The I-81 ITS Program is a framework for on-going coordination, planning, design, and implementation of ITS investments along the 325-mile length of the I-81 corridor in Virginia. Numerous stakeholders are involved in the Program, including the Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT), who sponsors the program, the Virginia State Police (VSP), the Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV), the Virginia Tech Transportation Institute (VTTI), and ITS consultants working on the corridor. The I-81 ITS Program focuses on planning and implementing ITS in a rural corridor through coordination and cooperation across districts, agencies and sectors.
In 2002 an evaluation of the I-81 ITS Program was conducted. A case study approach was used, including a combination of document analysis and targeted interviews. The evaluation covered the period from November 1999 (when initial planning for the Program began) through September 2001 and focused on several key issues of the Program, including:
- Historical development
- Goals and objectives
- Organizational structure
- Program management
- Critical resources
- Desired outcomes
- Program barriers and successes
Based on the evaluation, this report includes lessons learned and a set of recommendations for the I-81 ITS Program. The objective is to provide the Sponsors, Policy Committee and Management of the I-81 ITS Program with information that can used to improve the Program.
An important component of the evaluation of the I-81 ITS Program included an analysis of the steps taken to develop the Program. The research team identified seven elements that were key to establishing the I-81 ITS Program. These seven elements, presented as a set of lessons learned, highlight important planning and resource requirements and provide useful insights for other state DOTs and agencies developing their own ITS Programs. Key findings regarding the seven elements are detailed below.
- Be aware of environmental triggers. In Virginia, environmental circumstances acted as triggers, lending impetus to the creation of the I-81 ITS Program. These circumstances, both internal to VDOT and within VDOT's external environment included:
- Public perception that I-81 was a safety hazard (i.e. something needed to be done).
- Numerous construction contracts on I-81 going over budget and over schedule.
- Districts starting ITS efforts that were not coordinated across the corridor.
- ITS recognized as a division yet not fully integrated into VDOT’s planning process (with the reconstruction of I-81, there was a growing sense that technology should be integrated into the construction process).
These environmental circumstances, or triggers, demonstrated that change was needed, and they helped pave the way for the development of the I-81 ITS Program.
- Engage in strategic planning. In response to the triggers mentioned above, a strategic planning session was held that focused on the need for efficient and effective planning and implementation of ITS investments along the I-81 corridor. At that meeting the mission for the I-81 Program was developed along with an organizational structure and a list of roles and responsibilities. A two-tier organizational structure was outlined, including a senior I-81 ITS Leadership and Oversight Team (the Policy Committee) and an I-81 ITS Technical Planning and Implementation Team to coordinate detailed ITS planning, design, construction, operation and maintenance within the corridor. The organizational structure and mission developed at the strategic planning meeting were critical to getting the I-81 ITS Program off the ground.
- Assert Leadership. The leadership provided by the Director of the ITS Division at VDOT was another critical step in the development of the I-81 ITS Program. The Director, along with members of the Policy Committee, ensured that the changes discussed at the strategic planning session were implemented. In particular, their leadership served the following important functions:
- Articulating a vision. The leadership had a vision for the I-81 ITS Program: to integrate ITS vertically into VDOT’s planning process, and to coordinate ITS planning and investment horizontally across agencies, departments, divisions and agencies. This vision provided a sense of purpose and helped move the Program forward.
- Mobilizing commitment. Through articulating a vision for the Program and fostering dialogue with key stakeholders, leaders are instrumental in mobilizing commitment. In Virginia, mobilizing commitment from upper management was critical, as it fostered overall support for the Program and led to the involvement of mid-level personnel from key organizations (VDOT, VSP, DMV).
- Institutionalizing change. The leadership of the I-81 ITS Program also had a key role to play in implementing change, as the leaders ensured the institutionalization of the organizational structure discussed at the strategic planning session.
- Establish a strong management function. At the outset, a strong management function, with administrative support, was incorporated into the I-81 ITS Program, with VTTI serving this program management role. The responsibilities of the management team included organizing participants, developing work plans, and managing project proposals. VTTI provided invaluable management support to the Technical Committee and the Working Groups and served an important facilitation role during meetings. In the evaluation, participants indicated that it was beneficial to have a neutral third party (VTTI) who facilitated meetings and ensured communication among all the stakeholders.
- Involve Stakeholders. In Virginia, stakeholders were drawn from districts, divisions, and agencies dealing with I-81 issues, and bringing together this diverse of stakeholders was a key step in ensuring coordination across the different organizations. In particular, the Work Group structure was conducive to this coordination, as it enabled stakeholders to have input on issues of interest in a small-group setting. While participants in the Program noted that stakeholder involvement was one of the Program’s key strengths, they also indicated that stakeholders have limited time and resources, so it is necessary to make efficient use of their time.
- Secure Funding. The availability of initial seed funding was critical to the establishment of the I-81 ITS Program, as it helped draw stakeholders to the table and maintained momentum for the Program. As the evaluation interviews revealed, stakeholders are more likely to participate if they know that there are funds available to implement their proposals. Also important is the availability of stable, ongoing funding. In the case of the I-81 ITS Program, there was a 6-month delay in the funding process (after the initial funding ran out), and this strained the resources available for managing the Program. The success of the I-81 ITS Program, and other similar programs, will be determined by their ability to find consistent, stable funding.
- Evaluate Progress. To assess the progress of a program, it is necessary for management to outline a series of program objectives that are outcome-oriented and measurable. At the outset of the I-81 Program in Virginia, no clear outcomes for the Program were established (against which achievement could be measured). In order for the Program to move forward, the evaluation found that clear goals, objectives, and expected outcomes need to be set in place, and work plans to meet those goals need to be developed.
In Virginia, the I-81 ITS Program has been effective tool for coordinating and implementing ITS investments across the I-81 Corridor. Through a detailed analysis of the steps taken to establish the I-81 ITS Program, this evaluation offers an important set of lessons learned for state DOTs and agencies considering the development of their own ITS Programs. A broad range of factors, including strategic planning, strong leadership, stakeholder involvement and seed funding (among others), are key to initiating an efficient and effective ITS program.