The National Academies

NCHRP 03-148 [Pending]

Preparing for Virtual Operation of Traffic Management Systems

  Project Data
Funds: $600,000
Contract Time: 36 months
Staff Responsibility: Dr. Yi Zhao


The ability to virtually manage and operate traffic management systems (TMSs) is no longer a luxury; it needs to be a capability of the system and core capacity of an agency’s operations program. It has become a necessity for agencies to work toward developing and sustaining these capabilities and having the resources necessary to remotely manage and operate their own or another agency’s TMS. Agencies continue to explore what organizational policies, procedures, capacity, resources, and capabilities may be needed to virtually manage and operate their TMSs to support day-to-day traffic management, planned (e.g., concerts, festivals) and unplanned (e.g., during COVID-19 pandemic, weather emergency) special events.

Agencies are looking for resources to explore what planning, development, and training may be needed to successfully position or prepare TMSs with the capabilities and resources needed to allow agencies to transition the operation of a TMS involving highly technical traffic management centers to a virtual operating environment with minimal service disruptions. 

There is a need to develop technical resources to assist agencies in planning, developing, or improving their TMSs to enable virtual operation, and to assist agencies in preparing for, training, testing, and transitioning to remote or virtual TMS operation. 


The objectives of this research are to develop two technical reports: Report No. 1, Assessing and Improving TMSs to Enable Virtual Operation, to assist agencies with planning, developing, or improving their TMSs to enable virtual operation, and Report No. 2, Operation and Implementation of TMSs Virtually, to assist agencies to prepare, plan, design, build, and operate their TMS virtually.

At a minimum, the research team shall:

  • Assess the capacity of TMSs that can be managed virtually to support day-to-day traffic management, and planned and unplanned special events;
  • Identify issues or improvements that can be considered for TMSs planning or developing the next generation of TMSs;
  • Assess agency functions and capacities to manage and operate TMSs virtually; and
  • Explore, plan, prepare, train, test, and verify ways to operate TMSs virtually.

Accomplishment of the project objectives will require completion of the following tasks, at a minimum.





Task 1a. Conduct a comprehensive review of the literature including FHWA-HOP-14-016: Guidelines for Virtual Transportation Management Center Development and other relevant materials. Document gaps and issues identified through the literature review.

Task 1b. Develop a list of agencies with virtual TMS operations for interview/survey, based on the result of an initial survey on state/county/city agencies and metropolitan planning organizations (MPOs) operating TMSs. Prepare interview/survey questions for NCHRP’s review and approval. Consider surveying state agencies first to identify appropriate counties, cities, and MPOs. Survey questions should be detailed enough to draw out efficient practices to advance the virtual operation of TMSs as well as include lessons learned during the COVID pandemic.  

Task 1c. Conduct a survey/interview on how these agencies currently design their TMSs to enable and deploy complete virtual operations with the panel’s approval. 

Task 2. Prepare draft annotated outlines for Report No. 1 and Report No. 2. The annotated outlines will serve as the basis for the development of the two technical reports in Phase II. Each annotated outline is intended to provide the foundation, context, and framework for the subject matter in each technical report. Each outline will include key technical topics and associated issues, major concepts, current trends, current practices, examples highlighting lessons learned, and checklists of issues to consider. The initial annotated outline for each report will be submitted prior to the NCHRP panel meeting as specified in Task 3.

Report No. 1 will compile and review available resources; offer insights; and synthesize current practices for agencies to consider in their planning, design, and development to improve their TMSs to enable virtual operations. It will assess and identify key issues for agencies to consider capabilities, needs, requirements, technologies, and other issues to integrate the virtual or remote operation of a TMS into the planning or design of a new or improved legacy system. This information will support agencies in assessing the current capabilities of legacy TMSs, identifying possible improvements needed to enable or meet the needs of agencies to operate virtually, and assessing the capabilities and requirements when planning or designing the next generation of their TMS.

Report No. 2 will explore the range of issues agencies may consider for the remote operations of their TMSs to support establishing, using, and demonstrating the ability to virtually manage and operate their TMSs, including:

  • Authority, policies, procedures, and guidelines; 
  • Capability (e.g., human resource issues, position descriptions, security clearances); 
  • Capacity (e.g., IT, security, access to agencies operating system and files);
  • Resources (e.g., access to resources normally available and used in the operations center, laptops for remote access, Internet access, software);
  • The range of initiatives (planning, projects); 
  • Implementation plan for events; 
  • Testing plan (e.g., acceptance testing, scenario training); 
  • Reporting; and 
  • Training.

Task 3. Organize a virtual panel meeting to review and obtain feedback on the two draft annotated outlines developed in Task 2. Revise the draft annotated outlines based on written and oral feedback from the NCHRP panel meeting. Submit revised versions of each annotated outline for review and approval, prior to beginning the development of each of these technical reports in Task 5.

Task 4. Prepare Interim Report No. 1 documenting the results of Tasks 1 through 3 and provide an updated plan for the remainder of the research no later than 12 months after contract award. The updated plan must describe the methodology and rationale for the work proposed for Phases II. 




Task 5. Develop Reports No. 1 and No. 2 according to the approved Interim Report No. 1.

Task 6. Develop two PowerPoint presentations (approximately 30 minutes each in length) for the two technical reports developed in Task 5 based on approved outlines. The presentation slides shall specify the research purpose, objectives, key issues that were addressed, research products developed, and the potential benefit or value of those products.

Task 7. Submit draft reports and draft PowerPoint presentations for NCHRP’s review.

Task 8a. Prepare for workshop(s) with at least 10 representatives from state and local agencies with a variety of geographic region and size to review and collect feedback on the draft reports and presentations. Submit workshop materials and proposed attendee list for the NCHRP panel’s review and approval.

Task 8b. Conduct one or more workshop as approved in Task 8a. Revise the draft reports, presentations and other workshop materials taking into account feedback gathered during the workshop and submit for the NCHRP project panel’s review.

Task 9. Submit the final reports and presentations that address the review comments provided on the initial drafts to NCHRP for final review and approval.

Task 10. Present the research findings to appropriate AASHTO technical committees. The research team should anticipate making at least one presentation during the research to appropriate technical committees at annual meetings of the AASHTO Committee on Transportation System Operations.


Task 11. Prepare the final deliverables including the following:

  1. A conduct of research report that documents the entire research effort, any lessons learned, and recommendations for future research;
  2. Final draft of Reports No. 1 and No. 2;
  3. Media and communication material (e.g., PowerPoint presentations, 2-page executive level flyer, graphics, graphic interchange format (GIF)s, press releases); and
  4. A stand-alone technical memorandum titled “Implementation of Research Findings and Products.” See Special Note I for additional information. Additional funding may be available for a follow-up contract on the implementation of the results.


STATUS: A research contractor has been selected for the project.  The contracting process is underway.


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