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Signs to Offer Real-Time Travel Data in Cape Cod, Mass.

Sensors use Bluetooth technology to measure vehicle speeds and calculate travel times.

Frustrated drivers will soon have a lot more information about how long it will take to travel along stretches of Cape Cod, Mass., highways.

State transportation officials are erecting permanent signs along the Cape's primary highway that will provide travel times to specific destinations. The permanent signs will resemble existing green highway signs with a solar-powered embedded variable readout of the time it will take to drive to the next point.

"In total there will be nine signs with 11 stand-alone sensors," Michael Verseckes, spokesman for the state Department of Transportation, wrote in an email.

The movable "variable message boards" currently in use along the highway to warn of delays will no longer be used generally, although they could be if necessary, Verseckes said. Unlike the variable message boards, the permanent signs will not be subject to being removed to be used elsewhere in the state.

Three of the new signs will be located on the approaches to the Sagamore and Bourne bridges and six will be located on the Cape on routes 6 and 28, according to Verseckes.

The sensors use Bluetooth technology to detect the speed of vehicles.

"Essentially one sensor tells another that the same Bluetooth-enabled device passed by, which calculates the speed of a vehicle, and displays the time on the sign," Verseckes wrote.

Each of the signs will be custom made to accommodate highway information as well as the light-emitting diode insert that displays the travel time, he wrote.

Each letter on the signs will be a minimum of 12 inches high, which would make a two-destination sign about 10½ feet wide by 11 feet tall. A three-destination sign could be as tall as 17 feet.

Each of the signs will be about 7 feet off the ground for maximum visibility, Verseckes wrote.

The signs and sensors, which are being erected by Coviello Electric Inc., are expected to cost a total about $1.3 million to manufacture and install, according to Verseckes. The project should be done by sometime this spring, he said.

Local business and planning officials said they welcome the new signs.

"If nothing else, it gives people the time expectation, reduces frustration and makes them a more patient driver," said Cape Cod Chamber of Commerce CEO Wendy Northcross.

Among the most important areas are eastbound on Route 6 toward Provincetown and the Cape Cod National Seashore beaches, and westbound toward the Cape Cod Canal bridges, Northcross said.

The signs will allow drivers to make more informed decisions to get off the highway if they need a bathroom break or want to try to get around traffic, she said.

Even Northcross, who is tuned into traffic more than an average traveler because of her job, found herself caught in traffic on the way to Falmouth recently.

"What was I thinking?" she said about the traffic backed up because of ongoing work at the Sagamore Bridge.

Even though message boards alerted her to the bridge work, having information on the travel time before Exit 2 would have alerted her to get off the highway and find another way, she said.

Cape Cod Commission technical services director Glenn Cannon said the signs are an attempt to get as much real-time information as possible to the public about traffic conditions.

Although they don't solve the congestion problem, they give drivers the ability to plan and adjust, he said.

"At least you can get on the phone, you can call somebody if you're not going to make your appointment," Cannon said.

Drivers could stop and have dinner or visit another Cape town if they understood their trip would be delayed anyway, he said.

It will also be helpful to commuters who may not have a chance to check traffic before they leave home, Cannon said.

Even knowing that a backup won't last for too long could ease apprehension, he said.

Both Northcross and Cannon said the only downside they could think of is a perception of there being too many signs.

"They are quite large," Cannon said. "I don't think on Route 6 they'll be much of a problem."

©2014 the Cape Cod Times (Hyannis, Mass.)

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