The Washington State Transportation Center (TRAC) evaluated five Advanced Traveler Information System (ATIS) projects for the Washington State Department of Transportation (WSDOT): the Edmonds Ferry Terminal, State Route 101, State Routes 2 and 97, State Route 395, and the Tacoma TMC Enhancement. The projects involved the deployment of a range of devices in both urban and rural environments. Four of the projects provided traveler information using highway advisory radio (HAR), variable message signs (VMS), and road weather information systems (RWIS). One project involved the expansion of a traveler information communications backbone with a fiber optic link to a traffic management center (TMC). All of the projects received federal ITS funding in FY 1999 and therefore required a local self-evaluation. TRAC's first step was to develop a standardized methodology for evaluating ATIS projects. The methodology focused on technical, management, and organizational lessons learned. TRAC then used this methodology to evaluate the five projects. The methodology proved effective in producing useful information about ATIS benefits and deployment issues. On the basis of these evaluations, guidelines and lessons learned for planning and operating ATIS programs were developed to provide a better understanding of ways to approach future ATIS projects.
Three of the five projects in this ATIS Evaluation effort involved predominantly rural deployment. Issues associated with ATIS implementation in a rural environment emerged as a frequent theme in comments by project staff.
- Consider that rural ATIS applications often involve remote locations that can result in additional deployment and maintenance needs. Rural ATIS device installation can involve locations that are not only remote relative to central maintenance facilities and regional management centers, but also some distance from necessary power and communications systems. Terrain can affect communications transmission and coverage, making device placement, technology choices, and operational testing particularly important. These factors can also result in more difficulties with future maintenance access.
- Consider that Rural ATIS devices can be more susceptible to vandalism and theft because of their remote locations. While vandalism and theft are not unique to devices in rural locations, remote sites can pose additional concerns. One option mentioned was to deliberately place devices in secluded areas that are not readily visible and, therefore, are less likely to be a target of vandalism or theft. However, as noted above, this can introduce additional inconvenience and cost to extend power and communications access, as well as affect maintenance access. Furthermore, one project reported that the seclusion of a devices site actually facilitated vandalism by making any intrusive activity less noticeable. Another option to discourage vandalism is to locate devices near occupied locations such as maintenance sheds when possible. This would also have the benefit of providing easier access for maintenance.
- Consider that rural ATIS applications have critical safety implications. Traveler information for remote regions can involve issues that have a direct and often time-critical impact on traveler safety, such as severe weather conditions in potentially hazardous terrain. In those cases, ATIS notification must be highly reliable, accurate, and timely. This is all the more important for remote regions with few information access options. For these reasons, involvement by maintenance staff in rural ATIS planning decisions is critical. Such involvement can be enhanced by ongoing dialogue between regional management centers and maintenance offices to establish a clear delineation of responsibilities and roles.
- ATIS information facilitates enhance rural maintenance capabilities. Benefits of ATIS for maintenance staff include remote access and updating of VMS, enhanced power and communications networks, and visual verification of device status and weather/road conditions via cameras. Direct access to road conditions enables road maintenance crews to more quickly forecast conditions and manage their response. In addition, road condition sensors can provide information to maintenance groups that is more specific than the typical data distributed on the Web to travelers, enabling monitoring of specific weather effects such as ice build-up on the road. A well-designed communications network upgrade to support new devices can also enhance communications with existing devices, as well as facilitate general crew communications.
While implementing ATIS in rural and remote areas is beneficial to both the traveling public and transportation maintenance staff, certain challenges are present that do not exist in a non-rural or remote area. Some of these challenges include longer distances between needed ATIS resources, larger susceptibility of vandalism to ATIS devices, and the fact that travel information has a greater impact on those traveling in rural areas and therefore must be more reliable. With ATIS implementation comes improved safety and mobility for travelers, productivity and efficiency for maintenance staff, and customer satisfaction for both travelers and maintenance staff.