Transportation authorities must not neglect investment in communications infrastructure

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To take advantage of the best in new advanced traffic management systems and big data analytics, it is increasingly necessary for authorities to ensure that communications infrastructure is kept up to date. Transportation systems management and operations (TSMO), for example, is a program to optimize the performance of existing facilities through systems, services and minor projects targeted at preserving capacity and improving reliability and safety.

As feedback on system performance becomes more available from big data analytics, the ability of agencies to actively manage the highway system will grow. Active traffic management capabilities are emerging to smooth system flow and increase reliability. They include elements such as integrated ramp metering, variable speed limits, lane control for incidents, peak-period shoulder-running and congestion-priced managed lanes.

Big data analytics will also help to identify the source of specific congestion by analyzing the origins, destinations and timing of specific trips. Projects and programs will be better targeted to reduce congestion at favorable cost-benefit ratios, including travel demand management. Improved TSMO capabilities will also position road authorities to respond to future trip-making needs, which will focus more on efficient intermodal journeys and less on personal vehicle dependence.

Therefore, the need to encourage enhanced communications along transportation corridors is a constant. Almost all road authorities have implemented fiber backbone systems as part of their ITS investments over the past two decades. Many departments have extended their reach through public-private partnerships, trading right-of-way permits for the right to use a few strands in a privately owned fiber bundle.

At present these broadband communications support various ITS installations such as cameras, weather stations and message signs. In the future this backbone could be critical in the capture of connected-vehicle short-range data. This will provide vehicle communications to fixed infrastructure such as traffic signals, and provide data for better active traffic management. Finding the funds to install fiber during reconstruction – either department-owned or through partnerships – will be money well spent.

Likewise, cellular communications will continue to play an important role in traffic safety and mobility. DOTs should evaluate coverage in heavy traffic corridors and ensure coverage is adequate to provide real-time traveler information, especially during heavily congested periods. Agencies should work with cellular providers to enhance tower coverage and capacity, and also explore the introduction of micro-cells on street lights to extend coverage where towers are not feasible.

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