The Importance of ITS and How It’s All Tied Together

Posted by on Jan 21, 2014

Fiber optics

About a year ago I was thrilled to join Sain Associates and help expand their Intelligent Transportation Systems (ITS) capabilities. We’ve grown in the area, and I’ve enjoyed helping our staff learn more about what I do. In a recent Lunch and Learn for staff with no experience in ITS, I presented a primer on ITS.

The term Intelligent Transportation Systems can be defined as the application of information technology to surface transportation in order to achieve enhanced safety and mobility while reducingenvironmental impacts. ITS applications can improve outcomes such as:

  • Transportation Safety
  • Transportation Productivity
  • Travel Reliability
  • Travel Choices Information
  • Social Equity
  • Environmental Performance
  • Network Operation Resilience

In 1991, recognizing the critical need to address our aging transportation network and its pressing challenges, Congress created an ITS program with four key functions:

  1. Promote the implementation of a technically integrated and jurisdictionally coordinated transportation system across the country.
  2. Support ongoing applied research and technology transfer.
  3. Ensure that newly developed ITS technologies and services are safe and cost-effective.
  4. Create a new industry by involving and emphasizing the private sector in all aspects of the program.

Interest in ITS comes from the problems caused by traffic congestion and a synergy of new information technology for simulation, real-time control and communications networks. Traffic congestion has been increasing worldwide as a result of increased motorization, urbanization, population growth and changes in population density. Congestion reduces efficiency of transportation infrastructure and increases travel time, air pollution and fuel consumption, so it’s a real concern.

Many ITS systems also involve surveillance of roadways, and they can play a role in the rapid mass evacuation of people in urban areas after large casualty events that might result from natural disaster or threat.

You might be wondering how ITS systems work and how everything ties together. There are two major components to this answer, which include wireless technology and fiber optics.

Wireless communication technology stands for a technique for information transfer between two or more devices that are not physically connected. Wireless communications can be via radio waves or microwaves. It can also use infrared (IR) short range communication in consumer IR devices such as remote controls or via Infrared Data Association (IrDA). Microwave communication is generally long range line of sight via highly directional antennas. The applications may involve point to point communication, point to multipoint communication, broadcasting, cellular networks and other wireless networks.

Fiber optics are another big part of ITS. Fiber optics (optical fibers) are long, thin strands of very pure glass about the diameter of a human hair.  They are arranged in bundles called optical cables and used to transmit light signals over long distances.

Last year, I received my certification from the Fiber Optic Association, Inc. I became a CFOT or “Certified Fiber Optic Technician,” which is one of the requirements by The Alabama Department of Transportation to work on or test any of their fiber optics or equipment. With this new certification, Sain Associates will be able to do even more as we move forward with our ITS department.

Sain Associates, Inc., is headquartered in Birmingham, Alabama, with offices in Pulaski, Tennessee and Mandeville, Louisiana. Sain is a site engineering, traffic/transportation engineering and planning and land surveying firm with experience in more than thirty states. 

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