Directing traffic

The idea of delivering traffic information to drivers in their cars may be stalled, but that's not to say states have given up on the idea of helping people figure out the best routes around town or across the highways.

In most cases, states approach it as the art of the possible. If they can't get information to people on the roads, at least they can use the Internet to offer the latest conditions. Popular items include weather reports, construction updates and recent or live video feeds of major roads.

"The Web continues to be a real strong way to deliver information," said Pete Briglia, intelligent transportation system program manager for Washington's Department of Transportation.

Washington was one of four sites—along with San Antonio, Phoenix and New York/New Jersey/Connecticut—to receive federal funding as part of the Federal Highway Administration's ITS Model Deployment Initiative in 1996. The net result, SmartTrek, has been a big hit with residents in the Puget Sound area, which includes the areas surrounding Seattle and Tacoma.

The SmartTrek Web site (www.smarttrek.org) provides information on freeway traffic, accident reports, ferry crossings, bus status and mountain passes. Residents can also check out recent images from freeway and ferry cameras, or even sign up to receive e-mail alerts when problems occur.

The response has been tremendous. Web traffic doubled during the first year and again during the second, and now registers more than 22,000 user sessions and 400,000 page views a day. "The appetite for traveler information shows no sign of abating," Briglia said. The state also provides information via telephones and personal digital assistants.

ITS strategies frequently have a regional flavor, reflecting the geography or business concerns of a given state. For example, in a largely rural Midwest state such as Iowa, weather is much more of a factor than traffic congestion, said Craig Markley, a transportation planner for Iowa's Department of Transportation.

Iowa has two weather-related applications. The Weatherview Web site enables travelers to check on current road conditions across the state, while ForeTell, a weather forecasting system, alerts transportation professionals about weather conditions that might affect the roadways so they can send out alerts via radio, television and variable message signs and eventually pager format.

But Iowa also is banking on people checking the Internet before they go on the roads, Markley said. On the Internet, "you can see what the weather is coming across the state from the west," he said. "I know in a couple of hours I better be home because the storm is going to hit."

New Jersey, meanwhile, is concerned about its beach traffic. In late spring, just before the beach season began heating up, the state set up variable message signs and closed-circuit video cameras along the three primary routes used to visit its southern beaches.

Staff members at a nearby traffic management center, monitoring the cameras around the clock, use the variable message signs to direct cars to take one route or another as needed to balance the traffic and keep everyone moving.

"We have had situations where Route 47 gets completely backed up, and Route 347, which is a parallel route, is clear," said a New Jersey Department of Transportation spokesman. "We are hoping this system will help meter the traffic on the roads."

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