The iFlorida Model Deployment, which was started in May 2003, called for the Florida Department of Transportation (FDOT) District 5 (D5) to complete the design, build, and integration of the infrastructure required to support operations in 2 years. The required infrastructure was extensive, spanned numerous stakeholders, and included many technologies that were new to FDOT D5, such as sophisticated traffic management center (TMC) operations software, a wireless network deployed along I-4, an interface to Florida Highway Patrol Computer Aided Dispatch (FHP CAD) data, statewide traffic monitoring, and many others. The iFlorida plans also called for deployment of these technologies in ways that required coordination among more than 20 stakeholders. It was an ambitious plan that would result in dramatically different traffic management operations for FDOT D5 and other transportation stakeholders in the Orlando area.
In implementing the iFlorida plan, FDOT faced many challenges ranging from higher failure rates than expected for some field hardware to difficulties with the Condition Reporting System (CRS) and Central Florida Data Warehouse (CFDW) software. "Despite these challenges, it can be readily claimed that the overall iFlorida Model Deployment was successful," noted in the final evaluation report for the iFlorida Model Deployment, published in January 2009.
The difficulties associated with the iFlorida Model Deployment provided many opportunities to identify lessons learned from the experiences they had. The most important of these are presented below in a series of lessons learned articles.
Major objectives of the iFlorida’s statewide operations system were to support statewide traveler information services and hurricane evacuations. Specifically, the iFlorida statewide operations included the following activities: developing a statewide traffic monitoring system, capturing Florida Highway Patrol (FHP) incident data, incorporating weather data, and establishing a statewide traveler information system – all integrated via the Condition Reporting System (CRS), the iFlorida central software platform. Lessons learned from this ambitious undertaking are summarized below.
- Statewide Monitoring System: Balance the tradeoff between cost-savings and system effectiveness while developing a statewide monitoring system. Twenty-five traffic monitoring stations, including radar for traffic detection and video, were deployed at existing microwave communication towers, which allowed cost-savings. These monitoring stations used the bandwidth available in the microwave network, but the bandwidth limit was inadequate to transmit traffic and video data back to the District 5 Regional Traffic Management Center (D5 RTMC). FDOT noted that using the locations of microwave towers as the primary factor in selection of the traffic monitoring sites might have been a mistake. A better system would have possibly resulted from selecting sites on the basis of their usefulness in supporting transportation decision making, and then taking advantage of microwave tower locations only if they were consistent with the selected monitoring sites. The statewide monitoring system, however, allowed sharing of traffic video with the Statewide Emergency Operations Center (SEOC), though this system was not used extensively because no significant hurricane evacuations occurred during the project evaluation period. FDOT also noted that the cost of maintaining the statewide monitoring system was high while the demand for data generated by it was low.
- Florida Highway Patrol (FHP) Incident Data: Develop a reliable interface between the FHP CAD and the Traffic Management Center software system. An interface was established between the FHP Computer-Aided Dispatch (CAD) system and FDOT to transmit FHP CAD data to D5 RTMC. These data included information about incidents that occurred across the state. FDOT found that the FHP CAD interface provided more useful data for supporting statewide traveler information than those obtained from the statewide monitoring system.
- Weather Data: Ensure that contract with the vendors requires establishing compatibility of the RWIS data format with the RTMC’s central software. FDOT contracted out for weather data and forecasts for each Florida Intra-state road segment. The supplier used software to fuse weather data from multiple sources and generate weather forecasts for each road segment at various time intervals, and then provided these data and forecasts to D5 RTMC. The weather data vendor also provided severe weather alerts that covered entire counties and individual roads. FDOT received additional data from a network of Road Weather Information System (RWIS) stations that were deployed at locations across the state. The interface between RWIS data management software and the iFlorida central CRS software was a problem. The contractual language between the two contractors involved did not make it clear who was responsible for fixing the problem. When systems developed by different contractors must interact, the contract should clearly define the interface that would be used as well as the responsibilities of the contractors developing the interface.
- Statewide Traveler Information: Use creative but reliable means to develop the statewide traveler information data stream. As part of the iFlorida deployment, FDOT established a statewide 511 traveler information system, which was managed by the D5 RTMC based on statewide data obtained from the statewide monitoring system, the FHP CAD incident information, and the weather information discussed above. A Web site also provided travelers with access to statewide traveler information. However, there were challenges in procuring and compiling traveler information data for a statewide system. The wide spacing between the statewide monitoring system stations meant that the system was not very useful at supporting statewide traveler information services. The FHP-CAD data turned out to be the primary source of statewide traveler information, with the FDOT staff suggesting in retrospect that some of the resources spent on the statewide monitoring system might have been better spent on developing interfaces to additional (local) police CAD systems across the state. When available source of incident information sometimes left holes in coverage, RTMC operators used creative methods such as analyzing 511 user comments to correct 511 messages that might have been in error.
- Condition Reporting System: Beware that major sources of problems in a complex statewide system are in developing operations interfaces between the central control system and the subsystems. The iFlorida Condition Reporting System (CRS) was a software system intended to consolidate the traffic, incident, and weather information and help the D5 RTMC staff manage the traveler information resources and other tools used to manage traffic. Long-standing problems occurred with the interfaces between the CRS and a host of other subsystems that included the FHP CAD system, the weather provider, the travel time server, and the dynamic message signs. From November 2005 through November 2007, FDOT's efforts focused on eliminating the problems with the CRS software. Different versions of the CRS were applied to the Orlando and statewide road networks. This system did not work as intended and was eventually abandoned and replaced with software developed by a different vendor.
Building a complex transportation management program, such as the iFloda’s statewide operations system, requires piecing together multiple subsystems that are to perform in a seamlessly integrated manner. The task of developing an integrated system for statewide traffic monitoring, incident data capture, weather information, and traveler information – all seamlessly controlled by a central software system – was formidable. Despite having to overcome significant challenges, FDOT met the primary objectives the of iFlorida statewide operations system, which were to support statewide traveler information dissemination and hurricane evacuations, contributing to improve mobility and safety along the iFlorida’s jurisdiction of the statewide roadway network.