Downey calls for ITS Y2K fix

Mortimer Downey, deputy secretary of the Transportation Department, last week called for federal, state and local cooperation and guidance to help fix the Year 2000 problem in Intelligent Transportation Systems technology.

ITS, a joint effort among federal, state and local governments, is designed to improve the flow of traffic in heavily congested areas through the use of IT, such as traffic signals and systems for managing buses and other forms of public transportation.

Speaking at an ITS Year 2000 summit sponsored by DOT, Downey said it is crucial that the Year 2000 problem be fixed.

"Imagine the disruption if automated traffic signals fail; if buses and trains can't run because transit management systems fail; if cargo backs up at ports or rail terminals because tracking systems break down; or if highway-rail grade crossing signals stop," he said. "The delays and risks to safety are potentially enormous."

The summit brought together federal, state, local and international representatives for the first time to address and generate a plan for the Year 2000 fix for ITS.

John Koskinen, chairman of the President's Council on Year 2000 Conversion, speaking at the summit, said the federal government should encourage private and public organizations to share information about their Year 2000 solutions for ITS.

"Today's summit is a partnership to minimize mistakes when we make that transition,'' Koskinen said. "We have an obligation to be candid with the American people. We are trying to raise the level of awareness outside of the federal government.''

The bottom line is cooperation, particularly because ITS systems involve different organizations such as fire and police departments and public utilities, attendees said. ITS systems are developed by "a lot of awareness and partnership," said Thomas Lambert, assistant general manager and chief of police in Houston. "We need to take that same approach to solve the Year 2000 problem. It takes everyone to be involved."

Draft Plan

To help fuel this cooperation, the attendees at the summit produced draft "steps for action" guidance that will be formalized and posted on the Internet at www.fhwa.dot.gov. The draft plan lays out what steps should be taken to ensure that ITS systems work in the Year 2000.

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