Hire properly trained staff to deploy and maintain traffic signal systems.
Agencies share experiences managing and operating traffic signal systems.
Made Public Date


United States

Successful Traffic Signal System Procurement Techniques


In January 2002, FHWA published a synthesis of best practices of traffic signal system procurement techniques. The study utilized interviews from key contacts in nine cities recognized for their experience with deploying and operating traffic signal systems. The cities represented a diverse cross-section including smaller cities like San Leandro, CA (58 signals) to large cities like Chicago, IL (3,000 signals). The type of signal control ranged from closed-loop systems to centralized systems with custom software. Operations ranged from time-based coordinated to traffic adaptive systems.

The publication draws on lessons learned and presents best practices information for two essential questions: what are the functional and operational traffic signal system needs of an agency; and how can these needs be fully expressed when developing traffic signal system specifications?

Lessons Learned

A study on the nationwide best practices on deploying and operating traffic signal systems reveals the following experiences.

  • Recognize and budget for continuing education to ensure success. A recurring theme in the study was the tremendous need to keep employees current on the ever-changing technologies that influence the design, deployment, and operation of traffic signal systems. The interviewees stressed the need to have agency staff attend technical professional conferences, meetings, and seminars through which peers can be established and new information is readily available.
  • Consider your abilities as an agency to deploy and maintain a traffic signal system before deployment. It was also stressed that if an agency does not feel they have the technical expertise to design a traffic signal system or develop the specifications for the deployment of a new traffic signal system, agencies should take a step back and seek the training necessary to improve the agency skill set before moving forward.
  • Telecommunication expertise is critical to success. Technical expertise in the area of telecommunications is often overlooked by agencies. Many agencies stressed the need to hire technical experts that are knowledgeable in many areas of telecommunications including copper lines, fiber optic communications and potentially wireless communications to allow flexibility in traffic signal system designs. Without this expertise in house, agencies are often left to accept whatever telecommunications options are presented by competing contractors.
  • Recognize the close cooperation with maintenance staff that is required for a successful deployment. Agencies stressed the need to include maintenance staff in the decision making process as these staff members are often critical to the successful deployment of traffic signal systems. Recognize that a properly trained maintenance staff is crucial to a successful traffic signal system.

    Traditional cooper wire systems are much different than fiber optic communication systems. Recognize these differences and make sure maintenance staff is trained to repair whatever communication system is deployed. Agencies stressed, don’t be lured into the high-band width world of fiber optic communications without properly trained staff and repair equipment!

In summary, without the proper knowledge, agencies can find themselves in a quagmire of software, hardware, maintenance and communications problems that result in little improvement in operational conditions. Recognize the need for properly trained staff and continuing education for all staff to ensure the required knowledge base is in place before designing or deploying traffic signal systems.

Successful Traffic Signal System Procurement Techniques

Successful Traffic Signal System Procurement Techniques
Publication Sort Date
Erin Bard Ehlinger/PB Farradyne
US Department of Transportation/FHWA

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