Smart roads take hold in the Salt Lake Valley

UDOT begins installation of an intelligent highway network in the Salt Lake City area

Article December 28, 2000
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In preparation for my writing duties on ROADS & BRIDGES' new quarterly supplement, Traffic Management & Safety, I visited the I-15 reconstruction project field office, near the Salt Lake City airport, to familiarize myself with intelligent transportation systems.

I met with Peter Marshall, lead systems engineer, PB Farradyne Inc., who provided a summary of the advanced traffic management system (ATMS) being installed on the project. Information supplied by the Utah DOT (UDOT) helped round out the role ATMS will play in the reconstruction of I-15 and in traffic management in the Salt Lake Valley once the project is completed.

One of the major threats to a steady flow of traffic is road work. But it is a necessary inconvenience, because without it, roads will deteriorate to the point where they will be unusable.
So even before work began on I-15 the planners anticipated serious traffic disruptions. When a major interstate traveling through one of the fastest growing cities in the country is tore up for reconstruction, traffic will slow down. On this reconstruction project, plans called for reducing I-15 from three lanes to two, for up to two years.

Not only is traffic being disrupted on I-15, the reconstruction also is impacting traffic patterns throughout Salt Lake City. Public opinion polls have shown that a majority of those surveyed prefer a greater level of construction disruption for a shorter period of time, rather than vice versa. Because of this an aggressive construction schedule was adopted.

UDOT officials set up maintenance of traffic (MOT) requirements in order to maximize traffic flow during the work.

During the reconstruction of I-15, some components of the planned ATMS will be used to help control traffic. This may take the form of variable message signs and advisory radio to inform the drivers and keep them posted on alternative routes. Ramp meters also may be installed to monitor the traffic flow. This should lessen a lot of the annoyances associated with road construction.

These early components of the system, placed to smooth out construction traffic on the I-15 corridor, will become part of a more extensive, valley-wide ATMS that will aid traffic management into the 21st century.
The valley-wide ATMS is itself a separate design-build contract in association with the I-15 project.

"The ATMS project represents $50 million to $60 million worth of work, not including a lot of procurement work," said Bill Murphy, Wasatch project manager. "It potentially could be a $100 million job.

"While there are some ATMS components on the corridor, such as changeable message signs (from Addco and Amida) and cameras, there is a whole other part of the ATMS system that is not near the I-15 corridor. It is valley-wide. It is much more broad based than just the I-15 corridor," explains Peter Marshall.

The Olympic connection

Designed by TransCore, Norcross, Ga., the system is based on the one used in Atlanta to aid visitors to the 1996 summer Olympic games. The concept will once again aid the Olympics as it is used to manage sports fans driving to Salt Lake City when that city hosts the 2002 Winter Olympics. Of course once the games are over the system will continue to ameliorate driving conditions in the area.

Once fully operational, the system will improve traffic conditions by providing real-time information to traffic managers and the motoring public through 130 close circuit cameras, ramp meters, and numerous variable message signs.

Fiber optic cables will tie these components into three traffic control centers, where traffic managers can monitor traffic flow and resolve problems, such as accidents and stalled vehicles, by quickly dispatching emergency vehicles. Also tied into the system, via the fiber optics, will be over 550 traffic signals. The fiber optic cables, placed along I-15, may also be used by other state agencies for dispersing educational or governmental information.

Three road weather stations, which will monitor temperatures and weather conditions along the road, are planned as a part of the I-15 corridor.

The systems integrator will be Gardner Transportation System Inc., San Francisco. The company will provide the software, used in the traffic management center to run and operate the entire system.
Placement of the system is coming along at a smooth and quick rate. "We are making good progress on the main traffic control center. It should be open in mid to late fall. Material installation off-corridor is going in very rapidly. We almost have the entire backbone communications system in and as soon as the crews get to the point where they are ready to pave on-corridor, we can start putting systems material in there," said Marshall.

As more cars and trucks take to the roads than ever before, traffic jams and congestion will become a greater problem. Coupled with the decreasing availability of land for highway expansion our roads face some serious problems. Perhaps the system being placed in the Salt Lake Valley may provide some solutions to this problem.

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