According to Johnson, "ITS should begin to be understood as the very enabler of the vision of ISTEA. It is the infrastructure -- both in the ground and in the vehicle -- that will enable the new mission of management. It will enable the breakthroughs of efficiency and safety that we need to remain competitive as we enter the 21st century."

Additional information on ITS can be found in the following FHWA reports: Key Findings from the Intelligent Transportation Systems (ITS) Program (September 1996. Publication No. FHWA-JPO-96-0036); Review of ITS Benefits: Emerging Successes, (September 1996. Publication No. FHWA-JPO-97-001); Intelligent Transportation Systems (ITS) Projects Book (January 1997. Publication No. FHWA-JPO-97- 007).

Milford Sprecher is a program director for IDC Government of Falls Church, Va., where he tracks technology use in the public sector.

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Electronic Tolls Make Change

Road and bridge tolls are a curse and a blessing for travelers -- cursed for delays, the need to have correct change and the increased cost of commuting. With funding for roads increasingly scarce, tolls are also a blessing -- they help state and local governments build and maintain transportation networks.

Federal, state and local governments are seeking ways to increase the efficiency of the transportation system, and electronic toll collection is a solution that can reduce costs and delays, and improve convenience for drivers. As these systems begin to appear around the country, electronic toll collection has already passed its most severe test in New York City.

The Triborough Bridge and Tunnel Authority has a large and lucrative electronic toll collection system -- known as E-Z Pass -- which has been running on the authority's seven bridges and two tunnels since January.

The agency had projected that about 170,000 commuters would install transponders -- the devices used to signal the system -- by the end of 1997. The authority, however, has already issued 570,00 in the first three months of this year and is adding an estimated 3,000 more per day.

Normally skeptical and impatient, New Yorkers have signed on in droves because of the convenience and dramatic reduction in wait time -- over 90 percent in some cases -- at toll plazas.

To enroll in the system, drivers establish an account with the authority via credit card, check or cash payment, and are then issued a transponder to mount in their cars. When a toll-lane transmitter bounces a signal off the transponder and receives the proper return signal, the gate goes up and the driver continues. The driver's account is then debited for the cost of the trip.

A report issued by the authority indicates average wait times at the Throgs Neck Bridge have been shortened from 5.2 minutes, with a cash payment, to 12 seconds with E-Z Pass. While not all facilities have witnessed such a dramatic decrease in waits, reductions from 20 percent to 50 percent are the norm for the system. According to the authority, about 40 percent of commuters are using the new system, and it's collecting about 27 percent of the authority's $800 million in revenues.

Electronic toll collection has also made it easier to change pricing during the day to try and manage demand, and has reduced labor costs because fewer toll collectors and money handlers are needed. If New York's experience is typical of electronic toll collection systems, they will become an integral part of many highways.

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County Integrates ITS

In 1980, when "intelligent transportation systems" were found only in science fiction, Montgomery County, Md., computerized 10 traffic signals. That first small system grew into one of the country's most sophisticated traffic management systems, said Gene Donaldson, director and architect of the county's advanced traffic management system (ATMS).

Today, Montgomery's ATMS includes almost all of the technologies that are used in today's