The Challenge

Safe and reliable travel conditions and options must be available for drivers and travelers to maximize their mobility and to experience the freedom and connection and on Colorado's multi-modal transportation network. For every minute a distressed vehicle remains stalled in a travel lane, four minutes are required for the facility to recover to normal traffic flow, which in turn magnifies congestion downstream on the corridor. Safe and reliable travel on both rural and urban corridors is impacted by:

  1. Recurrent congestion due to insufficient roadway capacity and bottlenecks, and poor traffic signal timing. (Recurring congestion is the daily, predictable congestion due to consistent events such as what is seen in metro areas with daily commuting or on I-70 on weekends due to recreation in the mountains)
  2. Non-recurrent congestion, caused by unplanned and un-predicted traffic incidents and crashes, adverse weather conditions, work zones and special events. 

More than half of congestion can be attributed to these non-recurring events in urban areas and about 95% in rural areas. Even though these incidents/conditions may occur infrequently, their impact is significant when they do occur.  Congestion impacts the economy by delayed delivery of freight, unreliable commutes to school and places of employment, and frustrating travel conditions along popular recreational routes like the I-70 Mountain corridor.

During a time when construction dollars are stagnant and the ability to construct large scale capacity-projects is becoming more and more challenging nationwide, DOT’s must be more economical, efficient, and effective with limited resources. CDOT recognizes that insufficient funds are available to “build our way out” of the congestion problem. Innovative and elegant solutions with high benefit to cost ratios are available to address non-recurrent causes of congestion. These strategies will promote the most efficient and effective use of the existing highway infrastructure.

The Solution

CDOT created the Division of Transportation Systems Management and Operations (TSM&O) to align the core functional business areas that provide operational activities, programs, strategies, and services on a statewide basis. The mission of TSM&O is: "To systematically improve travel time reliability and safety on Colorado highways through technology, innovative programs and strategies, targeted traffic management activities, and safety improvements to maximize the return on investment of transportation funds."  

Under the leadership of the division Director Ryan Rice, TSM&O develops policies and implements innovative strategies to emphasize and integrate operations into CDOT’s daily business. Ryan came to CDOT in 2013 directly from the US Marines where he served as an Officer for seven years. He was deployed for two tours in Iraq where he was responsible for real-time traffic operations and traffic control points where consequences for traffic failures were severe. He proactively and continuously examined methods for effectiveness where he developed a strong foundation of skills in managing traffic operations. Ryan also received his MBA in 2012, which rounds out his experience with this focus in business acumen.

TSM&O reports to the CDOT Deputy Executive Director Michael Lewis and consists of five branches:

  1. Traffic, Safety and Engineering Branch
  2. Intelligent Transportation Systems/Technology Branch
  3. Active Traffic Management and Operations Branch
  4. Corridor Management and Incident Command Branch with special focus on Courtesy Patrol and Heavy Tow programs
  5. Planning, Performance and Transportation Demand Management branch

The Branches work together very closely, and with CDOT regions, maintenance, Office of Emergency Management and Division of Transportation Development. TSM&O staff coordinate extensively with external stakeholders, such as: Colorado State Patrol, cities, counties, Metropolitan Planning Organizations and local law enforcement to promote and foster systematic statewide operations and a new paradigm that emphasizes and places a priority on “Thinking Operations First”. 

Programs & Strategies

Systematic, coordinated and targeted TSM&O strategies, improvements, and applications can be implemented quickly, to maximize the efficiency of the existing highway operations.  These low-cost and high-value improvements can achieve tremendous benefit to the state transportation system, which demonstrates government’s ability to be good stewards of taxpayer dollars.  These operational improvements focus on getting more out of the existing system and maximizing traffic through-put.  A multitude of strategies are utilized to target issues that cause congestion in order to minimize their impact thereby allowing the system to operate at the highest capability.

Typically, TSM&O projects provide the following benefits:

  • High-benefit cost ratios typically 10:1 and as much as 40:1
  • Readily implementable in less time (usually within 12 months) and for less money than adding lanes
  • Highly visible, many times but not always, and noticeable improvements by the traveling public
  • Quantifiable reduction in delay and improvement in travel time reliability
  • Measurable safety related improvements
  • Improvements that continue to provide value even when long-term construction projects are completed

CDOT currently uses many techniques used nationwide to control and reduce both recurring and non-recurring congestion. Examples of these strategies include: traffic signal timing, ramp metering, alternative intersection and interchange designs; traffic incident management planning; real-time travel time information to passenger and freight drivers; variable speed limits, traffic metering; HOV and managed lanes; truck management and parking, and so on. 

TSM&O is also preparing the state transportation infrastructure under the ROADX Program to be a leader in advancing Connected Vehicles and Autonomous Vehicles technology. Operational strategies will include improvements to the fiber optic telecommunications network, traffic operations centers, data collection and distribution, public communication of roadway conditions, highway striping, adaptive traffic signals, and innovative and active traffic management systems.