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June 21. 2014 7:50PM

System will bring traffic control to your fingertips

CONCORD - Transportation officials in New Hampshire, Vermont and Maine have signed a five-year, $4.1 million contract with a software firm in Texas to design a traffic management system that will provide real time travel data for the northern New England region on one website.

Southwest Research Institute (SwRI) has been contracted to develop the Advanced Transportation Management System (ATMS). New Hampshire's share of the $4.1 million is about $530,000, paid with Federal Highway Administration funds. The system is expected to be in place and operational by December 2015. The ATMS will be cloud-based and will operate completely online, giving drivers real-time information about construction projects, traffic flows and accidents.

Once in place, consumers will be able to access traffic information via their home computers, tablets or cellphones.

"We have been designing and developing traffic management systems for more than 20 years," said Dr. Steven W. Dellenback, director of SwRI's Intelligent Systems Department. "This comprehensive, coordinated ATMS will benefit drivers in New Hampshire, Vermont and Maine with real-time, up-to-the-minute information on road conditions, and will help police and fire departments and highway crews respond more quickly to traffic accidents and weather conditions."

States share information

The new single-platform ATMS will allow collaboration between the states' departments of transportation and public safety agencies to relay information to motorists as quickly as possible through a single website. The system will replace software called ActiveITS that SwRI developed for the Florida Department of Transportation's SunGuide and Texas Department of Transportation' Lonestar traffic management systems.

"Advanced traffic management systems have been shown to reduce secondary collisions, mitigate congestion and, most importantly, save lives," said Intelligent Systems Department in SwRI's Automation and Data Systems Division Program Director Dr. Robert Heller in a statement. "Texas and Florida have agreed to share the software that we developed with other states, so we are able to provide a solution to New Hampshire, Vermont and Maine at greatly reduced costs."

Constant updates

The system will operate out of the state DOT's Traffic Management Center in Concord. Video feeds from roughly 120 cameras located along Granite State highways are monitored on a large screen in the room.

The new system will incorporate these monitors, installed in 2012 to monitor weather and road conditions, daily traffic volume and safety on roads and bridges, according to Denise Markow, program manager of NHDOT's transportation management center.

"The new system will primarily involve three changes," Markow said. "Dispatch for state police, which operates out of the traffic management center, relays all their information - the what, where, and when for incidents - to DOT.

Quicker response

With the new system, the two will be linked, and automatically send information to DOT engineers at the DOT. It will help reduce the time it takes for us to relay information to the public through the incident notification system."

The new technology will allow DOT engineers to access all highway message boards within a set radius using their computer mouse, putting text on them at once. Drive times will be displayed on the message boards, letting commuters know how long it will take them to reach their destination.

"Drivers will get information faster," said Markow. "If there's a traffic jam on Interstate 89 in Vermont that backs up traffic into New Hampshire, the new regional system can inform drivers across state lines."

Markow said the DOT isn't interested in creating a motorist call-in component.

"We're very concerned about distracted driving," said Markow. "There are hands-free apps and programs that can be developed, but we think a private company would be better able to develop and oversee something like that than the state."

Benefits appear obvious

While development of the software is still in the very early stages - Markow's first meeting on the project since the contract was signed was last Thursday - state transportation officials are already touting its benefits.

"This Tri-State initiative will develop a system that can provide regional situational awareness with respect to traffic management between the states of Maine, New Hampshire and Vermont," wrote state Transportation Commissioner Christopher Clement in a memo to the Executive Council. "This procurement will produce a traffic management system and a traveler information system that will provide incident, construction, weather and travel time data to the traveling public seamlessly for events that occur both in individual states as well as cross-border events."

Auto club support

AAA Northern New England spokesman Pat Moody said his organization is excited about the program.

"It is great to see our transportation agencies working together to gain economies of scale to upgrade their communications systems, ultimately improving highway safety and efficiency," said Moody. "The technology will be useful for the every day motorist with relevant up-to-date information concerning road conditions, snow and ice, construction zones and congestion caused by incidents such as car crashes."

The system will be set up to allow three other New England states - Massachusetts, Connecticut and Rhode Island - to join at a future date.

"Our long-term goal is to create a regional system that serves all of New England," said Markow.

A website address and name has yet to be decided upon, said Markow.


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