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Impact of the Western States Rural Transportation Technology Implementers Forum

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Western States Rural Transportation Technology Implementers Forum (WSRTTIF)

“The Forum is all about transparency and trust, getting the real story from the people who have actually done it – it’s about designs and deployments that have really been done - about what worked and what didn't, about how systems work and what works well. If you are serious about doing Rural ITS, the Western States Forum is the only place you can interact with those who have made things happen.”
- Ian Turnbull, Chief,
Caltrans Office of ITS Engineering & Support

The Western States Rural Transportation Technology Implementers Forum is an engineering practitioner’s conference held annually since 2006. Ten states, eight universities, the USDOT ITS Joint Program Office, two research organizations, city government representatives, all twelve Caltrans districts, several offices and divisions within Caltrans, and the California Highway Patrol have participated in the Forum over the years. The topics have been diverse ranging from microwave communications to RWIS to custom software and data exchange with rural TMCs. You can review the presentations on the Forum website at www.westernstatesforum.org. To see how technology from the Western States Forum is being implemented, view the WSRTTIF Technology Implementation Sheet here.

Keith Koeppen, Caltrans District 2, demonstrates the Information Relay his team developed and deployed. (2013)

Photo by Doug Galarus

The Forum promotes ITS deployment in several ways. It provides information about emerging technologies to implementers, encourages new deployments, and helps agencies make informed choices. By providing direct technical assistance to current implementers, the Forum helps agencies deploy and maintain effective systems, which enhances the overall transportation system. And, the Forum is, at its core, a multi-state network of colleagues who can turn to each other for assistance with ITS projects and deployments.

In addition, researchers and developers of ITS technologies who have presented at the Forum have learned first-hand what users want and need. Working together, participants identify ideas for follow-up or spin-off research and meet engineers from other agencies with shared interests.

The following note was directed to Caltrans leaders after the 2015 Forum and it summarizes the value of the event:

“I wanted to write to give you my feedback on the Western States Forum, which I attended for the first time last week. Several of my staff have attended over the last four years, and all were quite impressed.

I've been attending conferences for over 27 years. This includes conferences run by IEEE, ASME, ITS America, and similar organizations who run tens or even hundreds of conferences every year. I'm quite comfortable saying that WSF is the best organized, best run, and most worthwhile conference I've ever attended. The technical content is excellent, and the presentations are polished, well-organized, and informative. It is clear that there is a strong review process in place, representing a significant effort by the reviewers and the presenters.

The attendees are highly motivated, and share a common purpose. Even when I felt a presentation was less relevant to my interests and research areas, I still came away with valuable information. The presentations contained content that is useful for my current as well as pending research.

In summary, thanks to you and the Rural PSC for providing an extremely valuable forum for researchers and western state DOTs.”
- Ty Lasky, Associate Director,
Advanced Highway Maintenance & Construction Technology Research Center,
University of California Davis

Here are some examples of how the Forum has effectively impacted change across the WSRTC region:


Caltrans, District 6

Jose de Alba was an electrical engineer in Caltrans District 6 with headquarters in Fresno. He presented and participated in three different Forums. His district was researching upgrades for their RWIS systems when some of his staff attended the 2008 Western States Forum. That year, Ken Beals from Caltrans District 2 presented 'A Tale of Two RWISs (RWIS Trials and Tribulations)' about his work in many areas of RWIS development and operation. Jose comments:

"As an attendee to the Western States Forum I have benefited from being both a presenter and an attendee. The Forum has allowed me to network with technical staff not only in California, but many neighboring states on high level technical issues common in the ITS arena. Many discussions have centered around what others are using to solve highly technical problems. Case in point, our district was working towards transitioning from our current RWIS system with an average cost of $80k per installation to an average cost of $25k per installation. This substantial savings in our district was made possible due to a presentation that was given at the Forum and was a viable solution that was not yet looked at by our staff. If you work in the ITS industry I highly recommend you attend the Forum. It has been well worth my time."
- Jose de Alba, Electrical Engineer,
Formerly of Caltrans District 6

Shima Afshari Wollman is a Traffic Engineer Electrical also in Caltrans District 6. She participated in the Western States Forum for the first time in 2013 and commented:

“The Western States Forum was a good experience for me. It was my first time attending the Forum and I found it very informative. I learned what other districts are doing and what technology they are using. Sharing information within Caltrans and other transportation organizations will help us to be more effective and productive in our department. I personally learned a lot from Keith Koeppen’s presentation ('CCTV Image Relay', Caltrans, 2013) since I am dealing with CCTV and CMSs in my department.”
- Shima Afshari Wollman, Traffic Engineer Electrical,
Caltrans District 6
Nevada DOT

Nevada is one of the four Consortium member states. Mark Aragon is an ITS Designer at the Nevada Department of Transportation, Division of Traffic Operations. He has attended several Western States Forums and presented at two. At the 2011 Forum, Mark and colleague Jon Dickinson presented Photovoltaic Power Systems for Rural ITS. Several Forum attendees listed the use of solar power and improved solar installations for projects that have been improved or implemented because of Forum participation.

Mark Aragon, Nevada DOT, shows solar insolation maps during his team’s technical presentation on photovoltaic power systems for Rural ITS. (2011)

Photo By Doug Galarus

Jon Dickinson explains the Nevada DOT mobile ITS hotspot trailer presented at WSF. (2012)

Photo by Leann Koon

Nevada DOT gave a live demonstration using one of their ITS Hotspot Trailers deployed in the parking lot. Forum attendees were able to get a close-up look at the trailer components and their configuration. (2012)

Photo by Doug Galarus

In 2012, Nevada DOT demonstrated a mobile ITS hotspot trailer that they developed after seeing a similar trailer demonstrated by the Western Transportation Institute at a previous Forum. Mark has this to say about his experiences with the Western States Forum and how the Forum has impacted the work of the Nevada DOT:

"NDOT has deployed several hot spot ITS trailers in the last two years which were inspired by a previous demonstration ('TMC-TMS Communications: Overview and Portable ITS Trailer Demonstration', 2008). This project has been successful and has allowed NDOT to successfully deploy Road Weather Information Systems and CCTV cameras at temporary locations as needed and as test sites for proposed future permanent installations.

I would definitely recommend the Forum to anyone involved in the design, implementation and maintenance of rural ITS systems. What makes this such a valued experience is the Forum’s commitment to keeping the presentations in-depth, transparent and relevant to actual field deployments. Also valued is the opportunity to personally meet with other designers and implementers who are willing to share their knowledge and experience.

I have personally benefited from the presentations on communication systems ('Field Element Network Design for a Rural Transportation Management Center', Caltrans, 2012, (Part 1, Part 2); 'Wireless Communications for Rural ITS', WSDOT, 2011; 'Passive Repeaters for Rural ITS Communications Systems', Caltrans, 2010). Since most rural ITS applications do not have access to fiber or copper communications, a good understanding of RF based communications systems is essential to designing such systems. The knowledge and understanding of RF communications systems design gained from these presentations has enabled me to approach this problem more effectively and avoid potential pitfalls."
- Mark Aragon, ITS Designer,
Nevada DOT
Caltrans, District 2

Jeremiah Pearce is an ITS engineer in Caltrans, District 2, in northern California. District 2 has been a leader in ITS deployments and a champion for many of the projects conducted through the Consortium. Jeremiah has been a regular attendee of the Western States Forum and presented at the 2009, 2012, and 2014 Forums. He comments:

“The Forum has been a great place to peek at what other states and districts are doing with ITS. The presentations are always on par with reality and consistent with the technical hurdles we face in our own district. There’s no fluff and false promises, the presentations are based on projects people have actually done, and the presenters report the successes and the failures.

Our district has been lucky enough to benefit from other presentations at the Forum. One in particular, Jose de Alba’s (Caltrans, District 6) presentation entitled 'Fiber Optic Network/Topology Design on State Highways' (2006), was very useful and we integrated many of his ideas into the design of District 2’s first fiber optic system.”
- Jeremiah Pearce, ITS Engineer,
Caltrans District 2

Caltrans District 2 engineer Keith Koeppen has also attended most of the Forums and presented three times. He says:

“Working as an Intelligent Transportation Systems (ITS) Engineer and implementing rural ITS systems, the Implementers Forum has been a valuable resource in my career. The Implementers Forum has given me much insight into how other agencies are implementing ITS applications, helping expand the industry by sharing what works and what does not. I would recommend that anyone who does rural ITS attend as many of the Implementers Forums as possible.”
- Keith Koeppen, ITS Engineer,
Caltrans District 2

Mike Beyer is also an ITS engineer for Caltrans District 2. He participated in his first Western States Forum in 2013 and said this about how the experience has impacted his work at Caltrans:

“The 2013 Western States Forum was pertinent to my work on multiple levels but most especially useful were the presentations on Idaho’s Winter Performance Measures and the Field Element Data Quality Control.

'Idaho’s Winter Performance Measures' (Idaho Transportation Department, 2013) gave a good look at how remote data collection was being used to create the information necessary for the maintenance staff to more effectively deploy and utilize limited resources. Seeing the end result from the perspective of an end user gave a unique window into the potential utility of what can often be a complex technical process. It’s good to bring it full circle and see the end user able to make more informed decisions based on the results of planned infrastructure deployment.

'Field Element Data Quality Control from the Perspective of Data Redistribution' (Western Transportation Institute, 2013) was also a very interesting topic as it pertains to both formatting data into useful information but also the ability to extrapolate patterns based on a wider view than what a single data acquisition element or group of elements can provide. It is easy for our daily perspective to focus on the functionality of a single element or a small group of elements, the micro view, and not to compare the information created from the data collected with the larger macro view.

Both of these experiences have helped to shape my perspective of our continuing search for the most effective roadway surface condition sensing and predictive capability. This is an ongoing effort to provide our maintenance staff with the information for mitigation of impending adverse conditions but also to the public so driving habits can be altered prior to entering those conditions.”
- Mike Beyer, ITS Engineer,
Caltrans District 2
Caltrans, District 9

Phil Graham is an electrical engineer in Caltrans District 9. Headquartered in Bishop, District 9 is two counties in eastern California along the Nevada border. Arguably one of the more diverse Districts with respect to terrain, District 9 is very rural. Phil has attended ten Forums and presented at two. His experiences have allowed District 9 to make use of technology they maybe wouldn’t have been able to otherwise as well as make critical improvements to existing systems. Phil says:

"Attending ten of the Forums has helped me in several ways. The most tangible would be our RWIS projects. They have been influenced by our interactions with Caltrans District 2, both at the Forums and by the working relationships that were fostered as a direct result of the Forums. I've also gleaned valuable information about hardware and design criteria for wireless communications and solar power - essential elements for rural ITS.

The Forums have helped build my technical knowledge but perhaps just as importantly, they have helped foster working relationships. The other help to me is to see that there are ITS practitioners that pioneer new ways to improve the state of the practice in spite of the obstacles."
- Phil Graham, Transportation Engineer Electrical,
Caltrans District 9
Washington State DOT
Ted Bailey shows one of WSDOT’s test sites for wireless and microwave vehicle detection systems. (2008)

Photo by Leann Koon

One of the tenets of the Forum is to encourage technology transfer across state borders. Ted Bailey is a Traffic Signals, Illumination & ITS Engineer for the Washington State DOT Traffic Design and Operations office. He has attended multiple Forums over the years and was a founding member of the Western States Rural Transportation Consortium steering committee. Washington is the lead state for the Consortium’s Transportation Pooled Fund which provides support to the Western States Forum.

Ted had this to say about a Forum presentation given by Oregon DOT’s ITS Support Lead, Jason Shaddix:

“After hearing Jason Shaddix, Oregon Department of Transportation, present 'Support and Asset Inventory Management of ITS Devices' at the 2010 Forum the Washington State Department of Transportation (WSDOT) began to review its asset management practices for ITS devices which ultimately lead to the formation of two steering committees that continue to meet regularly to enhance WSDOT's success in this area. I strongly encourage any public sector professional interested in practical, comprehensive, detailed discussions about what has been accomplished through ITS to attend the annual Western States Forum. The Forum is structured in a way that creates continual opportunities for project level discussions during and after the presentations.”
- Ted Bailey, Traffic Signals, Illumination & ITS Engineer,
Washington State DOT Traffic Design and Operations
Caltrans, District 3

Dean Campbell from Caltrans District 3 has attended nine of the eleven Forums and presented at three. Starting with Sean Campbell’s (Caltrans DRI) presentation on 'Web-Based ITS Field Element Control', 2006; Dean developed a simple electro-mechanical relay with a built-in web server to control field elements and then demonstrated the system at another Forum a few years later ('Simple Network Contact Closure', 2009).

Michael Mullen is a transportation engineer electrical for Caltrans District 3 at the Sacramento Regional Transportation Management Center. He attended the Forum for the first time in 2012 and comments on his Forum experiences since then:

"I have only been able to attend two of the Forums, but what I have learned there has greatly increased my knowledge of Bluetooth technologies and how other states are utilizing them for Travel Time data. I was surprised to hear some of the obstacles that others experienced with the technology and after hearing them I was able to assist our district in troubleshooting the same problems. Also, I learned how other Departments and districts in Caltrans are serving video/jpeg's to the public."
- Michael Mullen, Transportation Engineer Electrical,
Caltrans District 3
2013 Western States Forum

One of the questions on the Forum's evaluation form asks about projects that have been implemented or improved because of participation in the Forum, as well as any benefits Forum attendance has had for individuals and their organizations. Another question asks how attendees will use the information (projects, discussion points, philosophy, networking, etc.) presented at the Forum. Some of their responses are below.

Comments about the impact of the Western States Forum:


“In a world of real time decision making and bottom line conversations it’s refreshing to have a Forum where practitioners have set aside time to prepare and communicate their work at the level of detail necessary for understanding and application. The relationships established during the Forum have improved the effectiveness of my work which keeps me coming back year after year.”
- Ted Bailey, P.E., Signals, Illumination & ITS Engineer,
Washington State Department of Transportation

“The ability to peek into other states’ deployed rural projects allows Caltrans’ engineers to utilize the lessons learned from those projects and to maximize California's transportation system performance and accessibility.”
- Sean Campbell, Caltrans Project Manager for the
Western States Forum & Chief of ITS Special Projects Branch,
Caltrans Division of Research, Innovation and System Information

“The Western States Forum is the most rewarding activity my group at WTI is involved with. Forum participants are among the most dedicated in this field, and every year I walk away having learned something new and beneficial from them. It has been a pleasure and an honor to have worked with this group for eleven years now.”
- Doug Galarus, Development and Integration Program Manager,
WTI Systems Engineering

“This is my first attendance but I do find the forum highly educational and would like to contact presenters for advice should my organization start a similar project.”
- Participant comment from Forum evaluation

“The Forum continues to be of direct benefit to my group by providing insight and access to practitioners.”
- Participant comment from Forum evaluation

“I really enjoyed the forum and learned a lot about the systems I did not know about. Thanks for the opportunity.”
- Participant comment from Forum evaluation

“Great topics and presentations. Appreciated level of detail (not too extreme, but usefully specific).”
- Participant comment from Forum evaluation

“Both the presentations and the networking provided new understanding of the overall ITS System "State of the Art."”
- Participant comment from Forum evaluation

“This being my first year I was very impressed with the depth of material covered. Each presenter brought, what to me, was unexpected but relevant material to my function as an ITS Engineer.”
- Participant comment from Forum evaluation

“The detail was enough to be helpful if I have a need to implement a similar system.”
- Participant comment from Forum evaluation

“Exposure to equipment brands/models that are available helps when deciding what equipment to purchase to solve a particular problem.”
- Participant comment from Forum evaluation

“Once again I learned relevant information that I can take back to my department.”
- Participant comment from Forum evaluation

“All projects we’ve presented have benefitted greatly from the feedback and interaction. My staff learned a lot from others here!”
- Participant comment from Forum evaluation

“Great opportunities to see what others are doing and the networking is top notch.”
- Participant comment from Forum evaluation

“Very good information to seek new ideas for projects. Very helpful to network with peers to extend knowledge.”
- Participant comment from Forum evaluation

“I appreciate no vendors so conversation is open and positives and negatives can be discussed.”
- Participant comment from Forum evaluation

“I am recommending this to others in my office.”
- Participant comment from Forum evaluation

“Appropriate number of presentations, length of breaks great, many networking opportunities. Really great forum!!”
- Participant comment from Forum evaluation

Mark Kelly from the Wyoming DOT demonstrates the tablet reporting app they have developed for road reporting by maintenance personnel. To his right, Ian Turnbull tries out the app on a WYDOT tablet. (2015)

Photo by Doug Galarus

Speakers Jeff Worthington and Mike Beyer from Caltrans District 2, discuss and demonstrate their redesigned RWIS RPU, and in-pavement and out-of-pavement sensors and their associated software. (2016)

Photo by Doug Galarus

One of the more unique aspects of the Forum is that questions and discussion are encouraged throughout the presentation, not just at the end. Here, several people have their hands raised to ask a speaker some questions. (2015)

Photo by Leann Koon

In response to the Forum evaluation question:


"How will you use the information (projects, discussion points, philosophy, networking, etc.) presented at this Forum? Briefly describe."

  • “From discussions previously with District Maintenance Staff and discussions with D2 staff at the Forum and as reiterated in Keith's presentation, I will move our district to maintain consistency with cabinet configuration to minimize field site confusion.”
  • “Encouraging to see DOT's innovating!”
  • “When presentations are posted, I plan to share some with our division of maintenance.”
  • “We will be using the info from the Portable Work Zone Data Collection as we are working on upgrading a trailer in the near future. All the RWIS info will be shared with my group for consideration.”
  • “A lot [of] information presented in this forum can be used in transportation education to college students.”
  • “For starters, the signals, new software very applicable. Additionally I see a perfect use of 320 cabinet with "Chain Equipment" - can be used for a missing signal ahead sign up in the foothills.”
  • “Obviously networking. We will be reaching out to Wyoming regarding the use of their P25 LMR system for data and Caltrans for the battery back design within the 332 cabinet.”
  • “We are already discussing doing a parking management solution for Lake Tahoe.”
  • “RWIS info.”
  • “Discussions at the management level to keep this going, funded, and expanded in the future.”
  • “Share presentations and homepage with our statewide ITS Steering Committee and other individuals who I think can benefit from these materials.”
  • “Some good examples and leads on products.”
  • “The information obtained will serve as references for future similar project considerations.”
  • “Gave me better overall systems knowledge to perform my job better.”
  • “Share with other programs at WYDOT.”
  • “Apply to similar projects as appropriate or leverage idea into a new area.”
  • “Yes. Like the new VMS.”
  • “Assistance in related system designs. Improvements in my presentation approach (more technical detail, less fluff.)”
  • “We always get a better impression of what is of importance and interest from the participants.”
  • “As reference material and connecting contacts/resources in areas my work is closely related.”
  • “This will let me be aware of tools to solve problems.”
  • “In pavement sensor sealant info is relevant to some projects I am working on that I may make use of.”
  • “iPad demo has great promise for asset management capturing in the field, for ITS elements.”
  • “The Idaho road reporting would be of interest.”
  • “Knowing details to plan for ITS projects.”
  • “Ties in with asset management strategies being pursued by my agency.”
  • “Present to the department what is happening in the other DOT's and the industry.”
  • “Will use the CR1000 and NIPS/IPS info to obtain equipment to upgrade existing RWIS and utilize contractors to install.”
  • “Design philosophy, design standard.”
  • “Take time to further knowledge on topics shared, recruit others to do the same.”
  • “Will use some of presenters' experiences with products.”


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