Use appropriate procurement methods when contracting for operations for Transportation Management Centers (TMCs).
Eight states' experiences with procurement methods for TMCs.
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United States


United States


United States


Long Island
New York
United States


United States


United States


United States



Metropolitan Transportation Management Center Concepts of Operation: A Cross-Cutting Study


A U.S. Department of Transportation report, entitled Metropolitan Transportation Management Center Concepts of Operation: A Cross-Cutting Study, published in 1999, provides extensive information on operations at eight TMCs within the United States and Canada. While a primary focus of each TMC studied is freeway management, several are also responsible for traffic signal system operation and various aspects of transit system management. The study began with a review of existing published TMC operations material. The following eight centers, chosen for detailed investigation and documentation, represent a broad range in their systems’ size, age, purpose, and technical approach:

  • Detroit, Michigan, Intelligent Transportation Systems Center
  • Milwaukee, Wisconsin, MONITOR
  • Long Island, New York, INFORM
  • Boston, Massachusetts, Integrated Project Control System
  • Houston, Texas, TranStar
  • Phoenix, Arizona, TrailMaster
  • Atlanta, Georgia, NaviGAtor
  • Toronto, Ontario, COMPASS

Major issues challenging most existing centers, such as staffing and the relationship between operations and maintenance functions, were identified, providing potential TMC implementers and existing TMC managers with real-world examples of how their peers are addressing daily operational issues. Some of the lessons learned (e.g., underestimation of operator workload, transition from video monitor walls) are indicative of human factors issues which are concerned with the design of TMC system elements.

Lessons Learned

Effective procurement techniques are key to acquiring the right facility, systems, and services at a reasonable price. The following lessons outline and suggest various procurement methods to use when contracting for operations for Transportation Management Centers (TMCs).

  • Spend time selecting the appropriate contractor. Having a general, non-ITS contractor as the prime contractor in a systems contract may increase costs significantly. It is also important to avoid total dependence on the primary design or development consultant's opinion by obtaining a "second technical opinion." One TMC cited significant success hiring consultants for particularly complex areas such as fiber optic network design and geographic information systems. Another TMC experienced significant utility in hiring an independent inspection consultant who had previous ITS implementation experience.
  • Take the extra steps needed to ensure the efficacy of the system used. Although customized commercial off-the-shelf software was viewed by some TMCs as a panacea, one TMC warned against assuming that accepting such a solution was faster, more reliable, or less costly than a more purpose-built system. Furthermore, TMCs that fully understand what is needed are advised to buy their own hardware directly rather than through contractors or consultants to reduce cost, simplify warranty and maintenance management, and ease the process of replacing obsolete equipment.
  • Plan for integration in both budgeting and implementation. Wide-scale integration of installations of low-bid contractors can be complex and appropriate expertise must be retained for integration to be successful. One TMC, whose system had been built within significant time constraints by several contractors, noted the complexity of wide-scale integration of installations by multiple low-bid contractors.
  • Remain in charge of one's own project. This can be achieved by refusing to accept software that is less than satisfactory from the developer, thus losing leverage over the developer in resolving future problems that may eventually plague operations and maintenance. Additionally, by keeping separate generic, performance, and detailed specifications in a single TMC acquisition, an agency can obtain the desired flexibility while controlling the risk distribution within a project. Also, if privatization is being considered, it is important to carefully and completely specify which services will be provided by the privateer.

These experiences point out that procurement methods should be chosen carefully with consideration given to the above-listed recommendations. Taking great care in selecting the appropriate contractor, ensuring the effectiveness of the system used, planning for integration, and maintaining control the project are all methods an agency can employ to ensure a more productive and efficient flow of operations.