Semisequicentennial Transportation Conference Proceedings
May 1996, Iowa State University, Ames, Iowa

Status of ITS Early Deployment Planning and Other ITS Deployment Initiatives of the U.S. Department of Transportation

Bruce D. Baldwin

The application of Intelligent Transportation Systems (ITS) technologies offers great promise for improving the safety, mobility, and productivity of our national transportation system users. In recognition of the benefits of deploying ITS that have already been realized, the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) has provided grants to state and local transportation agencies and Metropolitan Planning Organizations (MPOs) to conduct planning studies to develop multi-year ITS strategic deployment plans in metropolitan areas and along intercity corridors. Grants have been provided to four metropolitan areas within FHWA Region 7: St. Louis, Kansas City, Omaha/Council Bluffs, and Des Moines. To date, all but the Des Moines study have been completed. This paper compares the four Region 7 studies in terms of the general characteristics of the metropolitan areas, the methods used to conduct the studies, and the recommendations of the completed studies. Similarities and differences among the four studies are addressed. In addition, the paper presents a summary of two recent U.S. Department of Transportation initiatives, entitled Operation TimeSaver and ITS Model Deployment, which are also intended to spur the deployment of proven ITS technologies and services in metropolitan areas. Key words: ITS, deployment, metropolitan, infrastructure.

The application of advanced electronic, communication, and control technologies, collectively referred to as Intelligent Transportation Systems (ITS), offers great promise for improving the safety, mobility, and productivity of our national transportation system users. Significant benefits have already been shown by applying these technologies within and between some of our major metropolitan areas. In recognition of these benefits, Section 6055(b) of the Intermodal Surface Transportation Efficiency Act of 1991 (ISTEA) authorized the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) to provide grants to state and local transportation agencies and Metropolitan Planning Organizations (MPOs) to conduct studies for the development of multi-year ITS strategic deployment plans in metropolitan areas and along intercity corridors.

This grant program, known as the Early Deployment Planning (EDP) program, is intended to focus on our 75 largest metropolitan areas as well as 30 major intercity corridors. Planning studies in 61 metropolitan areas and on 12 intercity corridors nationally have been funded to date. Within FHWA Region 7 (Iowa, Kansas, Missouri, and Nebraska), studies in four metropolitan areas—St. Louis, Kansas City, Omaha/Council Bluffs, and Des Moines—have been funded (1,2,3).

This paper will compare these four Region 7 EDP studies in terms of the metropolitan areas’ characteristics, study methods, and study recommendations. It will also discuss two other recent U.S. DOT initiatives intended to spur deployment of ITS services in metropolitan areas.


The beneficial deployment of ITS services in a metropolitan area can depend on several of its characteristics, including its relative size, traffic congestion, air quality, jurisdictional and institutional relationships, and transportation infrastructure. The similarities and differences in these characteristics among the four Region 7 metropolitan areas are enumerated below.

In comparing relative metropolitan area size, a wide range of population totals is represented by the four areas, with St. Louis at 2,444,099 (ranked 17th nationally), Kansas City at 1,566,280 (25th), Omaha/Council Bluffs at 618,262 (63rd), and Des Moines at 337,507 (92nd). These population figures, based on 1990 Census data, indicate similarities between St. Louis and Kansas City, considered to be large metropolitan areas, and between Omaha/Council Bluffs and Des Moines, considered to be medium-sized metropolitan areas. It should be noted that Des Moines, although not included in the top 75 areas, was selected because it met other selection criteria.

The variations in traffic congestion and air quality among the four metropolitan areas correlate closely with the population variations. Both St. Louis and Kansas City regularly experience more extensive recurring congestion (i.e., demand exceeding capacity) than either Omaha/Council Bluffs or Des Moines, particularly in the downtown areas. All four areas, however, reflect the national trend that nonrecurring, or incident related, congestion is the most prevalent type experienced. In terms of air quality, St. Louis is a nonattainment area for ozone, and Kansas City, formerly a nonattainment area for ozone, has been redesignated a maintenance area because of decreased ozone levels. Both Omaha/Council Bluffs and Des Moines are attainment areas.

Each of the four metropolitan areas encompasses a large number of jurisdictions and agencies, which complicates the integration of ITS services in the area. The extent of affected jurisdictions ranges from the St. Louis area, with seven counties and over 115 municipalities, to Des Moines, with four counties and 16 municipalities. In addition, three of the areas—St. Louis, Kansas City, and Omaha/Council Bluffs—involve two states, which further complicates jurisdictional coordination. The MPOs in the four areas are intended to facilitate coordination among the many jurisdictions, and, in fact, have all played major coordination roles in the EDP studies. Also, an ad hoc committee, comprised of representatives of several of the affected jurisdictions, has been formed in each of the areas to facilitate the development and implementation of an incident management program for the area. Finally, the existing transportation infrastructure in each of the four areas is similar in that the freeway system is the major element and will be the focal point of the initial deployment of ITS services. Varying only by degree, each area also shares other common infrastructure elements, including arterial systems, transit services, and intermodal facilities, that will be incorporated into an eventual ITS system. There are several ITS-related elements already in place in some areas that can be integrated into a future system, including freeway service patrols in St. Louis, Kansas City, and Des Moines; highway advisory radio (HAR) in St. Louis and Kansas City; permanent variable message signs (VMSs) in Des Moines; and computerized traffic signal systems in all four areas. A unique opportunity for deploying ITS will occur in Des Moines, where I-235, the freeway through the downtown area, is scheduled to be completely reconstructed in about five years.


Each of the study areas was required to follow the IVHS Planning Process developed by FHWA. This process basically includes identifying the transportation characteristics and problems of the area, identifying appropriate ITS user services, defining an ITS system architecture, identifying alternative technologies to support the user services and architecture selected, and finally, developing an ITS strategic deployment plan for the area. The primary differences among the four studies occurred in the types of organizations conducting the studies and the means of gathering input from potential system users.

Two types of organizations, private engineering consultants and universities, were employed to conduct the four studies. Private consultants were employed in the two larger areas, with Edwards and Kelcey, Inc. from Minneapolis, Minnesota, conducting the St. Louis study and HNTB Corporation from Kansas City, Missouri, conducting the Kansas City study. Universities were employed in the smaller two areas, with the University of Nebraska-Lincoln (UNL) conducting the Omaha/Council Bluffs study and the Center for Transportation Research and Education (CTRE) at Iowa State University conducting the Des Moines study. Each of these organizations subcontracted with other consultants and individual specialists to perform specific aspects of the study.

In comparing methods for gathering input from potential users, two of the studies, Omaha/Council Bluffs and Des Moines, organized focus groups of people representing certain functional areas to provide continuing input to the study team regarding specific needs, opportunities, issues, and concerns in that functional area. The Omaha/Council Bluffs study, for example, organized four focus groups in the areas of traffic management, public transportation, commercial vehicle operations, and incident management. In the other two studies, the study teams did not employ focus groups, but rather sought input directly from agencies and users that will potentially be involved with, or impacted by, ITS deployment in the area. These two study teams also conducted successful public information meetings as a means of informing and gathering input from the general public. Both approaches to soliciting input, focus groups and direct solicitation, appeared to work well.


The studies for St. Louis, Kansas City, and Omaha/Council Bluffs have been completed, and ITS strategic deployment plans have been developed for each. The Des Moines study is scheduled to be completed in October 1996. This section summarizes the recommendations of the three completed studies.

Each of the three completed deployment plans focuses on the implementation of a freeway management system, with emphasis on incident management user services. The principal components of each system include a traffic operations/information center, system detectors, closed circuit television (CCTV) surveillance cameras, VMSs, HAR, ramp metering, and improved arterial traffic signal systems, particularly on alternate routes proposed for freeway diversion. Transit system improvements are also included in each plan. In addition, each plan recommends “early winner” projects that are relatively low cost, high priority activities with short development times that will enhance the public image of ITS. These projects include freeway reference markers for incident management, portable VMSs, development/expansion of the freeway service patrols, and legislation and regulations to facilitate prompt removal of disabled and abandoned vehicles from freeway lanes and shoulders. Unique services were also recommended in each plan, such as motorist call boxes in St. Louis, an automatic vehicle location (AVL) system for transit operations in Kansas City, and commercial vehicle operations (CVO) services in Omaha/Council Bluffs.

Each of the plans provides a phased schedule for deploying ITS in the study area over a twenty-year period. The Kansas City and Omaha/Council Bluffs plans utilize three time frames—a short term within one to five years, a medium term within five to ten years, and a long term beyond ten years. The St. Louis plan is slightly different in that it utilizes five time frames. The total estimated capital costs for the ultimate systems range from $101 million in Kansas City, to $112 million in Omaha/Council Bluffs, to $142 million in St. Louis. Estimated annual operations and maintenance costs for these three areas are $6.9 million, $4.3 million, and $6.0 million, respectively. Each plan recognizes that these costs are not all necessarily public agency costs, and that several opportunities exist for private entity participation, particularly in the area of traveler information systems. As a final note, these plans all provide the road maps for deploying ITS in the respective metropolitan areas. Deployment will not occur, however, unless the plans are incorporated into the metropolitan areas’ planning and project development process. Each plan recognizes the need to facilitate deployment of the plan and recommends a forum to provide this facilitation. This function is already being provided in St. Louis and Omaha/Council Bluffs by the ad hoc incident management committees discussed earlier, and the MPOs in these areas are taking the lead in coordinating this effort. A similar arrangement is currently being proposed for the Kansas City area.


In order to build on the successes of the EDP program, the U.S. DOT has recently announced two initiatives to spur the deployment of proven ITS technologies and services on a national basis to expand the capacity and enhance the safety of our surface transportation system. The two initiatives, entitled Operation TimeSaver and ITS Model Deployment, are being administered by FHWA and the Federal Transit Administration (FTA).

U.S. DOT Secretary Federico Pena announced the Operation TimeSaver initiative on January 10, 1996 at the TRB Annual Meeting in Washington, D.C. The goal of this initiative is to implement an Intelligent Transportation Infrastructure (ITI) in our 75 largest metropolitan areas within the next ten years, with a similar commitment to upgrade technology in 450 other communities, rural roads, and interstate highways, as the need warrants. Major emphasis will be placed on the integrated deployment of all ITI components in each metropolitan area, including freeway management, transit management, traffic signal control, incident management, multi-modal regional travel information centers, electronic toll and fare payment, emergency response management, and railroad-highway grade crossing safety. The initiative is intended to reduce the travel time of most Americans by at least 15 percent.

The Model Deployment initiative was developed to support the Operation TimeSaver goal by funding public and private sector partnerships to demonstrate and showcase two or three model deployments of a metropolitan area ITI. These model deployments will feature fully integrated transportation management systems and strong regional, multimodal traveler information services components. Up to $20 million of FY 1996 Federal ITS funds is available to support the initiative this year, with more funding possible next year. Participants are expected to provide at least 50 percent of the project cost at each site with a combination of non-ITS Federal-aid, State, local, and private funding. A Federal Register notice was published on February 26, 1996 to solicit applications to participate in this initiative, and applications were due by April 30, 1996. The two or three model deployment sites are expected to be selected by July 31, 1996.


  1. Edwards and Kelcey, Inc. Final Report: Bi-State St. Louis Area Intelligent Vehicle Highway System Planning Study. Prepared for the Missouri Highway and Transportation Department and the Illinois Department of Transportation, April 1994.
  2. University of Nebraska-Lincoln. Strategic Deployment Plan: Omaha Metropolitan Area Intelligent Transportation Systems Early Deployment Planning Study. Prepared for the Nebraska Department of Roads and the Iowa Department of Transportation, December 1995.
  3. HNTB Corporation. Strategic Deployment Plan, Intelligent Transportation Systems (ITS): Early Deployment Study, Kansas City Metropolitan Bi-State Area. Prepared for the Kansas Department of Transportation and the Missouri Highway and Transportation Department, February 1996.

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