The Alabama Department of Transportation (ALDOT) has deployed Intelligent Transportation Systems (ITS) throughout the state for a number of years, with systems operational in Mobile, Montgomery and Birmingham, and others being planned for the Tuscaloosa and Huntsville areas. Although its central office in Montgomery had a growing network of traffic surveillance, vehicle detection and traveler information dissemination equipment, it lacked a control and monitoring facility. Moreover, it didn’t possess the operations staff specifically dedicated to utilizing the system to improve safety and mobility.
In 2014, ALDOT made the decision to use consultant staff to operate its Regional Traffic Management Centers (RTMCs), beginning with the new RTMC being implemented in Montgomery. Having worked with the client on a number of projects, including the development of standard operating procedures for its statewide RTMCs, GS&P was selected by ALDOT to provide staffing operations for its new Montgomery RTMC.
“The primary functions of a traffic management center [TMC] are managing traffic on a routine basis as well as during emergencies and special events,” explains senior transportation engineer Carla Holmes. “Additional responsibilities include disseminating information to travelers and coordinating with ALDOT and other transportation and public safety agencies. We were charged with hiring operations staff who would be responsible for gathering, processing and sharing all relevant data and information from a number of resources for the RTMC, so hiring the right people for those types of duties was critical.”
Assembling the Team
GS&P worked closely with ALDOT to find the proper staffing for the new RTMC. Holmes comments on the selection process:
“To help get the RTMC up and running, we hired a gentleman who had a background in law enforcement. Having led the Traffic Division of the Montgomery Police Department, he had been coordinating with ALDOT for years on traffic accidents, lane closures and special events. From an operations perspective that was key. Someone with that type of experience understands traffic patterns in the area and is used to coordinating with first responders. He was also able to train those who were new to the field.”
In hiring operators without previous TMC experience, GS&P sought people who not only knew the area but also had a good sense of Montgomery’s transportation infrastructure.
“We were looking for people who were familiar with the local interstates and other major arterials, as well as some of the accident hot spots,” says Holmes. “We also wanted staff who could communicate well with emergency responders and grasp the concept of clearing incidents safely and quickly.”
An industry veteran and former state traffic operations engineer for Georgia Department of Transportation (GDOT), Holmes brought her own skill sets and know-how to the team.
“As project manager, Carla not only shared her expertise, she also brought credibility to the project,” notes Ranzy Whiticker, a senior vice president of Transportation at GS&P. “She drew from her past experience working with GDOT to help train staff in software use and operating procedures, which played a pivotal role in the project’s success.”
“I temporarily relocated to Montgomery until we were fully manned and operational,” says Holmes. “It’s important to note that when staffing a new TMC, you typically provide three months of training and then have new personnel sit with an experienced operator before they’re allowed to take the wheel, so to speak. Through an expedited on-the-job training process, we had our staff operating within three days. Not only that, the retrofitted space being utilized for the new RTMC wasn’t completely outfitted, so our team had to train while equipment was being installed and the software was still being implemented.”
Despite the challenges, on Monday, October 20, 2014, just three business days after GS&P was given notice to proceed, the Montgomery RTMC became operational. In addition to providing focused traffic monitoring, incident management, and information sharing and dissemination services, GS&P's new operations staff provided other tangible benefits to ALDOT.
“Hardware and software were installed and implemented much faster because our staff was there putting it through the paces,” says Holmes. “They were able to address issues with the equipment and operating systems as they were using them, and were able to work with the software developer to iron out the bugs. We were extremely fortunate to have a team of people who truly cared about what they were doing and understood the importance of the new RTMC as a model for other ALDOT traffic management centers throughout the state.”
During the three-day onboarding period, GS&P staff had to quickly familiarize themselves with iNet, the center’s Advanced Transportation Management System (ATMS) software, to manage incidents, monitor traffic conditions, and provide information to the public, emergency responders and ALDOT staff. On the very first day of training, the new hires were put to the test.
“In an RTMC, you’re looking for anything that disrupts the flow of traffic—whether it be debris in the road, an accident or heavy congestion,” says Holmes. “On day one, GS&P staff experienced a combination of intensive on-the-job training and a condensed course in TMC operations and traffic incident management when they were faced with an overturned tractor-trailer that shut down traffic at the extremely busy interchange of I-85 and I-65 in the heart of Montgomery. It was quite the initiation, but it gave us the opportunity to start testing out the new software and begin putting notifications of the incident on the dynamic message signs. I’m proud of how the team was able to think on their feet and quickly began managing the incident and coordinating with ALDOT and emergency responders.”
Sharing Vital Information
In addition to staffing the new RTMC, the project allowed GS&P to incorporate numerous other service areas and expertise in ITS, including statewide standard operating procedures, traveler information systems (TIS), mobile app development to support TIS, and an all-important video distribution management system.
“Most traffic management centers use video. The problem is it’s very hard to integrate those video feeds with a TMC’s ATMS software, which is the overall operating system,” notes Whiticker. “GS&P’s ITS specialists set up a video distribution management system that takes the video footage coming in from the TMC’s cameras and integrates it with the central ATMS software. This allows external users to have access to the video being used by the TMC. One group of users—or partners—are first responders. It’s imperative to be able to share video information with agencies who share responsibility for traffic safety and the management of traffic incidents. However, that has been a costly endeavor in the past because it required a lot of equipment on both sides.
“In concert with this startup project, GS&P redesigned all those systems so that any authorized entity with an internet connection can be given access to the RTMC’s virtual video wall. We created a First Responders Page that gives emergency response agencies special access to all of ALDOT’s surveillance cameras and allows them to utilize features not available to the public. They can see exactly what’s taking place at an incident and what types of responder resources are needed at the scene. It also helps them determine what routes to take. We also developed an app for ALDOT's ITS/traveler information program, which is called ALGO Traffic. The public can download the ALGO Traffic app to their mobile devices. It lets them access the streaming videos used by the RTMCs and obtain real-time information on road conditions in Montgomery, Mobile and Birmingham.”
“It’s an app you can use in the mornings before you hit the road, or in the evenings before you head home so you can be aware of any incidents or delays,” adds Holmes. “In a nutshell, it’s all about getting the traveling public to and from their destinations safely and efficiently.”
Allowing ALDOT to maximize the benefits of its Intelligent Transportation Systems, GS&P’s staffing and operations efforts at the Montgomery RTMC have resulted in a safer and more efficient transportation system in the area. As a direct outcome of the project, GS&P was selected to provide statewide staffing services for ALDOT’s various regional traffic management centers.
“We didn’t just take a cookie-cutter approach to hiring operations staff,” says Whiticker. “We were extremely thoughtful in our selections and made sure we brought on people who were fully capable of coordinating with ALDOT partners. I believe that putting an exceptional team together—augmented by our own experience and a strong understanding of the client’s needs and business operations—played a pivotal role in getting the RTMC operational in such a short span of time.”
“I am most proud of the way our team was able to take the past experiences and expertise of our individual staff members and win a project in an area that GS&P had never served before,” concludes Holmes. “Since the Montgomery RTMC’s first day of operation, our staff has worked hard to help ALDOT achieve its goals to improve safety, system reliability and efficiency, reduce traffic congestion, and enhance the overall level of customer service.”