Widening the technology
With no room left for pavement expansion,
Will Rogers said, “Outside of traffic, there is nothing that has held this country back as much as committees.” While no one can put an end to committees, Broward County is doing its best to end traffic congestion. And the beginning of that end lies with the new Broward County Transportation Management Center (TMC).
A $12 million investment, the 42,000-sq-ft, two-story Broward County TMC serves as a command and control center for the Broward County Traffic Engineering Division, the Florida Department of Transportation (FDOT) and future partners—to include the Florida Highway Patrol (FHP) and Broward County Transit. Constructed on a 3.9-acre site, this world-class facility monitors and controls the freeway management system, the arterial signalization system and the bus system. The TMC also serves as headquarters for operation and maintenance of the region’s intelligent transportation system (ITS), the Road Ranger service patrols and the traffic incident management team. In the heavy-traffic reality that is southern Florida, having a centralized location to manage traffic flow and roadway incidents has become a necessity.
“We have widened the roads as much as we can. So the next best approach is to use ITS to increase the efficiency of our system so as to better manage current and anticipated future traffic. From that perspective, the TMC is vital to our efforts,” explained Jihad El Eid, P.E., director of the Broward County Traffic Engineering Division. And those efforts are substantial.
One of the fastest-growing counties in the nation, Broward County also is one of the most populous and complex. Unlike many jurisdictions, Broward County handles traffic-engineering responsibilities for the more than 30 cities within its boundaries. The county also is very much a part of the state. Therefore, close coordination and cooperation are essential if the TMC even hopes to manage traffic effectively. Again, El Eid explained.
“Initially, there was an inclination to only have a freeway component. However, the county believed that joint freeway and arterial management was necessary to provide effective traffic management. So this TMC became the only one in Florida to handle freeway and arterial operations under the same roof. And we’ll soon be including transit.”
The TMC has at its disposal 31 fiber-optic and dial-up dynamic message signs (DMS), 45 high-technology CCTV cameras, 11 Road Ranger patrols, a severe incident response vehicle and 13 static motorist assistance signs. It also controls 1,325 traffic signals (with emergency vehicle preemption at 298 signalized intersections), as well as 900 school flashers. Those assets enable the TMC to monitor traffic on the major freeways and arterials throughout the county, including I-95, I-595 and I-75. Motorists, though, don’t want to know the specifics; they just want to know that it works.
“We recently had an 18-wheeler roll over at a railroad crossing,” reported Broward County ITS Manager Murali Pasumarthi. “It happened to be at a freeway interchange, where Commercial Boulevard meets I-95. Because we were located under the same roof and have cameras on the arterials, we spotted the problem right away and were able to promptly dispatch assistance and relay vital information.
“That freeway section immediately displayed warning messages to motorists, explaining that they should not get off at that interchange. We were also able to notify the rail authority—Tri-Rail, in this case—so that they could prevent trains from coming through this interchange. Other emergency procedures were invoked as needed, and the proper agencies were notified. This incident was a perfect illustration of how a comprehensive, coordinated response effort can work in real-time.”
A strong front
But traffic accidents are not the only events that prove the TMC’s value. According to Steve Corbin, districtwide ITS operations and maintenance manager for FDOT, the TMC really demonstrated its power and scope during last year’s hurricane season.
“We moved into the TMC after the first hurricane, but before the second. The experience was a trial by fire that highlighted one of the key values to have emerged from the TMC: cooperation. Helping each other during the process taught us what each other needed. For example, Broward County needed generators, and we needed signposts. Each agency had what the other one needed, so we were able to help each other out. But most important was the bigger picture: we helped a lot of motorists.
“The hurricane season demonstrated that the TMC can provide help and guidance with evacuation routes, emergency response on the roads and, of course, the movement of traffic. While the traveling public is the ultimate priority, the interagency coordination and cooperation have been phenomenal, a real benefit for everyone.”
The benefits of TMC regional coordination were demonstrated anew during last year’s hurricanes, when a section of northbound I-95 in Palm Beach County was washed away. As soon as notification arrived from the Palm Beach Interim Traffic Management Center, the Broward County TMC was able to display messages on numerous DMSs in the area, quickly alerting motorists to the road closures they would encounter.
The TMC was designed and constructed to facilitate direct fiber-optic communications to the Emergency Operations Center (EOC). If the building were to be evacuated during an emergency, this capability would allow the TMC functions to be shifted to the EOC. And in corollary fashion, this TMC could serve as a backup to the EOC as well. Now that the TMC has been completed, agencies such as Port Everglades are showing interest in using this facility as a backup for their functions.
Bob Edelstein agrees that the TMC has been remarkably effective. And as the vice president and national ITS director for DMJM Harris, he would know. Tasked with the planning, design and operational startup of the TMC, Edelstein was in a unique position to observe and facilitate the intense interagency cooperation and coordination required to exploit the virtues of the TMC’s design.
“We fully support the notion of combining Broward County Traffic Engineering and FDOT, as well as FHP and Broward County Transit. Accommodating diverse transportation stakeholders in one location just makes a TMC more effective,” remarked Edelstein. “But getting everyone on the same page can be a problem. Here, it wasn’t.
“In fact, it’s a credit to every agency involved that things have worked out so well. While still an evolving process, it’s been completely positive. All of the stakeholders have remained tightly focused on the overall TMC mission: to make surface transportation safer and more efficient while providing mobility options for the traveling public. But the technology and design must support that mission as well, and this system architecture does so. It’s not just about one element connecting with another; it’s an overriding philosophy. For example, while designed to accommodate incremental implementation and upgrading, the system had to interface with the regional SunGuide program, too. Making connections like that is a hallmark of this TMC, how it works and how everyone approached its development.”
Director El Eid fleshed out the details. “Right now we are installing a fiber-optic communication link directly from the TMC to the Broward County Regional EOC. That facility serves as a backup for the state’s EOC in Tallahassee. With our direct fiber-optic link, we can remain fully functional while relocating to that center in case the TMC must close. But this TMC is rated to withstand even a Category 5 hurricane. And conversely, this TMC also serves as a backup to the county’s EOC. So there’s been a ripple effect. There is a push now to allow all of our vital facilities to serve as backups for each other. I believe that reflects the success of this TMC, its function, its design and the cooperation among all of the stakeholders.”
This TMC works. Yet it works as much for its state-of-the-art design and technology as it does for the human element involved, the interagency cooperation. And to address the burgeoning traffic issues in south Florida, they’re going to need all of those advantages. Will Rogers said it best. “Outside of traffic, there is nothing that has held this country back as much as committees.” As for the end of committees, there is no hope in sight. In Broward County, however, they’re putting up a tremendous battle to help end traffic congestion. And the newest tool in their arsenal is the Broward County Transportation Management Center.