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.