The I-81 ITS Program is a framework for on-going coordination, planning, design, and implementation of ITS investments along the 325-mile length of the I-81 corridor in Virginia. Numerous stakeholders are involved in the Program, including the Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT), who sponsors the program, the Virginia State Police (VSP), the Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV), the Virginia Tech Transportation Institute (VTTI), and ITS consultants working on the corridor. The I-81 ITS Program focuses on planning and implementing ITS in a rural corridor through coordination and cooperation across districts, agencies and sectors.
In 2002 an evaluation of the I-81 ITS Program was conducted. A case study approach was used, including a combination of document analysis and targeted interviews. The evaluation covered the period from November 1999 (when initial planning for the Program began) through September 2001 and focused on several key issues of the Program, including:
- Historical development
- Goals and objectives
- Organizational structure
- Program management
- Critical resources
- Desired outcomes
- Program barriers and successes
Based on the evaluation, this report includes lessons learned and a set of recommendations for the I-81 ITS Program. The objective is to provide the Sponsors, Policy Committee and Management of the I-81 ITS Program with information that can used to improve the Program.
The evaluation of the I-81 ITS Program identified a number of institutional issues arising in the second year of the Program that were barriers to success. These issues related to the unclear organizational structure of the Program, problems in communication, and lack of clear leadership and direction. At the inception of the Program, the organizational structure consisted of a Policy Committee and nine working groups. The Policy Committee had representation from multiple agencies (VDOT, VSP, and DMV) and it provided leadership for the Program by setting overall policy, overseeing the working groups, reviewing specific proposals and approving funding priorities. The nine working groups were formed to tackle specific issues of importance to the Corridor, such as incident response, public safety, and traveler information. One of the benefits of the working group structure was that participants could focus on issues in small group settings; however, this structure had its own organizational challenges. Participants felt that the size of the Program was too large; they were being asked to serve on multiple groups and to attend a large number of meetings.
At the start of the second year of the Program, the structure shifted from nine working groups to four functional areas. While the working group approach had been successful in generating project ideas, as these projects evolved into programs, the role of the working groups became less clear. In addition, the Policy Committee felt that the new structure (four functional areas) would be more efficient, eliminating interdependencies among the existing working groups. These changes, however, were made in a short period of time with little communication, so participants were left wondering why the changes were made, and how their projects would be affected. Since functions and responsibilities were not clearly defined under the new structure, participants were unsure about what role they would play and what would be expected of them. At the same time as the organizational restructuring, there was also a change in program management that was not clearly communicated to participants. As a result, Program participants indicated (in the evaluation) that during this phase of the Program, they perceived a lack of clear leadership and direction.
In light of these findings, the evaluation reports the following set of lessons learned regarding the I-81 ITS Program:
- Clearly define and implement the organizational structure of the ITS Program. The success of an organizational structure is dependent on the clear identification of roles and responsibilities. In Virginia, the new organizational structure approved in the second year of the I-81 ITS Program (four functional areas) was simple and straightforward, but the roles and responsibilities associated with this structure were not clearly defined to the stakeholders. Based on findings from the evaluation, the following recommendations are made for executing this new structure:
- Establish a strong Policy Committee. A strong Policy Committee is needed to move the Program forward, and it should be composed of representatives from different divisions and agencies, as this lends credibility to the process. The critical functions served by the Policy Committee include setting the overall policy and direction for the Program, overseeing the work of the functional areas, reviewing proposals, and approving funding priorities. To address participants’ concerns (voiced in the evaluation) that there is unclear leadership and direction within the Program, the Policy Committee should convene a planning session to assess the priorities of the Program, to revisit the vision (and revise, if necessary), and to provide the policy direction for the overall Program, the functional Areas, and the Program Coordinator.
- Clearly articulate the responsibilities of the Functional Areas. The responsibilities of each Functional Area should include (among other things): establishing a mission for the Area; overseeing projects currently underway that fall within the Area’s scope; coordinating with other Areas when issues overlap, forming and leading working groups as necessary, and submitting funding requests each year to the Policy Committee. The functional Areas should hold planning sessions with their members to develop action plans in support of the overall policies set forth by the Policy Committee. These planning sessions can help clarify roles and responsibilities within a functional Area, provide direction for future action, and are important for maintaining participant commitment.
- Establish Working Groups as necessary. Under the new functional Area structure, working groups should be organized at appropriate times in the funding cycle to assist in the development of new projects. After the project development is completed, the groups should be disbanded.
- Enhance communication and leadership through a full-time ITS Program Coordinator. A strong program coordination function is vital to the success of an ITS Program, providing both leadership and enhanced communication within the Program. In Virginia, the evaluation recommended that the I-81 ITS Program Coordinator be a member of the VDOT Central Office ITS Division, so that he or she has the authority to make decisions for the Program and is not vulnerable to funding delays and reductions. The Program Coordinator should be responsible for:
- Working with the functional Areas to identify needs and to draft and carry out plans
- Adhering to the policy directives set forth by the Policy committee
- Identifying where coordination needs to take place across the functional Areas and across other efforts on the Corridor
- Managing the overall Plan for the ITS Program
- Keeping the Program on track, on budget and on time.
In carrying out these functions, the ITS Program Coordinator should have at least one staff person to provide administrative support. In Virginia, VTTI provided invaluable administrative support during the first year of the Program.
One of the key institutional problems cited in the evaluation was a lack of communication across working groups, between groups and management, and between the Program and other efforts. The Program Coordinator can overcome these problems by insuring that information is shared across all levels of the Program and by encouraging open and frank discussions among all the stakeholders. The use of a facilitator at meetings is one mechanism for insuring open communication.
This experience identified a number of institutional issues that have been barriers to the success of the I-81 ITS Program. These included unclear organizational structure, unclear leadership and direction, and a lack of communication (both within the Program and externally). To overcome these barriers, the Program must clarify its organizational structure and establish a full-time ITS Program Coordinator. This set of lessons learned provides a roadmap for the more efficient organization of the I-81 ITS Program. Through improving its organizational structure and enhancing its communication and leadership, the Program will be more effective in meeting its goals and objectives.
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