to demonstrate a regional concept of operations. It was a one-time solicitation of interest, I think in 2004-05. There was no special funding associated with it. Although as was mentioned in the materials in the presentations, certainly planning funds, CMAQ funds and the like can be used to support the effort.

Q:   Wayne Berman: Q. Martha Morecock Eddy asked: How does the RCTO primer relate or improve on the RTOCC, regional transportation operations collaboration coordination primer?

A:   Wayne Berman: There RTOCC primer was prepared in 2003-04, I believe. Really, it was designed to make the case for collaboration on operations in the context of a region. One of the key principles that we laid out in the RTOCC primer was a product called a regional concept for transportation operations, although I think the terminology changed slightly. We see that the RCTO is actually a product and a tool for guiding the collaborative effort that we tried to make the case for in the regional transportation operations collaboration coordination primer. It sounds like a mouthful, but essentially, the RCTO that we talked about today is really the mechanism for facilitating a collaborative effort in a region that we spoke about in the RTOCC primer. Does anybody else want to add to that? Jocelyn, do you have any thoughts on that?

Jocelyn Bauer: No. I would agree that the RCTO is an outcome of regional transportation operations collaboration, but it also guides that. The RTOCC primer was much more of a primer about general collaboration and coordination, whereas, an RCTO takes it a step further and talks about how to develop a strategy that will guide that collaboration.

Q:  Wayne Berman: Q. Matt Letourneau asked: Where does the RCTO tool fit into the systems engineering process?

A:  Wayne Berman: That's a good question. As I said in the beginning, we modeled the RCTO, in a general sense, from a systems engineering process where you look at your outcomes, understand your outcomes and define how you want to get there, the relationships, the processes, and the investment that you want to make to get there. We took the RCTO and made it for institutional and regional agencies to do kind of the same sort of thing. When they collaborate on operations to understand and develop where they want to go and how they want to get there. Really, if I could say the RCTO is almost a beginning or a precursor to a systems engineering process. Once a decision is made under the RCTO to invest in a certain project or activity, especially one that involves technology, then I would see the systems engineering process taking over at that point in time to guide that through.

Q:  Wayne Berman: Q. Wally Blain asked: What funding source was used in the Portland example has an earmark for ITS projects?

A:  Wayne Berman: Jon, do you want to try and take that?

Jon Makler: Sure. This is Jon Makler in Portland. As part of the distribution of TIP funds, where we're generally working with urban STP and CMAQ. Those are the two pots of money that we allocate. We have individual projects that we fund through the TIP and then we just create a suballocation using STP and CMAQ money, probably in this case, CMAQ.

Q:  Wayne Berman: Q. Frank Cechini asked: Was the presenter an engineer or a planner?

A:  Wayne Berman: The question leads to a broader question of the need for engineering staff at the MPO specifically. I know I made a little error in two of the folks. Indeed, they were engineers rather than planners. Certainly, Tom Bruff and Camelia Ravanbakht. Any of you folks want to answer that one, as regarding an MPO or a planner on an MPO staff?

Camelia Ravanbakht: This is Camelia Ravanbakht. I just want to add here that we have 14 staff in the transportation department here at the MPO, with 10 engineers and four planners, to give you an idea.

Jon Makler: This is Jon again. The question came up while I was talking. The people here call me a plangineer, because like the others, I have a background in both. At this point, I'm pretty much a planner, though by my education. I would say that the more important question that you're raising in terms of MPO staffing, I think what this group exhibits is that there's been a benefit of the MPO environment to having someone who is an engineer or an operations staff to spread the mix. Camilia's numbers about their staffing are quite different from Metro, where we just hired our first-- although people might be engineers, we have our first engineering position that we hired a few months ago.

Tom Bruff: This is Tom Bruff. I would say that maybe the question should be a higher level question as to you need to be able to address both engineering or really operation issues with planning issues. Planners and operators don't necessarily talk the same talk. Through this effort, I think you get that mix of discussion, as well as learning each other's work processes and timeframes and things. This really is an effort of bringing operations and planning closer together.

Q:  Wayne Berman: Q. Mike Pietrzyk asked: How has the RCTO process changed the role and staffing requirements for MPOs? Is this a vehicle for MPOs to engage in regional operations? I would answer that in the affirmative, but I'll open it up to the presenters. Anybody out there, how has the RCTO process changed the role or staffing requirements in your agencies?

A:   Tom Bruff: This is Tom Bruff again at SEMCOG. One of the things is that I was initially working on this project and have been, to some degree, throughout the two years. But since going through this process, fortunately, we've been able to hire another staff person whose main job will be focused on carrying out this operations activity. If it would have continued with just me, I would have shared that activity with a number of other activities. It wouldn't have been my full time focus. But right now it is probably a full time focus of one staff person.

Wayne Berman: How about the second part of it for the folks? Is this a vehicle for the MPO to engage in regional operations? What you folks say about that? Jon, any thoughts, Jon Makler?

Jon Makler: Sure. I think that the general tenor here, the way we describe the RCTO as a management tool, my experience has been that if you're looking to figure out how to get the MPO engaged in operations, I don't think the RCTO is a tool to create energy where there wasn't energy before. But if there's a need in the region to bring a strategic decision-making process to bear, and RCTO is a good tool for most situations like that. I think the MPO staff tends to excel, tends to have the skill set. As I said, I think the MPO should find a place to be the value adding asset. I think if you're talking about how to facilitate a regional dialogue with regard to anything, I think the MPO is really well positioned to do that. I think that's what we've been able to do here is we've been able to offer our skills as planners to the engineering community.

Wayne Berman: How about in Camelia's case? Any thoughts?

Camelia Ravanbakht: Yeah. I think from my experience here in Hampton Roads, RCTO was a great tool in order for us to see and experience our stakeholders and not just concentrating on planners and traffic engineers and go beyond that and have a dialog with first responders, incident management and so on, all those lists that you saw in one of my slides. That's my experience here.

Q:   Wayne Berman: To what extent has the RCTO process improved the development of interlocal agreements between operating agencies?

A:  Paul Casertano: Paul Casertano here from PAG. It's absolutely improved interagency local agreements between operating agencies. There were some of these that were sprouting up between individual agencies, so there were a number of one-to-one agreements. But what this did is the RCTO process kind of shed light on the entire thing and identified a need to pull some of the other agencies into some of the longer standing institutional arrangements that had been put together between some of the larger entities, for example. Then we afforded those opportunities to some of the smaller agencies to get more involved in some of the already existing agreements. We did some modifications to some agreements for traffic signalization and now are going into the communications infrastructure arena and looking at some of those agreements that exist there and modifying those so that we can create a municipally owned telecommunications network to support transportation operations. It most certainly sheds light on the issue and allows for improvements to some of the existing arrangements and development of brand new ones as well.

Q:  Wayne Berman: Mike has another question: If MPOs are getting more involved with operations, why can't they take the lead on reporting system performance and the regular monitoring of transportation system performance?

A:  Wayne Berman: Tom, do you have any thoughts on that?

Tom Bruff: Sure. I guess one of things that an MPO, at least for SEMCOG is that we don't operate anything. We would probably love to provide information out and we do, as long as we can get that information or that data. Fortunately for us, all the systems data that comes from our ITS center we have access to other performance measures, whether it's crash data or road condition data, we have that information. As we grow and that's an essential part of the RCTO, is that you not only identify objectives, but then part of those objectives, you need to identify performance measures in order to monitor your completing that objective. So it is going to be more of an emphasis now. But the other part of it is we need to make sure that there's open communications. Maybe that gets to some of the other questions that were highlighted throughout here about our architecture. Again, it leads to what is the whole concept between ITS architectures that you have an open communication and are able to get the information that's supported through that ITS architecture effort.

Wayne Berman: Any other additions from our panel on that one?

Paul Casertano: Yeah, Wayne. This is Paul Casertano. I think that inevitably, MPOs will be required to take more of a lead on reporting system performance. We see some of the pieces of the congestion management process requiring more system performance measurements, as well as it being integrated into the RCTO process itself. Logically, when you're measuring some of the system performance, you're not going to want to exclusively look at ownership pieces of a roadway, but you're going to want to look at the facility as a whole, perhaps a subarea of an arterial network or the freeway network itself, transit operations, etc. So I think logically, the MPO is a good place to have that. I would agree wholeheartedly with some of Tom's concerns about the availability of data and making sure that relationship between the MPO and the actual data holders who are the local jurisdictions, be fostered and improved in some cases to enable MPOs to do this.

Wayne Berman: I've got another question for you, Tom.

Q:  Wayne Berman: Frank Cechini asks: It is my impression that all of this in Detroit has occurred by "operations initiatives," largely by SDOT (that may be MDOT, I don't know) and momentum continues largely from the operations community. How has SEMCOG had an impact on this? One of many at the table or a leader or a champion?

A:  Tom Bruff: We just started with some of our existing committees. Again, we had a focus on our incident management group. We had an arterial traffic management group. We had a freeway operations group. We knew of the other partners out there that were dealing with operational issues. Some of the missing stakeholders were our other first responders, EMS. Communications was a big group that was missing, although we did have a few public safety answering points out there. Now we should check into for communications there is an urban area security initiative which brings communications groups together and we're trying to tap into them as part of our communications stakeholders.

Wayne Berman: I guess the key part in my mind of this question is how did you all maintain participation?

Tom Bruff: I think because of the issues, you can see through funding, we can't keep buying more infrastructure. We need to maintain and more efficiently operate the system that we have. I believe once you explain that concept, which sometimes is a difficult concept to get across to people, they see the urgency in the issue and I think that especially for our region, people are buying into the whole concept of the focus on operations.

Jon Makler: This is Jon in Portland. If I can add something, I think the other way that you keep people involved, just fundamentally, is I think you have to make sure that everybody has something to do. When you have a volunteer committee, you also have to make sure that the benefits that you're delivering from the work that you have benefits that are distributed to all of your stakeholders.

Wayne Berman: Good.

Camelia Ravanbakht: This is Camelia from Hampton Roads. If I may add quickly, we just discussed this issue, how to maintain participation yesterday in our RCTO meeting, and it's discussed every time. I think the question that we always ask ourselves, "How do we pick the right people?" It's good to have stakeholders, but we want to make sure that we have somebody, a stakeholder that has some passion and is going to allocate the time, since this is all volunteer work. That's important to keep in mind that you want to make sure that you have somebody who's really passionate about this and wants to make improvements in the operations process.

Q:  Wayne Berman: Emiliano Lopez asked: Can you discuss how the RCTO and the regional architecture development use and maintenance efforts are being coordinated? Much of what has been discussed are addressed and contained in both.

A:  Wayne Berman: Camelia, do you want to take that, since you mentioned the architecture in your presentation?

Camelia Ravanbakht: Sure. The architecture, I think the RCTO is one element of our architecture. The key question that we always ask ourselves in our meetings is to the maintenance and the effort. I think we have to get stakeholders involved and make sure that the architecture is maintained. Right now we are in our region getting a little bit behind on maintaining the regional architectures and this is a very good question. I'd like to hear from other regions on this topic, too.

Wayne Berman: Actually, we tried to address that question in our primer as well.

Jocelyn Bauer: In section three. This is Jocelyn. I supported Wayne in helping to develop this primer. I think the RCTO and the architecture serve some related but fairly distinct purposes, in that the regional ITS architecture illustrates and documents sort of the regional integration of ITS across the region, whereas, an RCTO talks about how a collaborative partner can get from their current state to a desired state. Some of that desired state may be described in the architecture, where user needs are brought out and other regional needs or services are described in that architecture. I think there's definitely a need for a give and take between the two, as the RCTO may get into ITS, it should consult the applicable regional ITS architectures to make sure that it's coordinated with what is set in the architecture.

Wayne Berman: Good. Thanks, Jocelyn and thanks, Camelia. This also goes to you, Camelia.

Q:  Wayne Berman: Mike also asked: Does the Hampton Roads smart traffic center publish system performance measures?

Camelia Ravanbakht: I can say and give credit to the RCTO project. With that project, VDOT, who runs and maintains the smart traffic center in Hampton Roads, hired staff and this staff, her time is dedicated to analyzing and publishing a weekly report on system performance. It's great.

Q:  Wayne Berman: Q. From Paul Olson: when talking about regional expenditures or programs, are they focused on construction projects or rather actual active operations efforts?

A.  Wayne Berman: Jon, do you want to try and take that one?

Jon Makler: Yeah, I think the purpose of the RCTO is to help navigate that exact question. The term I used when I was talking is portfolio. When you've articulated your vision and you're developing an action plan, you're figuring out the portfolio or the range of things you need to do from ongoing operations, which is what I usually refer to as protocol, to the policy or legal changes or to the capital investments. I think that you have to look across those things. Right now, with our incident management topic we're looking at staffing levels at the police and towing and other areas, incident response, which I think of as an operational cost. We're also looking at certain capital costs. I think the very nature of the RCTO is to help us in a structured format look at those different avenues of endeavor.

Wayne Berman: Anybody else want to add to that?

Paul Casertano: This is Paul in Tucson. Our expenditures or programs are more in the realm of operational projects, which doesn't necessarily mean that it's completely cohesive with some of the legacy TIP programs, because the TIP traditionally, in our area, has a hard time with things that you can't plop on a map that don't do actual construction. We've had to identify them as projects, even though they're more in the realm of an operational program, per se.

Wayne Berman: Q. Fred Housman asked: For the PIMA on-call program, does one agency provide on-call services, or do multiple agencies provide on-call personnel?

A.  Paul Casertano:We are currently in the process of kind of flushing that out a little bit. What we're going to do in the interim is the MPO will purchase off of an existing on-call program that the state DOT has already. There are multiple on-call agencies or contractors on that program. So what we will do, as the MPO, is we'll guide our technical advisory committee on selecting which group is most appropriate for the program that they want to march forward with from year to year, in terms of retiming signals.

Wayne Berman: Q. Frank Cechini asked all of our presenters: Are your working groups now or planned for the future as a formal committee of the MPO structure?

A.  Wayne Berman:I guess, are the working groups that you have for the RCTO now or planned as future or formal committees of the MPO?

Tom Bruff: This is Tom Bruff from SEMCOG. Right now, no, they are not formal committees underneath the MPO structure, maybe a subcommittee from our transportation advisory council. It's been thought or suggested that this might take place. But for the time being, we'd rather leave it loose like this. We're holding off on formalizing it.

Jon Makler: TI think the same thing is true in Portland, where the people who are working on our incident management project, that task force is not an MPO committee, but working on this has prompted us, as I talked about, to form a new TSMO policy level committee. I think one of the things that they can do is help identify the topics for which we should develop RCTOs.

Camelia Ravanbakht: This is Camelia from Hampton Roads. The RCTO working group is basically a subcommittee of our ITS committee, which is a larger group. The ITS committee is part of our MPO committee and the transportation technical committee. So indirectly, to answer, it is yes.

Paul Casertano: That's pretty much our situation in Tucson, except our ITS committee is a broader transportation systems committee, so we started to look more at operations in addition to ITS. So the RCTO group exists within that, essentially.

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