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America needs intelligent highways

America needs intelligent highways

Federico F. Pena
United States Secretary of Transportation

Pena, the 12th person to serve in the Cabinet as Transportation Secretary, reduced his department's workforce by 11,000 positions, while increasing expenditures by 10%. An advocate of private financing of highway projects, he advanced the schedule of more than 75 projects by two or three years at no additional cost to the federal taxpayer. Prior to joining the Clinton Administration, Pena was mayor of Denver, where he was a leading proponent of that city's controversial international airport. He holds undergraduate and law degrees from the University of Texas.

Increasing America's global competitiveness and improving public safety are goals that can both be achieved through the application of appropriate technology to build an Intelligent Transportation Infrastructure (ITI), according to Federico Pena.

Design News: How did ITI come about and how did your department come to champion the concept?

Pena: The ITI can be traced back to the Intelligent Transportation Systems (ITS) program of the Intermodal Surface Transportation Efficiency Act of 1991. This law required the DOT to conduct a program to research, develop, and operationally test ITS and to promote their implementation over a six-year period.

Changes in our transportation system have always originated from improvements in technology, such as the change from the horse and buggy to the car. In the information age, it is computer and communications technology being applied to the entire transportation system and made available to the traveler.

Over the past five years, we have learned a great deal about ITS, enough to move from simply testing technologies to using them in everyday life--while continuing our work in research and development. There are roles for the federal, state, and local governments, in addition to the private sector, in ensuring that this continues.

Q: You have dubbed ITI, Operation TimeSaver. Do we infer from this that traffic management is the primary goal of ITI?

A: There are nine program elements in ITI: traffic signal control, freeway, transit, and incident management; traveler information; electronic tolls and electronic fare payments; emergency response management; and highway/rail-grade crossing controls. Each one of the components has value in and of itself. But the real key to ITI is having the various parts able to talk to one another.

Q: How are the resources of government, industry, and universities being harnessed to research and develop ITI?

A: We receive tremendous support for Operation TimeSaver from professional organizations and associations whose membership is drawn from state and local levels. The National Association Working Group consists of about 30 associations. We are developing appropriate information and educational materials and are preparing to sponsor a series of executive seminars on ITI for local government officials. Your readers can obtain more information on ITI from our web site:www.its.dot.gov and at www.dot.gov by going through the Federal Highway Administration's web site.

Q: What are some of the major, perhaps competing, architectures being considered for the implementation of ITI?

A: DOT, in conjunction with the Intelligent Transportation Society of America, sponsored the national ITS architecture program. In June, we completed the architecture--a set of "guidelines" to achieve interoperability. Now, we are providing detailed technical assistance and working with several organizations to develop standards.

The architecture will play a key role in the development of the ITI model deployment sites. In February, DOT solicited applications for participation in the model deployment program. The applications have been reviewed and the selection process is under way. This initiative focuses on model deployments that feature fully integrated transportation management systems and a strong, regional, multimodal traveler information services component. An announcement will be made soon regarding the sites chosen.

Q: What new technologies will have to be developed if the goals of the ITI initiative are to be achieved.

A: Most of the elements of ITI already exist or are being operationally tested. The next step is simply to use them in everyday life. It is important to remember that the national ITS architecture does not promote one technology over another. The private sector will play a key role in determining what technologies are developed and sustained.

Electronic toll collection systems on roads and bridges have reduced traffic delays. Traffic information systems offer people a close look at actual, up-to-the-moment traffic conditions. In the next decade, our goal is to implement ITI across the United States to save time and lives, and improve the quality of life. We can work together to spur use of the first generation of ITS technologies on a national basis and to build a platform for the evolution of the technology.

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