Carefully select a project manager to be responsible for deployment and testing of new ITS technology.
A Washington State Department of Transportation (WSDOT) experience with testing of new variable speed limit technology to reduce winter crashes 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

This ITS project involved the installation of new technology, as well as participation of different WSDOT departments and a number of contractors and sub-contractors. For this type of complex ITS, the project manager is critical to success. Also important to project completion is having the appropriate technical expertise and champions for each element of the project.

The project's evaluation report and input from the project manager provided a number of lessons in terms of programmatic arrangements:

  • Coordinate project staff to bridge geographical gaps. This is an important aspect of a project manager's role. Selecting the project manager is not necessarily a clear-cut decision for a rural ITS deployment because agency staff located in rural areas typically do not have the expertise needed to manage such projects.
  • Select a project manager with ITS-specific management experience. Because more than one group is involved with design of the system, the project manager needs to have technical expertise specific to ITS to ensure that the different design elements are coordinated at the appropriate time.
  • Coordinate the project manager's duties with technical experts to provide complete project management support. The Travel Aid project manager was responsible for coordinating the activities of all the contracts and internal state employees. Whenever ITS technical expertise was required, the project manager consulted ITS experts and other groups with specific expertise such as radio operations and maintenance.
  • Arrange effective communication among the project manager and technical experts to allow them to work together to provide a project with broad-based project management support. The design consultant noted that it would sometimes receive conflicting directions and information from the project manager, ITS expert, and other WSDOT groups. Although it is the design consultant's responsibility to ensure that it follows directions only approved by the project manager, the consultant felt that it was placed in an awkward position by having to respond to various WSDOT staff.
  • Work with non-ITS field offices. For example, the Travel Aid project manager's involvement with the local maintenance office resulted in the hiring of a system administrator and maintenance personnel to assist in operating and maintaining the system. The control systems were eventually housed within the maintenance office.
  • Have "champions" for each element of the project. A number of different WSDOT offices and University of Washington research groups were involved in the design and operation of the project. Each group helped advocate for and complete areas within their technical expertise and contributed to the success of the project.

The Travel Aid project manager played a key role in the completion of this complex effort. Although there were significant delays, the project was successful due to the leadership of the project manager.

This experience suggests that selecting the project manager is an important decision because that person is ultimately responsible for the project’s success and also directs consultant activities. The project manager ensures that the appropriate internal experts are involved in the work and is also the liaison between the design and the construction staff. The WSDOT experience also suggests that “champions” contribute to the completion of a project.