TTI research and technical support pivotal to development and success over the years
Approaching its quarter-century birthday, the Houston TranStar Transportation Management and Emergency Operations Center (TranStar) has saved Harris County area motorists more than $5.4 billion in reduced traveler delay and fuel costs since 1997, when benefits were first assessed.
The multi-agency effort uses the partners’ collective resources to provide highly effective transportation and emergency management services to maximize safety and mobility for Houston’s traveling public. The TranStar partners include the Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT), the Metropolitan Transit Authority of Harris County, Harris County, and the City of Houston.
The Texas A&M Transportation Institute (TTI) helped conceptualize the TranStar facility in the early 1990s and continues to update system software that allows multiple agencies to share information across jurisdictional and institutional boundaries. One example is the collection and processing of speed and congestion data and the software that converts those values into useful travel-time information.
Those data are distributed to the public through the TranStar website, dynamic message signs along Houston’s roadways, subscriber cell phones, and email accounts. TranStar’s real-time traffic map is the centerpiece of the website, with close to 800,000 unique users a month visiting in 2016 — a 29.3 percent increase from 2015.
“The software running at TranStar uses data from all the agency partners and provides a central location for providing traffic and emergency management information used by engineers, the media and the traveling public,” explains Mike Vickich, senior systems analyst with TTI’s Research and Implementation Office in Houston. “Using the combined resources, we can keep Houstonians better informed so they can make safer, more reliable travel choices.”
The sharing of resources — including cameras, networks and data — makes TranStar unique in the United States. For instance, Harris County and TxDOT both have flood sensors that others can access, which proved to be invaluable during Hurricane Harvey. Harris County, TxDOT, and the City of Houston use many of the same types of traffic sensors and cameras, and the partnership allows them to share the software and network resources for using information from each system.
“The TranStar partners rely on TTI to provide innovative and responsive solutions through applied research,” says John R. Whaley, TranStar executive director. “The implemented solutions not only provide key information for day-to-day commuters’ needs, but also can withstand a crisis, as proven by the more than 3 million web visitors and 30 million accesses during the peak of Hurricane Harvey.”
TranStar: A Quarter Century of Keeping Houston Travelers Informed
- 1993 First four-agency consortium in US, Houston TranStar, begins
- 1993 Start collecting speed and travel times
- 1995 Create website and real-time traffic map
- 2003 Begin displaying automated predictive travel times on DMSs
- 2006 Install hurricane route-monitoring cameras along critical evacuation routes
- 2009 Begin using Bluetooth travel-time and speed data collection system to measure traffic flow
- 2012 Enhance TranStar’s real-time traffic map with arterial traffic information
- 2016 Begin developing a mobile app to share traveler information