The American Traffic Safety Services Association (ATSSA) just concluded their annual Traffic Expo held this year in Phoenix, Arizona. Their Innovation Council met on Saturday, February 11th. The meeting was “standing room only” and included several great presentations. One of them was by Dean Deeter, President of Athey Creek Consultants on a project they are leading for Enterprise. You may remember that Enterprise is a consortium of 14 states conducting pooled-fund studies to jump start promising new technologies. They like to do more than just study a problem or technology. Instead, their goal is often to develop an operational concept and system requirements for a promising new idea.
In this project they hope to develop an automated system to update traveler information systems with work zone conditions as they change. Their concept begins with an arrow board. But the arrow board would be equipped with a unit that is GPS enabled. When the arrow board is turned on, it would notify the traffic management center (TMC) over a digital wireless link. It would also tell the TMC what mode it is flashing (right arrow, left arrow, or caution mode). With that information the system will know when a lane closure begins, and which shoulder, lane or lanes are being closed. When the arrow board is turned off, it would notify the TMC that the closure has been removed.
In this way the system will provide specific, real-time information about each work zone. We aren’t doing that very often now. Instead, most work zone warnings are generic. Our portable message signs just say there is road work ahead and either to expect delays or use caution. That’s not as helpful as it could be.
Furthermore, travel websites like Google Maps only tell you there is a work zone. It may tell you when the lane closure is planned to begin and end. But that’s about it. Users cannot normally tell if that work zone will delay them enough to justify taking an alternate route.
The Enterprise study will develop this concept in phase one. In phase two it will work with one or more member agencies to integrate such a system into their ATMS, control permanent message signs, and more. Work Zone ITS Blog will continue to follow this and report developments as they are made available.
It is interesting that they have chosen to integrate directly with state ATMS systems. Many states’ IT security prohibit outside data sources. Only data collected from DOT sensors is used. That’s fine for permanent ITS but it is a real problem for the portable elements found in work zone ITS systems. States that operate within a closed network can never take full advantage of work zone data. So we hope they succeed. But only time will tell if they do, or if, instead, work zone data finds it’s way directly to end users through phone apps like Waze.