Minimize problems in creating contractual arrangements for testing a new ITS technology by creating negotiating benchmarks, designing a partnership arrangement, and developing a separate procurement process for different technological components.
A Washington State Department of Transportation’s experience with testing of new variable speed limit technology to reduce winter accidents on a mountain pass.
Made Public Date


United States

Travel Aid: Lessons Learned and Recommendations


The Travel Aid system was designed to transmit suggested speed limits and advisory messages to in-vehicle units and dynamic message signs (DMS) through the Snoqualmie Pass area of I-90 east of Seattle, Washington. This 40-mile section of freeway experiences increased crash rates during the winter months because of snow, ice, fog, and other adverse weather conditions. The goal of this project, which began in 1992, was to reduce the frequency and severity of crashes through the Snoqualmie Pass.

To generate the suggested speed limits, road weather data were collected from radar vehicle detectors, roadside sensors, and environmental sensor stations and entered into an algorithm embedded within the Travel Aid operating system software. The information was processed in a central Travel Aid server located in a WSDOT project office. A Travel Aid operator then reviewed the suggested speed limit. If the operator deemed the suggestion appropriate, it was transmitted, along with traveler advisory messages, to the DMS.

This lesson is based on findings from the Travel Aid Evaluation Report completed by Booz-Allen and Hamilton in March 1999, with additional input from WSDOT staff involved in the project.

Lessons Learned

The Travel Aid project deployment required the involvement of several WSDOT offices, as well as different consultants and vendors. As the project progressed, contractual arrangements between WSDOT and consultants shifted and were occasionally difficult. At times, negotiating these arrangements delayed the project and added to the cost, especially because of the use of non-standard equipment. However, the use of benchmarks may have helped reduce negotiating delays. After the contracts were developed, a partnership-like arrangement among the involved organizations was important to the eventual completion of the system.

The project's evaluation report provided a number of suggestions in terms of contractual arrangements:

  • Create reasonable negotiating benchmarks that are agreed upon by the parties setting up contracts. Benchmarks can indicate when negotiations are to be broken off and will reduce damaging negotiation delays in the development of the project.
  • Design the project as a partnering arrangement, with shared risk and pooling of resources. Develop contracts that specifically assign risk to both the private and public entities involved. The joint nature of this arrangement will encourage the consultant to bring the project to fruition, even after public funds have been depleted.
  • Develop a separate procurement process for different technological components to allow the project manager to communicate directly with the suppliers. This will improve quality control and avoid problems when public agency staff become uncomfortable enforcing contract requirements for ITS items that are not standard to typical highway construction projects.
  • Expect changes in system components or functionality to cause system delays. Contractual issues caused a number of long delays to the Travel Aid project. For example, once WSDOT had developed a Travel Aid proposal, a design consultant/sub-consultant was selected, and the terms of the contract were negotiated. Major issues for the sub-consultant were per diem rates, intellectual property rights, and suitable pre-award audit information. Audit information was needed to justify the sub-consultant’s overhead rates, which were greater than generally allowed by WSDOT. After nearly two years of negotiation, an agreement was reached. Surprisingly, the sub-consultant then abruptly withdrew from the project before signing, citing excessive delays as the chief cause of its retreat. Note that the sub-consultant was the primary contributor of "new" technology to the project. Its withdrawal from the project caused much concern on the part of the project team and delayed the project considerably. Other issues involving equipment procurement further delayed the project from one to two full construction seasons.

This experience suggests that making contractual arrangements to deploy new technology may be difficult, and a flexible approach to contracting may help. For this project, after the contracts were signed, the addition of and changes to system components and the acceptance of non-compliant equipment delayed the project and added to the cost. However, the project benefited from a partnership arrangement in which dissimilar resources were exchanged and similar resources were pooled.