Ore. Department of Transportation Rolls Out First Real-Time Commuter Technology

Portland-area highways will display reader boards that rely on a series of sensors embedded in the road pavement and Bluetooth signals.

by Stuart Tomlinson, McClatchy News Service / July 10, 2014

By mid-morning Thursday, Portland area commuters will have a new way to navigate their way through or around traffic tie-ups -- "travel time" reader boards estimating how long it will take to reach the next major interchange.

The signs--28 in all, some new, some old and some in color along all Portland-area freeways and highways--are part the first of three technological innovations that the Oregon Department of Transportation plans to roll out this summer.

The reader boards rely on a series of sensors embedded in the roadway pavement and Bluetooth signals emitted by cellular phones or built-in Bluetooth systems in cars to estimate the travel minutes.

Strategically placed antennae along the road measure how long it takes for a Bluetooth signal to travel from one antenna to another.

But don't worry, Big Brother isn't using the Bluetooth data to follow your day-to-day activities, said ODOT spokesman Don Hamilton.

"This is not a system that can identify any personal information about the device or user," Hamilton said. "The software we are using can only read half of the Bluetooth mobile access code, stripping out the portion that would identify the device, and then erasing it from the system as soon the signal completes its trip between antennae."

Later this summer, Hamilton said, ODOT will take the wraps off two additional systems that engineers expect to reduce not only travel times, but reduce the number of crashes.

— On Oregon 217, a series of traveler information signs will not only offer travel times, they will include advisory speeds and other traveler information such as crashes and stalls, on full-color 30-foot wide LED signs. Smaller signs will give similar commuting advice to motorists approaching access points to 217 on Oregon 99W, Southwest Barnes Road and Kruse Way, giving them a chance to choose an alternate route.

— In the southbound lanes of Interstate 5 and Interstate 405, reader boards around the Marquam Bridge will show advisory speeds cautioning motorists to slow down because of trouble ahead.

All three systems cost a total of about $10 million, with most of that coming from the federal government.

Hamilton said ODOT engineers consulted with officials from other states around the country before they decided to proceed with the technologies. What they found with systems similar to what will be in place in the southbound lanes of I-5 and I-405 was a significant reduction in the number of crashes, including a 30 percent reduction in primary crashes and a 40 to 50 percent decrease in secondary crashes.

"We are going through a drop in available resources and taxpayers expect us to do more with less," Hamilton said. "This is way to make roads more efficient and reduce the number of days with significant delays."

©2014 The Oregonian (Portland, Ore.)