by James A. Bacon
Outsourcing management of Virginia’s five traffic operations centers will save about $47 million over the life of the six-year contract and accelerate the adoption of state-of-the-art technology and best management practices. So says Dean Gustafson, state operations engineer for the Virginia Department of Transportation.
In a presentation yesterday, Gustafson briefed the Commonwealth Transportation Board (CTB) on the path-breaking contract, which, he said makes “Virginia very much a leader” among the 50 states in the field of traffic operations management.
The Virginia Department of Transportation announced the deal with Serco, Inc., last week, and the CTB formally approved the contract yesterday.
By replacing 11 existing contracts, the Serco contract allows VDOT to achieve economies of scale, achieve consistency of performance across the state and drive innovation, Gustafson said. The hand-off to Serco will take place over 180 days in the second half of this year, and the England-headquartered company will phase in its software over 24 months.
The most obvious benefit will be inter-operability of the five traffic-management centers, which monitor traffic flow, clear accidents and keep motorists informed of traffic conditions on Virginia highways. At present, only the Salem and Staunton offices are inter-operable. The centers in Northern Virginia, Richmond and Hampton Roads have incompatible systems that restrict their ability to work together. VDOT deems inter-operability essential because it allows the centers to back up one another in the event, say, that a severe thunderstorm knocks down a lot of trees and overwhelms a particular center with phone calls.
But Serco, which runs state-of-the-art centers across Europe and Asia, brings other strengths to bear, including predictive analytics that give its technicians the ability to understand 30, 60 or 90 minutes ahead how weather-related or other events might affect particular corridors and intersections. That knowledge allows them to place service vehicles in optimal locations for rapid response.
Serco also will provide advanced safety-patrol vehicles with specialized tools and capabilities, such as the ability pull or push a stranded car out of a traffic lane. The contract’s performance standards will incentivize Serco to clear traffic accidents and broken-down cars as rapidly as possible. Such incidents are the cause of the worst traffic pile-ups around the state.
What makes the Serco contract special, VDOT CIO Murali Rao explained to Bacon’s Rebellion, is the comprehensive nature of the contract and the programmatic approach to managing traffic across Virginia. Having a single vendor also allows clearer lines of responsibility. “We have one person to hold accountable,” he says. The contract contains metrics by which Serco’s performance can be judged. Those metrics will hold Serco to a higher standard than VDOT is able to achieve today.
The technologies and management practices that Serco will introduce to Virginia are routine in its overseas operations, said Michael Plymack, Serco senior vice president, but this contract will put Virginia in the lead in the United States. “Virginia is the first state to integrate these types of services.”