When Atlanta won the bid to host the 1996 Summer Olympic Games, the Georgia Department of Transportation (GDOT) knew that it was vital to address traffic management for the two million visitors that would come to the region. Twenty years later, the systems that it put into place are still running effectively.
GDOT had been discussing the development of intelligent transportation systems (ITS) to maximize the efficiency of current and future transportation systems since the late 1980s. In 1992, long before smartphones, wireless communications and in-car GPS, the agency received federal assistance to develop a Transportation Management Center (TMC) that would use intelligent transportation systems that combine technology, information processing and communication to make travel easier and safer, and save time and transportation expenses. By January 1996, the Transportation Management Center was open and in April, the NaviGAtor 511 travel information system was launched.
In celebration of the 20th anniversary of the TMC and the NaviGAtor 511 program, the Intelligent Transportation Society of Georgia (ITS GA) held its monthly event at the Center. The TMC building and the NaviGAtor program still operate 24/7 and have now been in continuous service for over 175,000 hours. Today’s NaviGAtor technology provides real-time speed, volume and travel time data by using field devices such as closed circuit television (CCTV) and video detection cameras, ramp meters and variable message signs (VMS). The program has increased coverage from the original 37 Interstate miles (60km) in 1996 to over 300 miles (483km).
The TMC not only houses the NaviGAtor program, it is now also the state’s emergency operations center and home of the Highway Emergency Response Operator (HERO) program that focuses on incident management and motorist assistance to keep traffic moving on metropolitan Atlanta Interstates. Maintenance of the NaviGAtor system won a 2016 Best in ITS award from ITS America, which focuses on innovation and what the future of back-end ITS will look like.
GDOT’s current assistant state traffic engineer, Mark Demidovich, who was also present during the start-up years, said, “Building a system from scratch with an unmovable deadline the Olympics was both challenging and rewarding, but we got it up and running successfully a few months before the opening ceremony. Our comprehensive maintenance system was recently selected the top innovation by our peers. Through constant monitoring, and preventative and responsive maintenance, we have reduced costs and maintained over 99% device availability for the 3,000 ITS devices on the system.”
The state traffic engineer at the time of the system’s inception, Marion Waters, said, “Starting up a program like this at a time when traffic technology was in its infancy, provided some interesting challenges. We didn’t have IP cameras or an Ethernet network; things we take for granted today. The program represented a significant milestone for Georgia. We went from building roads to actually managing the traffic and incidents on our Interstates. What we achieved was extraordinary.”