States investing in real-time traffic data

In February the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) released new data showing that Americans are driving more than ever before. In 2016, drivers in cars, trucks, minivans and SUVs put a record 3.22 trillion miles on the nation’s roads, up 2.8 percent from 3.1 trillion miles in 2015.

The data also shows that it’s the fifth consecutive year of increased miles driven on roads and highways which underscores the demands facing American’s roads and bridges and reaffirms calls for greater investment in surface transportation infrastructure.

It also means drivers are more aware of the roads they travel each day. There is that road that must be avoided at certain times of the day due to high traffic congestion. We all have our special back-road shortcuts, which have become few and far between these days, that we take when traffic is at a standstill. Before the internet and mobile phones, we relied only on television, newspapers, radios, traffic helicopters and even CB radios to warn us of construction, accidents and congestion on the roads. If your car broke down, you thumbed a ride or walked to the nearest pay phone, unless the road had one of those convenient, emergency call box phones on the roadway.
These sources are still very reliable, but once mobile devices and the internet came into existence, the updates became instantaneous as we refreshed our web browsers. The department of transportation in most states seems to have taken notice to this resource and partnered with other businesses to get their websites up-to-date.

The Wisconsin Department of Transportation announced in January that they were partnering with the popular crowd-sourcing traffic navigation mobile app Waze. The Wisconsin DOT will verify and then post real-time traffic data such as construction, crashes and road closures throughout the state using the Waze website and app. Wisconsin DOT plans to incorporate Waze’s data into the 511 Wisconsin website redesign this spring. The change will give drivers faster updates, personalized camera feeds and better knowledge of road conditions.

The Connecticut Department of Transportation (CT DOT) launched a new website last month called the CT Travel Smart. CT DOT spent $150,000 upgrading the website and the federal government funded 80 percent of the bill. Drivers can personalize their travel details, can view the entire state or just a region or they can sign up online and create certain routes and save individual cameras to their profile. They can also receive personalized alert messages about their saved routes or certain roads. The state has 350 traffic cameras running 24-hours a day.

If potholes seem to be a common problem on your route, the Massachusetts Department of Transportation (MassDOT) is currently updating its online database so all roads in Boston will have lookouts for potholes. The program was piloted in a couple of cities and will expand its service to the rest of the state over the next few months. During the pilot program, a total of 520 potholes were repaired on I-90 and between Springfield and Weston. Drivers can report a pothole by calling a hotline or filling out a form online.

If it isn’t potholes you want to avoid, maybe it is a slick film of ice that has you anxious. New technology was recently added to the Michigan Department of Transportation’s (MDOT) website which allows drivers to track snowplows working around the Upper Peninsula in real time. Drivers can click on active plows and see exactly what they are doing and whether it is plowing or applying salt. The technology currently only tracks MDOT plows and not county road commission or private plows.

Transportation agencies aren’t the only ones keeping their residents in the know. City officials in West Palm Beach, Fla. teamed up with a consulting firm to study the city’s transportation for the future. The study will include downtown, the Okeechobee Boulevard corridor, parking management and transportation demand.

The consulting team will have a website, WPBmobility.com, that will go live in a few days with updates on the studies and an interactive map for the public to help identify where there are problems or opportunities for transportation changes. This comes at a time when the city is developing a citywide bicycle master plan and making downtown more livable.

But what happens when it is your vehicle that is causing the traffic jam? The Illinois Tollway has launched a beta form of tracking program for users to locate Highway Emergency Lane Patrol (HELP) trucks. The HELP Truck Tracker, which is available on the tollway’s website, shows trucks marked on the website with arrows identifying the direction of travel with a popup text box reporting the nearest mile marker. The HELP program sent out 12 trucks to patrol the Tollway system in 12 counties from 5 a.m. to 8 p.m. Monday through Friday. The trucks assisted more than 30,000 customers while patrolling more than 1.2 million miles last year.

Feds award assistance for transit oriented developments

The U.S. Department of Transportation’s Federal Transit Administration (FTA) announced the cities of Birmingham, Charlotte, Albuquerque, Omaha and Tacoma will receive support in planning development near transit systems as part of its Transit Oriented Development (TOD) Technical Assistance Initiative. The initiative supports efforts to create mixed-use, walkable communities near transit with a focus on economically disadvantaged populations.

“The Department of Transportation places a high priority on investing in transportation projects that improve the prosperity of low- and moderate-income communities and stimulate economic development in areas that need it,” said U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx. “We are pleased to provide this technical assistance to help local leaders create practical, equitable, community-sensitive development plans.”

The five communities will receive in-depth, long-term technical assistance as they plan TOD strategies. FTA will work with the nonprofit Smart Growth America to provide a variety of planning and analysis tools tailored to the needs of each community.

Alabama’s Birmingham Jefferson County Transit Authority will receive technical assistance to support an area plan around a new bus rapid transit (BRT) station. The project will develop a plan to maximize TOD potential around the transit center and created a set of tools that can be replicated around other BRT stations.

The City of Omaha will get help maximizing the development potential of the Dodge Street BRT corridor, including helping draft TOD policy language that includes affordable housing and minimizing displacement of small businesses.

The City of Albuquerque will identify financial strategies and ridership tools with assistance to guide future development surrounding the San Mateo Station of the Central Avenue BRT project. The technical assistance will focus on how to finance infrastructure and real estate improvements to bring higher density, as well as how to incentivize ridership.

In Charlotte, the city and Charlotte Area Transit System will receive help developing strategies to preserve established neighborhoods and incentivize appropriate TOD along the western end of the Gold Line streetcar corridor, known as the Historic West End.

The City of Tacoma will receive technical assistance to identify economic development and housing opportunities along the Hilltop segment of the Tacoma Link light rail expansion. The technical assistance will result in an economic and housing market study that projects employment, housing, and property trends in addition to TOD opportunity sites.

Click here for TOD resources.


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Tolling technology becomes more interoperable 

As tolls have become a more popular solution for transportation challenges in states and municipalities across the country, industry groups and citizens have been calling for more interoperability. Currently, drivers who use tollways operated by different agencies may have to acquire different transponders for each system.

As part of the Moving Ahead for Program in the 21st Century Act, congress called for electronic tolling interoperability. Industry groups like the International Bridge, Tunnel and Turnpike Association (IBTTA) have been working with the Federal Highway Administration to help develop an industry standard for tolling systems. The group plans to make a formal recommendation next year.

IBTTA officials call for a national toll system that allows drivers to establish a single toll account that would allow for payments on all US toll facilities. Officials presented the following statement before the US House of Representative’s oversight and government reform committee:

“We envision that a driver who has a valid registered account with any electronic toll collection (ETC) system (i.e. E-ZPass, SunPass, TxTag, FasTrak, etc.) can have their vehicle identified seamlessly in the electronic toll lanes of any other ETC system using a required National Toll Tag (which would also be associated with their existing account) and have the appropriate fees deducted from their account.”

A key goal of the electronic tolling interoperability effort is that the national toll protocol ultimately selected will be non-proprietary. No special licensing or fees will be needed for those manufacturing or acquiring such devices.

One system being tested is the  ISO 18000-6C radio-frequency identification (RFID) air-interface protocol. The protocol, referred to as 6C, was developed for systems focused on inventory management and asset tracking. A second finalist undergoing testing is the Open Standard Time Division Multiplexing protocol (TDM). Agencies in Colorado, Georgia, Louisiana, Ohio, Utah and Washington use 6C.  TDM is used by 37 agencies in 16 states.

Transportation measures will total more than $175 billion on election day

Nov. 8 will be a big day for transportation officials across the country as well as those running for elected offices. Researchers at the nonprofit Center for Transportation Excellence (CTE) estimate $175 billion in transportation projects will be on the ballot in about 70 measures nationwide. The American Public Transportation Association (APTA) estimates that total could be as high as $200 billion.

“Communities of all sizes are asking citizens to vote for initiatives that will determine their future,” said APTA Chair Doran J. Barnes. “These initiatives and referendums are critical to expanding mobility options and to increasing the economic vitality of their communities.”

One of the largest measures that voters will consider will take place in Los Angeles County, Calif. Voters will cast their ballots for or against Measure M, which would increase sales tax to fund $98 to $120 billion in planned transportation improvements. Taxes would generate about $860 million per year. Projects include street repairs, highway improvements and new rail construction, including lines in the Sepulveda Pass and Van Nuys and extensions to Claremont and West Hollywood.

“We know Measure M will be a game changer for Los Angeles and we’re excited about its potential to enhance quality of life for the people of our region,” said Phillip A. Washington, CEO of LA Metro.

Voters in Marion County, Ind., will also consider a sales tax increase to raise an estimated $56 million per year. Transportation officials plan to improve the Indianapolis bus system, IndyGo. The agency would run more buses with shorter wait times, longer hours each day and more connections. The measure would also fund the rapid transit Red Line and develop two other BRT lines in Indianapolis.

Two different sales tax increases will be considered in Atlanta, Ga. One measure would fund Metropolitan Atlanta Rapid Transit Authority (MARTA) service expansions to improve bus service, offer new streetcar lines and build infill stations. The other measure would fund non-transit projects like street improvements and bike and pedestrian projects.

“When people vote to improve or expand the local public transit system, they are voting for an improved quality of life and for the economic vitality of their region,” said APTA Acting President Richard A. White.

APTA officials said every dollar invested in public transportation generates about $4 in economic returns. They also point to a new study that correlates public transit with reduced risk of automobile crashes.