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A New Kind of Traffic Report

The folks in Maryland announced that they are testing a new kind of traffic monitoring system that is supposed to tell drivers how long they'll be sitting on the highway. The $310,000 pilot program is on Interstate 70 in Howard and Baltimore counties and if it works, it'll be coming to a road near you sometime soon.

The Maryland State Highway Administration and the University of Maryland at College Park have teamed up to put 10 roadside sensors on a 20-mile segment of eastbound I-70 between Route 27 and I-695. The sensors detect traffic speeds and volumes. As conditions change on I-70, estimated travel times to I-695 are automatically updated on five portable message signs.

But wait, there's more. Not only does each sign tell drivers the estimated travel time between the sign and I-695, it also says what time the sign was last updated.

State officials say that "this technology is expected to provide motorists with accurate, timely information during daily trips and encourage alternate routes including MD 32, US 40 and US 29 to bypass congestion along eastbound I-70. Timely, trustworthy information passed along to motorists provides realistic travel time estimates during a trip, may lead to less rear-end crashes and will encourage the usage of alternate routes."

The ultimate goal is to use the technology on highways across the state, officials said.

And if it works, it'll take some of the headaches out of commuting because traffic reports are lame, lame, lame, right?

No matter how hard they try, the DOTs, radio stations and Web sites that try to provide real-time traffic information never seem to get it quite right. The radio folks whip through a series of roads that are too fast for many to keep up with and often skip the one they're on. Web sites can provide pretty good video shots of highway conditions, but once you leave home or the office you're on your own. And let's not even get into the overhead signs, which are almost never accurate.

So maybe there's hope in these sensors and other new technology and maybe if we can manage traffic better we can cut down on backups.

By Washington Post Editors  |  June 13, 2006; 10:57 AM ET
Categories:  highways  
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