Use tested and effective traffic management systems for Transportation Management Centers (TMCs).
Eight states' experiences with ITS Traffic Management Systems for TMCs.
Made Public Date


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

This document provides insight into the operations at various Transportation Management Centers (TMCs) within the United States and Canada. One subject discussed in this document is the lessons learned in the design of traffic management systems. The main message is the importance of testing traffic management systems before deployment and of using systems that will most effectively provide traffic information.

  • Test operations before deploying traffic management systems. Avoid interim or partial operations before conducting final system testing and acceptance. To reduce frustrating and inefficient performance, choose integrated systems, as opposed to separate legacy or new systems, and try not to adopt an unfinished system. Extended non-operational periods for installed variable message signs will create the misperception that they are not functional.
  • Use traffic management systems that will most effectively provide traffic information. Several measures can be taken to ensure that information is deployed in a useful manner. For instance, providing closed-circuit television coverage of areas surrounding an incident to police officers will assist them in understanding the extent of a back-up and determining alternative routing for the traffic at the head of the queue. Archiving detailed traffic data by using compact disks (CD) may also provide long-term information for analysis and management. Finally, securing easy access to traffic and activity information may help TMC staff analyze performance and identify opportunities to improve traffic conditions.
  • Take preventative steps to safeguard against problems that may arise in the future. Unusual weather conditions, such as hurricanes and floods, can create significant traffic complications; thus it is important that TMC managers perform advanced work to make sure they are well-equipped to deal with operations under emergency conditions. Agencies should also find a method to manage workstation “image overload,” a condition where the amount of detail on the workstation reaches an unproductive level. Such situations are likely to increase as TMC staff become responsible for increasingly large geographic areas. Conveniently controlling the view (most often through a map) of the program area is also essential to effective operation.

This lesson recommends deploying traffic management systems that have already been tested and shown to most effectively provide traffic information. Consideration should be given to conducting testing before deploying a new technology, adopting integrated systems, minimizing the time systems are non-operational, and providing real-time traffic information for police officers. Data archival, emergency conditions operations planning, and workstation “overload” are all important issues to address as well. An agency's traffic management system will ultimately prove more productive and efficient once testing has determined its efficacy and methods have been developed in anticipation of problematic situations in the future.