The Washington State Transportation Center (TRAC) evaluated five Advanced Traveler Information System (ATIS) projects for the Washington State Department of Transportation (WSDOT): the Edmonds Ferry Terminal, State Route 101, State Routes 2 and 97, State Route 395, and the Tacoma TMC Enhancement. The projects involved the deployment of a range of devices in both urban and rural environments. Four of the projects provided traveler information using highway advisory radio (HAR), variable message signs (VMS), and road weather information systems (RWIS). One project involved the expansion of a traveler information communications backbone with a fiber optic link to a traffic management center (TMC). All of the projects received federal ITS funding in FY 1999 and therefore required a local self-evaluation. TRAC's first step was to develop a standardized methodology for evaluating ATIS projects. The methodology focused on technical, management, and organizational lessons learned. TRAC then used this methodology to evaluate the five projects. The methodology proved effective in producing useful information about ATIS benefits and deployment issues. On the basis of these evaluations, guidelines and lessons learned for planning and operating ATIS programs were developed to provide a better understanding of ways to approach future ATIS projects.
As with many field technology implementation projects, some level of maintenance inevitably accompanies an ATIS system deployment. The cost of ongoing maintenance and support is influenced by technology selection and installation decisions, as well as by the availability of support staff and funding. While there are technical considerations associated with maintaining typical ITS equipment such as RWIS, HAR, VMS, and camera systems, comments by maintenance staff while evaluating ATIS projects focused on ways to support the overall maintenance process. These issues are common in many other technology field installations.
- Perform proactive, preventive maintenance to reduce support expenses. Several project representatives mentioned the goal of proactive versus reactive maintenance as a cost-effective way to minimize support expenses. However, there was an acknowledgement that funds for maintenance as a whole were often insufficient, and therefore preventive work was often not possible. Nevertheless, maintenance crews sometimes perform some preventive activities as part of required support work (e.g., during repairs or diagnostic work) when time permits as a way of maximizing the use of scarce resources.
- Consider device design choices in maintenance costs and safety considerations. Device design and placement choices should consider support costs and worker safety whenever possible. One example noted is the use of shoulder-mounted versus overhead-mounted VMS. There are costs associated with the support of overhead-mounted VMS because of the lane closures and traffic control required to ensure worker safety on the overhead structures. (Traffic control is required by the state's Department of Labor and Industries to ensure worker safety during maintenance procedures.) This additional effort is not required with a VMS that is mounted on a support structure located on the shoulder. This translates into reduced costs in time, money, and safety risk for the shoulder-mounted system. While the choices are not always clear-cut, these factors can be acknowledged and taken into consideration during the planning and design process.
- Consider in-house maintenance staff participation in the design and implementation process for projects with consultant participation. In one project, maintenance staff noted that an outside consultant performed the design and implementation of a previous project in the area. Subsequently, performance problems required support by WSDOT maintenance. Because the devices and installation processes used by the consultant varied from the standard WSDOT equipment and approach, and design drawings were not fully updated, additional time and expense were required to diagnose and solve the problem. In addition, the consultant-designed systems created problems when the new systems were integrated. Therefore, there is a financial incentive to work with DOT maintenance groups to enable them to cost effectively support devices designed or installed by others.
- Update contract information to reflect as-built conditions. The project evaluations indicated a need to update contract design documentation to reflect subsequent changes that occurred during project implementation. The lack of up-to-date as-built design documentation has clear support implications; if design documents do not match actual conditions, additional time and expense could be required to review and document the actual design before support and maintenance options are performed. As a result, associated expenses can be higher than expected. Furthermore, while project staff might have a detailed working knowledge of the design of the system, it is not sufficient to rely upon the collective knowledge of staff regarding any modifications to original design plans. As projects are completed, staff members are often reassigned and memories about specifics fade over time. Therefore, institutional memory is not a substitute for written records of design changes.
This lesson gives four examples of where maintenance-related issues play a role in different stages of project development and suggests that ATIS technology projects should be carried out considering these issues. All of these examples, which include updating contract information to as-built conditions, having in-house maintenance staff work with hired consultants, encouraging preventative maintenance, and incorporating maintenance costs and safety considerations into design choices, lead to savings in money and time. Saving time and money ties into the ITS goals to increase productivity and efficiency. Additionally, maintaining an ATIS system ties into the ITS goals to improve safety and customer satisfaction.
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