Transportation Operations Management: Less Congestion, More Cooperation

By Burleigh, Zia | Public Management, September 2003 | Go to article overview
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Transportation Operations Management: Less Congestion, More Cooperation


Burleigh, Zia, Public Management


Most local government transportation agencies routinely conduct activities designed to minimize traffic delay and service interruptions. As congestion and service disruptions in the United States continue to escalate, however, local government managers, now more than ever, are challenged by their communities and elected officials, despite significant decreases in local government budgets, to ensure that transportation agencies meet the objectives of reduced congestion, lowered emissions, and improved systems reliability, safety, and convenience.

Due to increased congestion, combined with higher rates of traffic incidents, and heightened public safety concerns, local government managers are beginning to realize that traditional strategies for managing the transportation infrastructure (building new roads and highways) are no longer effective. Even with the availability of intelligent transportation systems (ITS) such as variable message signs (VMS), roadway weather information systems (RWIS), and the growth of traffic management centers (TMCs), many transportation agencies are still functioning as "stove-piped" organizations, where responsibilities for varied operational activities are often widely dispersed and segregated. Consequently, different units within some transportation agencies manage specific tasks with separate budgets and staffs, often with little interagency or multi-agency coordination. (1)

During traffic-related incidents law enforcement, fire and rescue, emergency medical services (EMS), and other public safety-related agencies are required to work together with transportation agencies because of their roles in highway incident response, traffic law enforcement, special event management, roadway maintenance, and highway construction work zone safety. Clearly, both entities--public safety and transportation--depend on each other to efficiently and effectively serve their communities, as timely emergency response requires navigable roadways, and efficient traffic operations rely on effective public safety services.

Despite this clear relationship both agencies have traditionally viewed themselves as providing two separate and distinct services that don't require interaction or coordination until on the scene of an incident. While this may have been true in the past, the growth in traffic incidents and congestion has caused them to become more interrelated and, in many ways reliant upon each other today. The need for early planning and collaboration to improve emergency response and decrease congestion is vital.

Breaking down the barriers that have created these fragmented organizations is indeed a challenge that many city/county managers have already begun to address. With budget constraints taking priority, however, many jurisdictions are still struggling to find alternatives that can be used to assist them in implementing more multi-agency programs. The manager, therefore, as the supervisor of these key government services (e.g., transportation, law enforcement, emergency medical services, and fire and rescue), is in a critical position to initiate changes in the way transportation and public safety agencies function.

By encouraging their staffs to learn more about new approaches for performance that include greater coordination and cooperation, transportation and public safety agencies can perhaps begin to development and implement policies and procedures that facilitate a more collaborative environment.

A Systems Management Approach

Transportation planners predict that the nations transportation infrastructure will suffer from unbearable gridlock over the next two decades; however, according to the 2002 Urban Mobility Study conducted by the Texas Transportation Institute (TTI), this prediction has already become a reality for many U.S. cities. The TTI study estimated that, in 2000, the nation's 75 largest metropolitan areas experienced 3.

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