In 2003, the Minneapolis Department of Public Works made a request to the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) for help in assessing its operations. In recent years, the city of Minneapolis had experienced significant reductions in their traffic signal management and operation program, and these reductions have had a significant negative impact on the city's ability to deal with traffic congestion. The FHWA Minnesota Division engaged experts from the National Transportation Operations Coalition (NTOC) and the FHWA National Resource Center to perform the assessment. The NTOC had just completed the first draft of a self-assessment tool and was looking for test sites; the Minneapolis Department of Public Works agreed to be the pilot for the assessment in return for a thorough review of its operations.
The focus of this study is the Traffic Engineering Section of the Traffic and Parking Division of the Department of Public Works. The NTOC assessment team (a peer panel of experienced transportation officials) met with Minneapolis city personnel on February 19 and 20, 2004, and as part of their assessment, the team administered and discussed the self-assessment survey tool. The team also met with the Minnesota Department of Transportation to learn their view of the city operation.
Based on their findings, the NTOC assessment team offered the Minneapolis Department of Public Works a number of recommendations for how they might improve operations, and thus traffic conditions, in the city.
In February 2004, the National Transportation Operations Coalition (NTOC) Traffic Signal Action team utilized its recently developed self-assessment tool to provide the City of Minneapolis Department of Public Works with an assessment of its traffic signal management and operations program. The assessment team concluded that the city is working hard to keep the basic system elements running as efficiently as possible, but the city lacks a coherent program. In particular, a key finding was that there are no connections of any significance between the Minneapolis traffic signal systems and that of neighboring agencies and the Minnesota Department of Transportation. For example, MNDOT manages the ramp meter systems, and the city manages the traffic signals at the ramp terminals, but there are no signal hardware connections between the two systems.
Based on their findings, the assessment team offered the following lesson learned:
- Build a regional program for system operation and investments. The city should begin to work with other regional transportation operators to develop a plan for regional operations. Under current operations, each agency maintains its own individual systems, resulting in duplicate systems throughout the region and significant inefficiencies. Through regional collaboration, agencies can share resources, personnel and systems, potentially providing significant operational improvements for a much lower life cycle cost. Other benefits include improved incident response and improved traffic flow across jurisdictional boundaries.
The regional partnership should consider developing a detailed concept of operations to define exactly how the overall transportation system will be operated. This effort should be an extension of the regional ITS Architecture development work.
To date, agencies and the Minnesota DOT have been operating their systems independently, resulting in significant operational and cost inefficiencies. Transportation systems are by their nature regional systems. Through adopting a regional approach, cities can share their resources and operate their systems more efficiently, thus maximizing safety and mobility benefits to drivers.