Use ITS Standards to achieve interchangeability and interoperability for Dynamic Message Signs.
Experience of nine agencies using Dynamic Message Signs built to NTCIP specifications.
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United States


United States


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United States


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Raising ITS Standards IQ With Implementation of NTCIP-Based Dynamic Message Signs (DMS)


ITS standards are designed to promote interchangeability and interoperability. Without standards, agencies that deploy ITS systems and components may be locked into proprietary specifications, custom interfaces, reduced options for vendor competition and price stability, early obsolescence, and a need for unique training and skills. Use of standards can help avoid disadvantages created by procuring custom Dynamic Message Sign (DMS) solutions.

In September and October 2000, personnel from nine transportation agencies responded to a comprehensive questionnaire about lessons learned during their implementation of DMS projects built to National Transportation Communications for ITS Protocol (NTCIP) specifications. These nine agencies were among the first to deploy NTCIP-based DMSs. The Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) prepared a lessons learned report to document the experiences of these agencies.

Achieving interoperability and interchangeability was the main incentive for using the standards, but participating agencies found they realized additional benefits as well. Most the agencies agreed that the overall impact of standards on their DMS project was a positive experience.

Lessons Learned

ITS standards allow systems to talk to one another by supporting information exchange or data sharing. As ITS projects continue to be deployed, transportation agencies are recognizing the value that standards can bring to their projects. NTCIP standards were designed for DMS implementations for several reasons including: ease of integration and interoperability, avoidance of proprietary software issues, a desire to be proactive and in the forefront of standards compliance, and recognition that standards are encouraged for Federally funded ITS projects. Using standards affords agencies the opportunity to select from a larger choice of DMS vendors and avoid using proprietary software. The nine agencies among the first to deploy DMS using ITS standards offer the following experiences to be considered when future DMS projects are being deployed to obtain interchangeability and interoperability.

  • Build on what others have learned. Building on what has been done and learned by others helps the agency get just what they need.
  • Obtain references on DMS vendors. Use of vendors who already have installed NTCIP-based DMSs reduces risk. Agencies should research several DMS manufacturers and ask for their NTCIP specifications and timeframe for installation before selection. In Virginia, the Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT) developed a prequalification test that the vendors were required to take and pass to be eligible to submit a bid.(1)
  • Find expertise in specification writing and testing. If an agency does not have experience with NTCIP and DMS communications, they should hire someone who does.
  • Specify desired NTCIP compliance provisions in the RFP. The Request for Proposal (RFP) should be very specific about DMS communications and other ITS standards that apply. The RFP should address the management and control of data. The RFP should specify not just "NTCIP" but the exact standards, even the DMSs and global objects that are wanted. The agency should not make any assumptions when developing specifications. All features and standards should be identified in the RFP. The RFP should be very specific about communications planned for the signs, and lay out specifications for fiber, phone lines, and data exchange rates. In Washington State, the process was loosely structured and the agency and the vendor worked well together; however, the Washington State Department of Transportation (WSDOT) did indicate that future specifications would be much more explicit and that the precise NTCIP requirements should be documented in the original contract and not as a change order.(2)

Incorporating NTCIP standards to obtain interchangeability and interoperability can have a significant impact on a DMS project. Upgrades to the system become more cost effective and less time consuming. Agencies within the same jurisdiction can benefit by combining resources for joint procurement. Sign costs are reduced because of increased competition among multiple vendors supplying the interchangeable and interoperable DMS. Many agencies agree that the use of standards allows them to get more benefits than with the more typical custom procurements. They expect to see greater benefits when implementing future enhancements and when system maintenance is needed. This lesson suggests that there are some specific issues to be considered when pursuing an NTCIP compliant project. Seeking out expertise, obtaining references on vendors, specifying NTCIP compliance provisions in the RFP, and building upon what others have learned are key to implementing a successful ITS project using appropriate standards. A successful DMS project has a significant impact on the cost, schedule and performance of a system and contributes to the achievement of several ITS goals including customer satisfaction, safety, mobility, and efficiency.

(1) NTCIP 9002 v01.04 Case Study Report Virginia DOT Statewide VMS Project.
(2) NTCIP 9003 v01.04 Case Study Report Washington State DOT NTCIP VMS Software Upgrade.

Raising ITS Standards IQ With Implementation of NTCIP-Based Dynamic Message Signs (DMS)

Raising ITS Standards IQ With Implementation of NTCIP-Based Dynamic Message Signs (DMS)
Publication Sort Date
Jerry Pittenger, Battelle
U.S. Department of Transportation Intelligent Transportation Systems Joint Program Office

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