Smart highway features coming to two Chicago highways

A stretch of I-90 will be a “smart highway” within several years:

By 2016, the Tollway plans to install an elaborate system of sensors, cameras and overhead signs on a heavily traveled stretch of the Jane Addams Memorial Tollway (Interstate 90) between the Kennedy Expressway and Barrington Road in Hoffman Estates.

The plan is similar to, but more sophisticated than, a $45 million initiative that the Illinois Department of Transportation will implement during the next two years along the Edens Expressway and the northern stretch of U.S. Highway 41.

The Tollway plan includes installing signs with red and green signals over each lane at every half-mile that would advise motorists about safe speeds and warn of lane closings from accidents or breakdowns…

The goal is to make the Addams, which handles about 317,000 vehicles a day, “a true 21st-century, state-of-the-art corridor,” Tollway officials say.

The fiber optics and other infrastructure being installed on the soon-to-be rebuilt stretch of tollway will be able to accommodate even more sophisticated technology, which might someday automatically drive cars, officials say…

Tollway officials said Washington state’s experience with ATM has been compelling. The system is in use on I-5 in Seattle and on I-90 and State Route 520 between Seattle and Bellevue, and since 2010, the Seattle area has seen an 11 percent decrease in primary accidents and a 40 to 50 percent decrease in secondary accidents, officials said.

While highways in the United States are an engineering marvel, the lack of information about conditions on them has always struck me as a bit odd. It sounds like this new system is intended to provide information for two main purposes: warn people of upcoming obstacles which could then lead to fewer accidents and also to tell people of slower travel times so they can then make decisions about what roads to use.

Up to this point, motorists have been limited to varying levels of information:

1. You see what is front of you. Sometimes, you can spot some of these problems a long way away and get off sooner. But, too often, the line of sight is blocked and before you know it you are in a slow stretch without any alternatives.

2. Traffic reports on the radio. The veracity of these reports can vary.

3. Traffic data now available on GPS and smartphones. These seem to be generally accurate.

4. Cameras along heavily traveled routes. For example, see this set of images from cameras along I-80/94 at the bottom of Lake Michigan. This is more useful these days with smartphones.

Of course, this article also hints that this may just help set up the infrastructure to have completely smart cars where all of the information may be wirelessly passed between cars and limit the human dimension all together.

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