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Taking the Next Steps to Ensure TSMO Success

Gannett Fleming Insights - TSMO
Authors: Bryan Newell, AICP, Project Manager/Senior Planner; Todd Szymkowski, PE, PTOE, TSMO Manager; Peter Rafferty, Project Manager/TSMO Engineer

A formal transportation systems management and operations (TSMO) program plan provides a solid basis for executing operations to advance a DOT’s mission of delivering safe and efficient mobility for people and goods. But a TSMO plan by itself is only the first step of a process to leverage leading-edge technology and increasingly abundant data to achieve transportation goals. Two important tools enable DOTs to successfully implement TSMO strategies that have immediate, positive impacts on traffic flow and safety.

An Invaluable Roadmap
A traffic systems assessment tool facilitates the systematic evaluation of operationally sensitive roadway segments that could benefit from the application of TSMO strategies. Multiple data sources—travel time performance, traffic volume per lane, crash frequency, work zone delays, and incident clearance time—help create a ranked list of routes where congestion and safety are significant concerns. This prioritization forms an invaluable roadmap to help decision makers determine the best way forward.

Quantifying Benefits
In conjunction with an assessment tool, a benefit/cost tool provides an effective, standardized way to evaluate the impacts of all TSMO strategies and ensure TSMO program success. The benefit/cost tool matches recommended TSMO strategies or technologies with their expected benefits and quantifies the resulting congestion reduction and safety improvement as dollar values.

For example:

  • Converting a typical urban stretch of inside highway shoulder to hard shoulder running might reduce congestion by 45 percent during peak traffic periods. This might equate to $3 million per year in travel time savings, plus additional benefits from reduced crashes, improved reliability, and operating cost savings.
  • Improved incident management with a highway helper or safety patrol program might cost an agency $1 million or more per year, but these services return 5 to 10 times that in economic benefits to drivers and shippers by reducing delays, operating costs, emissions, and the frequency of secondary incidents.

Cost-Effective Alternatives
Accurately quantifying the benefits of TSMO countermeasures that mitigate congestion and improve safety enables a DOT to effectively prioritize them for funding. Careful prioritization is a key part of developing a smart spending strategy that makes the best use of available resources.

Conventional capacity-adding projects are becoming more cost-prohibitive as construction costs increase and project budgets become constrained. TSMO alternatives offer higher benefits and lower costs. Including a TSMO-specific benefit/cost analysis on all project alternatives as standard practice will allow for more cost-effective TSMO strategies to be used in place of traditional infrastructure expansion projects whenever possible, or as a stopgap measure to buy time for the agency until funding is available to add capacity.

Becoming a Leader
Ultimately, using data and technology to solve transportation problems is more cost effective than adding new pavement and widening bridges. By successfully implementing a TSMO strategy based on solid data and effective analysis, a DOT can become a national leader in improving the lives of its citizens through more efficient travel and improved traffic safety.

For more information visit Operations ITS & Traffic page or contact Bryan Newell at or Todd Szymkowski at

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