NTOC Planning for Operations Series
Regional Concept for Transportation Operations: Practitioner Experience
November 1, 2011
Hello, and welcome to the NTOC webinar on the Regional Concept for Transportation Operations
(RCTO): Practitioner Experiences. This is the third webinar in the National Transportation
Operation Coalition’s Planning for Operations webinar series, sponsored by the Federal Highway
Administration. I will be giving a brief introduction to the web conferencing environment, before
turning the session over to our first speaker. Today's seminar will last approximately 1.5 hours with
approximately 60 minutes allocated for the presentations, and the final 30 minutes for audience
questions and answers. Please be advised that our seminar is being recorded. During the
presentation, if you think of a question, feel free to type it into the smaller text box in the chat box
on the left side of your screen. Make sure that you send your question to everyone rather than just
the presenters. The presenters will be unable to answer your question during the presentation, but
they will be able to address some of those questions typed into the chat box during the question-
and-answer session in the last 30 minutes of the webinar. The files containing the audio and visual
portions of the seminar will be posted to the NTOC website within the next week. I will type that
address into the chat box shortly. Attendees will be notified by email about the availability of the
presentation and the captioning of the webinar. We encourage you to direct others in your office
that were not able to attend this webinar to access the recording online. The presentations used
today are available for download in the file download box on the left side of the screen. To
download a file, click with your mouse on the name of the file you would like to download and
click the button at the bottom of the download box that says save to my computer.
With that, I would like to introduce our first speaker, who will be kicking off our webinar and
introducing the topic of the Regional Concept for Transportation Operations, and that is Wayne
Berman. Wayne works for the Federal Highway Office of Operations. He's a team leader with the
Congestion Management Pricing team, and one of his responsibilities is developing and facilitating
the Planning for Operations program. Let me turn to his slides, and we will get going. Alright,
Wayne, would you like to start us off?
Thank you, and thank you to everyone who is joining us today. This is exciting for me because it is
a chance to talk about the Regional Concept for Transportation Operations and a little bit of the
development and importance of it from the Federal Highway’s perspective. I would like to go
through a little bit of an introduction with you before the other speakers come on, just to put it into
some perspective for you, and to at least give some background as to how we got to where we are
now. Next slide, please.
The webinar is going to introduce the concept of the RCTO and our speakers today will share their
practices. At the end, we will announce a new publication that we have coming out based upon the
experiences that you will hear today as well as others’ regional concept ideas.
A little bit about the regional concept: we view it as really a tool to assist for planning and
implementing operations strategies in a regional context and to take operations out of just a narrow
project mindset and into much more regional collaborative process. We feel this will sustain the
operations ideas not just for the life of the project, but for a longer period of time. And to guide
agencies to thinking of what they want to do and how they want to do it. That’s important too,
because typically as far as operations goes, we kind of work to the problem. What we are trying to
work towards with the regional concept idea is to work to the outcome, not just to problem
resolution. In that, how do we want to get there? What we want to do over the next 3 to 5 years, and
how do we want to get there? The purpose of the RCTO is to promote more effective and efficient
action to improving the system performance and getting everyone, in particular on a management
level, on the same page. Doing this by setting objectives, coordinating priorities, leveraging
resources, and avoiding duplicative efforts. In large regions in particular, there is a lot of duplicity
going on in the area. If we could better coordinate this, especially in this economic time, and if we
could make better use of resources that we have more efficiently by coordination and collaboration
that would go a long way. It provides an opportunity in the end to begin to link transportation
planning and operations. Again, the notion of a regional coordination of priorities, resources, and
A little bit of history on the RCTO: it emerged from a working group that Federal Highway and
Federal Transit had in 2001 in 2002, where we got together planners and operations people and
safety people around the table and said how can we facilitate better operations in this country, at
all levels of government?
One of the key outputs was the idea of a Regional Concept for Transportation Operations. We took
that idea a step further in 2003 by commissioning a special TRB policy committee task force to
kind of go over what this group and did to have them tweak it, revise it, enhance it. Again, these
people were planners and operations, but at a higher level. They had much more decision-making
roles. That led into a commissioned piece by TRB supporting the idea of the Regional Concept for
Transportation Operations. There were other ideas along the way that were happening as well, with
more of an objective-driven, performance-based approach and that was with the Maricopa
Association of Governments in Phoenix and the MTC in the Bay Area. They all had developed
these kinds of ideas of working together to develop operations in a region. Coming out of that,
FHWA developed a white paper and a primer on the RCTO, that’s a Blueprint for Action.
Around the same time, we also got some demonstration funds and supported three projects around
the country, two of which you will hear from today (Southeast Michigan and Tucson, Arizona) on
their RCTO. We gave them demonstration funds to begin to play with the idea and work it into
their local and regional plans. The third area we funded is the city of Portland, Oregon, and they
supported a staff person at the MPO, the city actually supported a staff person, to strictly work on
operations and develop operations in a regional context. The idea really caught on as well and
Hampton Roads in Virginia also wanted to do it. They did not necessarily apply for the grant
funding, but they also wanted to do an RCTO and we provided some more technical support or
administrative support to them as well to help them in their initiative also. So there are at least four
initiatives that kind of form the basis of what you’re going to hear about today.
Why use an RCTO? In the regional context there is a need for improved operations, be it for
traffic management for example, for a special event, or even where there is a crisis, a hurricane or
an evacuation issue, that people need to work together to improve what we have. It drives the
need for collaboration, and more importantly, it also drives the need for a more strategic or
formalized approaches. The ad-hoc approaches that typically characterize operational
improvements really do not work in a regional context, at least not on a sustained level. When you
add up those three factors, the need for and the rationale for regional operations, it begins to
provide a motivation for doing a regional concept.
Take that motivation, and that drives the need for very defined and specific operations objectives
that really articulate what we want to be in 3 to 5 years, kind of the outcome of our endeavors, be
it for any kind of regional operations activity: incident management, work zones, plan special
events, traffic management centers, a whole array of operations improvements. Those objectives
drives particular approach, were there is a collaborative approach, primarily on the folks who need
to make decisions. They make decisions based upon what they want to accomplish in the 3 to 5
year time frame. Those include how we want to work together, and what the processes or
procedures are to make that happen. The relationships, the procedures, the resource arrangements
that we want to have happen, and what sort of physical improvements need to be put in place.
As I said, the motivation drives the why: why we want to do something? The objectives drive the
what: what is our near-term outcome? And approach drives how we want to work together to
achieve that outcome.
That again includes institutional arrangements, any Memoranda of Understanding that need to be a
developed, protocols, information sharing, what are the things that make it happen, that underlie the
motivation. The physical improvements: we have to invest our money in something, and what are
those things that we want to invest in, be it physical or equipment or technical, such as ITS.
Finally, there are resource arrangements that need to come to bear too. Certainly funding is an
issue, but oftentimes funding is not the entire thing. It is staff resources that need to be directed to
an outcome, equipment that needs to be shared, possibly across regional or jurisdictional
boundaries, staff that may be shared, and it may be even that that resources fall in different
agencies budgets. They can’t mingle those budgets, but they can intermingle resources for a
common regional good.
We can certainly answer questions as we go along, but I just wanted to let you know that we are
taking all of these demonstration practices as well as other activities that have come up and putting
them into a new practitioner's guide on the RCTO. Hopefully we will get it posted on the website
(Planning for Operations website) over the next few weeks. Eventually there will be printed
So finally, the RCTO’s origins are really from systems engineering. If you're familiar at all with
systems engineering processes on a more technical level, you really begin with the outcome that
you want. That is where the RCTO comes in on a regional scale: taking the principles of systems
engineering and applying them to regional operations. And can we be more collaborative and
productive about how we get agencies to work together in the RCTO could be the way to that and it
helps maintain the collaboration because there is always a need for advancement and improvement.
Also, the RCTO really works well when it can dovetail into the regional planning process. They
work well together, particularly in the development of the regional operations objectives that are
contained in the plan as well.
So that is kind of a brief overview of where we came from on the regional concept. I will turn it
back to Jocelyn to get things going, but I will be on for the whole time to answer questions if you
have any. Thank you again for joining us today and I look forward to hearing from you at the back
end of the session.
Thank you, Wayne. Now I would like to bring up our next speaker. This is Paul Casertano, from
the Pima Association of Governments (PAG) in Tucson, Arizona. Paul has worked for PAG for
over 10 years as a planner and program manager for regional intelligent transportation systems,
regional transportation operations planning and regional transportation safety planning. He has
helped guide the incorporation of ITS operations and safety into the transportation planning process
through stakeholder-driven planning efforts and good working relationships, with committees, local
jurisdictional representatives, DOT directors, and local elected officials. Paul, would you like to
take it from here.
Thank you Jocelyn. It’s good to see such a great turnout today. Today I will share with you our
experience with developing and implementing an RCTO in the Tucson area. As Wayne mentioned,
we were one of the demonstration initiative sites, so for us it was a learning process. I will give
you a little bit of perspective from that approach as we go on.
First, a little regional context. PAG is the metropolitan planning organization for the Tucson
region. We are not an operator, and we do not try to pretend that we were an operator. We
attempted to come from a place of what we perceived our strength, which was a neutral table for
our operators to gather around and work through these regional issues. We feel we’ve had some
success there and we have a great group of stakeholders that we have been working with. We are
made up of nine member agencies, we have approximately 1,000,000 people in the metropolitan
area, our planning area does include the 9000 square miles of Pima County, but predominantly we
focus on eastern Pima County. We did establish a regional transportation authority soon after we
started our RCTO demonstration initiative. This brought along a half-cent sales tax funding source
that we were able to get a piece of for some RCTO efforts, and I will speak to that a little bit later.
As I mentioned, we had pretty strong ITS planning and some great stakeholders in the region.
Our motivation for the RCTO development originated as part of our ITS planning, first and
foremost. We identified a goal for developing an RCTO within our ITS plan in about 2003. What
we found as part of the planning was that there were a series of things outside the scope of a
normal project or infrastructure activity that we still wanted to capture, and we really wanted to
strengthen the length between ITS and actually operating the transportation system and becoming
more active part of that.
We are also facing reconstruction activities in our interstates, and as I mentioned, a half-cent sales
tax. We got stakeholders together originally, and we kicked off our development process by
holding workshops with our Tucson area operations stakeholders to define the mission and vision
for the RCTO effort. This was challenging because we had to effectively explain what an RCTO
was and also explain that it was not going to impede the good efforts that our operations
stakeholders were already doing in the region, but it would be rather something that brought
benefit to them. It was kind of a tricky first few weeks, I would say. What we did was establish a
vision that was driven from our stakeholders that you see here, and we established a vision
document that we developed early on to help our stakeholders and others understand the purpose
and nature of the RCTO. We had to explain it and we had to sell it.
Within our development process, we established a framework for a multi-year program that went
a little bit beyond the intended scope of FHWA’s 3-5 year process which I will explain in a little
bit. We cast a wide net ultimately and looked across the board at all operations areas. In
retrospect, what we found as we got deeper into the RCTO process is that we were not going to
be able to capture a lot of these operations areas and make a lot of progress in them. So we drilled
down and concentrated on immediate needs and implementing those needs as we went along.
So as you see here, we looked at multiple operations areas. We felt some of them were just a little
bit too difficult for us to make any progress on in the near-term perspective. So we focused on
arterial management, work zone management, and traveler information.
This is just a schematic giving you a visual of our development process. We did go through some
steps with all of our operations areas, so we got some draft operations objectives and
performance measures for all operations objectives that I showed there. And we really made more
progress on the three that we concentrated on. I should note that we've replaced the term policy
within our action plan with action plan. Originally we were going to look at policies that would
drive operations activities, and that was just something that gave out stakeholders a little bit of
heartburn, so we tried to be nimble in our approach a satisfy their needs.
So this slide shows a breakdown of our major tasks within the development process. We had our
vision statement and conducted inventory for operations areas and established goals and
performance measures for each of those. Then we selected our focus operations areas to make a
little bit more progress on those. We went through the process of developing action plans for
each of those operations areas, which kind of guided our RCTO development. We established what
we refer to as an action plan template. What it helped us do is focus on what needed to be done,
and have a common template so that we could revisit the other operations areas that we decided
we would not be able to get to immediately. So it has helped us establish a framework for our
RCTO so that we can go and revisit these other operations areas.
We did have a variety of development partners. We had State DOT, both the operations center
that is originally established in Phoenix, and the local Tucson district traffic engineering and
project managers. We involved local jurisdictions from multiple departments because of the
multiple operations areas that we did focus on. What we found in our development approach was
that it is a little bit difficult to keep the attention of some of the specialty stakeholder groups. We
did not want to have fire chiefs sitting with us, talking through the details of traffic signal
operations action plan. So we had to be selective in terms of what action plans were pursued with
what stakeholders, and how.
So first operations area that we focus on is travel information. We did achieve an agreement from
our stakeholders on a regional travel information framework and how it would integrate with the
existing 511 system. PAG funds and oversee the operation of TransView, which is the regional
aggregator of travel information. The stakeholders felt that was a platform that they liked so that
they could have a little more control of their local travel information data and then integrate that
with the state 511 system. We made some progress on a variety of areas that we did outline as
part of our RCTO, including real-time traffic incident expansion, incorporation of real-time bus
information, multimodal information, and such.
We did establish a framework for our traveler information setup, and this was something that the
stakeholders bought into and it drives our operations activity in the area. This is a screenshot of
our traveler information, the TransView webpage. We are still making progress here, there are
additional enhancements that we are working on to make it a little less text-heavy a little more
reliant on maps and such.
The second operations area we focused on was work zone coordination. This dovetailed quite
nicely with traveler information.. We bit off a little bit more than we could chew I would say in
this area. We wanted to have something that helps us coordinate work zones throughout the
region so that we would not have parallel routes in construction at the same time, and so that our
operators and agencies that roll out construction could cooperate and coordinate when they put
projects out. We did not quite get to that, but we did make some good headway in pulling
together all of active work zone construction information into TransView. We found that there are
multiple data formats and we needed a dedicated staff to run this thing down and we were not
able to secure that. A real hallmark of our RCTO program was that it was a catalyst for us
establishing a regional traffic signal program.. When we did our original inventory, we discovered
from our stakeholders when we talked with traffic engineers that they were uniformly answering
that they spent less than 10% of their time proactively retiming traffic signals. We talked through
that issue with them and they said let's establish a regional traffic signal program so that we are
all on the same page in terms of equipment, and we can do that proactive signal timing throughout
the region. We did establish a uniform approach. It helped us get the operators to think about
planning and securing some transportation dollars in the future. We established a contracted
services signal timing effort, and provided signal timing assistance on over 600 new signal timing
plans throughout the region. Our signal model as well as our overall RCTO efforts do have a direct
link to our congestion management process and the performance measures that are identified in
there, and I can speak to that a little bit more as we get toward the end.
So, some of the things we have done in our regional traffic signal program include grouping to
procurement. We established a regional traffic signal operations guidebook. Each jurisdiction had
a different version of their own policies and procedures, so we put that together so that we can
find it all in one place. We are ensuring or putting the operators’ minds a little bit more at ease in
terms of MUTCD compliance because they are able to discuss these issues with one another and
come to us what they think their problems or challenges, and we are also staying plugged into the
national forefront of these regional traffic signal programs and FHWA has been a great resource
for us on that.
In relation to the RCTO and the planning process, one of the biggest challenges for us was 2 to 3
year timeframe for RCTO does not necessarily fit with the traditional five-year TIP cycle. What
we did as a solution was introduced TIP projects for future years. Our region does not get
CMAQ funding, so we have a need for our operations projects to compete with construction
projects. What we found as a good solution was to have a unified approach so all of our
jurisdictions are on the same page and we packaged regional traffic signal efforts and other
efforts as a multiagency project that competed for TIP funds, and we had some great success
RCTO implementation is a real key piece for the RCTO process. It is not like a typical plan put
together by MPOs where lots of good intentions are documented and then there is the little bit of
work (or a lot of work) focused on that. Really for the RCTO, we came down to the phrase a
“blueprint for action,” which I think originated from Tom Bruff in Michigan, and that really
encapsulates what the focus needs to be with our RCTO. We found that we needed to keep our
stakeholders engaged, and a few ways to do that was make sure we had tangible outcomes, give
them their own sense of ownership, follow through on the concepts, and make sure we can
deliver some money to them. The way we did that was to link them to our TIP process.
Some of our overall insights and observations, we found the most success if we used the existing
committee structures. We established our RCTO with the action plan template, which did include
within the detailed templates more specifics on performance measurement. That is working very
closely with our congestion management process and actually fed into the performance measures
that are identified within our congestion management process. But it is a scalable through those
action plan templates, and we can revisit it over time. We concentrated on low-hanging fruit. We
found that we had most success in smaller meetings where we were able to really roll up the
sleeves and dig into some of the issues. We cast a wide net as I mentioned, and perhaps we bit off
more than we could chew, but then we readjusted within the process and focused in on some of
those more time-sensitive operations areas. As I mentioned in relation to the TIP and the long-
range plan, we unified our jurisdictions to carry the load together and really take a unified
approach to securing dollars in the TIP and securing a place for operations in the long range plan.
This is my contact information. The link that you see here brings you to the original vision
document we established. Have not posted the full technical document series as well as our final
report RCTO on the web, but if you do want to take a closer look at some of the specifics there,
please don't hesitate to contact us.
Thank you, Paul. Next we will be moving on to a presentation by Athena Hutchins. She is the
executive director of the Niagara International Transportation Technology Coalition (NITTEC),
providing overall leadership and management responsibilities for the multiagency international
coalition of transportation entities in western New York and southern Ontario. As director of the
coalition, she is responsible for multiagency ITS facility operations and technology deployment,
information dissemination, standards development, incident management, and regional
collaboration across international boundaries. Her professional career includes nearly 15 years of
working in transportation consulting on both the international and regional levels. Athena, please
take it away.
Thank you, Jocelyn. I’m here to talk about our RCTO that we developed at NITTEC, but I want to
do is give a little overview on what NITTEC is. We’re a multiagency transportation technology
coalition. We have fourteen member agencies with fifteen affiliate members in both Canada and the
U.S. We were established in 1995 through a memorandum of understanding with partners, and we
basically operate under council and committee governance with the agencies as leadership. We
operate at our operations center 24/7 basically for traffic management for the bi-national region.
Our membership consists of both transportation agencies, public safety and border enforcement,
emergency services, and recovery and environmental conservation. Our metropolitan planning
organization is also one of our members. Our project team that was involved in the development
was NITTEC members and stakeholders, and our lead consultants were Eng-Wong Taub and
Associates, Bergman Associates, and the McCormick Rankin Corporation.
We completed our RCTO in January of 2010 and have been working through the process of
implementing it since then. The purpose basically, how this evolved was the need to document
what we do here at NITTEC and help with new stakeholders and what the benefits are. We
wanted to develop this tool to help document all of our current practices and assist in future
planning and implementing strategies in order to bring that all together. Also to formalize some of
the collaborations that we have amongst our members and trying to show benefits to those
member agencies to be a part of NITTEC. Also, to provide future guidance and goals to enhance
participation by the membership and provide value. It’s one thing to be a member but it is another
to provide value to that membership. Basically it was just our framework to bring it all together.
Our development process started with coming up with a vision, and also looking at the
operational categories and objectives, look at the relationship of how the RCTO is with our
current practices, and also come up with some recommendations and action plan in order to move
forward and enhance our operations. Basically we defined a vision, identified the goals and
objectives, conducted a series of workshops where we brought together the stakeholders, and
basically we made sure we brought together the appropriate stakeholders at the correct time. We
got together the incident management players together to talk about that, we got together the
construction members, so that way it was not as overwhelming to all of the stakeholders that were
there, it was relevant to what they were involved in. We really wanted to make sure we
documented all of the existing relationships that we had in place and then looked for areas of
improvement, came up with some long-term and short-term action items and plans.
The vision we came up with was to establish a basis for a safe, reliable, efficient, and seamless
surface transportation system for the NITTEC region, that region being the western New York and
southern Ontario in Canada.
For our operational categories, we come up with five of those in the development process
including agency coordination, traveler information, mobility, incident management, and policy
and procedures. From those a series of objectives were developed and then for each I just gave a
little sample here of an objective that we developed for each one, some of the short-term goals,
long-term goals, and what performance measure. Then we have started looking at how do we
document and put together some of these performance measures that we are looking to
From there we basically had 81 objectives that came out of those five different categories. So in
order to have all of these objectives, we needed to drill down and come to a smaller thing.
Basically, we narrowed it down and came up with 14 project recommendations and separated
them into five different categories based on what we do as far as our operational functions
So here's a sample of one from the action plan. What we did is what category was it from, what
operational objective? This one was mobility. What was the objective? To minimize travel delay.
Then, where it fell into our service categories that came out of 2007 strategic plan that was
actually done for NITTEC. So based on the service categories, where did this fall in and what
needed to be done? And also taking a step further and of sending it to one of our committees.
What committee would be the prime the prime lead on making sure we move forward with this?
What we did was take all of these action items, and put a priority to them. Whether it was high,
low, or medium it was based on what we felt about whether we could accomplish it in the short-
term, be it in five years. If it was something that couldn't, we figured it was medium or even low
priority so that we didn't get bogged down with all of these low priority items. What we did from
there, we put together for each committee that we have, we decided to break it down. Each
committee did not need to see what all the other committees were doing, so we broke down all of
these action items to just that committee, and went to that committee to see what committee
needed to support them; whether additional resources, be it capital funding or staff at NITTEC or
consultant staff were needed; and where we were with the action item, kind of a status. Are we in
development or what is the next step that we need to do to accomplish that?
Like I said, we took all the action items, we incorporated those into what we call our committee
work plan. On a yearly basis, all of our committees at NITTEC, which you can see below, we have
a border crossing committee, a construction coordination committee, and we have an incident
management committee. We actually have two incident management committees, one on the
Ontario side and one in New York. Some of their legislation and items are different, so we kind of
separated those two into two committees. Then we have a strategic planning committee which
oversees the RCTO effort and is the keeper of moving things forward and assigning things to
various committees. Then we a have a Technology and Systems Committee and a Traffic
Operations Center Committee.
So, the items that were related and assigned to the different committees were then put on their work
plan, and once here, they have to go update that work plan. It is standing items on the agenda,
trying to make sure we are working forward, meeting the objectives, re-evaluate if it’s a short-term
or long-term, then stat tracking the performance measures for each of those items. It is something
we are just starting to do in more detail.
Some of the outcomes of this from our observations: we had a lot of stakeholders that provided
some valuable input through our state stakeholder meetings and workshops. A lot of time and effort
was spent even at our strategic planning committee meetings, we spent numerous meetings rolling
up our sleeves and working through each objective and making sure that each one is in the right
committee, has the right focus and is moving forward. We found that too many items in one
committee, it's never going to get done. That was a big success just making sure we got it down to
the right committee to move forward. The stakeholders recognized the benefit of this, in order to
document what we are doing and linking between planning and operations, whether it was between
southern Ontario our western New York, working together for the benefit. The challenge was to
keep everyone focused. We realized that if you really gave the pieces that were appropriate to the
right committee, for first responders making sure that they were only looking at the incident
management stuff or stuff that really pertains to them, then they could stay focused instead of
getting them involved and other stuff, they did not want to be involved in the. It was a challenge
to get them focused, but once we drilled down to get it to the committee, that seemed to work pretty
There is my contact information. We also have our RCTO final report which is on our website at
that location if anyone would like to take a look at where we came from and how we came about
everything. Thank you.
Thanks you, Athena. I see lots of good questions coming in the chat box, keep them coming. We
will be using them to have a discussion among the presenters in the last 20 or 30 minutes. Let’s
bring up our final presenter. That would be Tom Bruff from the Southeast Michigan Council
Governments (SEMCOG). He is a senior engineer for engineering services, transportation
programs for SEMCOG. He has 21 years of experience in various areas of traffic engineering and
transportation planning. Since 1997, he has worked for SEMCOG as the engineering services
coordinator of the Transportation Department. Prior work experience includes tenures with the road
commission in Michigan, as the traffic and safety engineer. He has been responsible for managing
the activities of engineering services group which includes development of the regional safety and
congestion management system, and maintaining the regional architecture. He was the primary
staff person in charge of developing the region’s concept for transportation operations, one of three
FHWA grant recipients nationally. SEMCOG’s RCTO was recognized by FHWA by awarding
them the 2008 Transportation Planning Excellence Award. With that, I would like to introduce
Thank you, Jocelyn. I want to thank you for allowing me to present. I think that going third, a lot of
the points that were made from the previous two speakers are some of the same points that I'm
going to make, but I will try to focus on are some of the differences between our RCTO and what
I've heard so far, and I will try work in some of the comments and questions that I have seen pop
What you're going to hear from me is a little bit of background on our region, and then focusing on
the RCTO itself. What motivated us to do this? Was about the benefits and challenges and lessons
learned? Also how we have taken this tool and applied it to some of our MPO Council of
Government activities at SEMCOG? I apologize for the slides, a couple of counties that are
outlined in black are part of SEMBOD as well, but you can see where SEMCOG resides. This is
another photo that shows you the seven counties that make up our region of 4.7 million people
that surrounds the city of Detroit. This is one of the slides that I want to focus on because I think
coming here to SEMCOG and doing an RCTO was a very good thing but once we started to put
our hands around some of this, it was something to consider as far as how many local units of
government we have to deal with. We have 233 local units of government within the region, 7
county road commissions, we reside within two county regions, and we have police, fire, EMS, and
everything in most of those communities to also include as part of our operational partners.
What else we operate? I'm not going to go through each one of these, but you can get a glimpse of
how many roads, bridges, traffic signals, and congested routes that we have running through and
within our region.
Another thing to consider with being some of the nontraditional operations partners is you also
have to consider non-motorized transit, water, sewers, parks and schools, because when it comes
down to operating the system and you are asking people to focus on improving operations, they
may not be considering operations as one of their t areas of concern. They may be thinking of the
entire system as a whole which is a good thing, but it’s looking at many perspectives.
Some of the infrastructure realities within our region is probably is the transportation system is
essential for the quality of life as well as businesses. However, we do lack sufficient funds to
address all the needs. Presently in our long-range plan direction 2035, we have identified $2.5
billion per year in needs, however we only are receiving about $1.3 billion per year in funding. So
we have over a 50% gap there to address our needs. Recently with the economic recession going
on, one of our main concerns is we have dropped in population, the economy has dropped, and
when they compare our forecast out into the future and where we are going to be in 2035, we're
really forecasting that we’re going to be back to 2005 levels. We are just really recovering back to
where we were in 2005.
More about the RCTO. We were one of the three agencies that received grants from Federal
Highway back in 2005. The project went from 2005 to 2007. MDOT, SEMCOG, and State police
were the partners as part of the application process but we drove that process. Interestingly
enough, probably 10 or 15 years ago these same partners were working together, and I think that
is one of the reasons why we received the grant, we had an established a working group with
incident management. We have had a long run with incident management. I think one of our
motivations for actually applying for this grant was to reaffirm that established coordination
activity between those three major agencies as well as expand it. And again, thinking of the region
and the 233 communities that we identified, we see great potential for expanding that, but also a
major challenge in trying to bring everybody together.
So we did get together with many stakeholder meetings and within the seven county regions, we
focused on the Tri-County area surrounding Detroit. We held stakeholder meetings at first by
entity, and this was a lesson learned as we thought we thought well let’s get together with the State
police separately and let’s talk to MDOT staff separately, and let’s get together with the county
road commissions separately, but as we started doing that a bit more sense to us to get across the
range of first responders and operations stakeholders and talk to them as one group. We did that in
a fashion where we went to each of the counties separately and pulled the groups in by county, and
after we did some of that work we did get together as a whole. As we went to them we identified
and pushed this vision statement past them and they critiqued it and this is what we ended up with
as far as our vision statement. We actually got together several weeks ago to go back and review
our RCTO, and essentially nobody had any gripes about this vision statement. They do not feel
like it needed to be changed, so it is still the current vision statement.
Again, some of the operational categories that we focused on for RCTO are the ones that are
checked in the box, some of the same ones that you have heard in the past presentations: traffic
signal coordination, traveler information, traffic incident management, communications network.
Those are the ones that we focused on with our RCTO. As we met with stakeholders and received
their comments as to what objectives they thought were high on their list, again when we met, we
thought about having a questionnaire and having them fill out and respond to several questions,
but instead of doing that, we actually focused on one question. We said regardless of funding,
what would be the first thing that you would do to improve operations from your perspective? As
we went through and collected all the responses which were probably 50 or 60 responses, these
were the top five that came to the top of the list: improving responder safety, quick clearance,
disseminating operations information, retiming traffic signals, and identifying priority corridors for
future investments. I should note that those priority corridors are focusing most on the arterial
streets, not the freeways, because we know the freeways are going to be addressed but arterial
streets often get overlooked.
I want to go through each one of these and give you an idea of what we did and where we are at. In
order to identify priority corridors, we actually have a vast amount of data which we analyzed
through our congestion management system, our traffic safety system, our pavement management
system, and we pull that information together and using a points system, which on the next few
screens here, focusing on operational criteria, we gave points to corridors and then we identified
those quarters that were regionally significant, those that were sub-regional, high local, and local,
and those were the categories that we put them into. Here are the other criteria we assigned points
to. Essentially we distributed that information to the local agencies so that they can utilize this
information to again start prioritizing projects better. Looking at those corridors that have higher
level of travel on it, higher importance to freight and other operational issues, and we saw them
actually programming more projects on those corridors. Typically we would see that anyway
because a lot of these corridors are some of the more major arterials.
The second stakeholder issue was retiming traffic signals regularly. In the SEMCOG region of the
seven counties, we have approximately 5400 traffic signals regionally. That gives you a little bit of
perspective of who owns the signals, whether it is our DOT, City of Detroit, the County Road
commission, or some of the cities within the region. The vast majority are run and operated by the
County Road Commissions at MDOT. What we did here is, using some criteria, we talked to the
road commissions about their practices and our DOT, and we created an arterial traffic
management group which meets regularly to talk about things related to traffic signal re-timing. We
identified funding resources in a priority point system for them to submit projects to and
hopefully get some additional points as part of this RCTO discussion so that they can go through
and re-time traffic signals and achieve the outcome that we are looking for. One of the other
things we did is we purchased a regional traffic signal database that the counties can all access
via the web and they can use it for inventory, but one of the things that we are doing is looking at
the very basic piece of information. One was the signal or the corridor re-timed, so now we can
identify corridors of opportunity where we need to focus more attention on. Disseminating
operations information: we started out with a web tool not like the one you're seeing with the slides
right now, but a tool where stakeholders could ask for permission and have a login and password to
access the videos of the cameras from the system. We actually measured ourselves by how many
communities sign up for this service, but what we have done since then is the DOT has created a
website where they not only have access to the camera images but also access to travel time,
construction information, and incident information. Here is the link to the website, you can see that
information here. It’s not just a stakeholder website but open to the public. This just shows you
another version where you can identify what screens you want to look at and set up your camera
Finally: clearing incidents quickly and safely. Here is where our bread and butter was as far as a
longtime standing with traffic incident management. This only emphasized and actually pushed us
a little bit closer to some of the activities that we’re actually doing on a regular basis now. Our
Freeway Patrol was a part of this success here, but you can see some of the other things that we
have focused on whether it is local removal practices during congested periods. Some of our local
law enforcement that are enforcing the freeways have enacted some policies where they are
determining when and where the vehicles that are abandoned or that have an incident should or
should not be removed during congested periods. First responder safety workshops, those have
been happening regularly here as well as tabletop exercises, those are something that we are
holding within communities on a regular basis. And visibility, that's one of the things when we
asked what the next steps that we need to be doing here? We have a lot of issues and difficulty
getting law enforcement to wear the high visibility vests.
One of the bigger areas we need to do more improvement on is that we actually have a move over
law. We also have a steer-it-and-clear-it law here. We do not have any hold harmless. That is
something that we have been pushing for the last couple of years, last year legislation and
Michigan State police were focused on other legislation that they want to introduce, but now we
are hopeful that they will move on that.
A couple of next steps, and this is on some of the questions that I saw about ITS architecture and
congestion management. The RCTO has been folded into our congestion management and
operations systems here at SEMCOG. This is all folded into our long range plan. When we do
RCTO , we fold everything into a long-range plan and that is how everything gets adopted. The
elements of the RCTO definitely have an impact on our congestion management system as well
as our ITS architecture and deployment plan, but two areas that I want to talk to a little bit more
about his our transportation prioritization process as well as our Creating Success in Southeast
Michigan. These are two areas that get into the nontraditional part of operations and look at some
of the other areas that SEMCOG might focus on.
With our prioritization process, these are the typical areas that you might spend capital dollars,
including capacity and operations. Again, in order for stakeholders to get engaged with this we
need to look at the whole system, not just operations, and say, how much money do you want to
spend in these different areas? They're going to ask well how much benefit am I going to receive
from this? We have gone through in all of these areas and identified cost with benefits and here on
the screen you can see highway capacity even though operations isn’t included in the analysis of
this, we looked at, if I spend how many millions of dollars annually, how much benefit I'm going
to receive in reducing delay per 1000 vehicle miles traveled. Based upon this, we give them
various scenarios and on the screen you will see the scenario that was in the 2035 plan as one of
the scenario that was adopted in the committee allocation. All of these areas they focused on,
including have a capacity, which I highlighted in yellow, where do you want to spend your
money in order to receive the benefit that we have identified? Now it is getting everybody on the
same page just as an RCTO does. Now everybody is focused on the same outcomes and hopefully
spending the same amount of resources in those same areas. That is something that I think is the
benefit of having done an RCTO here.
Finally, the other thing we focused on just now we embarked on and have actually done some
adoption with is our Creating Success in Southeast Michigan. What we have identified are some
very high-level outcomes for the region, which some of these outcomes will mirror or benefit from
an RCTO, especially reliable quality infrastructure, access to jobs, markets, and services, desirable
communities, and economic prosperity. I would imagine that all six outcomes have some benefit
from having the RCTO. Now that we have identified these outcomes, this is what we want to
achieve, what we are doing now is focusing on what are the resources that we know we need to
apply and what are the measures that we measure ourselves against these outcomes? By
identifying the outcomes and looking at the measures, now what we have done is we’re
determining what are the actions that the measures drive in order to achieve those outcomes? One
of the things we need to be concerned with is that not every measure is a good measure. That is
why we look at what are the actions that they drive? As I said, different measures will try different
actions. I think by having an RCTO, that just furthers this concept of now we have outcomes of the
regional level that are not all operational outcomes but have operations mixed in with it. We are at
the point of where we kind of lacked in the RCTO. However this is helping out here, I think in
Athena’s presentation, she showed the charts as having the objectives, goals, measures, long-term,
short-term identification, those are things we’re doing in our Blueprint for Action, but I think this
is going to get us even further to do that. Again, in order to do this or in doing this we will align
our resources just as we have indicated throughout the outcomes, and if we again align our
resources, we will achieve that shared outcome.
With that, I have provided you with some web addresses for our regional operations site which
includes a lot of the background papers, and one of the things I would have you take a look at is
because of the three partners (MDOT, SEMCOG, and Michigan State Police), one of the outcomes
of that is that we sign a memorandum of regional cooperation were again, we do not have
necessarily a formal group under SEMCOG or MDOT. This is a group that resides on its own and
people attend this meeting because they want to. They are looking to improve the region. I would
like to look at formalizing some of this, but a part of me says you don't mess with something that is
a good thing. I think we're going to continue the way we are doing it. We do meet regularly, and
hopefully we will continue with success. With that, I'll answer any questions.
Thank you so much and thank you to all the presenters. We had a lot of great questions come
through while you were speaking, so I would like to get right to those.
One of the first questions that was asked, is directed towards Wayne. Will Federal Highway
provide funding incentives to interject RCTOs into the regional transportation planning and
No. We tried to demonstrate it and show that it is a good practice, and we expect that if states,
MPOs want to use it they would use their existing resources available to us, but there really is no
special incentives as of yet. I don't know what would happen with reauthorization, there is lots of
talk about its performance management, there may be some specific incentives in there, but as of
now, there really are not any specific incentives. It is just good practice and you can use your
existing resources to do that.
Another question came in for PAG and Paul in Pima. I think it is probably a good question for all
of the practitioners here on the call. What have been the measurable benefits resulting from RCTO
Firstly, we have secured funds for a variety of different operations programs, including specifically
a regional traffic signal operations program. With those funds, we have reviewed over 600 traffic
signal timing plans. Previously that number was close to zero. We have done some benefits outputs
that come from a regional synchro model that we put together at the onset of this program that are
showing that the majority of those 600 are walk time adjustments, but there is about 133 that are
mobility focused, signal timing plan adjustments. We’re showing about 10% reduced vehicle
delay, 3% reduction in fuel consumption, and reduced vehicle emissions as well. So we're kind of
using that model as the indicator of the benefits for our regional traffic signal program. That model
will also drive some of the performance reporting within our congestion management process.
From the traveler information side, we are looking at softer things like how many private traffic
reporting companies in the area are sourcing TransView for our data? We know that is a pretty
significant number, uniformly and they all are. They all use the real-time traffic incident
information from TransView to report to the public. Those are some of the measurable benefits.
We would like to get a little bit better in terms of the performance reporting, but we have some
Tom and Athena, anything from your regions?
Some of the benefits we’ve seen are just the stakeholder involvement in the coalition and what
value we can provide just based on some of the services and again looking for future funding for
some of the projects and initiatives that we have and expanding on some of the performance
measures reporting that we do, and identifying new measures that we should be reporting.
I agree with the two speakers, those are the same kind of things that we are looking at here. One
performance measures are becoming a very big deal, as I ended with my presentation, I think that
our state, our governor is focusing on a lot of that stuff, so we need to focus in that area in order to
show the biggest bang for the buck. As far as funding incentives, there is no new money out there,
but I think that what we are trying to do is look to see where we can share resources and make
them go as far as they can.
And in a related question, what are the measures of effectiveness that will be considered in
measuring RCTO success? Has anyone established specific measures of effectiveness?
Not specifically. We're looking at our performance measures, and looking at the purpose of each of
these programs specifically with signals. Are we proactively retiming traffic signals throughout the
region as the stakeholders or the jurisdictions want us to be doing it? And the answer is yes. We are
looking at what are the benefits of this, which are the outputs from synchro that we have been
outsourcing at this point. And then with traveler information, we were aiming toward a goal of have
we established a true one-stop shop resource for travel information into the Tucson region? In a lot
of areas are there, but we are not exactly where we want to be. We have not really gotten to specific
measures of effectiveness beyond that type of approach.
I think the measurable benefits in the SEMCOG region is looking at some of the things like goals
and objectives and 3 to 5 year achievements for that. I say that we started really in 2007 as far as a
solidifying our RCTO, and we have seen some successes there which, as far as the signal re-
timing, disseminating information, we have been tracking some measurable benefits of that. Are
they true MOUs or something like that? I think that some are more qualitative than quantitative.
Again, we’re focusing more on the quantitative as we move forward.
To go back to Paul, someone else wrote in and asked what is the timeframe involved in
developing and implementing your RCTO?
For us as part of the demonstration initiative, it took us 2 to 2.5 years to weed all the way through
the whole wide array of operations, focus areas, and really drill down to the ones we wanted to
dig into, and then come up with action plans for those. That duration was in part driven by the fact
that we were doing implementation as were in the process of documenting our RCTO.
Implementation is also ongoing, we are still implementing a lot of the recommendations from our
And was that about the same for you, Tom?
Yeah I would say it was the 1.5 to 2 years to develop it from beginning to end. I don't know if I
would anticipate if I were to do another one that it would take as long. But it is really the
stakeholder engagement, getting them involved and getting their feedback which took the most
time. It is the most critical thing but again, it took the most time.
Athena, you are the one speaker who wasn’t part of that demonstration project. How did the time
differ for your development?
We had the consultants under contract for less than a year, so they developed the whole RCTO, but
once they were done the NITTEC staff kind of took over working with our committees to work on
the action plans. We’ve been working on the action plans and incorporating those into our
committee work plans for about 9 months or so. It’s kind of a process where once a year we’re
going to revisit this. Altogether it was less than a 2 year process.
Alright, moving onto the next question. To what degree does your regional ITS architecture play
into the RCTO development or its update? I will throw that out for each of you.
Our ITS architecture was the platform to launch our RCTO. It drove our operations inventory, and
while it is successful in identifying the structure of some of these ITS market packages, it did not
quite get to where do we want to go next and what do we need to do to get these improvements in
place? That is the bridge that the RCTO is able to provide is getting those actionable items
documented so that you can pursue them from what the existing ITS architecture component
might look like to where you want to go. We are consequently going to be updating our ITS
architecture in-house this fiscal year, so it will be interesting taking it in reverse order from our
RCTO back to the ITS architecture.
Were the same individuals involved in the development of the ITS architecture as the RCTO?
Absolutely, that is a key piece to keep I mind.
Tom or Athena?
I think as far as NITTEC goes, ours is pretty similar. We did an update to our architecture back in
2005, and it was a lot of the same stakeholders that were involved in the development or our
Same thing. We started our regional architecture in 1999 and really the stakeholders that we
engaged for the RCTO started with the ITS architecture group. Where we expanded was with the
other first responders: towing companies, law enforcement, police, fire, communications, dispatch,
they were not typically the people that we engaged with of ITS architecture, but those are the ones
that we expended to the RCTO. Those are the ones that we continue to use with incident
management, any time that we’re dealing with operations, we resort to those same stakeholders
Another question directed to you, Paul. You mentioned that your RCTO was tied to your
congestion management process. Can you elaborate on how you tied your RCTO to your CMP?
Essentially, what we did is we took the operations objectives that were identified as part of the
RCTO because we did look across the board at multiple operations areas. It allowed us to take
those and kind of pull them right into congestion management process to see what would be
applicable for congestion management as well. We took those operations objectives and fed them
into the CMP objective. We did the same with the performance measures that were documented in
RCTO as we were developing our performance measures under our congestion management
process. There were some tweaks and adjustments, but it was helpful to have something there
rather than starting from a completely blank slate.
I would also add that one of the things that we look at in order to measure our success is annually,
I would imagine a lot of the attendees would review their traffic incident management through the
self-assessment through Federal Highway. A lot of the items underneath the TIM self-assessment
relate to a lot of the RCTO objectives. One of the things we have done recently is, through our
assessment, we can gauges where we are at in the various areas being assessed, but also identify
areas where we are doing some work. That also feeds back into the process of identifying
objectives for the RCTO.
Then we have another question for Paul, but I will open it up to all of the speakers. Are there any
provisions of resource sharing in the RCTO among the participating organization?
We did have a soft participation MOU established at the beginning of the project. Like I said, it was
relatively soft and it was prior to the detailing of the operations actions. There are also a couple
MOUs and IGAs that relate specifically to signal timing and the travel information structure that
we have in place. We did not do anything specific at the end of the RCTO per se. We are very
fortunate that we have a cooperative group of stakeholders, and as Tom mentioned, we did not want
to mess with that too much. We are making some good progress particularly in those two areas of
signals and traveler information with the existing agreements that are in place. We did consider a
harder participation type of MOU, specifically for signals, but decided not to pursue that at this
Moving onto the next question, have any of your RCTOs adopted the NUG. I believe that stands
for the National Unified Goal on traffic incident management.
I think the first three objectives within the SEMCOG RCTO follow with the objectives of the
NUG: improving responder safety, quick clearance, and disseminating operations information
like multijurisdictional operations. We are looking at how we can tie those things in there because
it makes sense.
NITTEC does incorporate those. We incorporate those under our objectives for incident
We have not really dug into incident management yet, but I imagine it will be a core piece of our
approach to that.
I believe the next question was originally asked during Tom's presentation, but anyone feel free to
answer. How many staff are assigned to manage these joint efforts? I believe it is the joint efforts
that are talked about in the RCTO, the actions that come out of that.
I don't know if there is any specific staff assigned. Fortunately, when we received the grant, we did
hire a staff person who most of their response abilities would be the RCTO, but she has since left
SEMCOG, so I am probably the only one that is assigned that as part of the SEMCOG staff, and we
are a staff of 65 people. I know the DOT and the Michigan State Police, they had a specific person
that was a counterpart that we could work with, but even since our adoption of the RCTO, the
captain from state police has moved onto being a mayor of the community, so I have another
captain to work with and our DOT person still remains the same person but again, not necessarily
as focused on RCTO.
I’m a team of one. We were fortunate enough to be able to bring a consultant on board for the
development, but in terms of implementation and managing the action items that are continuing,
it’s me. I do have two consultants part-time that are assisting on a regional traffic signal operations
program, but in terms of organizing the steps forward, that is the single part of my responsibilities.
In NITTEC we’re similar. I am the lead here, and we have our member agencies that are involved
and there is a core group from some of our key members—the DOT, the Freeway Authority—but
it is maybe a handful of five or six people that help as far as the committee level goes.
We did try to identify the necessary resources, including staff to pursue some of the action items
that we documented as part of our RCTO. Unfortunately that was not met with a great deal of
success as we were not really able to secure additional staff, but we do have it documented there.
We did the same approach with our congestion management performance monitoring program to
kind of show what kind of resources will need to go into this in order to achieve these activities.
For NITTEC, please identify the most effective method of keeping your stakeholders focused and
The most effective way was keeping it to small working groups that were really relative to what we
were discussing. So if we were focusing on action items that came out of incident management just
making sure that we had those people available, and not have this large group, so keeping it really
to smaller working groups really helped keep people focused.
I know we only have one minute left, so we will try to go through maybe one or two quickly.
Another question for everyone: is having in RCTO instead of an ad hoc process helpful in getting
DOTs and local agencies to allocate resources to operations.
I would say if you have other partners that are engaged with it, if they are not engaged than I don’t
think that you're going to see that sharing of resources. In most cases if they are coming together on
this issue then once they are at the table and to get them engaged, I think you see that willingness to
share and allocate additional resources.
I would also say that it allowed us to get regional fund sources as a unified team of jurisdictions
who said, we want to pursue a traffic signal program or whatever the initiative might be.
For SEMCOG, what nontraditional funding sources have you successfully tapped into for our
RCTO implementation, if any?
I don't know if there are really any nontraditional sources. It has more or less been coming to the
table and working with existing resources and just seeing what everybody is willing to share, or
taking limited resources and putting it to a common cause and getting it addressed rather than it
having it linger.
Okay, we’re a little over time here. We will wrap up here. Sorry that we did not get to all the
questions. Certainly I can send out in a follow-up e-mail, the e-mails for the individual speakers,
they were also on their slides, so if you would like to follow-up with questions, you can write
To wrap up this webinar, I will give you some information on the National Transportation
Operations Coalition, or NTOC. On the first slide you will see the member organizations of NTOC.
We encourage you to go to the NTOC website on the following slide to find out more about these
organizations. The NTOC website contains information about upcoming webcasts, and also
contains a webcast archive page with the slides and recording the previous operations webinars.
We will have the recording and slides from today's webinar up within a week. NTOC also has two
discussion forums, one focusing on high-level or strategic issues and the other on ITS deployment
and lessons learned. You can also sign up on the NTOC website for the NTOC newsletter that is
e-mailed out twice monthly.
That concludes today's NTOC planning for operations webinar. I would like to thank you to each
of our presenters and to all of you for participating. We hope you found this informative. Enjoy
the rest of your day.