Texas Research Center Aims to Make Intersections Smarter

One of the first uses of Texas A&M University Transportation Institute’s new RELLIS campus will be a partnership with companies to test, design and develop more efficient intersections.

by Dug Begley, Houston Chronicle / June 7, 2016
An intersection on the Texas A&M University west campus.

(TNS) — Consider it a chance for intersection introspection.

Texas A&M University Transportation Institute announced Monday one of the first uses of its new RELLIS campus will be a partnership with companies to test, design and develop more efficient intersections.

“Smarter intersections will play a key role in improving mobility and enhancing safety for the public,” TTI Director Dennis Christiansen said in a news release. “Complex, multimodal environments where vehicles, buses, pedestrians and bicycles intersect are challenging in the best of circumstances. As traffic volumes increase, those challenges quickly multiply.”

Future intersections go beyond the sequenced traffic signals common on many city streets, including Houston. In addition to video cameras and signal timing that’s relayed to crews back in a control room such as Houston TranStar, the signals and accompanying systems will be able to track traffic speeds, analyze information from one another and then possibly communicate that to vehicles.

A more robust system, then, could help vehicles reroute drivers to avoid hotspots such as crashes or road construction that’s slowing traffic.

The Smart Intersection Initiative research at TTI will be divided into three phases, moving from laboratory analysis and testing to a controlled environment on the RELLIS campus. Eventually, researchers plan to deploy some of the technologies at intersections in College Station.

Officials at the transportation institute said a critical part of the study is coordination with private companies working within the technology and transportation industry.

“The (initiative) will bring together researchers, traffic signal manufacturers, communications providers, data and analytics companies, system integrators and many others to research and advance this next generation of traffic signal operation,” said Ed Seymour, associate agency director at TTI.

Officials in Houston, meanwhile, are considering a federal grant application to expand the city’s traffic monitoring on local streets. The intelligent transportation system deployed through downtown and Midtown would be expanded by adding 16 miles of fiber optic cable, 28 video cameras, 36 stations to conduct traffic counts away from intersections, 18 message signs similar to those on freeways and more than 330 traffic controllers, according to a summary by Houston Public Works.

City officials are seeking a U.S. Department of Transportation grant to pay for half the $19.9 million project, pending city council approval of public works submitting an application. The city’s share of the expanded system would be paid for from the money the city receives as part of Metropolitan Transit Authority’s general mobility program for local street improvements.

Council members, citing a need for more information on the program, delayed approval last week. The item is scheduled for consideration Wednesday.

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