September 10, 2001, 3:30 p.m.
Testimony of Stephen Albert, Director
Western Transportation Institute, Montana State University
President, Rocky Mountain Chapter
of Intelligent Transportation Society of America
Good afternoon Chairman Reid, Ranking Member Inhofe, and members of the Committee. I would like to begin by thanking you for this opportunity to share our views and perspective on Intelligent Transportation Systems and specifically Advanced Rural Transportation Systems or rural ITS. WTI/ MSU, and actually the entire rural community of transportation, tourism, public safety, fleet mangers, National Parks, Native Americans and private sectors/interests thank you for recognizing the need to address rural transportation issues and advanced technology applications at this hearing.
My name is Stephen Albert, I am the director of the Western Transportation Institute (WTI) at Montana State University (MSU). This is the second time I have had the opportunity to present our view of rural transportation needs to the Committee. The first was in 1996, as part of the Subcommittee’s ISTEA Reauthorization Field Hearings in Coeur d’ Alene, Idaho to Senators Baucus, Warner and Kempthorne.
WTI’s mission is to “make rural travel and transportation safer, more convenient and more accessible.” Founded in 1994 by the California Department of Transportation, Montana Department of Transportation and MSU, WTI is the nation’s leading research Center focusing on rural transportation issues. With ongoing research, demonstration and evaluation projects in 30 states and 10 National Parks, WTI was recognized in 1998 by ITS America for our “outstanding achievement in rural ITS.”
In addition to serving as WTI’s director I also serve as the Rocky Mountain ITS America Chapter president, which includes Montana, Idaho, Wyoming, Utah, and Colorado, and as vice-chair of the ITS America State Chapters Council that represents all 50 states. I also serve on the ITS America Advanced Rural Transportation System Committee, USDOT Rural Action Team and the National Academy of Sciences, Transportation Research Board Task Force on Transportation Needs for National Parks and Public Lands. Finally, I recently authored a chapter on Advanced Rural Transportation Systems for the Intelligent Transportation Primer sponsored by Institute of Transportation Engineers, USDOT and ITS America.
Turning to the subject matter of your hearing today, I am here representing not only western states, but the entire rural community and we thank each of you for raising awareness of rural America transportation needs and ITS applications. My testimony was developed from speaking with stakeholder groups on the east coast, southern United States, mid-west and Alaska.
My testimony will address the following three areas:
· magnitude and severity of rural transportation challenges facing this nation;
· specific examples and benefits of successful ITS deployment;
· future focus areas where additional emphasis and resources should be placed.
For the last ten years the rural constituents have heard our transportation leaders highlight congestion as our nation’s leading challenge. Programs such as Operation Time Saver, Model Deployment Initiative and others have been the showcase of USDOT. These showcase programs have little, if any, direct application to approximately eighty-percent (80%) of our nation’s surface roads, or roughly four million miles of roadway. The emphasis of ITS applications in urban areas has focused on reducing congestion and increasing vehicle throughput and highway capacity, all of which are benefits with which rural stakeholders have little in common. Unlike urban areas that have congestion as the primary single issue, rural needs are more diverse, complex and only tangentially transportation-related. So what are the rural challenges?
In rural areas safety is of paramount importance. According to Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) statistics, sixty percent (60%) of the crash fatalities occur on rural highways, while only 39% of the vehicle miles traveled occur on these roads – a disproportionate relationship. These combined facts make rural crash rates (the number of crashes per million vehicle miles traveled) 2.5 times greater than urban areas. In examining the rural crash rate by classification of roadway (i.e. interstate, major collector, local road, etc.), we find that local roads have a crash rate of 3.68 verses interstate crash rates of 1.23 – or local roads have a three times greater risk factor. Furthermore, single vehicle crashes on 2-lane rural roads accounted for 54% of all rural crashes in 1998, and about 30% of these occurred on curves. When these crashes occur they are compounded by limited emergency services among communities such as volunteer fire and rescue, and remote hospital facilities. Emergency response time for crashes in rural areas to receiving aid at a hospital is twice as long as in urban areas, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA).
The safety situation on our rural roads is exacerbated by the fact that vast rural areas of the United States are without wireless communications, which impacts safety and increases infrastructure deployment costs. The current and planned conveniences that wireless coverage provides for Mayday services, entertainment, and telephone service is largely non-existent in rural America. Cellular providers’ business models are focused on call volume and profit; these do not align with rural characteristics. Preliminary research conducted by WTI in five western states indicates that the notification time to learn of a crash is two to three times longer where no wireless communication exists and near jurisdictional borders. In fact, the medical response needs of the “golden hour” in remote sections of rural America is not measured in minutes, but rather hours. When agencies must consider deployment of technology if no wireless coverage exists, then wireline services must be constructed. Recently, the Washington DOT had to install 30 miles of cable for one closed circuit television camera that was needed to monitor and verify safety issues on a rural segment of highway. These types of communication challenges do not exist in an urban environment.
Weather can be deadly in many regions of the United States. Stories of travelers stranded in rural communities due to road closures, vehicles trapped in snow banks, and flooding and hurricanes destroying or isolating communities are now becoming more frequent events. In November 2000 a snowstorm in Rollins, Wyoming closed I-80 and resulted in 31 miles of semi-tractor trailers backed-up with no fuel, no services and no way to communicate the closure or re-opening of the roadway to drivers. According to FHWA there are approximately 7,000 fatalities and 450,000 persons injured each year due to weather related events. ITS technologies are available to mitigate the effects of circumstances such as this; however, additional funding for rural ITS deployment is critical.
Tourism is a critical concern to the economic viability of numerous rural communities. According to the Travel Industry Association of America in 1998, travel and tourism in the United States is the nation’s largest export industry and second largest employer, accounting for over $515 billion in expenditures, resulting in 7.6 million jobs and accounting for 1.3 billion domestic trips. In most states tourism is the second leading economic indicator and considered the key to the economic future of many states. Based on rural ITS outreach workshops conducted in 15 states by WTI, in partnership with FHWA, the travel and tourism community have identified concerns in the following areas: directional signing; timely and accurate information; coordination of traffic management alternatives; seasonal and special event traffic management; parking information; regional sharing of information and services; and funding. In summary, an efficient transportation system is essential to rural communities who depend on tourism revenues for their survival. Providing real-time information to tourists, via ITS, is the key to encouraging greater tourist activity in rural areas and enhancing their economies.
Two distinct groups of target areas that highlight rural environment are issues associated with federal lands and Native American lands as well as users of those areas.
As an example of our federal lands consider National Parks and transportation. The impact of our National Park Service on regional economies and their transportation systems should not be underestimated. In order to provide a framework on the impact of the NPS consider the following NPS statistics:
With a broad impact and visitation on the increase, the NPS is under extreme pressure to provide increased services with fewer resources, while simultaneously trying to provide stewardship for an environment they are entrusted to protect for future generations. As our National Parks become increasingly “loved to death,” it is apparent that respective transportation systems and associated services are a critical issue.
The second area is our sovereign Native American lands where safety, economic viability and transportation are the key issues. Research has shown that Native Americans die in motor vehicle crashes at rates six times that of the rest of the Nation and 3/4 of Native American traffic fatalities involve alcohol. Unemployment rates on reservations often exceed 70%, over 10 times the national rate. Lastly, only 29% of tribes have any form of transit system. The issue of economic viability was the most important issue identified by 300 Native American tribes in a recently completed survey by WTI to assess tribal and transportation needs. Safety needs were second priority, followed by tourism and traveler information. Here again, ITS deployment will have a positive impact by providing enhanced safety and traveler information.
Each year there are approximately 726,000 animal-vehicle crashes. These crashes rarely result in fatalities but at approximately $2000 per incident in property damage the annual cost nationally amounts to over $1 billion. The growth of suburbs into wildlife corridors contributes to the problem, however, these accidents occur at higher speeds and with greater frequency in rural areas. Today’s deer population alone is greater than 25 million. Accidents with deer and other animals are only going to increase as populations expand and urban development encroaches into rural areas.
Unlike urban areas, where public transportation service is implemented to provide transportation for employment purposes or as a means of reducing congestion, in rural areas public transportation service has a direct impact on the quality of life of many rural residents. According to the Federal Transit Administration (FTA), approximately 38 percent of the rural population has no access to public transportation and another 28 percent has little access. Even when public transportation exists, little or no information is available about the services. Furthermore, service is sometimes restricted to weekends, evenings, or designated days of the week. Low population density in rural service areas makes it difficult at best to deliver public transit services. Where neighbors often live miles apart, trip distances are long, and travel to common origin and destinations are infrequent, public transportation providers find economically viable solutions to their problems difficult to identify and extremely costly to implement.
Rural transit agencies typically operate small fleets that provide service to these sparsely settled areas. In fact, most Section 18 recipients (60%) serve areas with fewer than 100 persons per square mile using 8 to 15 passenger vans. In addition to service limitations associated with the size of the fleets, rural transportation must also meet the diverse needs of a broad range of users including elderly, handicapped, and financially disadvantaged individuals. The demands placed on the fleet staff by the service requirements, the various vehicle equipment requirements, and the payment systems or subsidies used to finance those services are also factors to be considered. Finally, local coordination must determine what types of transportation services can be provided to rural residents and how providers must work together on meeting the needs of their rural residents.
The movement of goods is critical to the economy of the United States and the rural interstate system is an essential component in the process. Rural interstates are, in essence, the arteries over which flow the goods to be distributed to citizens throughout the country. On many rural highways, 30 percent of traffic is commercial vehicles, and their numbers continue to grow. This increase is a result of many closures of rail lines that served rural communities and freight centers, such as grain elevators. In many instances rural America is inheriting the traffic from urban areas that moves within and between it’s communities.
Commercial vehicle operators have identified several transportation needs associated with rural travel, such as the frequency with which they must stop at weigh stations for verification of permits, load limitation checks, and safety inspections. Every time a commercial vehicle stops at a weigh station or a border crossing, it costs the carrier money. Therefore, measures to increase the operational efficiency of the system or reduce travel delays for the commercial vehicle operators are considered of primary importance. ITS technology exists today to dramatically reduce these costs. For instance, vehicles traveling across the country often must pass through multiple tolling systems, efficiency in terms of time savings could be realized through the use of electronic payment systems on toll roads.
Rural areas are challenged in that there are few issues and application similarities among different locations and regions (i.e. Cape Cod, Mass, Brandon, VT and Eureka, CA). This diversity challenge is further complicated by the fact that “transportation is not the hook” to bring stakeholders together, and the stakeholders typically do not have frequent opportunities to meet to develop a common vision. They also lack facilitation and oversight as provided by a metropolitan planning organization (MPO). These issues of diversity, lack of understanding of ITS benefits and the absence of a federal process that treats rural ITS projects on a level playing field with urban ITS all contribute to the many institutional issues and delays in deployment. I believe very strongly that now is the time for USDOT to step up to the plate and provide a level playing field and provide adequate resources to respond to rural transportation needs that urban areas have enjoyed over the last several years.
Now, having made that last statement, I do want to recognize a number of success stories that have taken place in rural areas. In recognition of the rural issues in need of attention, the United States Department of Transportation’s (USDOT) Joint Program Office established the Advanced Rural Transportation Systems (ARTS) program in 1997. The ARTS Program has been defined by development tracks that categorize the various technology tools that can be utilized to address user needs in the various rural communities. The development tracks include emergency services, tourism and travel information, traffic management, rural transit and mobility, crash prevention and security, operations and maintenance, and surface transportation and weather. I would like to highlight some of the successful projects that have been implemented at the local level.
The technology applications relating to this area focus on the prevention of crashes before they occur and on reducing severity when they do. Many state departments of transportation are targeting three areas of focus to address these needs: speed management, intersection collision avoidance and animal collision avoidance. To manage travel speed in mountain passes, Colorado DOT has implemented a dynamic downhill speed warning system on I-70 west of Denver, outside the Eisenhower Tunnel. The system measures truck speeds, weight, and number of axles and advises the driver of the appropriate speed. The truck speed warning system was installed on a narrow curve that has a design speed of 45 mph. The average truck speed around this curve has dropped from 66 mph to 48 mph since the installation of the warning system. The system has eliminated approximately 20 truck runaways and 15 truck related crashes per year. California DOT has implemented a similar speed warning system for passenger cars and trucks near Redding California along I-5 in Sacramento Canyon. The system has reduced travel speed and reduced the number of accidents, and has provided California DOT an opportunity to showcase technology that can save lives.
In Maine and Virginia the DOTs are implementing an intersection collision avoidance system that uses detectors at all approaches of an intersection to track vehicles nearing the intersection. The detectors use parameters such as the presence and speed of a vehicle to display warnings to drivers approaching both from the major and minor roads. These messages read “Cross Street Traffic Is Approaching” and “Watch Out For Cross Traffic.” These systems have reduced accident experience and provided advance warning in rural areas.
A third project that can be highlighted to address crash prevention is the Animal-Vehicle Crash Mitigation Project, which involves 15 states and will demonstrate technologies to detect animals in the rights-of-way through microwave technology sensing systems and inform the drivers upstream of the encroachment. If successful, this project may help to reduce the approximately $1 billion lost on animal-vehicle collisions each year.
This area concentrates on the services provided by law enforcement, fire departments, emergency medical services, and related organizations. The organizations usually are multi-jurisdictional in nature, involve complex operations and require a great deal of coordination. Recognizing these challenges the Virginia DOT sponsored the Northern Shenandoah Valley Public Safety Initiative. The project’s goals are to enhance the collection and communication of critical accident victim patient data between the on-scene emergency medical personnel and the receiving hospital through the use of hand-held portable digital assistance devices. Use of the off-the-shelf PDA’s has improved patient outcome, improved on-scene, en-route and emergency room patient services, improved data collection, all in addition to incident management coordination. A similar system is being deployed in Montana too.
In Texas, the San Antonio Fire Department has utilized ITS with LifeLink. LifeLink is designed to link the ambulances located on or near San Antonio’s freeway system with a hospital in the City. Each ambulance is equipped with videoconferencing hardware and software to provide 2-way video and voice between the ambulance and an ER or trauma physician at the hospital. The equipment can also send vital signs and cardiac data to the hospital. These technologies are designed to assist with the issues associated with the golden hour to save lives. The City of Tucson and the state of Nebraska are implementing a similar system, too.
As stated previously, tourism supports the economic viability of rural communities with approximately $500 billion annually. This technology application area focuses on the core infrastructure to provide information and data exchange between organizations and the traveler. Examples of successful projects include the deployment of traveler information systems (kiosks, highway advisory radio, variable message signs, internet sites) in tourist locations such as in Flagstaff, Arizona along I-40 near Grand Canyon National Park and Branson, Missouri where the number of annual visitors is more than one thousand times greater than the resident population.
Two unique applications of technology that have been showcased recently are the Yellowstone National Park Smart Pass project and the Oregon DOT Travel Time Estimation project. As you know, our National Parks are experiencing increasing visitation and traffic congestion. The Yellowstone National Park Smart Pass will provide frequent users and local residents with an electronic pass and a designated lane at entrance gates to bypass congestion. The Oregon DOT Travel Time Estimation project will provide ODOT with the ability to collect travel-time data on US-39/101, a high volume recreation corridor, through license plate “capture” technology. The license plate can be captured along the route and be used as a “probe” to determine if incidents have taken place. The license plate image is scrambled and discarded after use and to avoid privacy issues.
This area of application focuses on technologies to control operations as well as provide guidance and warning of traffic to improve travel on roadways. As in the area of emergency services, coordination is the key to success. Three examples of success are the Duluth Transportation Operations and Communication Center, for jointly managing transportation with other organizations, the Arizona DOT Highway Closure Restriction System, and the Oregon DOT TripCheck for developing virtual applications to collecting and disseminating information to multiple organizations to manage traffic. At the Duluth Transportation Operations and Communication Center, MinnDOT jointly manages the transportation system with state police and transit organizations to provide seamless transportation services. In order to provide for decentralized information collection and dissemination, the Arizona DOT and Oregon DOT utilize the internet whereby organizations can enter road closure, lane restrictions, unsafe road conditions, and parking information into the system and all agencies can view the status of those conditions. The ODOT TripCheck system includes images from closed circuit cameras at mountain passes and other locations and is directed predominantly at DOT staff, but the information can be viewed by the general public, too. During the peak usage the number of users have exceeded 350,000 per month.
This area focuses on increasing access to transportation for those who are mobility impaired through transit/para-transit services. As stated previously, providing mobility service to vast geographic areas is difficult from the perspective of cost effectiveness and communications infrastructure. One project that has accomplished this is the global positioning system project in Ottumwa, Iowa for the Ottumwa Transit Authority. The OTA provides public transit service in southern Iowa that includes Ottumwa, and the surrounding 10 counties. The service area is a very large, low-density rural area of 5000 square miles, and 149,000 people. To overcome communication coverage the OTA had to create a communications backbone to support the gathering and distributing of data over such a broad geographic distance. This was accomplished by establishing a 4-tower radio network. Using space on existing towers strategically located throughout the area at the furthest points enabled OTA to eliminate "black holes" in communication between buses and the office. Data is gathered at these 4 tower sites, and transmitted to a central location in Ottumwa. Via microwave link, the data is transmitted between the central tower and the central office (dispatch). This network has successfully enabled OTA to track each vehicle and provide electronic messages between the office and buses.
This development track focuses on improving the efficiency and capabilities of service to maintain and operate our transportation system. Because resources are more scarce and distances greater than urban areas, the ability to operate and maintain transportation infrastructure and the roadway system is paramount. Example projects include the operation of automated anti-/de-icing of bridges, and advanced technology for snowplows and agency vehicle monitoring. The Automated Anti-/De-Icing on Bridges enables the remote application of anti-icing and de-icing chemicals to the roadway. The system uses atmospheric and pavement sensors to provide early warning of changing conditions. When weather conditions reach certain criteria, the application of chemicals is automatically performed. The system reports to maintenance personnel when the chemicals have been applied. The maintenance personnel also can call the system using a cellular phone to override the sensors and activate the chemical application. A second example is the application of technologies to winter maintenance activities to monitor snowplow fleets, spreading applications, and vehicle collision warning and route guidance. The Iowa, Michigan and Minnesota DOTs are utilizing technology to monitor agency vehicles (e.g. chemical applications, vehicle location, plow up/down, etc.) at to a central point. In California and Arizona, the state DOTs have instrumented snowplows and the mountain pass roadways with technologies to allow for vehicle tracking in the roadway for lane guidance and collision avoidance systems to warn motorists of close proximity. In California and Arizona, the snowplow operators were surveyed and the systems were found to increase their safety, productivity and efficiency.
This development area focuses on improved weather information systems and maintenance technologies for all types of weather conditions. Accurate road and weather information can mean the difference between life and death.
Example projects include the Greater Yellowstone Weather and Traveler Information System and the USDOT Field Operation Test called FORETELL. The Greater Yellowstone Weather and Traveler Information System will develop and integrate the SAFE-PASSAGE mountain pass pavement temperature prediction model, and a road and weather condition information system that delivers trip-specific weather forecast and road reports via cellular telephone by dialing #SAFE in North Dakota, South Dakota, Minnesota and soon Montana and Nebraska. The #SAFE system will provide road and weather information 40 to 60 miles (or 1 to 1 ˝ hours travel time) ahead of the direction of travel. The #SAFE system has been used by over 300,000 motorists, with a monthly average of 16,000 per month and the median use of the system is 25 times per year mostly in the winter. A recent survey found that 94% of the users of the system found it beneficial.
The second project, FORETELL, is also a multi-state public-private partnership which brings together all available weather data sources, including satellites, radars, and surface sites including National Weather Service Department of Defense, aviation and conventional DOT road-weather information stations to create nowcasts and forecasts. The FORETELL project is initially targeted as an internet maintenance management tool but later will be expanded to provide traveler information. The states involved in the FHWA project include Iowa, Missouri, Maine, New Hampshire and Vermont.
While there have been success stories as highlighted by my previous testimony there are some very real gaps and opportunities that must be addressed. To date, USDOT has predominantly concentrated on urban ITS and discounted the need to address rural challenges in any realistic programmatic level. To quote one DOT Chief Engineer, “the highest use is not necessarily the highest need.” Prevailing attitudes must change if rural challenges are to be addressed. The time to address rural needs has arrived and we need federal leadership and commitment. The following recommendations are proposed from rural ITS constituents around the country including myself.
Rural stakeholders have little understanding or conceptualization of how advanced technologies can impact their daily lives; the phrase “ITS” is unknown to most organizations beyond DOTs. In fact, because ITS has been so frequently described as a congestion management tool, the word “ITS” is best not used in a rural environment because of the images that may come to mind. While outreach has occurred it has only taken place as a result of various national leaders in the field, and not any planned federal initiative. In the last year a variety of outreach materials (e.g. ITS America’s State-of the-ARTS document, Rural ITS Toolbox, ARTS CD Outreach Presentation materials, incorporating rural needs into the National Architecture, Guidance document) have been developed that can be used to perform outreach and training to rural stakeholders. Given that federal dollars to develop Early Deployment Plans were only available to urban areas with populations over 50,000 and guidelines exist that regionally significant projects need to develop regional architecture, there should be a commitment to provide outreach and training in rural areas more than at just a statewide level. Also, it is important that these outreach and professional capability building activities occur in rural communities where stakeholders live rather than large urban centers.
In attempting to develop a rural ITS project one learns quickly that federal and state agencies are only concerned about their individual mission rather than the crosscutting solutions. In essence, each agency is “stove-piped” in their perspective and funding. Also, federal and state agencies are not aware of respective funding opportunities to advise rural constituents. The process to initiate a project from the federal level is the same no matter the dollar amount. While these issues may appear inconsequential they are the very real institutional barriers that inhibit ITS deployment.
Rural areas have challenges that are aligned to more than just the departments of transportation missions, including agencies such as agriculture, health and human services, public safety, tele-communications, tourism, and more. To integrate funding and increase awareness of opportunities, it is recommended that a blue-ribbon committee be formed to create a one-stop shopping process or even a clearinghouse, develop an awareness program for rural funding opportunities, review the project initiation approval process, and determine if a block-grant approach may be more feasible for ITS deployment that would horizontally cut-across federal agencies. In fact a model for this effort already exists at Federal Lands Highway Program with the award winning recreation.gov website. This website received honors including the National Performance Review Hammer Award, Government Executive magazine “best Feds on the web” award, and Trailblazer award by E-Gov 2001 as outstanding example of government best practice.
Communication coverage is critical to achieve a level of detection on rural highways to improve safety and lower installation deployment costs. Currently, the times to detect, respond, and provide service at an incident is typically twice that of an urban area. If we are to manage our rural roadways in a safe and prudent manner then some level of basic infrastructure to detect problems and a communication system to transmit that data must be created and funded. Critical to the basic level of detection needed is a communication backbone.
Second, the vision of Public Law 106-81 is to encourage and facilitate the prompt deployment throughout the United States of a seamless, ubiquitous, and reliable end-to-end infrastructure for communications, including wireless communications, to meet the Nation’s public safety and other communication needs. Nowhere in America does the congressional intent of the Wireless Communications and Public Safety Act of 1999 hold more promise than in rural states. Rural states record less than 25% of the 17 million annual car accidents but these collisions result in 60% of all fatalities. Twenty-five thousand Americans die each year on our rural highways because the promise of the technology has yet to be fully realized. Emergency medical personnel refer to the time immediately following a crash as the “Golden Minutes and Golden Hour.” It is estimated that 40% of all 911 call are cellular based. Given that rural America has large pockets of “dead zones” (no cellular wireless service), a new or improved model will need to be developed to increase communications coverage. This new model may be similar to the Rural Utility Service but at a minimum it may require a federal subsidization for private carriers that cannot achieve the return on investment that the high volume urban subscriber models deliver. If ITS deployment is going to be achieved and a “seamless” transportation system envisioned then communication coverage must be addressed in rural America.
Third, by providing the communication coverage (wireless/wireline) the installation cost of ITS deployment will be reduced thereby allowing an increased number of solutions. As previously highlighted in the Washington DOT example of 30 miles communication cable for one closed circuit television camera, it is unrealistic to have this as the norm.
Travelers do not see the jurisdictional state boundaries as they plan or complete trips, nor do they care, and yet most ITS projects are developed with only a single state in mind. While there are a handful of truly regional scale initiatives such as the Greater Yellowstone project (Montana, Wyoming, Idaho), California – Oregon Advanced Transportation System, CANAMEX Corridor (Canada, Montana, Idaho, Nevada, Arizona, Mexico), I-95 Corridor Coalition, Gary-Milwaukee-Chicago Corridor, they are limited. Regional scale projects focused on the travel sheds that motorists use need to address a national system and to encourage public-private partnerships to develop the economies of scale needed to minimize risk.
Central to any architecture developed for rural projects across the country is the need and ability to exchange data and information. Many states are implementing internet based solutions and developing virtual “traffic management centers” because they realize a decentralized information collection and dissemination process that includes all stakeholder groups (transit, tourism, public safety, fleet mangers, National Parks, Native Americans) is more critical to manage the transportation system in rural America. To accelerate the ability to exchange data and information to provide for communication, cooperation and coordination, funds should be allocated to implement regional “internet” based servers throughout the 50 states.
Because the majority of deployment has been done as a result of state lead efforts rather than federal, and because state DOT’s tend to be more concerned about implementation than evaluation (or they intuitively know the benefits), there has been only a marginal amount of research as to the quantified benefits of rural ITS. If ITS is to be accepted by rural communities and eventually mainstreamed as a viable solution, the benefits of ITS applications need to be known before considering more traditional measures (e.g. widening the road versus dynamic speed warning system). Funding for research, specifically targeted for rural ITS, should be set aside to allow for a more robust evaluation of current and planned deployment.
Standards are developed to allow for ITS deployment interoperability. While this is a general goal that everyone can agree with, many in the rural community feel that it should be accelerated and that there should be flexibility to allow for a rural needs to be addressed and not a “one size fits all” mentality that is aligned with the requirement of larger urban center requirements.
To date, the majority of rural ITS planning and deployment has been the initiative of individual states. If the USDOT truly wants to take a leadership role, then an opportunity I recommend would be to create a Rural Model Deployment Initiative similar to the Metropolitan Model Deployment Initiative, but concentrated on a more regional/rural scale as discussed previously. It should be noted that Rural Model Deployment Initiative can be similar to the Metropolitan Model Deployment Initiative but it will fail if one attempts to take the applications from urban and just apply them to rural. This new Initiative may need to be more cross-cutting in determining how technology can assist several organizations in performing their day-to-day activities rather than just one organization. An example may include the use of Automatic Vehicle Location systems for the combined needs of transit, maintenance fleets, public safety fleets, and ambulances.
Tourism is the economic engine of rural America! To allow ITS to be more effective the focus and attention toward tourism partners that may ultimately be the implementers of ITS must be increased to spur economic activity and create jobs. It should be noted that at this time while traveler information systems have been found effective in providing information, it is unknown to what extent they contribute to increase economic activity, but it appears plausible.
In closing, while there are isolated success stories that can be highlighted, there are still many challenges yet to be addressed. In keeping to the rural spirit, the Subcommittee and USDOT have an opportunity to be “pioneers” in making a renewed rural ITS commitment. As we like to say in the West – Our forefathers were pioneers, not settlers!