The epicenter of ITS

Thinking Highways
By Craig Bryson October 28, 2014 13:02

The epicenter of ITS

Big Beaver Road in the City of Troy in Oakland County (one of the first roads outfitted with adaptive traffic signals by the Road Commission for Oakland County)

Craig Bryson looks at how Michigan, the host state of the 21st ITS World Congress, has played such a vital role in the progress of ITS.

The Detroit area has long been known as the center of the US auto industry.  While it retains that distinction today, the region also has grown to become one of the leading centers in the nation when it comes to the development, deployment and testing of Intelligent Transportation Systems (ITS).

“Detroit revolutionized the way the world travels through our auto industry,” stated Dennis Kolar, president of the Intelligent Transportation Society of Michigan (ITS Michigan) and managing director of the Road Commission for Oakland County (Oakland County, located just north of the City of Detroit, is the second most populous county in the state with 1.2 million residents). “We believe we will have the same impact with our contributions to the ITS industry.”

In addition to the robust research and development arms of the domestic auto manufacturers and suppliers, the Southeast Michigan region is also home to some of the most advanced public sector ITS systems in the country.  These systems are owned and operated by the Michigan Department of Transportation, the Road Commission for Oakland County, the Macomb County Department of Roads, the Wayne County Department of Public Services, the City of Detroit and the region’s transit authorities. These agencies also have developed an unprecedented level of cooperation when it comes to developing, managing and promoting ITS technologies.

Kolar explains that while the Detroit area has been a leader in transportation innovation for more than 100 years, the region truly moved into the forefront of transportation technology in the 1950s when the nation’s first closed-circuit television (CCTV) system for remotely monitoring traffic flow was installed on sections of the Lodge and Ford freeways in Detroit. Michigan Department of Transportation (MDOT) undertook major expansion of its technology deployments in the early 1990s with the installation of freeway traffic detectors, new freeway cameras and dynamic messaging signs.


In 1992, the Road Commission for Oakland County (RCOC) switched on the first 28 of its Faster And Safer Travel through Traffic Routing & Advanced Controls (FAST-TRAC) fully adaptive traffic signals, marking the first large-scale use of video-imaging vehicle detection in the nation.  In the same year, RCOC opened its Traffic Operations Center (TOC), the high-tech nerve center for the FAST-TRAC system.

In the 1990s, RCOC launched the first beacon-based route guidance system deployed in North America – a precursor to today’s navigational systems. As part of the FAST-TRAC program, RCOC deployed 100 roadside beacons along Oakland County freeways and arterials.  More than 700 vehicles from project partners Ford, GM and Chrysler were equipped with on-board units that exchanged probe data with the roadside equipment and received routing instructions through the beacon network from the RCOC TOC.

In 1995, MDOT and the Michigan State Police joined forces to open the Michigan Intelligent Transportation Systems Center (MITSC), the first combined freeway operations and State Police dispatch center in Michigan (which was replaced recently with the Southeast Michigan Transportation Operations Center or SEMTOC).  The Macomb County Department of Roads and the City of Detroit opened traffic operations centers in 2005 and 2009, respectively.

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Southeast Michigan Transportation Operations Center

With a long history in ITS, the region’s road agencies – including MDOT, the county road agencies and communities – participate and collaborate on projects and ideas to remain on the cutting edge of transportation technology to improve safety and reduce congestion for the businesses and motorists who rely on the road system.

Southeast Michigan also is home to the nation’s largest ITS test-bed installation (in Oakland and Wayne counties) and the Safety Pilot Connected-Vehicle Model Deployment (in Ann Arbor).  “As the concepts of vehicle-to-vehicle and vehicle-to-infrastructure communications and related applications continue to develop and grow in the country,” Kolar says, “Michigan is leading the way with further expansion projects on the horizon.  This technology holds tremendous potential to improve safety and mobility by proactively addressing potential problems before they occur.”

Several of these cutting-edge initiatives are being featured as part of the 2014 World Congress Technical Tours. Included on the tours are: Michigan PrePass, SEMTOC, the Safety Pilot program, the City Windsor (Ontario, Canada) Traffic Operations Centre and the Macomb County Communications and Technology Center (COMTEC). Below is additional information about each.

Michigan PrePass

PrePass is a national ITS technology deployment that allows safe and qualified commercial vehicles to bypass state weigh stations or inspection facilities. The carriers are prescreened and receive bypass or pull-in signals via a transponder in the truck cab. The technology includes both weigh-in-motion integration with an IRD WIM system and compliance readers to ensure proper bypass compliance. PrePass is North America’s largest vehicle-to-infrastructure program, with more than 470,000 trucks qualified to bypass 304 operational sites in 31 states. The tour will visit the PrePass site in Monroe, Michigan, south of Detroit.


The Michigan Department of Transportation’s (MDOT) Southeast Michigan Transportation Operations Center (SEMTOC) is the hub of MDOT’s ITS applications. It is a world-class traffic management center where staff oversees a traffic monitoring system covering 400 miles of Southeast Michigan freeways. The freeways are instrumented with 270 closed-circuit TV cameras, 95 dynamic-message signs and 200 microwave vehicle-detection sensors used in conjunction with probe traffic detectors.

Safety Pilot

Located in Ann Arbor, Michigan, the Safety Pilot Connected-Vehicle Model Deployment is the largest connected-vehicle testbed in the world. The deployment involves approximately 2,800 vehicles equipped with vehicle-to-vehicle devices. The goal is to create a highly concentrated connected-vehicle communications environment. The devices being tested emit a safety message 10 times per second, which forms the basic data stream that other in-vehicle devices use to determine when a potential conflict exists. When this data is further combined with the vehicle’s own data, it creates a highly accurate data set that is the foundation for cooperative, crash-avoidance safety applications. Using a mix of cars, trucks and transit vehicles, the Safety Pilot Model Deployment is creating test data sets for determining the technologies’ effectiveness at reducing crashes.

These capabilities also have been extended to a limited set of vehicle-to-infrastructure (V2I) applications. Additional benefits of connected-vehicle technology can be realized from V2I interactions, primarily at signalized intersections equipped with DSRC. Such intersections will broadcast signal-timing information to on-coming vehicles. As vehicles approach an intersection, drivers will be alerted to signal timing changes and potential conflicts with other vehicles. These applications will not only help reduce intersection crashes, but have the potential to reduce vehicle idling, stops and resulting emissions.

Safety Pilot is a partnership of the US Department of Transportation, the Michigan Department of Transportation, the University of Michigan Transportation Research Institute, the City of Ann Arbor and a number of auto manufacturers and civil engineering firms and others. The tour will include a “sneak peak” at the Safety Pilot test facility and will get a deep dive into the nearly 30 billion safety messages gathered to date.

City of Windsor Traffic Operations Centre

Windsor is Detroit’s sister city, located in Ontario, Canada directly across the Detroit River. The city’s TOC houses the Advanced Traffic Management System (ATMS) and the city’s Signals Division. The city is in the process of converting its entire communications system to high-speed IP communications and deploying hundreds of new video-imaging vehicle-detection system (VIVDS) devices to facilitate next-generation traffic control and management applications, including adaptive control, incident management and arterial performance reporting. Among the benefits of the new technology will be improved traffic flow between the US and Canada – the nation’s busiest commercial border crossing.

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Macomb County Communications and Technology Center

Macomb County Communications and Technology Center (COMTEC)

The Macomb County Communications and Technology Center is a new, US$11 million state-of-the-art operations and communications facility that is the first of its kind in Michigan. The 25,000 sq ft facility combines communications functions for several Macomb County departments, including the Sheriff’s Office dispatch, the Roads Department Traffic Operations Center, the Information Technology Data Center and Emergency Management and Communications Department.

The initiatives that are being featured during the World Congress technical tours are just a few of the many ITS initiatives underway across Michigan. There are numerous other public sector and private sector ITS initiatives, including rural, urban, vehicle-to-vehicle, vehicle-to-infrastructure and much more.

Perhaps one of the most exciting aspects of the World Congress for Michigan, though, is the increased awareness of and interest in ITS that it is sure to generate. “We see the World Congress as a springboard for the reinvention of our transportation system,” says Jim Barbaresso, chairman of the World Congress Host Committee, vice president-ITS for HNTB Corporation and a past president of ITS Michigan. Barbaresso notes that the cutting edge ITS infrastructure deployed on Detroit’s Belle Isle as part of the World Congress technology demonstrations will be redeployed once the event is over.

“These all feed into our vision to have the first large-scale deployment of connected vehicles and our effort to grow the automated-vehicle sector. The World Congress is akin to a massive spotlight shining on our ITS efforts in Michigan, and that can only lead to far greater interest in this field in our state that will last long after the World Congress is over.”

Craig Bryson, APR, is Public Information Officer for the Road Commission for Oakland County
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Thinking Highways
By Craig Bryson October 28, 2014 13:02