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Better Commutes, Reduced Pollution, Greater Safety: Traffic Operations Academy Produces Experts with New Solutions

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Designing and building more roads is not the only way to solve the nation's traffic problems. Managing the flow of traffic on those roads is as vital as paving them, according to a new educational program offered to the nation's state highway administrators by traffic researchers at the University of Maryland's A. James Clark School of Engineering.

For example, during a two-year period, the Maryland State Highway Administration developed improved signal timing for 330 traffic signals. This work resulted in a 13.9% reduction in delays, a 10% reduction in the number of stops made by arterial traffic, and a 2.4% reduction in fuel consumption. This produced an estimated two-year benefit to the motoring public of $60 million-significant in an era of rapidly increasing gasoline prices.

Such insights-and how to put them into practice-are among the topics covered by the Operations Academy, a new program presented by the Center for Advanced Transportation Technology (CATT), a research group within the Clark School's department of civil and environmental engineering. The academy recently produced its first graduating class, a new cadre of 22 traffic experts from across the country who use operations perspectives and operations solutions to solve traffic problems.



"In the transportation community, there is a shortage of folks with operations experience," explained Phil Tarnoff, CATT’s director. "Most highway offices specialize in building, and there is a lack of focus on traffic flow in most university transportation courses. Our program fills the gap."

The Clark School program is the first of its kind in the nation to offer focused training dealing with the effective management of the transportation system-120 hours of intense immersion in signal studies, traffic flow, and safety measures, in addition to personnel management, funding, and supply/demand relationships. The course fills a critical need as more vehicles clog the nation's highway systems, said Tarnoff.

The Operations Academy is open to employees of any public agency and is targeted towards mid to high-level managers in transportation departments on the local, state, and national levels. The first cohort this spring boasted traffic officials from New Mexico, Pennsylvania, North Carolina, New Hampshire, Massachusetts, Florida, Washington State, Maine, New York, Illinois, Arizona, and Texas.

The students noted the valuable interactions with their colleagues from around the country, in addition to the workshops, field trips, and coursework.

"This program allowed me time to interact with other agencies that are already performing the functions of what New Hampshire will be doing in the next 10 years," said Jon Hanson, assistant administrator of the New Hampshire Department of Transportation's Bureau of Turnpikes.

The program involves a week of pre-study (including exams) in traffic operations, traffic safety, planning, intelligent transportation systems, freight, and management. Then, the students converge for formal instruction by industry experts and Clark School faculty. To complete the program, students must pass final exams.

Students also participate in field studies, including freeway service-patrol ride-alongs, visits to traffic operations centers, and tours of the Port of Baltimore container facility. Workshops on solutions to congestion and the creation of an operations unit are also a part of the curriculum.

The Operations Academy is funded by the I-95 Corridor Coalition. A steering committee made up of representatives from the Coalition, state transportation departments, the Institute of Transportation Engineers, and private industries assisted with developing the program.

The next Operations Academy session will take place November 5-15, 2007. For more information, please visit the Operations Academy’s website at www.operationsacademy.org.

About the A. James Clark School of Engineering

The Clark School of Engineering, situated on the rolling 1,500-acre University of Maryland campus in College Park, MD, is one of the premier engineering schools in the U.S. The Clark School's graduate programs are collectively the fastest rising in the nation. In U.S. News & World Report's annual rating of graduate programs, the school is 15th among public and private programs nationally, ninth among public programs nationally, and first among public programs in the Mid-Atlantic region. The school offers 13 graduate programs and 12 undergraduate programs, including degree and certification programs tailored for working professionals.

The school is home to one of the most vibrant research programs in the country. With major emphasis in key areas such as communications and networking, nanotechnology, bioengineering, reliability engineering, project management, intelligent transportation systems, and space robotics, as well as electronic packaging and smart small systems and materials, the Clark School is leading the way toward the next generation of engineering advances. Visit the Clark School’s homepage at www.eng.umd.edu.
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