Monday, June 2, 2014

The Invisible Antidote

I’ve often heard people comment that there are two seasons in Idaho: winter and road construction.

It certainly is road construction season in the Treasure Valley. Dozens of projects are underway; likely the most visible to most of us are rebuilding the Interstate 84 interchanges at Meridian Road, Broadway Avenue, and Gowen Road.

However, there are also many other projects underway or planned that are not visible and lack the fanfare of large construction projects, yet make our transportation system run more smoothly all the same. These types of projects are generally called “Transportation System Management and Operations,” or TSMO, and provide a variety of services that many of us don’t really notice or think about, but we definitely all benefit.

For example, have you ever seen the yellow “incident management” trucks along I-84 that assist motorists who run out of gas, have a flat tire, or have car trouble? Incident management is one example of a TSMO program that quickly gets those motorists back on the road – and off of the shoulder – to help keep traffic flowing freely and safely.

Do you follow the Ada County Highway District (ACHD) on Twitter to get tweets about traffic incidents? Have you seen the Idaho Transportation Department’s lighted signs over the interstate and state highways that tell you when traffic is backed up? Have you noticed how the traffic lights stay green longer on certain roads after big events, such as a concert at the Idaho Center or a BSU football game, to help get traffic out of the area more quickly? These are all examples of TSMO that already are in use in Ada and Canyon Counties.

While these are fairly visible TSMO projects, many others are equally important, but much less visible, such as establishing agreements across agencies for sharing fiber optic infrastructure, integrating additional local agencies into the regional traffic management center to improve communications, or establishing policies to install conduit (tubes for running wires or cables) whenever road construction occurs, whether the conduit is needed then or not, so that roads don’t have to be torn up later to add it after the fact. These are certainly “behind the scenes” projects and may seem boring or inconsequential, but the improvements they bring to our transportation system are wide-reaching all the same.

COMPASS recently completed a 10-year plan for TSMO projects in Ada and Canyon Counties. The plan identifies 30 regional strategies ranging from providing real-time parking availability information to drivers to upgrading surveillance and security on public buses, to implementing a regional emergency alert system to be used for natural disasters and other regional emergencies.  

This 10-year plan was developed simultaneously with Communities in Motion 2040 (due to be presented to the COMPASS Board for adoption in July). This timing was intentional; the TSMO plan specifically supports the goals of Communities in Motion 2040 and outlines numerous projects that focus on maintaining our current transportation system – the focus of federal funding in Communities in Motion 2040 – and helping that existing system work better, all with a significantly lower cost than traditional road construction projects.

While they may not warrant a ground breaking or ribbon cutting ceremony, the next time you see an incident management truck helping a motorist or notice conduit laying in a construction site ready to be buried, consider how these behind-the-scenes projects are helping get you to your destination a little more quickly, smoothly, and safely.

Community Planning Association of Southwest Idaho

COMPASS is the designated Metropolitan Planning Organization responsible for transportation planning in Ada and Canyon Counties. The COMPASS Board comprises 39 members representing the cities, counties, highway districts, educational institutions, state agencies, and other entities within the two counties. COMPASS plays an important role in making decisions about future long-range transportation needs in the Treasure Valley, taking into consideration environmental and economic factors that affect the quality of life.