Intelligent systems project manager Claire Airth explains how Mott MacDonald is helping Highways England deliver intelligent cross-boundary traffic management solutions through the Collaborative Traffic Management (CTM) programme.
Funded by Highways England’s Innovation Designated Fund, the CTM programme on the M25 is one of several projects being developed to support key priorities set out in the Road Investment Strategy.
The south east of England carries the highest volumes of traffic in the UK. It encapsulates London, the M25 and Dartford crossing, as well as critical road links to ferry ports at Dover and Portsmouth. Many of these roads suffer severe congestion daily. Due to this, Highways England targeted this region as an ideal candidate for investigating how to improve their approach to traffic management using the CTM programme, a key focus of which is to be able to remove waste by reducing time and costs. This, combined with the continuous improvement of traffic management tools and processes, will assist Highways England with achieving its key objective outlined in the Road Investment Strategy.
Highways England wanted to resolve two issues through the CTM programme. While the company is data rich, the amount of information currently available to Regional Control Centre (RCC) operators from various sources and applications can be difficult to interpret. This results in RCC operators having to monitor several different sources of information before being able to come to a conclusion and take steps to help ease the congestion. This delay may potentially result in RCC operators losing vital time as congestion continues to accumulate while they investigate the situation.
The second issue centres around cross-boundary congestion involving Highways England’s Strategic Road Network (SRN) and local highways authorities’ roads. For example, Highways England RCC operators could potentially identify congestion resulting from a traffic incident on the road network and divert the traffic onto a local authority road, improving the congestion on their own roads. However, this will only shift the congestion elsewhere. In a worst-case scenario, the local authority will have been suffering from existing congestion issues which were exacerbated by the actions taken by Highways England to resolve their own congestion. This scenario could potentially happen the other way around as well. This approach to traffic management has no visibility or appreciation as to whether the neighbouring authority road could accommodate the additional influx of traffic.
Working in partnership with Highways England, Mott MacDonald has developed junction dashboards which, in conjunction with the CTM programme, aim to resolve these two issues. The dashboards, which have been integrated with Mott MacDonald’s urban traffic and management control system Osprey, enable operators to configure the system to focus on hotspot areas of the SRN where congestion is a common cause for concern. The user has the ability to define these hotspots and configure junction dashboards which provide an overview of the CCTV coverage, variable message signs (VMS) and view all the traffic signals’ status in a specific area. The dashboards also show all previously created strategies and options for pre-defined traffic signal commands, as well as the status of existing traffic signal commands instigated by the system. This information, coupled with journey time data overlaid on a graphical map, gives the user a rich and comprehensive picture of the traffic congestion at a junction hotspot.
As well as giving RCC operators visibility of traffic information on the SRN, the dashboards also provide information on the Local Highways Authority (LHA) roads. With all this information at their disposal, this makes the task of traffic management easier and provides full visibility of all information available, regardless of the source authority.
Running in parallel with continual improvements to existing tools is a scheme to exchange traffic information with other LHAs in the south east of England as part of the CTM programme. This initiative engages with the LHA to agree traffic management strategies which will facilitate a cross-boundary solution to congestion and provide an integrated approach to traffic management in the south east of England.
Where available, the dashboards can also provide journey time data information on LHAs roads, as well as the ability to influence their VMS and traffic signals. Therefore, if a build-up of congestion is detected then RCC operators can influence the LHA traffic signals, in combination with Highways England controlled signals, as well alert road users to the congestion to allow them to make informed travel decisions. All this combined information, presented on one screen, makes the task of traffic monitoring and management by operators a little easier when identifying and reacting to traffic congestion.
When combined with a strategy manager component, which allows users to pre-define responses to common traffic scenarios, the dashboard covers many daily traffic issues. Having the strategy manager automatically deal with common scenarios provides RCC operators with the time to focus on exceptional traffic cases, allowing them to be effective and efficient in their decision making.
The dashboard feature is currently being developed and is expected to be delivered to Highways England in the south east of England by the end of October 2017, benefitting not only LHAs but Highways England by increasing network capacity and throughput on the roads. There will also be benefits to road users as being able to provide them with earlier information via VMS messages will allow them to make enhanced travel decisions. ◆