Delivering resources to save time, lives, and money

Moving Toward TSM&O, By Malcolm Dougherty

As we look to the future in a world of constrained resources and confined space, we are all going to have to maximize the effectiveness of every transportation dollar available to us. Providing seamless mobility for people and goods in California and throughout the country has significant economic and quality of life implications. The days of strict capacity expansion are behind us. The days of multi-modal solutions, operational improvements, and strategic expansion are in front of us. We not only need to think about how to move people and goods more efficiently today, we must think about how to move tomorrows population and mobility demands in the future. We know we will have greater technology in our cars, more information at our fingertips, and presumably more options to get around. But as we watch the technology accelerate in the form of connected and autonomous vehicles, we must also make our corridors smarter!

In the early 2000’s Caltrans established a mobility model with a foundation in maintenance and management of our existing transportation system. Our efforts over time have evolved yet they continue to reinforce that transportation investments have more impact if built upon the philosophy embodied by our System Management Pyramid (Figure 1).

Monitoring and evaluation of system performance, using performance as the fundamental factor in investment decision making, has allowed us to develop a comprehensive picture of roadway performance and to strategically invest in our system where challenges exist.

In February 2005 the GoCalifornia Initiative and a $20 billion bond was approved by voters. This three-pronged plan aimed at reducing delay and established the Corridor Mobility Improvement Account ($4.5 billion) and Traffic Signal Synchronization Program ($250 million). It also authorized the investment in Intelligent Transportation Systems (ITS) and vehicle detection to measure delay and travel time reliability. Jointly, the Caltrans Divisions of Traffic Operations and Transportation Planning identified gaps in the existing framework to prepare for automated ITS element information, moving us closer than ever toward real-time management.

Through the gap analysis process we recognized the true benefit in real-time performance monitoring and measurement which spurred the creation of a nationally recognized tool - the California Performance Measurement System (PeMS). PeMS delivers detection data every 30 seconds, enabling us to effectively evaluate where improved operations are necessary, and furthers our efforts to move to Integrated Corridor Management (ICM). This is what we mean by smarter corridors. In partnership with regional and local agencies, ICM strategies will proactively tackle non-recurrent delay resulting from incidents and events. Examples of ICM strategies include enhanced traffic monitoring systems, freeway and arterial operations, data and information sharing, as well as the use of a decision support system to provide real-time recommendations for incident and event management across jurisdictional boundaries.

Though we have made great advances, the economic downturn of 2008-2012 severely limited funding opportunities and brought investments in this area to a screeching halt. We found ourselves barely able to maintain the existing investments as some of our critical technology approached the end of its useful service life. We continue to build a case in California as the economy improves for a “Fix it First” philosophy – the System Management Pyramid priority for maintaining existing infrastructure. Priorities and resources are changing and becoming more available, offering new opportunities to maintain and upgrade our technological investments.

Significant efforts include recently updating the Caltrans Transportation System Management Business Plan and a complete overhaul of our Mission, Vision and Goals. The updated business plan lays out the Transportation System Management & Operations (TSM&O) philosophy of Fix-it-First and is a call to action to move from a current state of management and operations to a future state as noted in Figure 2.

Our TSM&O Vision, the transformation from separated to integrated, historical to real-time, reactive to predictive and closer coordination between planning, operations and maintenance, sets the stage for our new Mission: to provide a safe, sustainable, integrated and efficient transportation system to enhance California’s economy and livability.

In March, I presented the 2015-2020 Caltrans Strategic Management Plan. The plan provides a roadmap of Caltrans’ roles, expectations, and operations as we meet the challenges of modernizing Caltrans and meeting the mobility demands within California. It addresses system management, asset management, TMS element health and considers factors such as multimodal proximity to jobs and housing, air and noise pollution from the transportation system, gross state and federal product output, and climate change impacts.


Ongoing work includes revisions to how we prioritize investments for the management, preservation, and safety of our transportation network. This change demonstrates a significant shift toward performance-based management with an asset management framework focus. It truly promotes the TSM&O perspective of performance-based decision making in a way that maximizes efficiency of the existing system and employs low cost, high-performing investments with benefit-to-cost ratios of 10:1 and in some cases greater than 20:1.

Staff is motivated and has taken advantage of national research and tools developed through the Strategic Highway Research Program (SHRP), even developing our own Capability Maturity Model Self-Assessment in March 2013. With implementation in mind, we sought and received Lead Adopter status and have gained momentum to deliver Regional Operations Forums with Technical Assistance funding through FHWA’s SHRP2 Program. We believe all of these efforts will encourage demonstrable transportation network improvements in the areas of safety, performance, reliability, and environmental sustainability.

While there are many foundational strategies being employed to move our organization and California towards TSM&O, there is still more work to do. The culture shift we are experiencing in California is similar to other State DOTs where the highway building era is in the distant past and the era of maintaining, actively managing, operating, and integrating highway and local transportation networks into a multimodal system is emerging.

It’s no secret that Connected Vehicle (CV) and Automated Vehicle (AV) research and advancements are rapidly surfacing. We continue to closely monitor this new frontier. In fact, California is already conducting CV research and is following AV progress including the work at Google in Mountain View, California. We are working closely with nearby automotive companies including BMW, Mercedes, Nissan, Volkswagen/Audi, and Toyota to ensure that our test bed in Palo Alto, CA along State Route 82 meets their needs as an incubator for development and testing of CV applications. Mindful of modal choice, we also expanded our focus to explore CV applications for alternative modes, reaching out to our local transit providers for insight.

To prepare for the future CV and AV realm, we are concentrating on successful TSM&O implementation, refining signal system communications and ensuring our traveler information provides consistent direction to CV and AV systems. Being successful here means improved travel time reliability and the effective movement of people and goods, leading to greater economic vitality, improved quality of life, and reduced greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions.

One final piece of exciting news is the Connected Corridors Program and our two ICM pilot projects that are now in full swing. The Connected Corridors Program is a multi-agency partnership between Caltrans, Los Angeles Metropolitan Transportation Commission (METRO), and the University of California Berkeley’s Partners for Advanced Transportation Technology (PATH) with a focus on efficiently using existing infrastructure. The first of two ICM pilots is located on the I-210, I-605, and I-10 corridors of the San Gabriel Valley, a 27-mile section of freeway in Los Angeles County. A second ICM pilot project is occurring on I-80 between the Carquinez Bridge in Contra Costa County and the San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge in Alameda County. Combined, these activities investigate tools and technologies that coordinate the components of each corridor so they may be operated as cohesive and integrated systems. It focuses our workforce on TSM&O and ICM and establishes comprehensive guidance including process improvements, implementation plans, and training materials – all vital to the successful initiation and implementation of a statewide Connected Corridors Program on the most challenging corridors in California.

Our success is determined by many factors, but we believe our vision is now broad enough to encompass the many facets and challenges of our work. As we reflect back on our accomplishments, we can see the original foundation of system management is still relevant today and has evoked the modern-day genesis for the Caltrans’ TSM&O work currently underway. Caltrans will play a strong role as champions of TSM&O in California and nationally, creating an environment for effective, cross-functional coordination and well-maintained infrastructure with improved system performance that others can follow.