States using ‘smart signs’ to improve safety, traffic

Photo: California Department of Transportation

Transportation officials nationwide are turning to technology solutions to address both safety issues and highway network congestion mitigation. One of the available solutions is becoming a growing trend among state and local governments – the use of “smart signs.”

Just this week, state departments of transportation (DOTs) in Colorado and California announced the testing and phasing in of the use of smart signs to help with traffic management while also decreasing the number of car crashes.

The Colorado system takes input from both vehicle detectors and cameras to process and share information with motorists regarding real-time traffic conditions. That information is posted on overhead digital signs, advising if lanes are closed, the safest speed in a particular lane – allowing motorists to react in anticipation of traffic problems as a result of motor vehicle accidents, disabled vehicles, etc.

California’s smart sign use is part of the California Department of Transportation (Caltrans) SMART Corridor on Interstate 80. Caltrans claims phasing in of the program will give the state claim to having the most sophisticated high-tech network of its kind. Smart signs are to be used in conjunction with other state-of-the-art technology elements, and the major goal is to reduce accidents on this stretch of highway that carries up to 270,000 vehicles daily and has traffic congestion of the same magnitude.

Other states using smart signs as part of their traffic management efforts report motor vehicle accidents have been reduced an average of 30 percent, while road capacity has increased about 22 percent, according to Colorado DOT.

Minneapolis was the first American city to implement a system of smart signs. Seattle was two weeks behind Minneapolis but ahead of the rest of the country when it implemented using overhead smart signs in 2010. The Seattle signs were installed on I-5 in Seattle and I-90 and SR 520 between Seattle and Bellevue. The smart signs display variable speed limits, status of traffic lanes and real-time information to alert motorists to roadway conditions ahead of them. An almost immediate decrease in traffic crashes was reported by the Washington DOT.

While traffic management technology is expensive, most transportation experts agree that it is far less expensive than the millions of dollars more that it would cost to build new lanes to increase capacity on major roadways with traffic congestion.

As the nation’s population grows, more vehicles are on the country’s roads and highways and traffic congestion grows exponentially. The use of smart signs and other traffic management technologies is becoming a trend geared toward mitigating traffic backups and improving the motoring public’s safety.