Recognize staffing and communication needs for Advanced Traveler Information Systems (ATIS) projects.
Experience from the Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission.
Made Public Date


United States

Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission's Advanced Traveler Information System (ATIS) Phase III Project


Traffic congestion, weather conditions, incidents and other emergency conditions can significantly impact the mobility and safety of travelers. Through the collection, consolidation and communication of traveler information, an Advanced Traveler Information Systems (ATIS) enables the public to make better informed travel decisions and assists transportation agencies in their roadway operations and management.

In 1998, the Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission, Pennsylvania Department of Transportation (PennDOT) and the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) entered into an agreement which provided funds for the deployment of Phase III (of VIII Phases) of the Turnpike's Intelligent Transportation System (ITS) Advanced Traveler Information System (ATIS) project. The purpose of the project was to:

Expand the Commission's statewide Advanced Traveler Information System to better inform motorists about traffic, weather and emergency conditions along the PA Turnpike through the use of highway advisory radio (HAR), variable message signs (VMS), closed circuit television (CCTV) cameras, roadway weather information systems (RWIS), truck rollover warning system (TRWS) and, traffic flow detection system (TFDS).

Specifically, the Commission was looking to fill in the gaps of VMS, CCTV cameras and HAR signs throughout the Commission's mainline and northeast extension roadways, add new RWIS, TFDS and TRWS to specified locations, and to implement and integrate a Central Software to operate and control some of the Commissions' ITS subsystems.

This local evaluation report assesses how well the project goals and objectives were met, provides the direct and indirect benefits of the project, and discusses the technical and institutional issues that were encountered while completing the project.

Lessons Learned

Through all phases of the Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission's ATIS project, from the initial design to deployment, staffing needs and communications issues were important to the success of the project. The following set of lessons learned highlight these issues.

  • Get key staff involved at the start of the project. At the start of every ITS contract, a core group of individuals (Information Technologies [IT], Operations, Traffic/ITS, Maintenance and State Police) representing the different disciplines should be selected as key members of the project team. Moreover, all IT disciplines should be represented at the meetings, including representatives from communications, software, database and system maintenance. Members should be “experts” in their field and should have decision-making capabilities for their group. These team members should be present at every meeting to understand the project's current status, issues, and future direction.
    • During this project, not all of the Commission's IT groups attended project meetings. The general IT representative that did attend the meetings had limited capabilities to address concerns and action items during the project. Having all the right people attend all meetings is key to the success of any project. In many cases throughout the project, smaller group meetings with IT personnel representing communications, software, field support and database were needed.
    • In particular, operators of the system should be involved in the system from the start. The operators will embrace the new system more quickly if they have been a part of the entire process. In this contract, the operators were not made key team members until further on in the project. The operators made suggestions in regards to screen appearance, icons, and map appearance, which helped to enhance the project. Operator suggestions and the resulting changes to the system were minor, but they provided the operator a sense of ownership of the system. Bringing operations personnel on at the beginning would have resulted in a more efficient design and customization of the integration software.
  • Have good communications with design team and contractors. The good communication among the Commission, its consultants, and contractors contributed to the overall success of this ATIS project.
    • As the device specifications were being written by contractor for the final design, the second contractor responsible for systems integration was on-board as the software integrator. This was instrumental in being able to define and discuss the operations of the field devices with the software that would operate the system. This ensured that proper information exchange occurred between the Contractors and the integrators while providing a clear distinction in responsibilities. In addition, exchange of information (manufacturer's equipment, type, model number, and software version) prior to device installation was helpful to facilitate integration.
  • Use an ITS Contractor, Integrator or Consultant as the Prime Contractor for ITS Projects. An ITS project should be separated from a larger contract (of traditional highway construction) and bid separately, since the qualifications needed to design/install are different from most heavy construction contracts.
    • The Commission found that in previous contracts, in which ITS equipment was installed by a General Contractor, there were communication issues between the Commission and Contractor. The General Contractor would hire an electrical contractor, who would hire an ITS contractor/Integrator, who hired a supplier/vendor. This hierarchy of organizations made it very difficult to control/monitor the construction activities.
  • Bring vendors to the field. Once technologies for field devices have been selected, a technical expert from the manufacturer should verify the design in the field. In the field, the vendor can verify the location and position of the equipment and provide recommendations that can optimize the system. The specifications can provide a provision that the manufacturer or a qualified representative must be in the field during installation and testing.
    • As an example on this project, a representative from the microwave detection system field verified the locations and setup of the units. In many cases, minor adjustments at the sites were recommended so that the equipment would perform as close to the product specification as possible, given the field conditions. These adjustments enhanced the performance of the field devices.
  • Use qualified ITS Engineers or ITS inspectors for day-to-day inspection and testing procedures. The field inspection and monitoring of the installation and integration of ITS projects requires skill sets different from those of roadway, bridge or typical electrical projects. The use of individuals that can dedicate the time to the project and know ITS equipment are recommended for post ITS design services.
    • Under the two construction contracts (East and West) for this project, the Commission provided construction inspection for the East Contract with a part-time inspector. Under the West Contract, the design consultant provided both the full time inspection staff and construction services. Based on the experience with the two construction contracts, the West contract was deemed more effective. Installation concerns and field changes were addressed and solved more efficiently in the field in the West contract, leading to shorter construction delays. In addition, the day-to-day status of the project was better documented in the West contract, as the full time inspector was involved in every aspect of construction. Since the East contract inspector was not full-time, the Contractors progress could not be as easily tracked and reviewed.
  • Provide hands-on training. In addition to simulation training, operators should also receive hands-on training for the system. Simulation modes of training do not necessarily give an adequate depiction of operations, for, oftentimes, the ideal conditions are set for the simulation. The training should also include members of the system support staff. If errors occur during training, the system staff can explain the reasoning behind the error, what to do in case of the error, and how to fix the error.

Throughout an ATIS project, staffing and personnel issues play an important role in the success of the project. Assembling an effective project team, maintaining good communication among team members, utilizing ITS experts, and providing operators with hands-on training are among the factors that can contribute to the success of the project. Through addressing these staffing and personnel needs, the transportation agency will be better able to design a system that meets its needs and that performs successfully. In this way, agencies will be able to maximize the mobility and safety benefits of the system.