Delaware eases highway congestion

'We cannot build our way out of congestion. The return on the dollars invested in this system is really good, especially compared to building new roads.'

'Gene Donaldson

With more than 11,000 miles of roads in a state that is only 1,982 square miles, Delaware transportation officials decided that building more roads was an unattractive option to relieve traffic congestion.

And because the population was supposed to increase by 17 percent between 1990 and 2000, officials knew traffic would only get worse. In setting a strategy seven years ago, they determined that technology combined with smart development of highways made the most sense in terms of money and cost to the environment.

The improvements have started to make a difference, as Delaware transportation officials near completion of the first phase of an intelligent transportation system called DelTrac.

Real-time traffic data

When finished sometime after 2005, the $90 million project will give traffic managers a complete view of traffic in real time and provide motorists with useful information. The system will help drivers avoid delays and better use the state's more than 11,000 miles of highways, said Gene Donaldson, assistant director of planning for Delaware's Transportation Department.

'We cannot build our way out of congestion,' said Donaldson, who helped start a similar system as chief of transportation management in Montgomery County, Md., one of the nation's most congested areas. 'The return on the dollars invested in this system is really good compared to building new roads.'

DelTrac has four components: control, monitoring, information and electronic toll collection. Each includes at least six smaller projects.

Through the first three years, Donaldson said, the department concentrated on the 250 most critical miles. The roads included Interstate 95 through Wilmington and Newark; around Dover, the capital; and in resort or beach areas.

Now officials have begun to implement DelTrac infrastructure in any new road or major rehabilitation projects, Donaldson said.

The soon-to-be completed first phase includes a signal control system, a geographic information system for automatically locating vehicles, a webcam system and a statewide wireless network to transmit all the information.

There are about 1,000 traffic signals in the state, and Donaldson said about 300 are equipped with the Actra system from Eagle Traffic Control Systems of Winter Park, Fla. Actra uses information from detectors in the road to measure traffic volume and adjust the timing of the signals accordingly.

Eagle and other contractors are creating a program using Extensible Markup Language and Java to network Actra with legacy systems. That will give DOT employees an integrated traffic monitoring station, Donaldson said.

The vehicle location GIS gives traffic managers the whereabouts of every state transit vehicle, including buses and light rail trains.

State IT workers equipped each vehicle with a mobile data terminal and a Global Positioning System device. Both transmit information back to the control center via radio. Orbital Sciences Corp. of Dulles, Va., developed and installed the system.

Adjust traffic signals

'We have seen the equivalent of $500,000 a year in savings from this system,' Donaldson said. 'We get real-time information about whether a bus is behind or on schedule, and dispatchers can adjust traffic signals to move the fleet through.'

The video camera system, which Donaldson said is one of the most popular Web sites on the state's portal, has about 80 cameras and will get another 20 before it is completed. State IT workers are building a Web interface to let traffic managers adjust the cameras from any Web browser. The pictures are transmitted through leased lines, fiber-optic lines or through the wireless system.

Donaldson said officials are testing the Web interface and hope to finish in the next few months. 'The application of these technologies helps us get the most efficiency out of the transportation network,' he said. 'You can dramatically reduce the impact of congestion.'

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