Rules of the road

The Federal Highway Administration late last month proposed rules of the

road for building intelligent transportation systems (ITS) and will be hitting

the road this summer to collect public comments before making the rules


The rules — officially the architecture and standards for ITS — are

not a detailed listing of technical requirements but a framework that transportation

authorities propose to meet the goals of a national ITS infrastructure.

ITS is a nearly decade-old program to make the nation's highways and

roads more efficient and safer through high-tech electronic, communication

and information systems. The purpose of the federal rules is to ensure that

local and state road planning incorporates ITS and will conform to a national

system, Transportation Secretary Rodney Slater said in his May 25 announcement.

Now it's the job of FHWA to explain the rulemaking process. Afterward,

the public will be given a chance to comment.

Bob Rupert, team leader for the administration's office of travel management,

said the proposed rules are "intentionally not specific." Instead, the rules

establish functional requirements — such as improving or enhancing transportation,

communications and institutions.

"We're saying these are what services you should be able to provide, but

leave it to the locals to determine the best way to do that," he said. "It's

not a cookie- cutter thing. One size doesn't fit all."

Ultimately, transportation officials envision roadways where traffic

flow is managed electronically via real-time communication — between authorities

and the driving public and even among vehicles.

A car radar wll help maintain a safe distance between vehicles, a scanning

system will electronically check the credentials of commercial vehicles,

and smart vehicles can automatically summon emergency crews in the event

of an accident.

Under ITS, transportation authorities are not mandating specific technologies

as long as local officials allow for ITS architecture in their plans.

If finalized, the ITS rules would be incorporated into metropolitan and

statewide planning processes. That means an ITS integration strategy would

be developed with information sharing and agreement among urban and state

planners, transit operators and other agencies.

Metropolitan or state systems would be tailored to meet local needs

but would incorporate systems or technologies that conform to the national

ITS strategy, according to the proposed rules. And that will be important

to local transportation authorities.

"Considering that we'll expect allocations of highway trust funds,

it could be pretty significant," said Dawn Hardesty, director of architecture

and standards for the Intelligent Transportation Society of America, a public/private

organization that promotes efficient transportation systems through advanced


Hardesty said it was her organization that first recommended that the

government develop an ITS architecture. She said ITS America officials were

scheduled to meet May 31 to draw up their own official comments on the proposed


Federal transportation officials will hold seven public hearings — from

Boston to San Francisco — as well as a national teleconference Netcast from

North Carolina State University to explain the rules.

The hearings, from June 9 to July 19, represent a major step toward

ensuring that regional ITS solutions conform to a national program.

Officials will use the meetings to review the rulemaking process. Local

officials eventually will be offered a chance to comment on the rules, Rupert


"If the rules become final, it will help accelerate the deployment of an

infrastructure," he said. The hearings likely will draw public works officials

and other recipients of federal highway funds, he said.

The national infrastructure should be in place in the country's largest

cities by 2006, according to Rupert.

Much of ITS involves integrating various systems among controlling agencies

and individuals — particularly communications — which translates into improved

mobility for everyone, Rupert said.

He said the success of ITS may be measured many ways, including reduced

travel times and fewer crashes.


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