Each year at its annual meeting, ITS America inducts several folks into the ‘ITS Hall of Fame’. The inductees are usually national leaders who have advanced the cause of ITS over the course of their careers. In a spirit of full disclosure, I have been a part of the committee that selects candidates for this honor. Today, I want to suggest that there are other true heroes of ITS who have limited national recognition but without whom we would not have anything to celebrate. These are the local leaders who risked their reputations and even their careers to put systems in the ground and in use by transportation agencies. The national leaders could inspire and encourage but could not themselves make things happen on a local level.
My nominee for hero of ITS is Matt Edelman, executive director of Transcom in New Jersey. Matt is not alone in this regard. I could have easily picked Tom Werner from New York State DOT or Doug Wiersig from Houston, but I know Matt’s story best because I was there at the birth of Transcom 20 some years ago. The New York region went into gridlock when one of its major bridges was shut down by a leaking LNG tanker truck. The main communication we then had between agencies was two-way landlines. The problem was that during these major incidents, there were more than a dozen affected agencies across three states and two-way communication just didn’t cut it.
Transcom was created to coordinate the flow of information among agencies so that they could operate together better. After all, the impact of major incidents had no respect for political boundaries across a region of almost 20 million people. Transcom was never created to manage incidents on-site, provide police services or to substitute its judgment for that of operating agency managers.
The needs went beyond regional incident management. They included construction coordination so that agencies did not shut down capacity in the same direction at the same time and all of this preceded the creation of ITS. Transcom then created Transmit to use toll tags as anonymous traffic probes on 18 miles of roadway and is now deployed on more than 3,000 one-way miles of roadway and considered ‘ground truth’ to the industry. Through a long series of projects, they automated the information exchange and facilitated regional travel. I shudder to think what metro New York traffic would be like without it.
But in the early days, they sat across the table from powerful chief engineers and public safety officials who saw coordinating through Transcom as just one more complication to their already demanding responsibilities. Had they not been won over, they could have snuffed out Transcom’s existence, but Transcom succeeded because they were solving real problems with technology and not just trying to apply technology to problems. That might just be the key to Transcom’s long-term success. They were created to solve a transportation problem before ITS and were able to use the latest technology as it was developed to serve that need.
For Transcom, ITS was the solution to their problem. And I think that’s a good lesson for all of us…
Republished from the June/July 2012 edition of Traffic Technology International magazine
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