The Iowa DOT’s Traffic Operations Center operators uses state-of-the art technology to continually monitor highway conditions; gather information about highway conditions; and communicate those conditions to the public, Iowa DOT staff, and other state agency personnel. The TOC staff also assists in coordinating Iowa DOT maintenance crews, Iowa Department of Public Safety personnel, and others when resources are needed the event of an emergency.
During an average shift, three operators monitor no fewer than six software programs, websites, and social media outlets to gather information on what is happening on Iowa’s highways. When something happens that has the potential to impact traffic, the TOC staff works with Iowa DOT field personnel and law enforcement as needed to make sure everyone has accurate and timely information. As you can imagine, the center is a hub of activity during a snowstorm.
“It is very rewarding being part of such a large network of people and agencies all working toward the same goal of safer and more convenient travel,” said Zach Duitsche, TOC supervisor.
At any given time, TOC staff has access to 314 stationary roadside cameras positioned all over the state. These cameras, along with the more than 400 snowplow trucks that have cameras mounted to the windshields, give TOC staff a unique perspective that they use to get real-time information to the public, other Iowa DOT offices, and law enforcement. Using what operators see on the cameras, input from the public on social media, and data from Iowa DOT staff and law enforcement, TOC staff can gather a more complete picture of each incident, crash, or weather event.
To make this information available to everyone, TOC staff updates traffic-related data on the state’s 511 system. This data feeds all 511ia.org websites, the 511 mobile application, and 511 telephone system. Information included in the 511 system can be anything that might impact traffic, including crashes, road construction (future and present), stalled vehicles, road closures due to inclement weather, winter road conditions (in coordination with Iowa DOT field staff), and debris on the roadway, just to name a few.
The group also used an advanced traffic management system to transmit information to the state’s 204 dynamic messaging signs. These signs include the large overhead signs that stretch across the interstates and highways keeping commuters informed of active events and safety messages plus smaller roadside signs used to provide important traffic information.
In the Des Moines area, another safety-focused activity in the TOC is the Iowa DOT’s mobilization of our Highway Helper. When a stalled vehicle or other incident is noted, TOC staff use radio communications to alert the Highway Helper on duty.
“Being a TOC operator, there are a lot of stressful moments juggling software and incoming phone calls,” said Erik Castelline, “But it is all necessary to help coordinate crews and keep the public informed and safe.”