Smile, your trip's on camera

Freeway Management System helps keep travelers in Phoenix moving

By Sami Lais

GCN Staff

Real-time images of highway incidents such as this one shot by camera 58 at Interstate 10 and 19th Avenue in Phoenix are available on AZDOT's Web site. AZDOT system administrator Ed Jankovsky doubles as webmaster.

Maps showing details of road and traffic conditions let Web site visitors click from regional to state to local levels and are a large part of AZDOT's GIS effort, says department GIS specialist Andy Murray.

PHOENIX'Maricopa County residents, transit authorities, police and firefighters'anyone with access to the Web, a radio, TV, airport, shopping mall or even a truck stop'can get where they're going quickly and with a minimum of stress.

The Freeway Management System, which began in 1990 with the Interstate 10 deck tunnel monitoring system, has gone countywide, said Andy Murray, geographic information systems specialist for the Arizona Transportation Department.

'That was our first instrumented part of the system'18 cameras in the [mile-long] tunnel and one on each end,' he said. The control room in the tunnel was re-created at the AZDOT Traffic Operations Center in Phoenix, and the tunnel control room was left vacant.

Video feeds from closed-circuit cameras on interstates and state roads came online in 1995, Murray said.

The next step for AZDOT was AZTech, said program manager Pierre Pretorius. Nine AZTech cameras mounted on major city streets were added to the 42 video cameras that are part of FMS. All 51 cameras send live images of metropolitan area traffic 'back to the Traffic Operations Center in a seamless operation,' Pretorius said.

On the move

Integrated under the roof of a single system are 13 traffic operations from the state, counties, cities, transit authorities and emergency services, Pretorius said.

Images are captured using a 200-MHz Sun Microsystems Sparcstation with 84M of RAM and a Sun video capture card. Then they are sent to a Javelin video switcher with 400 inputs and 200 outputs, said AZDOT network manager Ed Jankovsky.

Between 12 and 15 of the video feeds are available in near real time'7 frames/sec'via the department's Web site, at, said Jankovsky, who does double duty as webmaster.

Viewers need only follow the link to download the free RealVideo viewer software from RealNetworks Inc. of Seattle.

With a few mouse clicks, Web viewers can also check out the location of traffic incidents and advisories on maps built in ArcInfo GIS software from Environmental Systems Research Institute Inc. of Redlands, Calif.

In a darkened room at the operations center, FMS operators monitor the cameras via a bank of 32 35-inch monitors from Mitsubishi Electric Corp. The monitors display all images in a continuing cycle.

If an incident, such as a collision, occurs to slow traffic, an operator uses the pan, tilt and zoom controls of the nearest video camera to take a better look, then uses a keyboard to enter the location and other details.

The freeway status bulletins are regularly sent to local radio and TV stations and public agencies via computer and fax. They also go to other operators who notify anyone who might be needed at an incident, such as police or firefighters.

At the same time, advisories are posted on variable-message signs at two-mile intervals along local freeways.

At one-third-mile intervals along major traffic routes, traffic sensors monitor traffic flow and, when conditions get below predefined thresholds, automatically notify operations personnel.

To determine whether and how traffic light timing should be changed, roads closed or traffic rerouted, operations personnel also use information delivered by loop detectors buried in pavement, ramp meter signal systems, traffic intersection signal systems and even freeway drainage pump stations.

'Traffic counts, closure information and any configuration information such as our sign library are stored in a Sybase 11.9.3 database' running on a Sun storage array with six 18G hard drives, Jankovsky said. The database has been upgraded from 10.x to make it year 2000-ready. Mapping and system data reside on Sun SparcCenter 2000 servers.

Connections to the center's 10Base-T Ethernet LAN, upgraded to 100 Mbps, vary from Integrated Services Digital Network to a direct T1 connection to the tunnel. New AZTech connections run over asynchronous transfer mode connections.

Automation makes the operation relatively cheap to administer but not so cheap to set up. The secret lies in partnerships. Funding for AZTech came from a mixture of private ($3.5 million), public ($4.6 million) and federal ($7.5 million) sources.

Four local TV stations have video feeds directly from the center via fiber-optic or microwave connections, and they rebroadcast the traffic information, Murray said.

Deployed throughout the area are 27 kiosks, which offer the same features as the Web site and more, Pretorius said. 'Through the kiosks, people have access to other information'community information, special events, city information,' he said.

The kiosks, which are supplied by project partner First Wave Inc. of Scottsdale, Ariz., also accept advertising'the key to their wide dispersal. Companies pay to set up kiosks in airports, shopping malls, truck stops'almost anywhere, Murray said.

Although the data the department collects is paid for mostly by tax dollars, companies can add value to the data and sell the value-added product.

AZTech has started Phase 2 of traveler information services, Pretorius said. 'We've selected four new private partners and expect to roll out by this summer personalized automated services.'

Project partner Metro Networks Inc. of Houston will offer a subscription service. A customer describes a route he customarily travels, and Metro Networks monitors traffic along that route and notifies the customer of any problems, Murray said.

Customers will have a choice of being notified via e-mail, pager, fax or phone call, Pretorius said. 'They're talking about a subscription cost of $60 a year'that's less than a quarter for every message,' he said.

The Arizona Intelligent Transportation System project is part of the federal Transportation Department's National ITS initiative.

The federal Transportation Department's 1992 strategic plan for ITS was updated and refined in December. DOT's Joint Program Office agreed then to support ITS America, a national partnership of public and private organizations working to deploy ITS nationwide. For more on the group and its work, go to


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