Transportation Matters in Iowa | Blog

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Can you hear that hum?


TrafficWe all want the same thing. Every customer on Iowa’s transportation system wants to get where they want to go, when they want to get there – no hold ups, no brake lights, no screeching tires. We count on our transportation system to run like a well-oiled machine. Heavy traffic, winter weather, construction season – none of that should slow us down.

But the smooth flow of traffic is much more than the convenience of getting you where you want to go. A transportation system with fewer slowdowns gets items to store shelves more efficiently and cost-effectively, most of all, provides an increased level of safety. 

As employees of the Iowa Department of Transportation, do you think your expectations are higher or lower than any other customer when you are on the road? If you have high expectations that nothing is going to get in your way, have you ever asked yourself how the work you do every day makes that happen? If you expect the worst, have you asked yourself what you could be doing to make things better?

If you read Mark Lowe’s September Director’s report, you might remember him introducing the concept of TSMO (transportation systems management and operations). Lowe had a great explanation of TSMO, he wrote, “TSMO is a concerted and proactive effort to operate the system at its highest and best capacity. It rests on a framework formed by the intersection of road weather management, traffic control, traffic incident management, and work zone management and touches almost everything we do – from design to field maintenance to how we clear crashes and obstructions and to how we help stranded motorists. TSMO is an essential part of delivering safe mobility, and when done well it reduces crashes and increases flow and capacity without adding lane miles of roads.”

Here’s a brief TSMO introduction video in case you missed it:

Now that you know what TSMO is, our hope is that most of us will never have to remember that acronym. Because it’s a federal initiative, there are a few Iowa DOT groups that will live and breathe TSMO. For the rest of us, TSMO is gradually becoming a part of what we do. As an organization, we are actively working to make operations a fundamental element in everything from finance to planning to design to construction and maintenance and everywhere in between. And that means everyone has a part in it.

Core functions

As Lowe said, “We’re still early in transforming the way we think about operations as a foundation of our agency. But we’re way out in front nationally and leading the way in adopting principles and implementation of that operations focus.”

So if we’re just starting this shift, what makes us a national leader? Just the fact that we’re willing to look at the way we do business and make some adjustments that focus on improving the way our transportation system operates is a radical concept to many states.

Goals and objectives

Donna Matulac, with Traffic Operations, said, “We’ve realized that we must be bold to get a system that functions seamlessly. The first thing we can do is look at our work as it relates to the impact on traffic. If we’re doing something that will close a lane or cause a disruption, how do we minimize that and get more information to our customers so they make better choices. If there’s a crash, how do we get it cleared quickly and let other travelers know what to expect? Those are some of the very basic elements we’re starting to look at more closely.”


We’re not going to change overnight, and for many of us the differences we see will be subtle. More than a year ago, a group of about 20 Iowa DOT team members from across the agency started meeting to get an idea of what it means to integrate operations as a focus across our organization. 

To see what’s been accomplished so far, go to the TSMO home page,, which includes links to our TSMO strategic plan and program plan, the products of the hard work of many people across all aspects of the department.

Plan structure

In addition to these foundational plans, there are also eight service layer plans in the works to get more in the weeds with operations as an element of some core agency functions. We’ll share more about those with you in upcoming blogs.


If you’re like most of us, this means nothing if there isn’t something tangible behind it. The steering committee is working on its third TMSO accomplishment plan, which sets out more than 20 goals to be accomplished in fiscal year 2018. As Lowe said in his September report, “That plan includes a lot of impactful and cool things.” Things like audible warning systems to avoid crashes with maintenance and paint vehicles; safety and mobility strategies in work zones like intelligent work zone technology, work zone traffic incident management plans and alternative closures; training in TSMO, traffic incident management, and emergency response; autonomous vehicle projects; intelligent wrong-way driver technologies; and virtual weight scale technologies.  

One or more of those goals likely impacts something you do every day. If you’re interested in seeing the FY 2018 Accomplishment Plan or any other TSMO documents, you can go to the group’s SharePoint site: http://portal/xdiv/TSMO/SitePages/Home.aspx.

You’ve probably already seen a few blogs that relate directly to operations, like this one on traffic incident management plans. Watch the blog for other stories about operations around the Iowa DOT, including how autonomous vehicles are considered into the mix.

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Iowa highway in the evening