According to the Oregon Department of Transportation, the number of crashes on Highway 217—which stretches from Beaverton to Tigard, connecting drivers from Highway 26 south to I-5—has dropped significantly since new variable speed-limit signs and other electronic signs began operating more than a year ago.
“ODOT RealTime” signs went online in July 2014. The signs display information to drivers about crashes and congestion. When traffic slows below 50 miles per hour, advisory speed signs tell drivers to slow down before they reach problem areas.
“Highway 217 is fast, hilly and has winding sections where queued-up traffic can come up on you really quickly,” said Don Hamilton, a spokesman with ODOT. “We like to use the word ‘fender bender,’ which sounds cute and innocent, but that can cause a lot of expenses: Car repairs, medical bills, it’ll take time to go to the doctor or time lost from work, not to mention significant delays on the road. These are the things we are trying to address.”
The intent of installing the signs in the first place was to relieve congestion and monitor driver behavior, as well as enable the agency to respond to incidents in a more timely manner, as well as identify those areas along the highway that are more prone to incident.
Driver and police reports from July 2014 to July 2015 show the number of crashes have gone down 20.8% from the previous year, according to ODOT. Moreover, the average delay on the highway decreased by 10%.
“It’s very encouraging,” Hamilton said. “We are really pleased with what we’ve been seeing so far.”
The declining crash data comes amid a 5% increase in the overall number of cars using the highway, according to ODOT. Traffic on the highway, in total, has doubled over the last 30 years.
ODOT plans to install more RealTime signs in other parts of Washington County, such as Tualatin Valley Highway, Hamilton said.