Monday, December 24, 2012
DFW chosen to test-pilot first-of-its-kind traffic diversion technology
A centralized computer system gathers real-time data that instantly creates alternative routes to keep travelers moving along congested highways.
DALLAS For most North Texans, it is not unusual to pull on to U.S. 75 only to find oneself stuck in a traffic jam spanning two or more miles.
But when Koorosh Olyai, DART's vice president of mobility programs, shares this with out-of-state friends and colleagues, it comes as something of a shock.
"To someone who's not here, it's impossible," he said, "[but] it's a daily routine."
According to traffic researching firm INRIX, congestion in Dallas-Fort Worth is the fifth-worst in the country, behind Los Angeles, New York, Chicago and Washington, D.C. With a million residents being added every seven to eight years and limited expansion capacity for freeways and arterials, DART has set its sights on an alternate way of getting drivers in motion: integrated corridor management.
Set to launch in the spring along U.S. 75 from Dallas to Plano, the pilot program seeks to coordinate the disparate agencies that control freeways, arterials and public transit facilities. These agencies have traditionally managed their respective facilities independent of one another and had a limited capacity for information-sharing, Olyai said.
Dallas-Fort Worth is one of only two metropolitan areas -- the other being San Diego -- to be selected by the U.S. Department of Transportation for a first-of-its-kind test run of the integrated corridor concept. The overall plan has been developed and overseen by DART, which submitted an operations proposal to USDOT in 2007.
The program works like this: real-time data pertaining to state-owned freeways, city-owned arterials and public transportation systems is gathered and entered into a centralized computer system. This information could drive one of hundreds of diversion strategies designed to keep travelers moving in the event of an incident or congestion.
For example, a minor incident on the freeway may prompt a message to appear on TxDOT's electronic messaging signs, instructing vehicles to divert to the service road and re-enter the freeway at a specific onramp with an estimated trip time. A more serious incident or lane-closing construction may divert drivers to K Avenue or a nearby DART Red Line park-and-ride station. Traffic signal timing may also be adjusted along the way based on the calculated traffic load and wait time, Olyai said.
Some of this information, in addition to trip planning features, will be available to the public in the form of Texas' first-ever 511 service, which will be available to commuters via telephone, web, mobile and social media applications after the project launch.
"Let's say you live in Plano and work in downtown Dallas," Olyai said. "If you register for a profile on it, once you call, it recognizes who you are ... It also alerts you, in real time, rather than you going out and being stuck."
Data used in this process will be gathered using TxDOT's existing U.S. 75 traffic counters and DART's rail car passenger counters. More than 40 Bluetooth traffic sensors will provide travel times and speeds from the freeway's nearest major arterial, Highway 5.
Methodology to monitor and publish available lot capacity at park-and-ride stations is also in the works, said Lloyd Neal, traffic engineering manager for the city of Plano.
"The need has been on the table for many, many years. The technology just hasn't caught up with it," he said. "Now the technology has caught up with the use of Bluetooth, in-car sensors and algorithms to allow us to program signal controllers. Long-term models allow us to predict 30 minutes in the future what we expect traffic patterns to be. We can now program our signals to manage that."
A 2010 USDOT simulation using DART data projected a cost-benefit ratio of 20:1 over 10 years for the DFW area, with a $264 million reduction in traffic accidents, fuel consumption and emissions compared to a $14 million 10-year cost.
"This is not a capital-intensive program," Olyai said. "You build a mile of light rail, you pay $80 million a mile. You build a mile of freeway, you pay $20-$30 million a mile. But this is a very, very inexpensive [way] of getting better use of existing assets."
USDOT is providing $5.31 million for the program, with an additional $3 million coming from the local project partners. Another $900,000 in federal funding has also been secured.
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