Feature | Robert Heller, Ph.D., and Jose Perez | February 13, 2017

WEB EXCLUSIVE: Pointing in the right direction

New England Compass is a regional ATM that exemplifies interagency cooperation

Figure 1—the trip planner My Trips provides the current estimated travel time and notifications of traffic incidents along a route.

 

The New Hampshire Department of Transportation (NHDOT), Vermont Agency of Transportation (VTrans), and Maine Department of Transportation (ME DOT) acting through NHDOT, released a Request for Proposal (RFP) for the primary purpose of providing a Commercial-Off-The-Shelf (COTS) modular software solution consisting of three major components: an Advanced Transportation Management System (ATMS); a Regional Traveler Information System (TIS) and a Data Fusion Hub (DFH). The ATMS-TIS-DFH system called New England Compass (NE Compass) is the result of this Tri-State procurement. The systems are “cloud deployed” at Rackspace and Amazon and in use by the three states.

 

The Southwest Research Institute (SwRI) developed ATMS is based on software owned by the Florida Department of Transportation (FDOT) and the Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT). The ATMS provides status display and device control for signs, cameras, traffic detectors, and weather stations. The Leidos-developed TIS provides traffic and roadway conditions to the traveling public. The SwRI-developed DFH is also based on software owned by TxDOT; it distributes the status data among the separate ATMS deployments (one for each state) to the TIS and to a separate server providing status data to other interested parties.

 

Traffic management operations staff in the three state Traffic Management Centers (TMCs) now use the same software in three separate deployments. The New England states reaped cost and schedule benefits by using existing designs and software, while the software owners benefitted from the availability of enhancements to the code base by the Tri-State project.

 

The Tri-States chose to deploy NE Compass software in remote facilities or “in the cloud,” rather than host the software in their TMCs. There are advantages and disadvantages to using remote hosting:

  • Management of the computer resources is the responsibility of the vendors (SwRI and Leidos) and the remote hosting facilities (Rackspace and Amazon);
  • There is some delay imposed by even very high bandwidth internet connections between the TMC and the ATMS hosting facility;
  • Loss of connectivity to ATMS facility in catastrophic (weather) events; and
  • There is security risk of placing assets in remote facilities and placing operator and device traffic on the public internet.

 

Figure 2

 

Security issues can be troubling to the state information technology organizations. However, by involving them early in the deployment plans, the project team was able to allay many of those concerns. These deployments are firewall protected, and information is encrypted except at the points where the intended audience for information is the public, e.g. the TIS website users and the public data feed.

 

The states used established operational processes to drive the RFP requirements and made use of the same processes during design evaluation. Similar processes from the states were combined, which resulted in collapsing some unique requirements into shared requirements, while at other times, state-specific processes were adopted by other states. The states cooperated in developing a common look and feel to the operator map interface, paying attention to icon appearance, roadway appearance and display of non-transportation features. Further, the states cooperated on operator dialog design to facilitate joint operations and unique operational processes.

 

In the past the Tri-State traffic management operations staff have been able to view the status of field devices from other states through use of those states’ websites. There were websites that displayed camera snapshots, RWIS data and some sign content. But this required the operators to juggle several different applications not only for device status and control of their own state’s field devices, but additional websites neighboring states’ devices.

 

Figure 1 is a screen capture of the ATMS map used by operators in the Maine TMC. Notice the presence of the field device icons from Vermont and New Hampshire with a camera snapshot from Vermont. Operators in the Vermont and New Hampshire TMCs use identical maps. Each operator has options to select which device types are displayed on the map and whether the devices from the other states are displayed. The DFH distributes the device information between the three separate ATMS installations. The ability to display devices from other states facilitates the cooperation between the three states at the traffic operations level.

 

The common map and the sharing of information through the DFH facilitates situational awareness across state boundaries. This is readily apparent as weather patterns move across the states by displaying the status RWIS stations or camera snapshots across the region. By having this information more readily available, operators are less prone to be surprised by developing patterns whether it is cross state boundary traffic or regional weather conditions.

 

A primary motivating factor of common look, feel and access to field devices in neighboring states is the possibility of cooperative operations. Not all of the Tri-State TMCs are staffed 24/7. There are discussions between the states of having those that are staffed 24/7 available to control the ATMS in those that are not staffed 24/7. The remote hosting of the software simplifies the implementation of this future policy. The Data Hub and ATMS provide the ability to share not just status of “out-of-state devices,” but also control of those devices. Specifically, there is a “remote-control application” built into the ATMS that allows posting of messages to “out-of-state” signs. The ability to post messages to out-of-state devices enhances the response to events that may occur close to a state boundary and may adversely affect traffic across the state line.

 

Figure 3

 

The system is enhanced through the availability of several external interfaces:

  • Weather alerts are processed from the National Weather Service and provide operators with the options of creating weather events (polygons, polylines or point) in the ATMS;
  • Events are processed from a Waze feed. Waze events are processed-based configurable parameters contained in the Waze feed. In the future, Waze will similarly receive events from the NE Compass ATMS;
  • Events are processed from an automated feed containing an extract of the NH State Highway Patrol Computer Aided Dispatch (CAD) system; the extract contains only traffic-related events. Currently, Maine is investigating adding its CAD data to this external interface; and
  • Third-party traffic data from TomTom is being received for select roadways within the region.

 

The external data is processed into the ATMS, then distributed through the DFH to the other states’ ATMS as well as the TIS website.

 

Figure 3 is a screen capture of the regional TIS website home page. The NE Compass implementation includes a TIS website common to the three states. The website, hosted at Amazon, provides information regarding traffic information across the three-state region.

 

The website provides the standard TIS website options of turning on/off displays of various icon types including incidents, traffic speeds, cameras, weather stations, message signs and NWS Doppler radar. Mouse clicks over the icons provide detail of incidents and the status of the device, including detailed weather data, camera snapshot or messages on a sign. Because a common ATMS feeds this website, the data presentation is consistent for all three states.

 

When an ATMS operator creates an event and enters comments into a public comments field, the TIS will publish those comments to state- and roadway-specific Twitter feeds. Through the TIS website, a user may subscribe to those Twitter feeds from all three states. The resolution of the feeds (for statewide traffic or traffic on specific roadways) is controlled by the individual states.

 

One of the more powerful functions available on the TIS website is the My Trips trip planner. Through the trip planner, a registered user may configure a trip within the three-state region. My Trips will provide the current estimated travel time and notifications of traffic incidents (e.g. lane closures) along the configured route.  Figure 3 is a screen capture from My Trips a user has named “Home to Work” for travel on I-89 from Highgate, Vt., to Hookset, N.H. To this commuter, the fact that the commute traverses a state boundary is immaterial, so the software treats it as such. The commuter will be notified of incidents whether the incident occurs in Vermont or New Hampshire, as long as it is along the configured route. While this example uses a trip all on the same roadway (I-89), trips can be configured along multiple roadways.

 

The NE Compass systems are cloud deployed at Rackspace and Amazon.

 

The user may choose to be notified with alerts if an event is entered into the ATMS that would affect travel times along this route. The filter options for notification include:

  • Event type: Incidents, Roadwork, Special Events;
  • Event severity: High, Medium and High, all;
  • Day of week;
  • Time of day; and
  • Email or SMS.

 

Once the trip has been created, whenever an operator enters an event into the ATMS that will affect the travel along the defined route, the user may elect to be notified of the delay. The event is routed from the ATMS regardless of state, through the Data Hub to the TIS where the TIS notifies possible affected users.

 

Travelers in New Hampshire, Vermont, and Maine are benefitting from this “one stop shop” for traveler information. That information is more consistent because the three states collaborated to create a common set of requirements and then jointly procured an ATMS to meet those requirements. By using the same software across the three states, the traffic operations staff can provide backup to each other and work more closely to manage traffic conditions in the three states. Finally, because the ATMS and Data Hub are state-owned software systems, New Hampshire, Vermont and Maine join Texas, Florida and Tennessee in the evolution of a common software base.

 

I must acknowledge the leadership from each of the states, Denise Markow, P.E. (NHDOT), Robert T. White, P.E. (VTrans) and Clifton Curtis, P.E. (Maine DOT). They worked diligently to make the cooperative acquisition by the three states. The three agencies worked together through the initial Memorandum of Operation and Maintenance Agreement (MOMA), the development of the programmatic and technical requirements that formed the RFP, facilitating the agreements of other state agencies (e.g. state information technology department and state attorney general office), the selection process and award. Finally, they exhibited a “let’s fix this” attitude when issues did arise through the development effort.

 

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Heller and Perez are with the Southwest Research Institute.

 

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