IN THIS CASE STUDY YOU WILL LEARN:
- How the North Carolina Department of Transportation (NCDOT) institutes a towing contract as part of a suite of TSMO strategies to manage traffic during the reconstruction of Business 40.
- How incidents were divided into Minor, Intermediate, and Major categories for both Light Duty and Heavy Duty towing contracts and performance measures were put in place for all categories.
- How incentives and disincentives were used to help enhance performance.
The North Carolina Department of Transportation (NCDOT) implemented a special tow contract to be in place for the reconstruction of Business 40 in Winston-Salem, NC. This is the first contract of its kind for the State of North Carolina. The contract was developed and implemented with the goal of improving incident response and clearance times on the roadway network impacted by the construction project.
TSMO Planning, Strategies, and Deployment
The towing contract was part of a suite of TSMO strategies used by the NCDOT to manage traffic during the reconstruction of Business 40, including expanding coverage of the Safety Service Patrol; a No-Parking Ordinance; and Incident Response Plans. Performance measures and incentives were developed with the expectation of faster clearance of roadway incidents than the traditional practice of using the tow rotation lists of local law enforcement.
Towing Prequalification Development
Two prequalification categories were created in preparation of the towing contract: “Light Duty Tow and Recovery” and “Heavy Duty Tow and Recovery.” The prequalification categories set the capability requirements of potential bidders so that the NCDOT would have confidence that only capable and qualified tow and recovery companies could bid on the contracts. Prequalifying tow and recovery companies had the added benefit of allowing for a low-bid contracting process and not requiring statements of qualifications or interviews.
The awarded tow contractors are paid a monthly service fee to remove abandoned vehicles, perform courtesy tows, and other tow and recoveries where a billable customer may not be present. The monthly service fee is the lone bid item and is fixed regardless of the number of courtesy tows and abandoned vehicles towed during the month. Both the Light Duty and Heavy Duty Business 40 towing contracts required the bidding team to have the capability of being able to provide temporary traffic control, compliant with the MUTCD and NCDOT standards, as well as the ability to handle and remove hazardous materials. This provides consistency and continuity in the responding team and reduces the overall incident clearance times by reducing the number of special service teams to call and coordinate.
- Light Duty Towing
The Tow and Recovery Teams were required to have knowledge and capabilities beyond those of what the Winston-Salem Police Department (WSPD) and the North Carolina State Highway Patrol (NCSHP) require to be part of their Light Duty tow rotation programs. Some of the capabilities required included: responding to three multiple-vehicle incidents at once, single lane up-righting of a vehicle, and multiple techniques for relocation of overturned vehicles from travel lanes. For the Light Duty Towing contract, multiple tow zones were created to keep response times low and avoid spreading resources too thin. The contract was worded such that should a tower of one zone need assistance at an incident, tow contractors from the other zones would be called in to assist. Additionally, should a tower’s contract be terminated, their zone would be redistributed to the tow and recovery companies remaining under contract.
- Heavy Duty Towing
Only one zone was used for the Heavy Duty towing contract. This was due to the anticipated infrequency of applicable incidents relative to those covered by the Light Duty tow and recovery teams.
- Performance Measures
Following MUTCD guidance, incidents were divided into Minor, Intermediate, and Major categories for both the Light Duty and Heavy Duty towing contracts. This allows for different performance measure thresholds to be set by incident type.
- Tower Response Time
The response time prior to the contract for tow rotation calls by WSPD or NCSHP was approximately 32 minutes. The contract tower is required to have a representative on scene within 20 minutes of a request for service by the NCDOT, regardless of incident type. The responding representative must be capable of determining and calling for any additional necessary equipment. Through September 2019 the tow contractors are averaging a response time of less than 14 minutes from when notified by the NCDOT and meeting the requirement approximately 90% of the time. All response times greater than 20 minutes to date occurred due to communication errors or during Winter Storm Diego in December 2018.
- Clearance Time
Tow contractors are also measured on how quickly they re-open all lanes after receiving permission, or notice to proceed, from law enforcement to move the vehicle. The clearance time thresholds differ by incident type.
In addition to the monthly service fee, the tower will receive an incentive if they are able to meet certain performance targets for both tower response time and clearance time. Incentives are only available on Intermediate and Major traffic incidents. Table 1 below summarizes the latest monthly averages for incentives by contract and incident type.
Disincentives may be applied if tow contractors exceed the 20-minute response time requirement or exceed the maximum clearance time requirements. Thus far, no disincentives have been applied to any of the Business 40 contract tow contractors.
Communications Planning and Execution
SHP and WSPD Coordination
Prior to construction, the WSPD and NCSHP used rotation lists for calling towers. Because the contract tower would replace the rotation tow program in select areas, implementing the Business 40 Tow and Recovery Program required planning and coordination with the WSPD and the NCSHP. Processes addressing abandoned vehicles and contract towing were documented in multiple Memorandums of Understanding (MOUs) between the NCDOT, WSPD, and NCSHP. The purpose of the MOUs is to define the working relationship between the NCDOT, the NCSHP, and the WSPD in their efforts to promote safe and efficient Traffic Incident Management practices during the Business 40 reconstruction as well as to provide guidance for implementing the Business 40 Tow and Recovery Program.
Engaging the Professional Towing Community
Because this towing contract was the first of its kind in the state, NCDOT personnel met with owners of towing companies to discuss possible terms that would be used in the contract. All attendees were required to sign non-disclosure agreements that prohibited them from sharing information with other towing companies or bidding on the Business 40 towing contracts. The information and feedback received helped form the contract. Additionally, at every step of the way, area towers, the Winston-Salem Wreckers Association, and the Towing and Recovery Professionals of North Carolina received regular communication and advanced notices for pre-qualification, contract advertisement, and pre-bid meetings.
Outcomes, Benefits and Learnings
Regular monthly reporting of performance measures is provided to others within the NCDOT. Results thus far show a decrease from the time an incident occurs to a tower arrival on-scene from 42 minutes to 19 minutes. This improvement captures the procedural benefits of the interagency MOUs and the response time improvements of the tow contractors. Additionally, average roadway clearance times for Light Duty Intermediate and Heavy Duty Intermediate traffic incidents have decreased by approximately 28 minutes and 50 minutes respectively.
Ongoing Benefits Study
The Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) State Transportation Innovation Council (STIC) Incentive program funding is being used to collect and analyze data and produce a final report that includes recommendations for similar future programs. Analysis results of the towing contract performance will be used in the demonstration and promotion of this innovative traffic management tool. Preliminary results show a reduction of incident-induced delay by approximately 40%.
Given the early success of the Business 40 Tow and Recovery Program, NCDOT-administered towing contracts have been implemented for other construction projects around the state. The paragraphs below discuss some of the lessons learned that are being applied.
Incentive / Disincentive Free Periods
During the early period of the Business 40 towing contract, the NCDOT, tow contractors, and law enforcement made errors while becoming familiar with the new processes. Additionally, Winter Storm Diego, which led to the state creating a state of emergency, led to unique challenges in measuring the performance of the tow contractors. Therefore, the future towing contracts include a “probationary period” to adjust processes as needed. Also, an added clause allows for the NCDOT contract administrator to suspend disincentives and incentives during weather events and Emergency Operations Center activations.
Towing Management Software
The contract towing companies use towing management software as part of their regular business and the Business 40 towing contracts. After witnessing their capabilities through the Business 40 towing contracts, the NCDOT is requiring the tow companies on future contracts to use a towing management software application and provide administrator access to the NCDOT.
Many towing companies interested in the Business 40 towing contracts were not familiar with the NCDOT prequalification process. Therefore, a prequalification preparation and instruction meeting has been held in regions where future towing contracts are anticipated.
Incentive Threshold Adjustments
Before drafting any future towing contracts, NCDOT reviewed the preliminary performance of the Business 40 tow contractors. The review showed that the tow contractors were meeting the clearance time threshold for Intermediate traffic incidents over 70% of the time, and only approached the disincentive threshold during outlier events. Therefore, adjustments were made to the clearance time incentive and disincentive thresholds for the future towing contracts for the widening of I-26.
Further Information box
Source Organization Location
Operations Area of Practice
- Transportation Management Centers (TMC / TOC)
- Roadway Safety Services / Roadway Safety Patrol
- Traffic Incident Management
Organizational Capability Element
- Project Development
- Freeway Operations
- Traffic Incident Management
- Public safety agency collaboration
- Case Studies & Lessons Learned
NCDOT-Business 40 Towing-Case Study.pdf (1.31 MB)