- How Maryland DOT is giving its Statewide Operations Center (SOC) a technology refresh and physical reconfiguration upgrade to meet next-generation TSMO and operations requirements.
- How a temporary SOC was put into place to ensure zero downtime during construction.
- How, while COVID-19 pandemic impacts vehicle miles of travel, speeds, and related incident rates (e.g. while crashes are decreasing, crash severity is increasing), the Coordinated Highways Action Response Team (CHART) program continues to operate seamlessly while the SOC undergoes major reconstruction.
The Coordinated Highways Action Response Team (CHART) is a cooperative effort among the Maryland Department of Transportation State Highway Administration (MDOT SHA), Maryland Transportation Authority (MDTA), and the Maryland State Police (MSP). Its primary goal is to ensure smooth “real-time” Transportation Systems Management & Operations (TSMO) of the Maryland highway system using the cooperation of participating agencies and application of Intelligent Transportation Systems (ITS) technology. This includes monitoring various information sources, detecting incidents, and dispatching emergency response services at incident scenes, mitigating traffic congestion, improving mobility, and saving lives. The Statewide Operations Center (SOC) is the central operations hub functioning 24 hours a day/7 days a week and operates in conjunction with strategically placed Traffic Operations Centers (TOCs) across the state to deliver traffic and incident management and emergency response services.
When the SOC opened in 1994, it was one of the most advanced transportation management command and control systems. But, as Maryland’s transportation network and its associated operational needs have evolved, a technology refresh and physical reconfiguration of the SOC was required to upgrade its level of service and operational efficiency to meet next-generation TSMO and operations requirements. This reconfiguration also serves to ensure that the CHART program, for the foreseeable future, continues to be well-equipped to provide safety, congestion mitigation, and travel time reliability benefits to travelers in (and passing through) Maryland.
The SOC reconfiguration effort, which started in the spring of 2020, has not been trivia. The entire two-floor structure is being completely gutted and entirely reconstructed. To accomplish this, the operations floor has been temporarily relocated to another building. The Temporary SOC (TSOC), as it is called, facilitates continuity of operations and maintains uninterrupted traffic/incident management and emergency services during the renovation, and this herculean effort is all being accomplished during a global pandemic, which demonstrates the operational resiliency of MDOT SHA.
TSMO Planning, Strategies, and Deployment
As part of the SOC Reconfiguration effort, the following TSMO-related design objectives were developed to guide the overall project:
- Communication Facilitation
- Distraction Mitigation
- Separation by Functional Area
- Interference Reduction • Information Accessibility
- Upper Floor Integration
- Operator Effectiveness Improvement
- Work Efficiency Enhancement
- Supervision and Management Facilitation
- Growth Accommodation
Communications Planning and Execution
As previously mentioned, to maintain continuity of operations, the TSOC was created in a nearby building on MDOT SHA’s Hanover Complex. Fortunately, the CHART Advanced Traffic Management System (ATMS) was built using a distributed architecture, which allows for full control of the ATMS from any TOC and now the TSOC, which maintains the existing 24/7 operation. There was zero down time of the CHART ATMS while relocating operations from the SOC to the TSOC.
As an added complication and testament to MDOT SHA’s operational resilience, the TSOC and SOC reconfiguration work is being conducted while dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic. To minimize exposure of CHART program staff several strategies are being executed:
- Identified 33% of staff that is able to telework
- Limited access to the TSOC and regional TOCs
- Managing social distancing in the TSOC to prevent cross-contamination/infection of staff
- All in-person meetings have been discontinued and are only conducted virtually
- Maintaining a large operations staff continues as the hiring process (e.g. interviews) is conducted virtually.
In addition, the following procedural safeguards are being executed, including:
- Alternate workspaces / same workspace not used by succeeding shift.
- Incoming shifts are sequestered while previous shift vacates operations floor.
- Adequate distance is maintained between occupied work spaces.
- Masks are required when not in an individual office space.
- Hand sanitizer is readily available, and operators are instructed to wash their hands often.
- Surface disinfectant and dry towels are readily available.
- Workspaces are cleaned/disinfected before and after each shift.
Outcome, Learnings, and Public Benefit
CHART operates 46 full time Emergency Traffic Patrols (ETPs) 24 hours per day/7 days a week. In the last four (4) years, according to the most recent Maryland Annual Mobility Report (2019), ETPs have responded to an average of 70,000 events per year. The cost associated with the delay to motorists increases with the length of time an incident remains on the roadway. The delay includes the amount of time it takes to respond to an incident and the length of time to clear the incident. CHART services reduce the amount of delay and ultimately provides for an annual user cost savings. In calendar year 2019, through an independent evaluation of the program (conducted by the University of Maryland), it was determined that CHART’s services provide an annual benefit (user-cost savings) to the public of $1.39 Billion with a reduction in delay of 32.58 million vehicle-hours. While the existence of the COVID-19 pandemic impacts vehicle miles of travel, speeds, and related incident rates (e.g. while crashes are decreasing, crash severity is increasing), it should be noted that the CHART program continues to operate seamlessly during these extremely trying times and while the SOC undergoes major reconstruction.
Operations Area of Practice
- Transportation Management Centers (TMC / TOC)
- Adaptation / Resiliency of the Transportation Network
- Case Studies & Lessons Learned