ODOT amps up traffic management system

Ohio is implementing several ways for motorists to plot their routes and commutes

Transportation Management News www.ohio.com December 02, 2011
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The Ohio Department of Transportation (ODOT) has in the works an extensive transportation management system to get drivers where they are going as fast as possible, www.ohio.com reported.

 

ODOT has installed 18 of 21 message boards planned for the Akron area. About 30 cameras in major traffic areas are working, with a total of 66 planned. A website that shows freeway speeds is already up and running.

 

Next year, a smart-phone application will receive traffic advisories for commuters early every day, three AM radio stations will broadcast up-to-the-minute traffic updates and drivers will be able to call 511 for traffic information.

 

Off the freeway, private industry is taking data from cell phones and GPS devices to show traffic flow on regular streets.

 

Drivers can look online at color-coded maps to get an idea of traffic congestion. Red lines along the path mean traffic is stop and go. Yellow means it is moving well, especially for a surface street. Green lines indicate that traffic is up to freeway speeds.

 

If traffic becomes blocked during travel, one of the new state message boards, which cost about $200,00 each, will alert the driver.

 

A lot of the information comes from hundreds of speed sensors that are updated every minute. Information from those sensors is handled by SpeedInfo Inc. of San Jose, Calif., under a contract with the state and can be sold to private companies.

 

Because the system has been installed incrementally, it is difficult to say whether traffic and safety have improved since the boards started appearing this year, said George Saylor, senior ITS engineer for ODOT. But he said national research shows a 25% reduction of “secondary crashes”—–the fender benders that happen when vehicles are traveling too fast to stop for an accident ahead.

 

In the future, dialing 511 on a phone will give a driver local reports as well as more extensive travel information for other cities.

 

The smart-phone application, which will be advertised, supported and run by a private company, will provide all of the above information, but will also take a motorist’s commute into account and send a text message with traffic news every day tailored to fit the commute.

 

The radio stations will provide much of the same information from three locations in Akron.

 

Most of these services will be automated, meaning no one will be employed to look at the data and voice it for the radio; a computer will do the work.

 

The nerve center is in a 1,500-sq-ft office in Columbus that operates from 5 a.m. to 9 p.m. with just five full-time employees and some part timers. Saylor said the program will have a $4 million-a-year budget when fully implemented.

 

The state information is just for freeways. Most other traffic information comes from private data-mining companies monitoring cell phones. Saylor said that information, while useful, is several minutes old, unlike the state data, which is never older than a minute. As cell phones and GPS units become more popular, the data should improve, he said.

 

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