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Something new in Maryland highway messages

Some of the overhead message boards in Maryland are displaying new, and useful information for drivers. I asked David Buck, spokesman for the Maryland State Highway Administration, to describe the new deal.

On Jan. 11, he said, the highway administration began to display travel times along I-95 between the Capital and Baltimore beltways.

Drivers will see these travel time displays on weekdays between 5 a.m. and 9 p.m. They are on three northbound I-95 message boards and three southbound signs. The northbound ones are north of Route 216, south of Route 100 and north of I-195. They show distance and time to I-695

The three southbound signs are south of I-195, north of Route 32 and just north of Route 198. They show distance and time to I-495.

The signs are updated every five minutes. The closer drivers get to the destination, the tighter the time range gets on the message board. In other words, if you are five miles from the final destination point, the sign might display the travel time as four to six minutes. If you're passing a sign 25 miles from the destination point, it might show a travel time range of 22 to 28 minutes.

In early spring, Buck said, the highway administration plans to add travel time messages on signs approaching the Woodrow Wilson Bridge, American Legion Bridge and downtown Baltimore from the north.

The travel time messages are automatically taken down in the event of an urgent message, an incident with lane closures or a planned roadway closure.

The signs are using data provided by INRIX as part of a three-year contract with the I-95 Corridor Coalition. The INRIX data is collected using GPS data mainly from freight trucks.

By Robert Thomson  |  January 22, 2010; 11:33 AM ET
Categories:  Driving , highways  | Tags: Dr. Gridlock, Maryland State Highway Administration, Maryland highways  
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Next: VDOT to restore I-66/Beltway merge


No! Please don't. My experience applies mostly to N. VA. But whenever the message signs say anything, drivers come to a complete stop on the highway to read it backing up traffic for miles. These overhead signs should only ever be used to inform drivers of actual bad accidents or closed lanes. Don't turn my 15 mile trip into an hour just so that you can tell me it will take an hour to get there.

Posted by: g_963 | January 22, 2010 12:40 PM | Report abuse

It's about time!!! These types of messages have been fixtures in other cities for almost a decade.

To g_936:

I'd much rather see time information posted on the boards than "Icy conditions possible Be Alert." If the signs display the information in an expected format, there should be little distraction and little reason for people to slow down (signs in other cities do not create problems like ours). It's the signs that show a different silly message every day that causes backups becuase people see something different, and find the need to actually slow down and read it.

Posted by: Russtinator | January 22, 2010 12:43 PM | Report abuse

From Dr. Gridlock: g_963's point is well taken, and highway officials know that the message boards can slow traffic. But these aren't new signs. It's a new use for old signs. And I think, as Russtinator says, it's a much better use of these signs than some of the typical messages, some of which, like "Report Suspicious Activity," are of no use to drivers. (They give a phone number, but since I'm not doing anything suspicious,I never call it.)

I've seen the time and speed messages in many other regions of the country and have found them very helpful. It appeared to me that drivers in those other areas knew what they were looking at, saw the message and moved on, without slowing and causing new delays.

Posted by: Robert Thomson | January 22, 2010 1:23 PM | Report abuse

This is a vast improvement. I do wonder how they will be able to predict times on the beltway, though. Also, on 95 south, it would be more helpful to have travel times on the beltway - if it is slow, drivers can take alternate routes instead of subjecting themselves to (and adding to the problem of) the congestion.

Posted by: ssolomo | January 22, 2010 1:36 PM | Report abuse

Kudos to SHA! Can't wait to see these on the Beltways.

One thing though - how far apart are the speed sensors, or are they going the google route and using cell phones and fleet vehicles? I know that some speed predictions can miss the mark by a good bit, because they miss localized backups, which are prevalent on both 495 and 695, but less so on 95, since it has fewer sharp turns and exits.

Posted by: vtavgjoe | January 22, 2010 2:41 PM | Report abuse

Sorry - cancel my last question, I just read the last paragraph of the story. :)

Posted by: vtavgjoe | January 22, 2010 2:49 PM | Report abuse

As someone who drive on 95 South from Baltimore every day, I can already say these signs do more harm than good.

Traffic is backing up more than usual, adding 5-10 minutes to my commute every morning.

Posted by: BradfordPearson | January 22, 2010 3:38 PM | Report abuse

Marylanders can read?

Posted by: member5 | January 22, 2010 4:44 PM | Report abuse

I saw this last weekend after taking my son to a birthday party in Baltimore. It's a good use of the signs, far better than the "Report Suspicious Activity" messages SHA used to put up.

Now, I hope Virginia can fix the electronic signs on I-66 and the HOV lanes on 395. VDOT has money to replace perfectly good freeway signs with new fonts, but the electronic signs are unreadable!

Posted by: jcbcmb68 | January 22, 2010 5:10 PM | Report abuse

I haven't seen these, and I don't go to Maryland all that often lately so I'm not likely to do so, but I like the idea. Always good to see them try something new; if it doesn't work, or if it causes the backups some of the commenters foresee, they can always discontinue the project. But I tend to think that it's better at least to TRY this sort of project. If they were always to say, "Oh, it MIGHT cause a backup, so let's not do it," then no new ideas would ever get tried out, and that seems rather dumb to me.

Posted by: 1995hoo | January 22, 2010 6:27 PM | Report abuse

I take the 95 north/south commute every day, and the signs have not been slowing traffic at all -- I see no brakelights as the traffic approaches the sign. (There is some slow traffic due to overreactions to the recent speed enforcement.)

However, the signs are of limited utility because they fail to distinguish between delays leading to the inner loop and delays leading to the outer loop! There are times when there's a 10-minute backup to the outer loop but no backup to the inner loop (on the right half of the road, traffic is backed up far beyond the split point.)

Posted by: stuckman | January 22, 2010 9:00 PM | Report abuse

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