ROADS/BRIDGES: Confidence in Utah benefits education, improves road signal tracking

Governor loks to redirect transportation funding, as traffic signal systems reduce congestion, improve traffic flow

News December 15, 2014
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The theory that all things are subtlety connected gained a sliver of credence recently in the state of Utah, as Gov. Gary Herbert unveiled a proposed budget for fiscal 2016 in which approximately $94 million earmarked for transportation development and maintenance would be shifted over to educational programs and development.
 
The budget includes an overall $638 million in new money, of which $500 million would go directly to public and higher education, the former thus seeing an increased per-pupil spending of more than 6%. Removing transportation infrastructure funding might seem unnecessary, given the overall largesse expected to avail the education segment, but the proposed plan has the support of the Utah Department of Transportation. UDOT executive director Carlos Braceras was quoted as saying, “We've been able to be successful in the delivery of our projects. And to be able to have a program that is going to provide the flexibility to be able to allow this debate to take place, I'm excited.” The debate to which he refers is the one that will preface the approval, or disapproval, of the governor’s plan by state legislature.
 
While resistance to the plan is expected, perhaps UDOT’s endorsement is a reflection not only of the status of their present and immediate-future projects, but also an infrastructure success taking place in the state’s largest city. At present, UDOT utilizes a vast system of traffic detectors and cameras that have helped the agency learn from experience how many people are coming and when, where they will park, and when big crowds will cross streets, notably during high-profile events such as basketball games, music concerts and large-scale corporate events. Models then tweak the timing of traffic lights accordingly. Real-time observance also allows UDOT to address situations as they occur, an important ability in the case of crashes or unexpected congestion.
 
Signal-tweaking for special events—as well as for regular daily traffic—has been ongoing in recent years in Salt Lake City. "We’ve reduced 360,000 hours of delay [for special events in 2013 and 2014], and the economic value of that is almost $12 million," said Lisa Miller, traveler information manager for UDOT. Much of the work on signal timing focuses on regular daily commutes. Miller says with better signal timing recently, UDOT figures that saves two hours a year in delays for the average driver.
 
Miller said UDOT has partnered with such agencies as Salt Lake City, Salt Lake County, Provo and Orem to coordinate its traffic signals, a continuing partnership that yields improvements and solves problems in perpetuity.
 
Threading a connection between one item of infrastructural success and the fiscal motivations of a state’s governor might seem unduly gossamer in nature, but if Big Data is attempting to teach us anything, it is that while all things are relative it likewise stands that all things contribute to the bigger picture. There is, perhaps, something to say for that in Utah.

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