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Active Traffic Management: The Next Step in Congestion Management

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Technical Report Documentation Page

  1. Report No.: FHWA-PL-07-012
  2. Government Accession No.:
  3. Recipient's Catalog No.:
  4. Title and Subtitle: Active Traffic Management: The Next Step in Congestion Management
  5. Report Date: March 2007
  6. Performing Organization Code:
  7. Author(s): Mohammad Mirshahi, Jon Obenberger, Charles A. Fuhs, Charles E. Howard, Dr. Raymond A. Krammes, Dr. Beverly T. Kuhn, Robin M. Mayhew, Margaret A. Moore, Khani Sahebjam, Craig J. Stone, Jessie L. Yung
  8. Performing Organization Report No.:
  9. Performing Organization Name and Address:
    American Trade Initiatives
    P.O. Box 8228
    Alexandria, VA 22306-8228
  10. Work Unit No. (TRAIS):
  11. Contract or Grant No.: DTFH61-99-C-005
  12. Sponsoring Agency Name and Address:
    Office of International Programs
    Office of Policy
    Federal Highway Administration
    U.S. Department of Transportation
    American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials
  13. Type of Report and Period Covered:
  14. Sponsoring Agency Code:
  15. Supplementary Notes: FHWA COTR: Hana Maier, Office of International Programs
  16. Abstract:

    The combination of continued travel growth and budget constraints makes it difficult for transportation agencies to provide sufficient roadway capacity in major metropolitan areas. The Federal Highway Administration, American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials, and National Cooperative Highway Research Program sponsored a scanning study to examine congestion management programs and policies in Europe.

    The scan team observed that transportation agencies in Denmark, England, Germany, and the Netherlands, through the deployment of congestion management strategies, are able to optimize the investment in infrastructure to meet drivers' needs. Strategies include speed harmonization, temporary shoulder use, and dynamic signing and rerouting.

    The team's recommendations for U.S. implementation include promoting active traffic management to optimize existing infrastructure during recurrent and nonrecurrent congestion, emphasizing customer orientation, focusing on trip reliability, providing consistent messages to roadway users, and making operations a priority in planning, programming, and funding processes.

  17. Key Words: active traffic management, congestion, dynamic message sign, managed lane, plus lane, queue warning, speed harmonization, temporary shoulder use, variable speed limit
  18. Distribution Statement: No restrictions. This document is available to the public from the: Office of International Programs, FHWA-HPIP, Room 3325, U.S. Department of Transportation, Washington, DC 20590
  19. Security Classify. (of this report): Unclassified
  20. Security Classify. (of this page): Unclassified
  21. No. of Pages: 84
  22. Price: Free

Form DOT F 1700.7 (8-72)

Reproduction of completed page authorized

Active Traffic Management: The Next Step in Congestion Management

International Technology Scanning Program | March 2007

Mohammad Mirshahi (cochair), Virginia DOT
Jon Obenberger (cochair), FHWA
Charles A. Fuhs, Parsons Brinckerhoff
Charles E. Howard, Puget Sound Regional Council
Dr. Raymond A. Krammes, FHWA
Dr. Beverly T. Kuhn (report facilitator), Texas Transportation Institute
Robin M. Mayhew, FHWA
Margaret A. Moore, Texas DOT
Khani Sahebjam, Minnesota DOT
Craig J. Stone, Washington State DOT
Jessie L. Yung, FHWA


Federal Highway Administration U.S. Department of Transportation

American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials

National Cooperative Highway Research Program

International Technology Scanning Program

The International Technology Scanning Program, sponsored by the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA), the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials (AASHTO), and the National Cooperative Highway Research Program (NCHRP), accesses and evaluates innovative foreign technologies and practices that could significantly benefit U.S. highway transportation systems. This approach allows for advanced technology to be adapted and put into practice much more efficiently without spending scarce research funds to re-create advances already developed by other countries.

FHWA and AASHTO, with recommendations from NCHRP, jointly determine priority topics for teams of U.S. experts to study. Teams in the specific areas being investigated are formed and sent to countries where significant advances and innovations have been made in technology, management practices, organizational structure, program delivery, and financing. Scan teams usually include representatives from FHWA, State departments of transportation, local governments, transportation trade and research groups, the private sector, and academia.

After a scan is completed, team members evaluate findings and develop comprehensive reports, including recommendations for further research and pilot projects to verify the value of adapting innovations for U.S. use. Scan reports, as well as the results of pilot programs and research, are circulated throughout the country to State and local transportation officials and the private sector. Since 1990, about 70 international scans have been organized on topics such as pavements, bridge construction and maintenance, contracting, intermodal transport, organizational management, winter road maintenance, safety, intelligent transportation systems, planning, and policy.

The International Technology Scanning Program has resulted in significant improvements and savings in road program technologies and practices throughout the United States. In some cases, scan studies have facilitated joint research and technology-sharing projects with international counterparts, further conserving resources and advancing the state of the art. Scan studies have also exposed transportation professionals to remarkable advancements and inspired implementation of hundreds of innovations. The result: large savings of research dollars and time, as well as significant improvements in the Nation's transportation system.

Scan reports can be obtained through FHWA free of charge by e-mailing international@fhwa.dot.gov. Scan reports are also available electronically and can be accessed on the FHWA Office of International Programs Web Site at www.international.fhwa.dot.gov.

International Technology Scan Reports

International Technology Scanning Program: Bringing Global Innovations to U.S. Highways

All Publications are Available on the Internet at www.international.fhwa.dot.gov


Planning and Environment

Policy and Information





Abbreviations and Acronyms

American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials

average daily traffic
Active Traffic Management (United Kingdom)

closed-circuit television

dynamic message sign

department of transportation

electronic toll collection

European Union

Federal Highway Administration

Federal Transit Administration

Global Positioning System

intelligent transportation system


kilometers per hour

National Model System for Traffic and Transport (the Netherlands)


motorway control and signaling system

National Cooperative Highway Research Program

new regional model

National Roads Telecommunications Services (England)

National Traffic Control Center

public-private partnership

Radio Data System Traffic Message Channel

real-time traffic and traveler information

Strategic Highway Research Program II

traffic control zone

Trans-European Transport Networks

Traffic Information Center (Denmark)

traffic management center

Road Sector Information System (Denmark)

vehicle miles traveled

Executive Summary

The continued growth in travel along congested urban freeway corridors is exceeding the ability of transportation agencies to provide sufficient roadway capacity in major metropolitan areas with limited public funding for roadway expansion and improvement projects. High construction costs, constrained right-of-way, and environmental factors are pushing agencies to explore context-sensitive solutions, such as managed lanes, to mitigate the detrimental effects of congestion while optimizing the use of limited public funding.


The purpose of this scanning study was to examine the congestion management programs, policies, and experiences of other countries that are in the planning stages, have been implemented, or are operating on freeway facilities. This scan sought information on how agencies approach highway congestion, actively manage and operate freeway facilities, and plan for and design managed lanes at the system, corridor, and project or facility levels. It builds on two other scans that focused on travel demand management and traffic incident response. While demand management and incident response relate to the purpose of this scan and are components of congestion management, the scan's primary focus was on agencies' use of managed lanes to provide additional roadway capacity and flexible operating strategies to respond to changing traffic conditions. In addition, the scan assessed European experiences to determine how agencies can integrate managed lane strategies into their congestion management program, network, and corridor planning and how managed lanes fit into the development of highway improvement projects.

Planning for the congestion management scanning study began in November 2005 with a desk scan that recommended Denmark, England, Germany, and the Netherlands as the four countries to visit. The initial team meeting occurred in December 2005 in Washington, DC, and the trip took place June 2–18, 2006. The 11 team members–all with expertise in planning, designing, and operating transportation facilities–included individuals from four State transportation agencies, the private sector, and the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA). During the 2-week trip, the team participated in the First International Symposium on Freeway and Tollway Operations in Greece and visited representatives in Denmark, England, Germany, and the Netherlands.

The initial desk scan did not indicate that managed lane facilities, as defined in the United States, are operating in many places in Europe nor are they in the planning phases in most European countries. Acknowledging this fact, the team decided to visit the selected countries to assess their policies, programs, and commitment to proactively managing and operating their highway facilities. Moreover, the team wanted to learn about the operational strategies the countries use and their positions on the use of managed lanes as part of their overall approach to operations and traffic management. The intent was to identify key issues for agencies to consider when developing a proactive congestion management program, including planning for, designing, and operating managed lane facilities, and how an agency can integrate managed lane operational strategies into the various decisionmaking processes related to roadway infrastructure investment.

Active Traffic Management

The scan team arrived in Europe with the intent of examining congestion management programs, policies, experiences and how the countries plan for and implement managed lanes. What the team uncovered during the trip was that and more: a complete package of strategies that make up the broader concept of active traffic management. This approach to congestion management is a more holistic approach that can include the current U.S. application of managed lane strategies to congested freeway corridors. It is the next step in congestion management.

What is active traffic management as the scan team envisions its application in the United States? It is the ability to dynamically manage recurrent and nonrecurrent congestion based on prevailing traffic conditions. Focusing on trip reliability, it maximizes the effectiveness and efficiency of the facility. It increases throughput and safety through the use of integrated systems with new technology, including the automation of dynamic deployment to optimize performance quickly and without the delay that occurs when operators must deploy operational strategies manually. This congestion management approach consists of a combination of operational strategies that, when implemented in concert, fully optimize the existing infrastructure and provide measurable benefits to the transportation network and the motoring public. These strategies include but are not limited to speed harmonization, temporary shoulder use, junction control, and dynamic signing and rerouting. Managed lanes, as applied in the United States, are an obvious addition to this collection. In addition, various institutional issues essential to the successful implementation of active traffic management include customer orientation; the priority of operations in planning, programming, and funding processes; cost-effective investment decisions; public-private partnerships; and a desire for consistency across borders.

The scan team saw the European approach in action in each of the countries visited: Denmark, England, Germany, and the Netherlands. Through the deployment of these strategies, agencies in these countries have control over entire facilities and are able to fully optimize the investment in the infrastructure to meet customer needs. Depending on the location and the combination of strategies deployed, specific benefits Europe has measured as a result of this congestion management approach include the following:

These countries have been able to implement active traffic management and gain acceptance from the public and policymakers because they are seeing real results. For this reason, the scan team firmly believes that active traffic management is the next evolution in congestion management in the United States and we have much to learn from the experiences in Europe to make it a reality at home.


Europe faces similar mobility challenges as the United States, including an increase in travel demand, growth in congestion, a need to improve safety, and the reality of limited resources to address these challenges. Given these similarities, the scan team identified nine key recommendations related to congestion management that have the potential to help ease congestion if implemented in the United States. The purpose of this scan was to examine the congestion management programs, policies, and experiences of other countries and to seek information on how agencies plan for and design managed lanes at the system, corridor, and project or facility levels. The following are the scan team's primary recommendations in response to this charge:


The scan team firmly believes that much can be gained by implementing the various congestion management strategies discussed in this report on congested roadway networks in the United States. To that end, the team plans a number of activities and initiatives to disseminate information from the scan and move the recommendations forward within the context of congestion management in the United States. These implementation initiatives and strategies include, but are not limited to, the following:

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