By Baselinemag  |  Posted 2006-05-06 Print this article Print

The Sunshine State's transportation department set up a central team to monitor 1,100 toll lanes statewide—and is now fixing system outages faster to keep revenue coming.

Lane Brains

SunWatch, which officially began operations in November, uses CA's Unicenter systems management software to monitor 1,100 individual lane controllers and the supporting data infrastructure of the entire system statewide, which includes SunPass RFID transmitters, network routers, servers and 5,000 communications lines. A map generated by Unicenter, projected onto wall-mounted displays, shows the current status of each toll plaza in the turnpike system.

Now, SunWatch personnel are alerted within seconds to anomalies with the remote equipment, such as if a lane controller stops reporting data. A dispatcher can then track down the nearest field technician by identifying his location using a Global Positioning System (GPS) device. The team also uses Unicenter to issue and track work orders.

The center's staffers can, in fact, find and fix many problems before a toll plaza manager even notices and calls in a report. Using Unicenter, for example, SunWatch workers can remotely reboot a crashed server within 15 minutes, a job that previously may have taken two or more hours. "We can virtually drill down to any plaza and any lane, and see what the status is," says operations specialist Roland Bonilla.

As a result, Massey says, maintenance calls have dropped from an average of 4,000 per month, prior to SunWatch's opening, to 2,900 in March 2006—28%, close to his original goal of cutting those calls by one-third. "We're reducing downtime because we can be proactive," he says.

To put the system in place, Massey, Lucas and their respective teams worked for about four months to integrate various data sources into the Unicenter system. The turnpike's networking group provided the network addresses and schematics of the plazas and lanes. The lane controllers' code runs on an operating system from Canadian software firm QNX; the operating system is designed to be embedded in industrial equipment. Those controllers relay information to DEC minicomputers (products since subsumed by Hewlett-Packard) at each toll plaza, which then send transactions and other data to central servers in Orlando over private networks running the frame-relay switching protocol.

Lucas and his team picked Unicenter for the SunWatch project because they were well-versed in its operation: They've used the software for the last five years to monitor the turnpike's business information systems and to run its technology help desk.

For Florida's Turnpike Enterprise, the move to automated, remote management is even more crucial as the state ramps up plans for "open-road tolling" roadways that do away with tollbooths altogether and instead allow motorists to drive under SunPass transmitters without slowing down. The first open-road tolling highway, set to open this summer, is the Lee Roy Selmon Crosstown Expressway in Tampa, for which the turnpike operates tolling facilities.

On these stretches of highway, no toll-booth collectors are even around to notice if a lane has suddenly stopped working. And if you don't have a SunPass ID, you'll have to exit the freeway, go through a traditional toll plaza and pay with cash, then re-enter the expressway.

"Really, our most important goal with SunWatch was to position the turnpike to support open-road tolling and other future electronic tolling sites," Massey says.

For Massey, the focus of SunWatch boils down to keeping the turnpike's thousands of pieces of computerized equipment, some hundreds of miles away, humming along without interruption. "Our job," he says, "is to make sure the system is working correctly as designed."


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