T3 Webinar Question and Answer Transcript

Shaking Hands: Building Effective Regional Relationships in the Deployment of ITS (March 04, 2008)

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Disclaimer: The United States Department of Transportation does not endorse any vendors mentioned in the following transcript.

Q. Paul Olson Asked: Why is it that Signals have taken so long to be incorporated in the effort? Every entrance/exit is controlled by one.

A.  Mark Demidovich: When we first wrote the NaviGAtor software, we did actually attempt to include a signal module in the software, but with all the wide variety of signal equipment out there, with all the different vendors and different protocols, we did not succeed in getting that done in time for the initial deployment of the software. But the reason we've got all this renewed interest in bringing in signals is that we're in the midst right now of standardizing to a single controller standard and a firmware version statewide. So bringing signals into NaviGAtor should be a lot easier. Also center-to-center data sharing methods are much improved over where they were several years ago. That should help, too.

Q. James Schultz Asked: Do you have ramp meters and HOT lanes controlled by Navigator?

A.  Mark Demidovich: We have just eight ramp meters in the Atlanta region today. Yes, they are controlled by NaviGAtor. We're in the midst of a massive expansion right now, building close to 130 of these. As we're developing our new software, we are going with a package by Siemens called the TACTICS software, which will control all of our ramp meters as well as integrating something called SWARM, which is a system-wide area ramp metering algorithm into our NaviGAtor software, which will allow ramp meters adjacent to each other to know what each other are doing, rather than each ramp meter operating independently. Yes, ramp meters are a part of NaviGAtor and will be even more so in the next version. As far as HOT lanes, no. There are no HOT lanes in the Atlanta region today. There is HOV, but we pretty much manage those just like another lane.

Q. Paul Olson Asked: Several local/county partners were mentioned as partners with the Navigator System, is there any coordination with these partners currently to provide diversions for freeway incidents? What types of activities are supported by Navigator or GDOT to regularly engage the local/county partners?

A.  John Whaley: I'll take that or at least start that one. What we found is build it and they will come. It's funny you should mention the freight or rail guys. They have just come to us with the thought of, "Well, you can detect. We've seen your website. You can tell us where all of the freeway collisions are and all the congestion. Why could you do not at rail crossings?" So with their help and some of their funding, we are deploying some cameras at the rail crossings so that we can start to put up notices of there's a rail breakdown and there's a blocked crossing. The transit system has been kind of the same way. The transit police realized that we had lots of surveillance systems and they could use that to help run their park and ride lots. They've got 26 park and ride lots. They're using some of the same systems we use to monitor the freeways at their park and ride lots.

Q. Zhongze Wang Asked: What is the MPO's role in the development of your ITS?

A.  John Whaley: One of the first things that I did when I got here was to put the director of the MPO on our leadership team. I think it's really important to get buyoff on the region, because all the federal funds have to go through them. If you can get them on board and knowing what you're doing, being an air attainment region, they're really interested in what anybody can do to get those numbers down. We've had quite a bit of success in showing that ITS is good for the environment and therefore, should be funded.

Mark Demidovich: It's a similar situation here in Atlanta. All of our federal projects must go through the MPO and be programmed and included in the TIP. So we keep them involved and include them in all of our meetings.

Q. Paul Olson Asked: What is the most important thing/subject that keeps the group working together and deeply involved?

A.  Lokesh Hebbani: They're talking about all the partners involved in this ITS system, local partners and the traffic management center. Mark?

Mark Demidovich: I think from our end it's a common goal. That's to keep things moving. Everybody involved, whether it's the state or the cities and counties or even the police, fire, rescue, they're trying to keep a transportation system that functions well and is safe. It's all a common goal. That's what keeps the players playing.

John Whaley: I think transportation is a major issue in any large metropolitan area. But also, all of the budgets are being cut and anywhere I've gone everybody's complained about how much less funding there is. By bringing others' resources in, if you can show a business case where you're better off financially, then you're not going to get anybody arguing with that. You've got better service at less cost. How can you beat that?

Q. Paul Olson Asked: How is the actual active operation of all of these systems funded? Is that funding stream dependable? Is it included in the STIP/TIP thru the MPO process?

A.  Mark Demidovich: I'll start. Here in Georgia, yes we have funding for maintenance of the system, funding for operation of the system, and funding for our HERO program. Each of those is a separate project, which is funded out currently right through I think 2012. So it is dependable and it is on the MPO's list of projects. Each of those projects recurs each year and is renewed each fiscal year.

John Whaley: With the TranStar program, all the field maintenance is maintained by whatever jurisdiction owns that piece of right-of-way. When it comes back into the center and into some common support structures, then there is a consortium fund that's set up. Typically, it's about $5 million a year, $2 million which would include some capital expansion as well. $2 of that from FHWA, about a little less than $1 million from TxDOT, and then the remaining is collected in cash from the local jurisdictions. Again, through the budget process, they evaluate if they're getting their money's worth. So far, for 11 years, everybody thinks they have. So it's fairly reliable, as long as you don't put big variations each year in your operating budget.

Q. Paul Olson Asked: In all of these programs did you first focus on construction of the infrastructure or on what you needed to do to manage transportation in the region and let it drive the infrastructure needs?

A.  John Whaley: Well, both. You have to take that inventory of what you've got. But the first thing that we did was to try to forecast demand. We knew that we were behind the curve. So the demand was pushing the infrastructure, because it just wasn't there. When you have individual projects, we tried to do an inventory of what could be used in that particular problem. What's already in place and then go from there.

Mark Demidovich: I think from my perspective, there's sort of been a shift in the last couple of years as far as what drives what. At the beginning, we were mainly deploying lots of infrastructure, because we knew what we needed in an urban area. Now as we go further and further out, that model doesn't really work necessarily. Now the concept of operations really drives what the infrastructure is. We took a big effort to developing what it is we're trying to do, what we're trying to manage in the transportation system before we start deploying.

Q. Austin Kimley-Horn Asked: Are there any restrictions on the media to keep them from recording camera feeds?

Lokesh Hebbani: This question is on closed-circuit television camera feed, that the TMCs give it to the TV stations.

Mark Demidovich: No. No restrictions. The only restrictions we have would be to not provide them the video in the first place. So anything that we provide them, they can and do record. I've seen video from our cameras on the 11:00 news that was originally recorded at noon or something like that. So there's no restrictions.

John Whaley: We're in the same shape. We don't record at the center, so if they want to do that and take the risk of all the lawyers that want that recording, they're welcome to do that. But if there is an incident that is sensitive or police driven, then we do have the capability of shutting that particular camera off.

Q. Jama Mohamed Asked: To John Whaley - You mentioned Freeway Incident management, is there a local arterial incidents management plan, who gets involved?

A.  John Whaley: That's a fairly new program. The latest mayor wanted to take what he saw on the freeways onto his local streets and formed what is being called the Mobility Response Team. It's a group of civilian employees that are hired by the police department. They're dispatched at the center by the public works desk. When they have an incident like a traffic signal that goes out or loses power, then they can dispatch this Mobility Response Team and they'll direct traffic while public works is trying to get somebody out there to fix the traffic signal. It's also been used for short term closures like potholes or cave-ins or something. They'll dispatch those people. They're on motorcycles and they just direct traffic while the maintenance crews are on their way.

Q. Paul Olson Asked: Do any of these programs have a formal written Concept of Operations to guide the programs and relationships as well as the development of the software systems? Or has a formal Systems Engineering process been followed?

A.  John Whaley: I'll start. There are some formal documents as far as systems architecture, what will be accepted in the systems as the different agencies bring in their systems. We have kind of a rule that if you want to follow the architecture, if you want to have all the common standards that we need, then we will help to maintain that system. However, if you have an individual application that only you are using and you feel that you need to have it unique, then you're welcome to use that at the center, but it's up to whoever it is to maintain that.

Mark Demidovich: I think I mentioned a couple of questions ago that we just did go through an exercise to develop a pretty comprehensive concept of operations. It's called Concept of Operations for ITS in Georgia. Then we followed that up with what's called a Strategic Deployment Plan, which gets into a little bit more specifics of actual levels of of deployment along various types of corridors. Both of those documents are actually Georgia DOT specific. They don't call out exactly the way the locals should or would have to do it. But it does describe the interfaces between Georgia DOT and any partners.

Q. Jama Mohamed Asked: To John Whaley - You mentioned Freeway Incident management, is there a local arterial incidents management plan, who gets involved?

A.  John Whaley: That's a fairly new program. The latest mayor wanted to take what he saw on the freeways onto his local streets and formed what is being called the Mobility Response Team. It's a group of civilian employees that are hired by the police department. They're dispatched at the center by the public works desk. When they have an incident like a traffic signal that goes out or loses power, then they can dispatch this Mobility Response Team and they'll direct traffic while public works is trying to get somebody out there to fix the traffic signal. It's also been used for short term closures like potholes or cave-ins or something. They'll dispatch those people. They're on motorcycles and they just direct traffic while the maintenance crews are on their way.

Q. Paul Olson Asked: Do any of these programs also highlight incidents on arterials as well as freeways?

A.  John Whaley: We're just in the middle of putting that together. I just got out of a meeting addressing that. The answer today is no. But we're hoping to have that on the website fairly quickly.

Q. James Schultz Asked: What is the relationship of GRTA and Navigator?

A.  Mark Demidovich:   That's basically what I was just hinting at. The GRTA is the Georgia Regional Transportation Authority. We work with them on these performance measures and supply them with all of our freeway traffic data in which they compile and come up with these trip time indices.

Q. Eddie Curtis Asked: How do you engage elected officials to get them interested in regional traffic signal operations?

A.   John Whaley:  We invite them over to the center. We try to put on the best shirt and get them enthusiastic. We actively go after, make phone calls and especially with the locals to bring them in and get some enthusiasm so they can take that back to their respective councils. We've had some success from time to time with that. But I will say that it works best if you do it on an individual basis, rather than bringing a big group in. If you can talk one-on-one with somebody and you're looking over the center and showing them how it benefits them or how it could benefit their jurisdiction.

Q. Jesse Glazer Asked: How are costs for deployment, operation, and maintenance of common elements allocated between the four primary agencies?

A.   John Whaley:  We have a fairly extensive spreadsheet that calculates that. Over the years, we have developed what everybody has agreed is fair. Depending on what the system is, it could be how much of floor space you take or how many telephones you have or how many people or using water. It's really a fairly complicated thing that Excel spreadsheets take care of very well. It's based on basically how much of the system are you using. We have measures that we plug into the formulas for that. What we normally do is we'll set up a budget and then throw those factors onto the budget which will split it out by funding agency.

Q. James Schultz Asked: What is the total budget for capital, operating and maintenance for each system?

A.   Mark Demidovich:  In Georgia, the operating and maintenance budget is about $35 million a year. Capital varies by year, depending on how many projects are let to construction. But since we're in the midst of a pretty large expansion program right now, those costs have been fairly high. They've been running about $60 million in the last couple of fiscal years. That will go down significantly once the program reaches its conclusion.

 Lokesh Hebbani: John?

A.   John Whaley:   I don't now if I could tell you what every agency has into their maintenance budget. I can say that for all of the common maintenance and capital at the center, its $5 million. Then it would be each agency putting on the expansion part of it. Certainly, it would be in the millions of dollars for each agency maintaining all their field equipment and that sort of thing.

Q. James Schultz Asked: Is the software system used at each TOC - public or privately owned?

A.   Mark Demidovich:   Yes, NaviGAtor is publicly owned. It was developed by in-house resources.

  John Whaley:   The system [Houston] was put together under a TxDOT contract and TxDOT owns that software and makes it available for the asking.

Q. Steve Kuciemba Asked: Do either of the TMC's employ "contract staff" to supplement or replace public sector staff?

A.   John Whaley:   We have contract staff working with the computer section. It's just a matter of being able to get the expertise easier under contract than at the salaries that are available in the public sector. We have two contract employees that show up every day like regular employees.

Mark Demidovich:   This is a pretty timely question in Georgia. As recently as December, we privatized our entire operations floor, if you will, from the supervisor level down to the operators. It is now 100% privatized with a company called Serco.

Q. Eddie Curtis Asked: Mark - the statewide signal system software and firmware you mentioned; is that for all state and local signals or only the state signals?

A. Mark Demidovich:   Everybody. We're making it available not only to our own signals, which of those 8,000, only a small percentage are Georgia DOT operated. The majority of signals in Georgia are county operated. Yes, we're making that firmware available to whoever wants it.

Q. Paul Olson Asked: In the GA [system] is there now a single sole source signal system for GDOT and cities and counties?

A.   Mark Demidovich:   Yes. That's the program I mentioned earlier, the advanced traffic controller program that we're deploying to about 8,000 signals statewide.

Q. Mac Lister Asked: Have you developed performance measures that the various operators agree to and support?

A.  John Whaley:  In the annual report we have certain measures that we take, but it hasn't gone across to the larger multi-county jurisdictions yet. I think it's just a matter of timing. Once you get out of the metropolitan area and you get into the more suburban and rural areas, they're still trying to define what they want out of the system at that point. The hurricane evacuations have really pushed that issue. Now we're starting to get inquiries and we're going to have to start to address that sort of stuff. But it hasn't come up to this point.

 Mark Demidovich:  Most of the performance measures we use are related to equipment maintenance. In other words, we track the online percentage of all the various cameras and signs. We also have some traffic flow performance measures which we work on with some of the regional transportation authorities here. In other words, we try to track the travel time index on all the various freeways with a goal of a region-wide travel time index of 1.35.

Q. Paul Olson Asked: So if in the TranStar arrangement the locals must pay for their own infrastructure. What happens when their budget is cut to the point where the stuff stops working?

A.  John Whaley:  If their stuff stops working, then it goes off . One of the important parts of any of these agreements like on the fiber system when you're trying to define where you can tie these together. You really have to define where the demarcation is between the two. So if agency A runs out of money and agency B is connected to it, then B still has their original system. It's just at that point they would not have the expanded system. So far it hasn't been a problem. But we've tried to think that out ahead of time.

Q. Giles Turnbull Asked: Are there commercial relationships with media outlets when sharing traffic data? How much is this a part of meeting the operational costs of the TMC and future expansion?

A.  John Whaley:  We've really struggled with that. There is certainly a willingness by the media to pay for some resources. The problem we've had is that the policies aren't there to accept the money. We haven't been getting any significant funding from the media to this point.

 Mark Demidovich:   That's the same situation here. The only - it's not really revenue, but we do ask that the media install all of their own equipment at their own expense into our center for any kind of video sharing. But there is no revenue stream from them.

Q. James Schultz Asked: do you have a statewide ITS Strategic Plan?

A.  Mark Demidovich:   The final copy was delivered yesterday. It's called the ITS Strategic Deployment Plan. It pretty much goes hand-in-hand with the concept of operations.

 Lokesh Hebbani:  John?

A.  John Whaley:  That plan is handled in Austin. As a Houston district, we're a part of that. But it's actually being spearheaded in Austin.

Q. Walter Langford Asked: In Georgia what type of traffic controller is being used?

A.  John Whaley: The same thing in Houston.

Q. Walter Langford Asked: What does the cell phone probing involve?

A.  Mark Demidovich:  I guess that's for me. In Georgia we have two ongoing cell phone probe projects. One with a company called AirSage and another with a company called Cellint out of Israel. It basically involves installing special systems into the cell phone towers that can track the cell phones as they're going up and down the roadways with the motorists. It turns that data into a trip time, a point A to point B trip time, which we get from those third parties and integrate into our NaviGAtor system. So it's anonymous. It's collecting all the various phones going down the highway, aggregating that into one number and saying the travel time right now is four minutes to go from here to there.

Q. Atinuke Diver Asked: Do any of these programs run into any privacy law issues?

A.  John Whaley:  We've had public conflict over that in the early years, people saying we're spying on them or something like that. That really has not been an issue since 9-11. I can't name even one inquiry since that time. It's more of an issue with the legislature of how far we should go. We've tried to address that in our operating procedures so that the cameras are only pointed in certain directions and they don't leave the right-of-way unless there's authorization by some police activity. They actually go through quite an extensive effort to keep as much privacy as possible, because of the state legislature having that concern. But we see a trend away from that with more people concerned with security. We're getting requests to do more than just traffic surveillance.

Q. Lokesh Hebbani:  Mark, did we have any of those issues here?John?

A.  Mark Demidovich:  Really no major privacy issues here either. Basically all of the data that we pull into our system is an aggregation of the entire freeway traffic flow. There's no individual tracking of one car. We get that question a lot. Are you measuring my speed and that type of thing, which we're not? It's all sort of averaged together into one number. I was concerned some with the cell phone project when it first started, but really there's been no feedback on that. I think the public is generally happy with having the expanded coverage in our system. I don't think they really even know where that data is coming from.

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