When I moved last year from Denver to the Washington, DC area people told me to prepare myself for the long hours I would spend in my car. I had no idea. It takes forever to get anywhere. Once, during a snowstorm it took me 9 hours to drive 10 miles.
Sitting in stop and go traffic provides a person with a lot of free time—some people use this time to send emails, read the paper, shave and make phone calls. I use my free time wondering why, in Washington D.C., a city full of thinkers, advocates and lobbyists, is the transportation system so inadequate. Why do those of us living and working in and around DC accept this as our reality? Do we feel helpless to change the situation? I often wondered if there was anything I could do to make it better—other than staying home. Could society drive transportation system improvements?
Turns out, they might just be able to.
Recognized as one of the most congested highways in the country, I-66, a major artery into Washington, DC, is becoming more intelligent. That’s right, the highway itself is getting smarter with the help of hardware, software, and people. Through the use of active traffic management, the Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT) hopes to make the highway safer by reducing the number of crashes, make trips on the highway more predictable and perhaps even ease congestion.
The $32 million project (90 percent federal funds) will use traffic cameras, road sensors that measure speed, and information displays to deliver real-time messages to drivers via text, navigation systems or variable-messaging signs. Drivers can use that information to make route decisions. The system will help VDOT make traffic management decisions like whether to open shoulder lanes (which are usually open only during peak rush hour) to address sporadic increases in traffic and congestion.
Since they say time is money, and congestion cost each commuter about $800 last year, this smarter I-66 could be a step toward improving the system not only in DC, but in other parts of the country, which could have a huge impact in reducing societal and economic costs associated with congestion. Nationwide, these costs are estimated to be more than $115 billion each year. Time will tell if leveraging road data will help solve the congestion issue and ensure a smooth, safe and reliable commute.