Eternal sunshine of the spotless kind

In September 2014, ITS Florida, ITS Georgia, and Gulf Region ITS (GRITS) will meet in Mobile, Alabama at the largest regional ITS meeting ever held, the ITS 3C Summit. In preparation for this meeting, each organization has been looking back at how ITS got its start in their region. Jay Calhoun describes the emergence, success, and future of ITS in Florida.

The implementation of ITS in Florida has been a well-planned, long term, and very successful process. Florida’s urban areas have grown rapidly over the last 30 years and are expected to continue growing at comparable growth rates, further congesting existing highway networks and other transportation systems. At that time, the Florida Department of Transportation (FDOT) had enacted a policy that limited the number of lanes on the State Highway System to be supported by federal and state transportation funding. This maximum lane policy, in conjunction with current congestion levels, projected growth, environmental impacts, and other considerations created a strong need for the FDOT to consider alternatives to highway construction for expanding system capacity. When combined, these factors support the implementation of ITS for purposes of increasing capacity and improving safety – without new construction.

In August 1999, the FDOT published Florida’s Intelligent Transportation System Strategic Plan, and ITS in Florida was born. The purpose of the Strategic Plan was to guide the FDOT, Florida’s Metropolitan Planning Organizations (MPOs), and local governments in the planning, programming, and implementation of integrated multi-modal ITS elements at the statewide, regional, and local levels.

This document recommended:

  • FDOT add a fifth goal or expand an existing goal in the Florida Transportation Plan that stresses the importance of the management and operation of the state’s transportation system by providing a statewide, integrated transportation system that is managed and operated in real time.
  • FDOT establish an ITS Program office under the Assistant Secretary for Transportation Policy to be responsible for all ITS activities of the FDOT.
  • FDOT establish a position of statewide ITS Program Manager with a responsibility to manage the ITS budget and staff, and coordinate all ITS and incident management activities.
  • Each District create a District ITS Program and designate a District ITS Program Manager who will be responsible for ITS and incident management activities, and will seek full integration with the urban regions within that District.
  • Each District develop an ITS infrastructure and initiate development or enhancement of a transportation management center focusing on the interstate highways.
  • Each District develop ITS staff requirements and staff training programs that will enable them to meet the ITS services they plan to deliver over the next five years.

Florida’s congested highways were the catalyst for ensuring the state became one of the US’s most innovative in ITS deployment. Shown here is the I-4 in Orlando, Florida

An important element of the Strategic Plan was an analysis of the economic impacts of ITS. The FDOT understood the relationship between moving vehicles and freight efficiently and the impact on the state’s economy, and used that relationship as a justification to build one of the largest ITS infrastructures in the nation. The objectives of this economic analysis were to:

  • Examine the relationship between Florida’s transportation system and its economy
  • Identify how ITS benefits the transportation system and its economy
  • Examine the benefits documented thus far from ITS deployment in Florida and nationwide
  • Examine the potential of an expanded ITS deployment on Florida’s economy
  • Examine the potential of aggressive ITS deployment on Florida’s economy

Among the many findings of this analysis was that Florida’s fast-growing economy was out- pacing the national rate of growth and was heavily tied to tourism and global trade – both equally dependent on Florida’s transportation network connectivity. Representing only a piece of the total economic effects of trade, exports alone were identified as generating US$24 billion in 1996. Tourism was found to generate US$41 billion in 1997. ITS applications supporting these industries were likely to have the greatest impacts to the economy as a whole. The two most relevant categories of ITS strategies for FDOT, therefore, were determined to be commercial vehicle operations (CVO) and tourism ITS. CVO would benefit from electronic credentialing and clearance (weigh-in-motion), safety assurance, fleet management (private-sector based), and any freeway management systems benefitting freight shipment corridors. Florida tourism would benefit from Advanced Traffic Information Systems (ATIS) – including Advanced Parking Information Systems, Vehicle Monitoring Systems, kiosks providing traveler information, and the available intelligent rental cars. Also, it was determined that ancillary benefits from ITS deployment may include attracting high-tech industry.

Using this planning and economic justification, the FDOT created and funded a Ten-Year ITS Cost-Feasible Plan. This plan was introduced in October 2002 and featured a total planned budget of over US$700m that would implement ITS throughout the state of Florida. The purpose of the plan was to develop ITS corridor master plans and an ITS Plan for the Florida Intrastate Highway System (FIHS) limited-access corridors to be combined into a statewide program plan for the deployment of an integrated interoperable ITS. The basis of the plan was the completion of the conceptual engineering, ITS architecture, and system engineering analyses for:

  • I-95
  • I-75
  • I-10
  • Florida’s Turnpike
  • I-4


The FDOT is a decentralized organization, so while the Central Office was organizing this effort on the FIHS and getting it implemented through the District ITS offices, the Districts were also busy planning, designing, and implementing Advanced Traffic Management System (ATMS) projects with the local governments. This widespread effort has put interconnected traffic signal systems, closed-circuit television (CCTV) cameras, and dynamic message signs (DMSs) on local arterials from Miami to Pensacola. Almost every urbanized area in the state enjoys the benefits of centralized signal control.

Eternal 2 Maintenance of a turnpike dynamic message sign

Maintenance of a turnpike dynamic message sign

“As the new millennium dawned, Florida’s strong growth rate generated considerable surface transportation capacity needs that were difficult to meet. A successful sustained ITS deployment was thus a highly desirable outcome” stated Chester H. Chandler, FDOT’s Statewide ITS Program Manager from 2000 to 2004.

As a result of the original Ten-Year Cost-Feasible Plan and subsequent additions to it, hundreds of ITS projects have been completed in Florida. The following three project descriptions provide a sample of the range of items that have been completed.

Florida’s Turnpike Freeway Management System (FMS)

Florida’s Turnpike runs 312 miles from US Route 1 in Florida City to I-75 near Wildwood. This roadway was completely outfitted with ITS, including fiber optic cable, CCTV cameras, DMSs, travel time system (TTS) devices, and microwave vehicle detectors (MVDs) in just over five years. Florida’s Turnpike Enterprise (FTE), the FDOT district that operates the Turnpike, used a series of contracts and procurement techniques to achieve this amazing schedule. The fiber-optic trunk cable and CCTV cameras were designed and installed using four design/build contracts. This procurement allowed the fiber and cameras to be designed and installed while other elements of the Freeway Management System (FMS) were being designed. Cameras were typically placed at one-mile spacing. Separate design/bid/build projects were then let for the design and construction of the detection subsystem and portions of the DMS subsystem. Detection was typically placed at half-mile spacing and DMSs were located at spots that were deemed critical to providing motorists information. The system is operated from two Traffic Management Centers (TMC), one in Pompano Beach and one in Turkey Lake near Orlando. At the time, the Turnpike used the SunNav software for system control, but has since converted to Florida’s SunGuide TMC software. This creative approach allowed the nation’s third most heavily travelled toll road to quickly implement a systemwide ITS. “It is with this full complement of ITS that the motorists on Florida’s Turnpike system benefit in delivery of real-time traffic information and the Traffic Management Center is able to detect, verify and dispatch resources to incidents in order to effectively clear travel lanes quicker,” according to John Easterling, Turnpike’s Traffic Operations Engineer.