Maintain, reinforce, and expand existing programs to improve traffic signal operations.
Wisconsin’s experience with operating and maintaining a statewide traffic signal system program.
Made Public Date


United States

Assessment of Wisconsin Department of Transportation Traffic Signal Operations Program


The Wisconsin Department of Transportation (WisDOT) participated in the National Traffic Signal Report Card by completing the Traffic Signal Self Assessment Survey in 2004. The National Transportation Operations Coalition (NTOC) prepared the results and found that WisDOT scored a grade of "F," below the national average of "D-." These results prompted WisDOT, with the assistance of the FHWA Division Office to request an external Peer Review to offer solutions to improve their score. WisDOT was already in the process of performing an internal reorganization, so combining this activity with the Peer Review offered an opportunity to carry out the findings and recommendations with the reorganization. As a result of the Peer Review process, a program assessment report was produced, which formed the basis of this lessons learned article.

Lessons Learned

The Self-Assessment and Peer Review process reflects a desire by national transportation policy leadership to gain a better understanding of the quality of traffic management programs that exist nationwide and to help agencies improve the management and operations of the Nation's roadways. The process performed for the Wisconsin Department of Transportation (WisDOT) found that maintaining, reinforcing, and expanding the foundation of programs already in place would significantly improve the operations of their traffic signal system program. The following suggestions are provided to assist other agencies in developing a strong traffic management program.

  • Craft a program of sustainable funding for traffic operations. Funding for traffic operations and maintenance is directly proportional to the type, location, and quantity of traffic devices deployed. Any successful program must specifically define its objectives; establish the methods and processes to meet the objectives; provide sources, time, personnel and equipment to meet the objectives; and have specific quantifiable performance measures in place to make certain the objectives are met. This is an iterative process that continually gauges performance against objectives, ensures that the program meets the expectation, and establishes a value baseline for the investment. Federal resources can be used to provide a significant portion of funding to sustain the traffic operations.
  • Build a true statewide program. Traffic signal operations should be organized around statewide operational and performance guidelines. There will always be different operating organizations, but a structure should be sought to cross these lines. For WisDOT, a Tiger Team (1) approach was proposed to help set standards as well as serve as a pool of expertise for the Districts and the local agencies. The Tiger Teams focus their attention and expertise on particular topics and would include at least one member from each district.
  • Create a standard for personnel certification and qualification. While learning on-the-job should always be part of a good program for operations, it is not an adequate substitute for more intensive, up to date and continuous formal learning. Agencies should seek out organizations to provide certification and continuing training and education to their traffic operations engineers and maintenance technicians. A better trained and educated person is much more likely to implement the best solution to a problem quickly and competently with a lower overall cost to the agency. The agency should also require that any third party assistance received should be required to have the same credentials and qualifications.

WisDOT started with a good foundation of programs and recognized the importance of improving and expanding on these programs through the self-assessment. Crafting a program of sustainable funding for signal system operations, building a true statewide program, and creating a certification standard for personnel are lessons that can be applied to improve system operations and have a significant impact on the overall performance of the system. These lessons need to be mainstreamed into normal every day procedures and programs to reinforce and maintain a strong program giving WisDOT the opportunity to achieve ITS goals of safety, efficiency and productivity.

(1) tiger team - (US military jargon) Originally, an allied team whose purpose is to penetrate security, and thus test security measures. These people are paid professionals who perform hacker-type activities, e.g., leave cardboard signs saying "bomb" in critical defense installations, hand-lettered notes saying "Your codebooks have been stolen" (they usually haven't been) inside safes, etc. After a successful penetration, a "security review" is performed to evaluate effectiveness of security measures. In extreme cases successes of tiger teams has lead to organizational and personnel changes.

Assessment of Wisconsin Department of Transportation Traffic Signal Operations Program

Assessment of Wisconsin Department of Transportation Traffic Signal Operations Program
Publication Sort Date
WisDOT Signal Operations Peer Review Team
Lakewood, CO Resource Center, US DOT

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