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Response to Multiple Vehicle Crash Using Traffic Management Center in Downtown Denver


In This Case Study You Will Learn:

  1. Recent adoption of TSMO philosophies allow Denver TMC to be able to actively monitor and manage the impacts of the crash and Interstate closure.
  2. Improvement included information dissemination and increased situational awareness
  3. The Denver TMC was able to reduce congestion on the diversion route and decreases in travel time upwards of 67% were achieved while traffic volumes remained above average.


The Denver Traffic Management Center (TMC) is a facility that has been in operation since the 1990’s. Since its creation the Denver TMC has been a facility with a heavy focus upon traffic signal operations and management of larger special events, including events associated with professional sport teams. Since that time the Metropolitan Denver area has experienced both an increase in population and traffic congestion and both trends are expected to increase. In order to address the current and future congestion the City recognizes the importance of the Denver TMC as it serves as the confluence of operations and technology. Recent efforts have taken place to increase the operational capabilities of the Denver TMC to assist in improving the transportation network’s performance and is working to adopt the concepts of TSMO to heighten the application of real-time operations which allows for the active monitoring and managing of the transportation network.

The Denver TMC is working to mature its operations and recently completed a Strategic Plan to establish core functions to provide a foundation for operational enhancements. One area of opportunity involves actively managing unplanned incidents, which includes those seen on both the freeways and Interstates. These incidents have the potential to significantly disrupt traffic flow both near the incident along with any diversion routes. By increasing situational awareness and response the Denver TMC has been able to detect incidents, work to analyze the impacts to the network followed by deployment of operational strategies, such as variable message signs or changes to traffic signal timing to address congestion and managing the disrupted traffic flow.

TSMO Planning, Strategies and Deployment

During a recent incident a multiple vehicle crash occurred on the Interstate near Downtown Denver, including a commercial vehicle hauling hazardous materials and had turned onto its side. The crash resulted in a full closure of the Interstate during the morning rush hour and significant lane closures continued throughout the day.

With the recent adoption of TSMO philosophies into the program, the Denver TMC was able to actively monitor and manage the impacts of the crash and Interstate closure. Once the incident was detected and verified City staff began the process, using tools such as cameras and travel time data, to determine the point on the Interstate where traffic was being diverted. Additionally, the same tools allowed for an analysis to determine the diversion routes. Once the diversion route was identified Denver TMC started to take action to deploy operational strategies which included: activating messaging on the City’s VMS along with making changes to traffic signal timing on the diversion route due to the severe congestion and drastic increase in travel times.

Throughout the incident and closures the Denver TMC monitoring and managed in an iterative manner which included using the tools to monitor the effects of timing changes, make adjustments as needed and then continuing with the monitoring and analysis process.

Summarizing the actions taken during the incident:

  • Determining the de facto diversion routes
  • Changes to the traffic signal timing to accommodate the change in volume and severe congestion seen on the diversion route
  • Messages related to the closure were posted on Denver variable message signs
  • Coordinating with Colorado DOT staff to message the alternate route

Communication Planning and Execution

During this incident Denver staff communicated with Colorado DOT staff and shared information between each other related to any operational strategies that were deployed.


Operational Readiness

  • Traffic signals in the area are connected as part of the City’s communication infrastructure and can be monitored and managed from the Denver TMC.
  • Traffic cameras were available to monitor the affected intersections.

Deployment of Operational Strategies

  • Changes were made to the traffic signal timing which accommodated the change in traffic trends related to the diversion of vehicles.
  • Messages noting closure of the Interstate were posted on Denver variable message signs.

Data Analysis

  • Travel time and vehicular volume data were available for analysis.



Situational Awareness

  • Denver TMC was initially alerted to incident via CDOT staff.
  • Communication between the two agencies is positive; however, automated detection is key for increased efficiency.

Information Dissemination

  • There are opportunities for the Denver TMC to push information to the traveling public using technology applications developed and managed by third parties.

Outcome, Benefit and Learnings

By actively monitoring and managing the disrupted traffic flow due to the incident and resulting road closures, the Denver TMC was able to deploy operational strategies that significantly reduced congestion on the diversion route. Throughout the incident there was a primary diversion route on a City arterial and prior to the actions of the Denver TMC travel times increased to over 400% of those seen on an average day.

By exercising elements of the TSMO philosophy the Denver TMC was able to reduce congestion on the diversion route and decreases in travel time upwards of 67% were achieved while traffic volumes remained above average.

The response to this incident allowed the Denver TMC to make significant improvements to the conditions see on the diversion route. However, as with all responses it is important to evaluate and to identify not only what worked well but also what opportunities exist for improvement and the City will continue to mature its program. Shortly after this incident the TMC was able to gain access to computer-aided dispatch data and now has incorporated that source into daily operations to increase situational awareness in order to increase the potential for quicker analysis and response.

Operations Area of Practice

    Transportation Management Centers (TMC / TOC)
    Traffic Incident Management
    Emergency Transportation Operations

Organizational Capability Element

    Traffic Incident Management

Content Type

Case Studies & Lessons Learned

Publishing Organization


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