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Intelligent Highways 

The main artery for travelling in and out of Toronto, Ontario, is Highway 401, a thoroughfare that expands to 12 to 14 lanes at its widest. And at over 350,000 vehicles per day, including 45,000 trucks, Highway 401 is exceeded in terms of traffic volume only by the Santa Monica freeway in Los Angeles. “It’s world-class congestion. It comes to a grinding halt at rush hour virtually every day,” Brian Marshall, of the Canada Transportation Development Centre, said.

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Traffic is a growing problem in almost every city in the world. The average American motorist spends 36 hours in traffic delays every year. The cost of traffic congestion just in the United States is $78 billion, representing the 4.5 billion hours of travel time and 6.8 billion gallons of fuel wasted sitting in traffic. Billions more dollars have been spent on electronics and systems to alleviate this logjam.

Government transportation agencies are seeking out new, cheaper technology to replace the high-priced loop sensors and other invasive technologies that have been used in the past. In this article, we will drive on the freeway of the future and see how ubiquitous digital devices will aid in easing our traffic woes

Current Traffic Tracking

The next time you are driving to work, take a minute to look at the technology in place to keep traffic flowing. Over the past two decades, state departments of transportation have installed billions of dollars worth of electronics to keep an eye on and manage traffic.

Here are the three basic devices used in managing traffic today:

  • Loop detectors
  • Video cameras
  • Electronic display signs

Loop detectors are wires embedded in the road that detect small changes in electrical voltage caused by a passing vehicle. Traffic speed can be determined by detecting how quickly cars pass between two sets of loop detectors. Volume and speed data is transmitted to a central computer, which is monitored by local transportation departments.

If the detectors sense a slowdown or an increased quantity in traffic, workers can use video cameras to get a better understanding of what’s causing it. Meanwhile, messages can be displayed on electronic signs to warn motorists of congestion ahead and to advise of alternate routes.

“The traditional loops in the road and cameras up on poles and guys sitting behind desks looking at monitors is too expensive to extend as far as people would like,” Marshall said. Installing these detectors, cameras and signs has been a long process to complete, and is costing billions of dollars for state and federal governments to implement. Transportation officials are now searching for cheaper alternatives for managing traffic.

In the next section, we will learn how a new traffic-management system will utilize communication devices already in place to ease traffic flow