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Traffic Operations Academy Produces Experts

Traffic Operations Academy Produces Experts

Designing and building more roads is not the only way to solve the nation's traffic problems. Managing the flow of traffic on those roads is as vital as paving them, according to a new educational program offered to the nation's state highway administrators by traffic researchers at the Clark School.

For example, over a two year period, the Maryland State Highway administration developed improved signal timing for 330 traffic signals. This work resulted in a 13.9 percent reduction in delay, a 10 percent reduction in the number of stops made by arterial traffic, and a 2.4 percent reduction in fuel consumption. This produced an estimated two-year benefit to the motoring public of $60 million—significant in an era of rapidly increasing gasoline prices.

Such insights—and how to put them into practice—are among the topics covered by the Operations Academy, a new program presented by the Center for Advanced Transportation Technology (CATT), a research group within the Clark School's Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering. The academy has recently produced its first graduating class, a new cadre of 22 traffic experts from across the country who use an operations perspective, and operations solutions, to solve traffic problems.

"In the transportation community, there is a shortage of folks with operations experience," explained Phil Tarnoff, CATT director. "Most highway offices specialize in building and there is a lack of focus on traffic flow in most university transportation courses. Our program fills the gap."

The Clark School program is the first of its kind in the nation to offer focused training dealing with the effective management of the transportation system—120 hours of intense immersion in signal studies, traffic flow and safety measures, in addition to personnel management, funding and supply/demand relationships. The course fills a critical need as more vehicles clog the nation's highway systems, said Tarnoff.

The Operations Academy is open to employees in any public agency and is targeted towards mid- to high-level managers in transportation departments on the local, state and national level. The first cohort this spring boasted traffic officials from New Mexico, Pennsylvania, North Carolina, New Hampshire, Massachusetts, Florida, Washington State, Maine, New York, Illinois, Arizona and Texas.

The students noted the valuable interactions with their colleagues from around the country, in addition to the workshops, field trips and coursework.

"This program allowed me time to interact with other agencies that are already performing the functions of what New Hampshire will be doing in the next 10 years," said Jon Hanson, assistant administrator of the New Hampshire Department of Transportation's Bureau of Turnpikes.

The program involves a week of pre-study (including exams) in traffic operations, traffic safety, planning, intelligent transportation systems, freight and management. Then, the students converge for formal instruction by industry experts and Clark School faculty. To complete the program, students must pass a final exam.

Students also participate in field studies including freeway service patrol ride-alongs, visits to traffic operations centers and a tour of the Port of Baltimore container facility. Workshops on solutions to congestion and the creation of an operations unit are also a part of the curriculum.

The Operations Academy is funded by the I-95 Corridor Coalition. A steering committee made up of representatives from the Coalition, state transportation departments, the Institute of Transportation Engineers and private industry assisted in developing the program.

The next Operations Academy session will take place November 5-15, 2007.

May 22, 2007


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