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Is AI Enough to Smooth Traffic in Famously Congested Areas?

The Port Authority of New York and New Jersey has begun a one-year pilot project to deploy smarter technology at the Lincoln and Holland tunnels and the George Washington Bridge to help improve traffic operations.

An aerial view of the Lincoln Tunnel.
New traffic management tools, powered by by machine learning and artificial intelligence technology, are finding their way to the tunnels and bridges that serve New York City.

A pilot project, led by the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, is an outgrowth of a proof-of-concept development originating in the Transit Tech Lab, which connects transportation and transit officials with technology providers to solve transportation challenges.

The Port Authority is beginning a yearlong pilot with GridMatrix to use perception and machine learning software to improve operations on the Holland and Lincoln tunnels, as well as the George Washington Bridge.

“GridMatrix's software puts advanced transportation analytics in reach for cities that previously may not have used them,” said Nick D’Andre, CEO of GridMatrix, in an email. “This information is critical to helping cities achieve their vision zero road safety goals, reducing emissions and quantifying the impact of infrastructure investments.”

The technology uses data coming from existing Port Authority cameras and sensors, which GridMatrix is able to process in real time, offering new insights like near misses or collisions, as well data related to congestion, providing in-the-moment incident alerts to facility operators, D’Andre explained.

“GridMatrix's software will also quantify emissions reductions from safety improvements, reduced congestion and signal timing changes,” he added.

It’s still too early to effectively draw any concrete conclusions from the technology, say Port Authority officials, but the agency hopes to have more data and analysis in the coming months.

"For more than 100 years, the agency has been at the forefront of technology to build infrastructure and physically make connections between people and goods, and this collaboration with GridMatrix reflects our goals to operate at the highest standards possible,” said Rob Galvin, the Port Authority's chief technology officer, in a statement.

GridMatrix’s introduction to the Port Authority came via the Transit Tech Lab Sustainability Challenge, which in November 2022 announced six companies to develop proof-of-concept projects. The companies were selected for the one-year pilots following a process that identified 10 companies to conduct eight-week proof-of-concept trials.

The Transit Tech Lab, a public-private initiative to make New York City a global leader in public transit, listens to transit and transportation agencies in the New York City metro region to hear their concerns and needs, and how technology might offer solutions.

“We are agnostic to what the challenges are, what the technologies are. It’s really about, what are the key pressing issues?” Stacey Matlen, vice president for innovation at the Partnership for New York City, the parent organization for the Transit Tech Lab, told Government Technology last November.

“Every year we change our priorities, based off the priorities of the agencies,” she added.

GridMatrix technology has been deployed in six U.S. cities, and as well as Europe, according to D’Andre.
Skip Descant writes about smart cities, the Internet of Things, transportation and other areas. He spent more than 12 years reporting for daily newspapers in Mississippi, Arkansas, Louisiana and California. He lives in downtown Yreka, Calif.