National Evaluation Program FY 2003 Earmark Evaluation: Utah CommuterLink Expansion Case Study Evaluation
The Utah Department of Transportation's (UDOT) Intelligent Transportation System (ITS), known as CommuterLink, was primarily been deployed in the Salt Lake City metropolitan area (Salt Lake County with some coverage on I-15 in Davis and Utah Counties). Utah received a FY 2003 ITS Earmark to expand the CommuterLink system outside of the Salt Lake Valley by integrating the Cities of Orem and Provo, Davis County, and the UDOT Regional Headquarters. With the exception of Davis County, each of these entities now operates its own Traffic Control Centers but would like to operate as a linked system that shares information and coordinates traffic management across boundaries.
According to UDOT statistics posted on the CommuterLink Website, CommuterLink has already helped increase peak-hour freeway speeds by 20 percent and reduce freeway delays, traffic signal stops, and intersection delays by 36, 15, and 27 percent, respectively. Projected savings to travelers in Utah are estimated at more than $100 million each year (1). The computer-controlled system is designed to monitor and manage traffic flow on freeways and surface streets using closed-circuit television (CCTV) cameras; dynamic message signs (DMS); the 511 Travel Information Line; and coordinated traffic signals, ramp meters, and sensors for traffic speed and volume, pavement, and weather.
The significant lesson learned from the deployment is the importance of the working relationships that UDOT and other State and local/municipal agencies have developed. UDOT was proactive in working with the participating agencies in planning the CommuterLink Expansion. UDOT held monthly meetings with project agency staff to discuss and resolve issues, and all State and local agencies involved in planning the expansion were included. To the State's credit, agencies from jurisdictions that were not in the initial phase of the CommuterLink expansion were included as full partners, which helped obtain local buy-in and support. In this regard, notable experiences from the CommuterLink Expansion project are summarized below.
- Create conditions for effective collaboration among partner agencies. A key factor that contributed to the success of the CommuterLink Expansion was that UDOT worked collaboratively with local and municipal agencies to document system requirements. By utilizing this approach, UDOT ensured that:
- The CommuterLink Expansion focused on meeting the needs of all stakeholder groups, not just a select group of agencies, and that the expansion was a collaborative effort rather than a top-down deployment.
- Local and municipal agencies were able to take ownership of their components of the CommuterLink System as a result of being included in the initial requirements identification and documentation phase of the deployment.
In addition, operations and maintenance requirements and needs, both equipment and resources, were identified in advance and incorporated as part of the overall system expansion. Operations and maintenance are generally the responsibility of the system/equipment owner, and this approach enabled all participating agencies to plan for and request budget funds and technical resources to support CommuterLink in advance of the deployment. This approach gave all agencies the advance time needed to work through their respective budget processes in a timely manner.
Other lessons learned related to project management include:
- Manage public expectations. The system's primary purpose is to improve operations. The secondary purpose is to provide better information to the public. It is important not to give the public the impression that the system will be able to "work magic", rather, information provided on improving operations should be focused and very clear so as not to raise expectations that cannot be met.
- Plan in advance for long-term success in key areas.
- Hardware Upgrades: Plan for hardware upgrades with respect to type of equipment, resource requirements, and funding.
- Operations and Maintenance (O&M) Responsibilities: Identify early on, who is responsible for O&M, then determine resource requirements and funding needs.
- Training Plan: Identify who needs training, what training is needed, and how the training will be provided.
The CommuterLink Expansion project is expected to augment the mobility improvements and cost savings previously reported for the original project (2). The successful partnership among the agencies and their collaborative efforts are major catalysts in achieving such mobility improvements and cost savings.
(1) Utah CommuterLink Website, Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ) page, last accessed June 25, 2008: <http://www.commuterlink.utah.gov/ie.htm>. Benefits information was derived from the following report: Dr. Joseph Perrin, R. Disegni, B. Rama., "Advanced Transportation Management System Elemental Cost Benefit Assessment", University of Utah, March 2004.