design Traffic June GT 2010 design

The nine counties that compose the San Francisco Bay Area will determine this fall whether technology can help ease the region's infamous traffic congestion.

The Bay Area Metropolitan Transportation Commission (MTC) is leading efforts to build an 800-mile express lane network stretching from the Napa Valley wine country to California's fabled Silicon Valley. The initiative will create high-occupancy toll (HOT) lanes that are free to vehicles carrying multiple passengers and available to single drivers for a fee.

The United States already has HOT lanes, like the 95 Express in Florida, but the MTC plans to test new technology on the debut segment of the Bay Area's HOT lane construction. If everything goes as planned, a stretch of I-680 will play host to a pilot project in October that will feature "intelligent" cars that could automate the tolling process.

The MTC intends to use wireless technology developed through the U.S. Department of Transportation's (USDOT) IntelliDrive project to automatically detect how many passengers are in a vehicle, give drivers estimated commute times, and calculate and charge toll fees.

"IntelliDrive requires each vehicle to have an onboard unit, like a personal navigation device, where you have lots of time and space to communicate information to the driver," said Janet Banner, the project manager at MTC. "Things that drivers want to know when they're approaching or in a HOT lane are, 'How much is it going to cost?' and 'How much time would it take me to take a trip?'"

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Hilton Collins, Staff Writer Hilton Collins  | 

Hilton Collins is a former staff writer for Government Technology and Emergency Management magazines.