ITS, and then some: 700 computerized traffic signals, reversible lane signs, electronic signs, over 40 remote video cameras (with plans to increase the number to 200), airplane traffic surveillance, roadway detection devices and radio stations -- all operated out of a control center in the county's Executive Office Building.

"The county knew it had to do something to better manage its transportation system," said Donaldson. "We can't build the facilities that we used to, due to environmental constraints, citizen objections, lack of suitable land and the high cost of construction."

After experience with the first 10 computerized signals, the county wanted a computerized traffic signal network it could easily upgrade. In 1990, the county released an RFP for implementation of the new system.

Around the same time, the county Police Department was looking to implement a geographic information system. The police teamed up with the Department of Transportation and developed a prototype that would integrate automatic vehicle location into a centralized command system. The result: a map-based system that locates all traffic signals and, when completed, will show the location of buses, snow plows and emergency equipment throughout the county. Coupled with remote video, the county's aircraft, and connections to police and county bus drivers, the department can make sophisticated adjustments to the system. For example, if congestion, weather, or other factors cause delays on a particular bus route, the traffic management center will be able to change signal timing to allow the bus to make up lost time. Remote cameras can also allow the department to quickly deploy resources to trouble spots.

Other technologies also help monitor traffic. Hookups to the National Weather Service help the county maintain a constant flow of traffic, even in bad weather. Sensors in the road can monitor pavement temperatures and determine the concentration of chemicals needed to melt ice and snow.

Traffic information and videos appear on local television and radio, and the county's cable channel. Residents with Internet access can contact the department's Web site to get up-to-date information for their morning and evening commutes. The county also operates two small AM radio stations to broadcast traffic alerts, and has entered into negotiations to purchase a more powerful station to broadcast countywide. Donaldson's other plans include links to cellular phones and pagers.

The county has spent just under $10 million on this system in the last 17 years -- a fraction of the cost of new roads and transit systems. Is the investment worth it? Donaldson said yes -- citing an 8 percent to 10 percent increase in the system's efficiency. Computerized traffic signals create the greatest return -- up to a 25 percent improvement in traffic flows after implementation. According to Donaldson, "ATMS has improved efficiency and reduced travel time. The traffic system's capacity is not there and it's not going to be there. ATMS is an integral part of our transportation strategy."

*

NEXTEA, the

National Economic

Crossroads

Transportation

Efficiency Act,

is ramping up

for intelligent

transportation.

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[ May Table of Contents]