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From TRB 2014: Highway Operations, more interesting than you think

From TRB 2014: Highway Operations, more interesting than you think

Graphic advertising the T.R.B. annual meeting

When you get a bunch of transportation people in a room to talk about highway operations--like we did yesterday at the Annual Meeting of the Transportation Research Board--interesting things are bound to happen. Okay, it might not appear to be an exciting topic, but roadway operations really can make a big difference in our everyday lives.

What exactly do we mean by operations? Keeping our highways open and flowing at the speed a growing economy requires.

Photo of dynamic highway sign with wind advisory

That can involve, for example, monitoring weather and road surface conditions. And with that information, state and local DOTs can direct snow plows and salt trucks where they're needed most. State DOTs can also share that information with drivers, so they know what to expect in the miles ahead--that's a great way to help keep you and your loved ones safe when traveling.

Operations also includes monitoring and even influencing travel demand. With many states now using managed toll (HOT) lanes, knowing how many vehicles are moving through a section of road at what average speed can help managers make more effective decisions about pricing HOT lane tolls to better relieve congestion.

Photo of dynamic toll sign in a California H.O.T. lane

The fact is, we want to keep people and freight moving as safely and efficiently as possible. But it's also a fact that budgets are tight, and we must look for ways to maximize our existing road and bridge capacity that are less costly than simply paving more miles. That's where the wizards of operations come in.

These men and women work--many of them around the clock--to improve the safety and sustainability of America's highways and to reduce congestion. They regularly perform the magic of increasing roadway performance without adding capacity. And yesterday, one of my messages to the younger TRB attendees was, We need you to join them!

It's true; we need to make sure that--at the local, state, and federal levels--we have a large enough workforce of skilled professionals capable of managing operations.

We also need to ensure that operations teams have access to accurate and comprehensive real-time information. And that they have state-of-the-art tools and technologies at their disposal.

Participants at this week's TRB meeting are going to hear a lot about the need to make innovation a greater part of our transportation culture. That's because innovative strategies and technologies help us achieve our goal of keeping roadways flowing while also keeping our costs down.

But I think it benefits everyone--not just transportation people--to hear about the need for greater transportation innovation and to learn that your Federal Highway Administration is working to help the best innovations get into wider use.

Highway operations might not be as exciting to you as it is to the folks at TRB, but it is making a difference in your travels, in the freight that arrives on your doorstep, and in your life every day.

Greg Nadeau is Deputy Administrator of the Federal Highway Administration.

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