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Public-Private Puzzle


March 30, 2006 By

As departments of transportation deploy technologies to better manage traffic and reduce congestion, they continue defining the roles that the public and private sectors should play.

The federal Intelligent Transportation Systems (ITS) program -- which improves transportation safety and mobility, and enhances productivity through use of advanced communications technologies, according to the U.S. Department of Transportation -- has long encouraged public-private partnerships.

Under one of its recent initiatives, the Intelligent Transportation Infrastructure Program (ITIP), 16 cities formed partnerships with Traffic.com -- the firm selected by the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) as the private-sector entity in the new ITS initiative.

But as state and local governments create their own traffic information systems or work with other vendors to build such systems, participating in the federal ITS programs could cause trouble -- some cities fear that by participating in this program, local agencies will have to share their equipment, data and revenues with a private entity.

Other Options

A firm called Traffic.com has installed traffic detectors at various roadsides in those 16 cities. The company will process data from those and other sources; provide the processed data to state and local departments of transportation; and deliver traffic information to the public via the Web, radio, television and other media.

Over the next 10 years, ITIP will provide $2 million to each of those cities to fund work with Traffic.com. But DOTs in some metropolitan areas said they would rather not partner with Traffic.com, or have tried and failed to reach an agreement with the company.

"[ITIP] was a good program for an area that was fairly young in its development, or had very little ITS and didn't have an incumbent information service provider," said Jesus Martinez, ITS administrator for District 6 of the Florida Department of Transportation (FDOT), where officials decided not to do business with Traffic.com. "But for one that already had a vibrant program and was well on its way, the terms were too onerous."

Another disagreement is cities participating in ITIP must, under federal rules, sign on with Traffic.com.

Soon, another 11 cities may receive the same federal support under a new initiative, the two-part Transportation Technology Innovation and Demonstration (TTID) Program. Part II of the TTID offers funding for similar projects, but with one major difference: Instead of requiring DOTs to work with Traffic.com, the FHWA will choose one or more private partners through a competitive process with appropriate input and consent from the selected metropolitan areas, according to an Oct. 19, 2005 notice in the Federal Register.

Traffic.com will compete to participate in Part II, said John Collins, vice president of ITS and telematics at Traffic.com. But this new initiative also leaves the field open to other vendors.

According to the FHWA, its two programs have the same primary goal -- to enhance deployment of ITS infrastructure to aid in transportation planning and analysis. Many cities and states already have networks of traffic sensors, but some don't, or their deployments may be incomplete, said Nancy Singer, an FHWA spokeswoman.

Benefits of the program, Singer said, include improved data management and accessibility, real-time and archived performance data, additional surveillance in areas with gaps in coverage, and free public access to basic traveler information.

DOTs in eligible metropolitan areas had until Feb. 6, 2006, to tell the FHWA they wanted to enter into negotiations to take part in TTID.

More Flexible

The new rules for Part II came as good news to FDOT officials in District 6, which includes Miami-Dade and Monroe counties.

"We may put in an application for Phase II," said Martinez. "Our understanding of Phase II is that it's a lot more flexible."


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