Choose proven technology and avoid changes to specifications.
Irvine, California's experience in implementing a field operational test of an integrated Advanced Transportation Management System.
Made Public Date


United States

Lessons Learned from the Irvine Integrated Freeway Ramp Metering/ Arterial Adaptive Signal Control Field Operational Test


A field operational test (FOT) of an integrated Advanced Transportation Management Systems (ATMS) was attempted from 1994 to 1999 in Irvine, California. The ATMS was intended to extend the capabilities of existing traffic management systems in Irvine and in California Department of Transportation (Caltrans) District 12. The FOT was to have introduced several new technologies to create an integrated freeway/arterial corridor that adapted to real-time traffic conditions. The FOT was conducted by a consortium, consisting of Caltrans, the City of Irvine, and two private sector consultants, and was cost-share funded by the FHWA as part of the Intelligent Vehicle Highway System Field Operational Test Program. The planned technologies included a System-Wide Adaptive Ramp Metering (SWARM) system, an Operator Decision Support System (ODSS), and a Management Information System for Traffic (MIST). The report concluded that the FOT failed: none of the planned technologies were successfully implemented due to a number of technical and institutional issues. The lessons learned in the FOT evaluation report focused on institutional issues related to the failure of the FOT. The lessons learned were derived from direct observation of participants over the duration of the project and interviews with key project participants and FHWA administrators. Lessons learned related primarily to overall project management and administration and the procedures employed for choosing and managing the deployment of particular technologies.

Lessons Learned

The arterial consultant clearly expended a great deal of effort on the FOT, and reported ultimately losing a considerable amount of money. The freeway consultant met contract deliverables by providing over thirty status reports and specification documents, many duplicative and irrelevant to the successful execution of the project. The following actions could have been implemented to help avoid some of these problems:

  • Do not depend on hardware that is still in development. Dependency of the 2070 controller, which had not yet been fully specified or delivered, could have been avoided. Depending on a controller that was still in development complicated the software porting tasks required of arterial consultant, and was cited by this consultant as the primary reason for delays. The City of Irvine wanted to use untested 2070 ATCs for a variety of reasons. First, it did not want to place both ATC and Multisonics controllers in one cabinet. Second, Caltrans was committed to providing support for 2070s in the future. During this key decision-making stage, the City consulted with Caltrans HQ and the Los Angeles Department of Transportation (LADOT), but excluded the other FOT partners, specifically the arterial consultant. In hindsight, one member of the arterial consultant firm believes that the consultant should have demanded using ATCs with specific firmware with which the consultant was familiar.

    SWARM lacked necessary documentation, and its failure management and malfunction scheme needed redesigning. SWARM and all pertinent reports were tied to the conclusion of the freeway consultant's ATMS project, which hindered the development of these additional systems. The freeway consultant was responsive to many requests, but refused all requests that "required a major redesign," or documentation. Major problems with the algorithm included the consultant requirement that SWARM be implemented one ramp at a time, and lack of permanent memory to store the setup parameters at each ramp meter. Turning SWARM off thus required that all ramp parameters be re-entered, a process for which no documentation existed. Caltrans interviewees do not believe the freeway consultant anticipated the extensive testing that District 12 performed on SWARM.

    Over three quarters of the interviewees believe this FOT was overly ambitious, including integration of too many untested new technologies, particularly the 2070 ATCs and SWARM. A majority of the interviewees wanted to prove the technologies separately in smaller pieces before bringing them all together. Ideally, separate field operational tests would evaluate the 2070 controllers, the MIST conversion, and the SWARM system.

  • Do not change specifications after the project has started. Problems with use of the 2070 ATCs began during Caltrans' tests. This prevented the City of Irvine from establishing a final prototype until early 1996. Caltrans HQ handled the 2070 hardware development, but continually changed its specifications. The first prototype from Caltrans HQ was provided over a year late. As a result, the arterial consultant's software coding efforts became extremely difficult. Device drivers posed a problem for both the arterial consultant and for LADOT. LADOT involvement began in 1994 when it developed software on its own for what eventually turned out to be the wrong hardware prototype. The need to reach agreement on data exchange between the traffic signal control program (TSCP) and OPAC slowed implementation of OPAC. As a result, LADOT changed its firmware to try accommodating OPAC's needs. Instead the change constrained optimum operations.

Several problems might have been avoided if hardware still under development was not chosen to be implemented, the contracting agency had a better understanding of project technology, and the technical specifications in the contract had been more precise. Through the implementation of these lessons, project efficiency may have been increased.