Although federal, state and local agencies in the public and private sectors are operating smart traffic systems to help travelers combat traffic congestion, there are still gaps in coverage and quality of data collection that could hinder the creation of a connected nationwide system, according to a recently released federal report.

In a Nov. 30 report titled Efforts to Address Highway Congestion through Real-Time Traffic Information Systems Are Expanding but Face Implementation Challenges from the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO), most transportation experts who were interviewed by the GAO agreed that a nationwide real-time traffic information system is needed to help address gaps in information coverage and inconsistencies in data quality. State and local transportation departments also are facing limitations in data collection.

"The cost of deploying and maintaining technologies that collect traffic data, such as fixed sensors, is a major factor limiting the roadway mileage public agencies can cover," said the report. This also means that highways get first priority when it comes to data collection, leaving arterial and rural roads with significantly less coverage.

According to the report, a majority of states have operational 511 traveler information systems or plan to make them operational by 2010. However, states such as Texas and Michigan don't have a 511 system in place, nor do they have plans to implement such a program. This may be due to a lack in traffic data and proper funding, and it creates a gap in a potential nationwide system.

State and local governments are bridging these gaps in a variety of ways, including partnering with the private sector. "For example, the Alabama DOT [Department of Transportation] purchases real-time traffic information from INRIX," said a GAO analyst in an interview with Government Technology.

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Casey Mayville  |  Writer