Washington Transit Project Weds Information and Asphalt Highways

The Washington State Department of Transportation has struck a deal with Universal Communications Networks to install a $100 million fiber-optic backbone along the full length of three interstate highways across the state.

UCN, a Denver-based telecommunications wholesaler, will lead the "Washington Light Lanes" project to connect the state across the state's I-5, I-90 and I-82 highways. The network will link intelligent transportation systems (ITS) on the state highways from cities across Washington.

The partnership will provide motorists and state transit agencies quicker emergency services notification, non-stop freight movement along the routes and real-time pictures of highway conditions.

"We have a great ITS system in place in Seattle," said Clarissa Lundeen, a WSDOT spokeswoman. "All of our Internet stuff is done over phone lines and during heavy usage can get jammed up. The fiber optics allows for quicker and clearer information."

Lundeen said 90 percent of ITS users in Seattle access the system from home or at work. The new project will allow for new users in areas like Spokane, Yakima and Vancouver, Wash.

UCN also will install electronic equipment to connect five of the state's DOT regional offices to the Olympia, Wash., service center on a system that carries signals from television cameras and highway monitoring devices. The advanced system will have about 16 times more capacity than the one it is replacing.

Lundeen said the project will enable law enforcement and public safety officials to get precise descriptions and locations of traffic incidents and emergencies. Also, trucking companies can use the technology to plan their routes and access maps to see if an accident is delaying a shipment and adjust plans accordingly.

UCN would contract with other companies to build the system. Groundbreaking has yet to take place, Lundeen said, but "Washington Light Lanes" should be completed in 2001.

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