Better Roads Staff
Intelligent Systems at an Intelligent Price
The benefits of high-tech transportation may be surprisingly affordable today
By Tom Kuennen, Contributing Editor
T he move toward intelligent trafficways has only just begun, and there is no end to the high-end applications that are being installed or are planned for the future.
Last year, RoadScience covered how, after nearly two decades of development, intelligent transportation system (ITS) technologies were finally going mainstream. This included the outlook for self-controlling “autonomous” vehicles that respond to environmental and vehicle cues, and the use of ITS to track vehicle movements to manage traffic volume and impose congestion pricing, both goals of IntelliDrive, a service mark of the U.S. Department of Transportation (see “ITS Finally Here!,” July 2010, pp 12-21).
But there also are relatively low-cost methods of increasing traffic volumes, and moving traffic faster via intelligent systems, that are available to agencies from coast to coast. The following is an overview of some of these accessible technologies for state, city and county road agencies.
The payoff can be quite good for low-cost applications, like synchronized traffic signals. “Transportation agencies that have invested in ITS have found that every $1 spent on technologies like synchronized and adaptive traffic signals returns nearly $40 or more to the public in time and fuel savings,” says Scott Belcher, president and CEO, ITS America, the public/private sector organization that advocates for and coordinates intelligent transportation technologies.
Variable message signs, video cameras and loop detectors are among the more popular means where state agencies are implementing intelligent transportation technologies.
Loop detectors are electrical voltage sensor wires buried in the driving course. They determine that a vehicle has passed via changes in electrical voltage caused by the metallic body of the passing vehicles. When linked to a regional transportation center’s computer, software can determine the speed and volume of vehicles on a pavement by analyzing how much time elapses between activation of two sets of wires.
If the traffic center computers detect congestion, video cameras can look for the cause of the congestion and this information can be displayed on variable message boards to advise motorists and to suggest alternate routes.
In the Canton/Akron region, the Ohio DOT is developing an ITS that will use variable message signs, and it will be integrated into the statewide ITS website at www.buckeyetraffic.org. The site lists lane closures and restrictions, road weather conditions, webcams, relative traffic speeds, what each variable message sign says in real time, and much more.
By the end of September, webcams and variable message signs on major routes in the area will be connected to the system. In the Canton/Akron metro area, some 64 web cameras have been installed, with 18 variable message signs on the way, primarily on Interstate routes. This summer, 18 electronic message signs on those same routes are being installed.
Mobile Phones and More
One way agencies are using existing infrastructure to leverage intelligent transportation is enhanced use of smart phones.
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