Text Box: Overview Of Congestion Management Programs
The Plan Development & Critical Success Factors

 

 

 

 

 


What We Know About CMP Programs:

 

Highly targeted and well-promoted transportation demand management (TDM) programs have proven to be an effective way to mitigate congestion associated with large-scale highway construction projects.

Commonly referred to as Congestion Management Programs (CMP), these innovative micro-market applications of TDM services are based on three overriding considerations – 1) commuters want and expect information about road construction; 2) commuters will change their commuting behavior based on timely and accurate information; and 3) commuters will even switch modes if sensible alternatives are designed with their direct input.

 

Background:

 

One of the fundamental goals of the Commonwealth of Virginia’s transportation plan is to maintain mobility. This goal is particularly challenging on a local level when a major highway corridor undergoes significant improvements such as the addition of a new lane or modifications of access ramps.  Construction related traffic, work zone slow downs, and periodic lane closings could have a huge impact on what may be an already congested commuter corridor.

 

On three separate occasions, the Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT) and the Department of Rail and Public Transportation (DRPT) have worked together to design and implement successful CMPs: I-66, Coleman Bridge, and the Springfield Interchange on I-95. Perhaps the best example is the Springfield Interchange CMP.

 

The Springfield Interchange, also known as “The Mixing Bowl,” is one of the busiest intersections in America. This comes from the fact that three major highways (I-95, I-395 and I-495) converge at this point, creating a three-mile stretch of confusing on- and off-ramps, bridges and HOV carpool lanes.

 

In 1998, VDOT was scheduled to begin an eight (8) year construction project to improve this intersection.  To ease congestion during construction and help commuters avoid delays, VDOT and DRPT developed a comprehensive congestion management plan (CMP). The development of this plan followed the successful planning process developed on earlier CMP planning, and the results were remarkable.

 

CMP Planning Process:

 

The central issue was what services would have the greatest impact in reducing daily traffic through the construction zone.  An innovative consumer-based process led the way.

 

Ž    Define the Corridor’s Effective Reach: The first step in formulating a CMP plan is to define the geographic reach or boundaries of the corridor from the users’ perspective – those who currently travel on the road. Examining past O&D studies or conducting a license plate look-up study with DMV’s assistance can effectively serve this first step.

 

Ž    Develop and Explore Potential TDM Alternatives: The next step involves a series of focus groups among different segments of facility users – freight, commuters, incident management and law enforcement, etc., as well as local transportation officials, to fully understand perceptions and misperceptions regarding the current congestion, level of perceived and real frustration, and the perceptions and misperceptions surrounding the impending construction project and possible TDM options.

 

Depending on the facility and facility user profiles, the list of potential TDM options that are explored include:

 

·        Additional bus services and at varied fare levels

·        Expanded rail service and rail access at varied fare levels

·        Preferential use of shoulder lanes for shared ride services

·        Ramp/access metering, if and where appropriate

·        Implementation of new access control strategies 

·        Expanded ridesharing infrastructure: more park and ride lots

·        Expanded rideshare support services: ride matching database, guaranteed ride home services, etc.

·        Expanded vanpools

·        Expanded employer outreach and promotional efforts: staggered work hours, telecommute

·        Expanded marketing and communications programs

·        Use of emerging Intelligent Transportation Systems (ITS) applications in support of programs and activities

·        Other incentives to encourage travel behavior changes

 

The focus group process culminates with the identification of all major issues and a short list of TDM programs that are reasonable given the nuances of that corridor.

 

Ž    Gauge Public Acceptance and Potential Demand: The third step in developing a CMP involves “quantifying” the attitudes and opinions of facility users. This is often done with a telephone-based survey. Key issues are examined, including the existing level of commuter frustration; the relative appeal of different TDM services and likely utilization of those services at varying levels of commuter frustration and inconvenience; and the impact of different pricing levels on TDM services (e.g., transit) service utilization.

 

The statistically projectable data from the telephone survey identifies the most promising TDM programming options and the degree of commuter utilization given projected increases in corridor congestion and related delays. This information then serves as the basis for the fourth step – highly detailed input for calibrating traditional TDM models, such as the FHWA/EPA TDM model.

 

Ž    Model CMP Impact:  The calibration of existing TDM models is important as national models are based on the average “national” experience.  For more accurate and realistic projections, adjustments to the models are required. This is particularly important when it comes to making investments in the more expensive TDM programs such as new transit services.

 

The survey research serves this role by filling in critical gaps that may arise in using default values from national-scale TDM modeling.  It provides area-specific knowledge about the potential for local TDM program participation by identifying market segments and the associated characteristics that are most amenable to TDM participation, and by quantifying the sensitivity of those segments to various TDM inducements and incentives.

 

Ž    Assess Preliminary Costs, Benefits and ROI: The final step involves using state-of-the-art analytical tools such as the Surface Transportation Efficiency Analysis Model (STEAM) and the ITS Deployment Analysis System (IDAS) to assess the impacts of proposed sets of transportation management actions, including the projected traffic impacts (VMT reduction, traffic flow conditions, and safety). Costs are assigned to specific TDM programs and a resulting return on investment is calculated – e.g., cost per VMT reduction.

 

This planning process culminates with a recommended plan and related budget packaged as the construction project’s CMP.  The first three CMP plans were presented to DRPT and VDOT management teams, as well as other stakeholder groups, including the local transportation officials and elected officials along the corridors.  This is in fact another critical success factor – positioning the CMP as a major component of the overall construction plan and budget.

 

Springfield Interchange CMP Programming:

 

The Springfield CMP followed this planning process. Prior to construction, VDOT and DRPT conducted focus groups and a benchmark survey of 1,500 commuters residing along the I-95 corridor. This research gauged awareness of the coming project, its potential impact on commuters, motorists’ plans for avoiding delays, and interest in various commuter assistance and transportation demand management  (TDM) programs. The research also identified four geographic regions that accounted for the majority of commuters who traveled through the interchange on a daily basis. The survey work utilized a conjoint analysis tool to identify the most appealing services and how to price those services for the greatest utilization.

 

Part of the success of the Springfield Interchange CMP can be attributed to commuter frustration and inconvenience related to the massive construction project. The perceived threat of extended delays envisioned by corridor commuters prior to construction and, ultimately, the actual delays experienced by commuters served as a major impetus for drivers to change their commuting modes and behaviors.

 

Based on the marketing research findings and subsequent trip impact modeling, VDOT implemented a variety of new and expanded alternative commute programs tailored for each of the four geographic regions.  These improvements included:

 

·        Springfield Mall free parking and shuttle service to the Franconia-Springfield Metro Station.

·        Telework programs designed to help companies start or expand a telework program.

·        New and bigger park-and-ride lots added along the I-95 corridor.

·        Increased frequency of the VRE train schedule to help people in Fredericksburg avoid delays.

·        Additional commuter buses to serve Prince William and Stafford county residents.

·        Guaranteed ride home program in case of an emergency if you carpool, take mass transit or even ride your bike to work

 

All of these programs were based on a “customer perspective” – by first understanding how people view their commutes and what it would take to get commuters to change their commuting behavior. 

 

Use of CMP Commuter Communications:

 

One of the fundamental success factors in all three CMP programs is the communication program.  Tracking research among affected commuters revealed that nearby residents and commuters place a great deal of importance on being kept informed.  More than 7 out of 10 commuters who traveled through the Springfield Interchange (53% very important and 20% somewhat important) said it is important that VDOT keep them informed about construction projects.

Additionally, according to research conducted with the Springfield Interchange CMP, commuters have specific standards on the type of information they expect:

·        Commuters consider information effective when it alerts them to upcoming changes, enables them to alter or change their route or mode of transportation, when they are able to see how the project will help them when it is complete, and when the information is accurate.

·        Commuters consider information not effective when it is not timely/is confusing, when it is not sufficiently detailed, when it does not help to reduce commute time, and when it does not reduce traffic problems.

The broadest media (radio, television, newspaper) seem to be the preferred information sources.  This pattern held true for commuter evaluation of the Springfield Interchange CMP communications program in both 1998 and 2002. 

The Internet and information centers also served an important role in the Springfield Interchange CMP.  While these two information venues did not have the broadest reach, they may have had a significant impact on changing behavior.

The Springfield Interchange website, for example, reached 8% of all Springfield Interchange commuters on a regular basis. Seventy-five (75%) percent of these regular users reported that they changed their commuting behavior. This represents 6% of all Springfield Interchange commuters.

The VDOT Information Center at the Springfield Mall had a similar impact.  A total of 18% of commuters said they had visited the Springfield Interchange Information Center.  Two-thirds (64%) of these visitors found the information provided at the store to be helpful.  Twelve percent (12%) who visited the store reported that they tried an alternate mode of commuting as a result of the information they received.  This is 2% of all commuters. But this impact was only the tip of the iceberg. By almost every measure, well-conceived CMP programs work!

CMP Results:

CMP programs work!  Almost 60% of all commuters altered their commute time through the Springfield Interchange.  Over 8% switched modes and another 8% started telecommuting.

 

By all accounts, the research-based TDM services and the aggressive promotion of the services changed commuting patterns and mode choice.  A few specific examples include:

·        Virginia Railway Express: 385 new passengers a day

·        Springfield Mall Shuttle: 500 passengers a day

·        Vanpools: 28 new vanpools formed

·        OmniRide Express Bus Service: 300 passengers a day

·        Bus/rail pass: 185 passes

·        HOV Use outside the beltway: up 48% since 1998

·        HOV use inside the beltway: up 18% since 1998

The Springfield Interchange CMP also had a profound indirect benefit – it helped create positive “good will” for VDOT in what is a very demanding and vocal VDOT District.  The CMP tracking research revealed that VDOT was rated favorably for its efforts in helping motorists during the Springfield Interchange construction.  Nearly 8 out of 10 commuters (79%) rated VDOT favorably in efforts to help motorists during the heaviest construction period.

The Springfield Interchange is now an international case study model on how to build and implement a successful CMP program.

 

All in all, CMPs work because they empower commuters. Construction, no matter at what scale, impacts travel time. Giving commuters “information and tools” allows them to take control and manage their own commutes. This, in turn, helps to keep commuter stress and frustration to a minimum, and keeps everyone focused on the end goal – improvements and expansion.

 

Related Studies/Documents:

1998:  “Northern Virginia Commuter Study”

2002:  “Northern Virginia Commuter Study”

2003:  “Northern Virginia HOV Commuter Attitude and Usage Study”