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Traffic Signal Benchmarking and State of the Practice Report


Executive Summary

State and local agencies have collectively invested an estimated $122.4 billion in the planning, design and construction of signalized intersections. The estimated ongoing annual operating and maintenance expenditure is about $1.23 billion, with an annual additional capital program investment of $763 million for all traffic signals in the U.S. The 2019 Traffic Signal Benchmarking and State of the Practice Report is part of the continuing effort to raise awareness of the importance of and investment in the management and operations of traffic signal programs with the public, policymakers, transportation agency leadership, management and staff. In addition, this report brings attention to the benefits of a strategic approach and investment to improve organizational capability to reduce the risk of poorly managed and operated traffic signals.

The 2019 Traffic Signal Benchmarking and State of the Practice Report evolved from but is distinctly different from prior National Traffic Signal Report Card efforts. Previous traffic signal report cards, completed in 2005, 2007 and 2012; focused primarily on evaluating individual agency practices, relative to best practice(s). The outcome of the process was a national traffic signal management and operations score. The 2019 Traffic Signal Benchmarking and State of the Practice Report provides information about national trends in traffic signal infrastructure, systems and technology and organizational characteristics. and the state of the practice in organizational management in the form of a report card grade. The report card grade is an average of the 144 responses to the Self Assessment survey; while benchmarking data is drawn from both the Self Assessment survey and 2019 deployment tracking survey developed by the USDOT Joint Program Office.

The 144 agencies that completed the Self Assessment represent approximately 24 percent of the estimated 327,860 signals in the United States in 2018 across State, county and local agencies. Prior National Traffic Signal Report Cards were released in 2005, 2007, and 2012 and assigned incrementally increasing national scores of D-, D and D+, respectively. Although the 2018 Traffic Signal Benchmarking Self Assessment approached creating a grade from a different basis, the equivalent 2019 National Traffic Signal Report Card score has improved to a national grade of C+. This is a meaningful improvement; demonstrating agencies are using established processes to support management and operations of traffic signals to meet their own stated goals and objectives rather than relying on ad hoc methods is growing. The letter grade represents a snapshot of the risk to an agency of becoming non-performing in the different dimensions of capability or overall. Individual results are anonymous.

Benchmarking traffic signal infrastructure, current practice, and technology implementation is an essential tool to informing the investment decisions of policymakers, department managers, and transportation professionals, both now and into the future. The 2019 Traffic Signal Benchmarking and State of the Practice Report explores the current state of these topics for agencies across the United States. Benchmarking describes the current complexity, extent, and processes that support traffic signal assets and is integral to informing investment decisions. This report examines how these agencies are organized, workforce trends, technology implementation, and current business processes, practices, and policies involved in the planning, design, operation, and maintenance of traffic signals. Therefore, this report includes an analysis of how effectively agencies are articulating goals and objectives and the level of organizational capability and maturity attained as an outcome of how agencies structure and organize themselves to manage the risk of becoming non-performing.

The 2018 Traffic Signal Benchmarking Self Assessment leverages the latest thinking in transportation system management and operations and capability-maturity frameworks by expanding upon the Traffic Signal Capability Maturity Framework1. to assess the effectiveness of an organization’s capability and practices relative to its programmatic objectives rather than a composite of best practices. The baseline concept was to enhance and expand upon the Traffic Signal Capability Maturity Framework to evaluate the organizational capability of agencies in lieu of updating the previous traffic signal management and operations self assessments.

Key observations extending from data collected through prior National Traffic Signal Report Cards, FHWA Resource Center Traffic Signal Reviews, workshops for Automated Traffic Signal Performance Measures under Everyday Counts Round 4 (EDC-4), and peer exchanges support the incorporation of the Traffic Signal Capability Maturity Framework into the benchmarking framework. Comments from these activities as well as anecdotal feedback from agency staff found that agencies were simply checking off some hypothetical best practices without connecting their activities to their own agency’s traffic signal program goals and objectives. Although this created a useful foundation to characterize the state of traffic signal infrastructure and organizational capability, it was also obvious that change in approach was necessary.

At the beginning of this effort, the project team held a structured interview process with a dozen selected representatives of the target audiences from local, regional, and State agencies known for the leadership in traffic signal program management. The approach provided the interviewees with a summary of this project and, subsequently, a phone interview with scripted questions provided in advance.

The Self Assessment has two components, a) benchmarking: coarse identification of the state of infrastructure and program components, and 2) capability maturity assessment that is based on Federal Highway Administration Capability Maturity Frameworks to allow agencies to do the following:

  • Identify risks to sustaining the reliable delivery of the traffic signal program
  • Develop consensus around the most critical traffic signal program needs
  • Prioritize investments aimed at improving the reliability of the program
  • Identify concrete actions to improve the reliability of the program to plan, design, and deliver TSMO

The results of this Self Assessment and the associated 2019 National Traffic Signal Report Card will provide for limited comparisons to the results of the earlier National Traffic Signal Report Cards at the individual agency and National levels. The primary reason is that the Self Assessment is based on an agency’s rating of the organizational capability and maturity rather than self-rating against achievement of specific set of practices. The quantitative report card “score” should be viewed as a comparative indicator of an agency’s practices.

Agencies around the country have different understanding and knowledge of their own capabilities and organizational maturity. As a consequence, the practical method to improve results is to develop strategies that can be implemented on an incremental basis from different starting points. By following a structured process, agencies can self-identify their current and desired levels of capability for each dimension.

A programmatic approach to traffic signal management and operations provides a framework to intentionally link transportation goals such as safety, mobility, reliability, and state-of-good-repair to organizational capability to clarify how limited resources can be used to focus on doing what is most important, generally defined a providing good basic service. The maturity of each area of the program can be assessed to determine the level of risks to sustained attainment of the programs objectives. The recommended approach is to organize as an agency service delivery for traffic signal systems around the Traffic Signal Program Model (TSMP) as shown in the diagram in the report.

Traffic signal program objectives, shown at the center of the model, are the output of a process that continually evaluates context to extract attainable objectives from agency goals. Those derived objectives link and provide feedback to following other elements of the program: infrastructure, systems and technology; business processes, management and administration, and the workforce.

By combining the capability maturity assessment technique with the traffic signal program model, the presence of gaps in capability can be assessed as an indicator of risk. Gaps in organizational capability represent the risks to consistent and sustained attainment of objectives within any of the four program areas to the attainment of program goals and objectives.

By understanding the level of effort involved and benefits of achieving a maturity level, an organization can make a conscious decision about which maturity level best supports its current needs.

How to make the case to move forward now? By organizing agency functions around a Traffic Signal Management Plan (TSMP) to layout steps to define goal and key objectives to move ahead, specifically the following:

  • Identify and champion a committee to discuss the need for and approach to developing the TSMP
  • Agencies can jump-start traffic signal program planning by routinely completing the Traffic Signal Benchmarking and Self Assessment Survey and include meaningful measures that are directly connected to the programs objectives
  • Kick off Traffic Signal Management Plan development process
  • Create an action plan developed as an outcome of completing the Self Assessment and subsequent TSMP development process to provide a number of steps an organization might consider implementing to address risks that are related to a particular dimension and level of capability
  • Develop an outreach strategy for policymakers and the public for the traffic signal program management plan

Read the full report here.

Operations Area of Practice

    Corridor and Arterial Traffic Management
    Traffic Signal Timing
    Regional Traffic Signal Operations & Program Management
    Performance Management
    Tools for Small Agencies
    Strategic Planning
    Business Processes/Policies and Procedures
    Planning for Operations

Organizational Capability Element

    Performance Management
    Program Status/Authorities

Content Type

State-of-the Practice

Publishing Organization


Maturity Level of Program

Monitoring (L4)
Deployment (L3)
Assessment (L1)
Development (L2)



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