Road Network Operations
& Intelligent Transport Systems
A guide for practitioners!

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Operational Activities

Authors  Charles Wallace and Greg Speier (Courage & Wallace, USA)  John Miles (Editor)  Barry Moore (MoCh Tech Consulting Ltd, UK) 

In the past, road authorities and other organisations responsible for roads and highways, such as toll road operators, focused primarily on building and maintaining the infrastructure: the roads, highways, bridges and related facilities. Over the years, as traffic volumes have increased, this focus has shifted to place greater emphasis on operating and managing the road networks to minimise disturbances and maximise usage. This transition has not been easy because it involves re-thinking how organisations carry out their mission and how agencies are structured.

Road Network Operations (RNO) include all services focused on maintaining the safe and efficient use of highway infrastructure, and associated Intelligent Transport Systems (ITS). Dedicated road network management services have evolved that are designed to keep the road network available for safe use by road-users. Five groups of services can be identified:

1. Traffic management services that are designed to make best use of the available roadway and highway capacity day-by-day in real time – for very heavily trafficked routes and road networks this can be a 24 hours a day, 7 days a week activity.

Traffic management services principally involve responding to “events” as they occur, contingency planning in anticipation of those events, and planning the operational capability to respond appropriately. The events themselves may be:

  • planned and expected events, such as regularly occurring rush hour congestion, major road works or bridge maintenance and scheduled sports or entertainment events (See Planned Events)
  • unplanned and unexpected events such as road accidents, emergency situations and other traffic incidents (See Traffic Incidents)

2. Network control services that seek to control and influence road users over a wide area in order to spread the traffic load and optimise demand on the road network. Examples are balancing demand between alternative routes and integrating network management between different authorities. (See Urban Networks and Regional Networks)

3. Information services that have the capability to:

  • collect, filter, process, and disseminate data for operational traffic management (control centre operators, supervisors, management and maintenance) (See Network Monitoring)
  • provide traffic and travel information within the organisation, to stakeholder organisations (operating partners) and other external parties and the travelling public (See  Travel Information Systems)

4. Planning and reporting services that enable response planning for both planned and unplanned events, reports on operational and business services and performance monitoring of the highway network (See Planning and Reporting).

5. Support services that indirectly enable and allow other operational functions to be delivered: for example human resource and shift planning for mobile patrols and traffic control centre operatives, business plans, service development and telecommunications networks across the various functions (See TCC Administration).

Regional Operations

Adopting a customer focus for Road Network Operations has many implications. First is the need to keep roads and highways open and available for safe passage wherever and whenever possible: 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Network Operations are designed to achieve just that.

For road authorities and other organisations closely involved a customer focus means working across administrative boundaries to achieve transport operations that are coordinated and integrated. The operational reach of any single road authority or operating organisation is no longer self-contained. Operational objectives have to be defined according to the road users’ needs. This means that to a great extent Road Network Operations must be integrated:

  • across geographical and jurisdictional boundaries between different road operators and road administrations
  • to provide smooth access to ferry-terminals, ports, airports, road-rail transfer points for inter-modal transfer

The Institutional issues in network operations are significant because of the number of stakeholders involved. Network operations can:

  • be multi-modal, multi-jurisdictional, multi-national (local, regional, national authorities and concession-holders)
  • use different levels of infrastructure (rural, local or national roads hierarchy)
  • involve interaction and cooperation between different organisations and entities on traffic management and traffic information

How Road Network Operations (RNO) are organised varies significantly from place to place. The missions, responsibilities and needs of the organisations involved can be quite different. In many countries, the national ministries/departments of transportation have primary responsibility for strategic roads; whereas provincial and even local agencies are responsible for other types of roadways. In many countries there is a significant role for the private sector.

Close coordination is critical between all the relevant agencies, operating partners, task forces dedicated to incident management or security, external news media and information service providers. This sometimes takes the form of a regional transport operations coalition with parties that include the road network operators, law enforcement, emergency vehicle operators, public transport operators, port operators and public and private providers of information – such as weather and various commercial activities. The degree of coordination involved differs depending on local priorities the need for coordination and the characteristics of the road network. (See Inter-Agency Working)

In order to ensure smooth implementation, roles and responsibilities must be clearly defined, including identification of technological requirements and who takes responsibility in emergencies and other critical situations.

The division of roles between different organisations can be set out within a legal framework where public institutions are involved, or in a more contractual arrangement such as PPP (Public Private Partnerships) when the private sector is involved. Close coordination between all stakeholders will ensure seamless operations that will benefit the road user. (See Public Private Partnerships)

Sharing of information and responsibilities between and across organisational boundaries can be a challenge. Nevertheless, significant progress has been made in gaining acceptance and support for ITS applications that enable effective information sharing and collaboration - while addressing concerns associated with differing priorities and requirements among the stakeholders.

What is a Region?

A “region” may be anything from a greater metropolitan area, such as Greater London, to a geographic sector of a nation or state, and can be extended to a cross-border international operating organisation, such as the Niagara International Transportation Technology Coalition (NITTEC) covering parts of western New York State in the USA and portions of Ontario, Canada.

At the local (city, county or toll road) levels, operations have a prominent role, because of the need to manage conflicting flows of traffic and share capacity evenly – or equitably – at junctions and for junction to junction coordination.

A regional operating partnership is a means of fostering relationships and building cooperation among entities that may otherwise have few, if any, opportunities to interact. These collaborations are a means of sharing information, experience, successes, problems and mutual needs with stakeholders in the broader region. A key output of such collaboration is often the development of a regional ITS architecture. (See ITS Architecture)

Regional Operations in UK

In the UK legislation requires local road and highway authorities to nominate “traffic managers” and coordinate traffic management with neighbouring authorities. The national operator of the strategic road network has also entered into local operating agreements with operators of local roads.

Regional ITS Infrastructure

The ITS infrastructure for regional operations is made up of a number of different features. For the systems to work properly, ITS services need all the basic components in place and these must be fully and reliably operational. For example a lack of basic infrastructure affecting any part of the information supply chain will lead to poor-quality information services and ineffective and inefficient network management. (See Data and Information)

Designers and installers of ITS for road network operations should consider the probability of roadside equipment being struck by passing vehicles and locate the equipment accordingly. Structures and poles holding ITS devices on high-speed highways should be shielded by collision-tested barriers, both to protect the equipment and to make any crash less severe. Similarly, potential threats of weather should be taken into account.

The technical requirements for regional ITS operations include:

Advice to Practitioners

Working across jurisdictions is essential: the technologies, procedures, planning and preparations to support management of recurring and non-recurring congestion have to be integrated. Experience clearly illustrates that providing the means for representatives of partner entities and task forces to meet and discuss common concerns and needs helps improve effective coordination and the building of relationships that significantly enhance common policies and practices, when, for example, incidents or emergencies occur.

Reference sources

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