The left lane is closed and drivers know several blocks in advance to switch lanes. An accident happens at an intersection and emergency personnel have a bird’s eye view of view prior to arriving on scene. The Intelligent Transportation System (ITS) helps make all of this possible.
ITS is the name given to a variety of technologies used by the Transportation Management Center (TMC) to not only gather data, but to utilize it to help keep traffic moving smoothly.
Closed circuit television (CCTV), dynamic message signs (DMS) and traffic sensors make up a majority of the ITS according to Brian Doubrava, professional engineer over ITS with City of Springfield.
“What it all comes down to is getting better information to the TMC, so that we can both make better decisions on signal timing, and also assist with incident response,” Doubrava said.
Doubrava is responsible for ensuring the expansive system is intact and working properly. The responsibility is no easy task given that the system spans three networks, and multiple jurisdictions in 21 counties.
“We have our Ozarks Traffic network, we have our City network and our MoDOT network,” Doubrava said. “It all intermingles.”
There are 115 CCTV cameras in the system throughout the 21 counties. Forty-four of those cameras belong to the City of Springfield and operate inside the City. Another 51 cameras are operated by MoDOT inside Springfield, with the remaining 20 spaced along I-44.
The ITS also has 22 DMS boards. City of Springfield operates five of the boards on city arterials with MoDOT maintaining the other 17 on arterials such as U.S. 65 and U.S. 60 throughout the City. Twenty-five additional boards span I-44 in multiple counties.
Speed and count detection systems are also placed along roadsides to help the TMC monitor traffic flows and volumes.
“There’s a wide array of technologies that we have out there and we have to keep them talking to each other,” Doubrava said.
The use of DMS boards is perhaps the most misunderstood technology by the public, according to Doubrava.
“It’s something that is very useful if there is an incident there,” Doubrava said. “But, if all people see is a safety message they don’t think they are working.”
Boards are placed around the City and provide information to the public in the event of an incident. The board can let drivers know in advance to switch lanes or even to take a different route. However, if there is not an incident in the vicinity of a board, then a safety message is displayed.
Doubrava said there is some negative feedback because members of the public only see the safety messages.
“They’re only driving by it at a snapshot of a day”, Doubrava said. “Not to say every board changes all the time, but unless there is something downstream of that board we are not going to put something on that relates to an incident if there is not an incident there.”
Planned expansion and upgrades could see DMS boards posting travel times around the City.
“We have a bid out right now for traffic sensing and travel time technology that will put 80 plus sensors out in the field, so we will be able to get accurate travel times out in the field on a day-to-day basis,” Doubrava said.
The open request for proposal is for a system that will use either Bluetooth or Wi-Fi to ping a variety of devices which will send data to the TMC.
“They [pings] will come in encrypted, so we won’t know anything about them, but when they hit another sensor down the road they will match up and create a travel time between there,” Doubrava said.
Proposals are scheduled to be completed in a few weeks with the award being made a couple weeks following. If all goes well, Doubrava expects the upgrades to be completed by this fall.
The upgrades would also allow the TMC to post travel times on their website, OzarksTraffic.com. The site is free and allows the public to see the locations of all the DMS boards along with their messages. The public can also see live video from the CCTV cameras throughout the city.
“It’s still a pretty new website and we are doing a lot of expansion on it,” Doubrava said. “There is still a lot of information out there right now that could be very useful to a lot of people.”