I-66, A Highway Symphony

A few years ago, VDOT produced a creative solution to congestion on I-66.  The road agency proposed and contracted for an “active traffic management system” (ATMS).   The $32+ Million ATMS would use electronic sensors, communications, new cameras, and most importantly electronic signs overhead.  The “intelligent transportation system” is supposed to provide motorists with the information they need to avoid accident locations, change lanes ahead of problems, adjust travel speeds to match conditions, and more.  Most importantly it is designed to keep traffic fluid.  (See below for a visualization of this system).

VDOT awarded the ATMS contract to TransCore, a company with much expertise in highways systems and electronic tolling operations worldwide  Once complete, I-66 would be a “highway in harmony.”

You can see the ATMS now under construction now on I-66.  Unfortunately, we will likely never see that “highway in harmony,” if VDOT’s schedule prevails.   Just after the ATMS project is set to finish, VDOT’s schedule calls for the I-66 Express Lanes to be built.  It would take some time to calibrate the new system, determine the optimum settings to maximize traffic flow, and allow drivers to learn how it works and gain experience with a major new feature for Virginia freeways.  But before that period can finish, the Express Lanes project would already be dismantling the new ATMS equipment.

That’s because the ATMS installation contract calls for putting the large sign supports exactly where the new Express Lanes will go.  No provisions were made for building the new system to accommodate VDOT’s Express Lanes.    VDOT is paying contractors to install a new high tech system, so it can be taken right down.  (Who said that highway funds were a scarce resource?)

Although VDOT says that they will reuse the system with the Express Lanes and it will be “operating during Express Lanes construction,” new supports will need to be built for every sign along the road.  The overhead gantries will need to be replaced and/or strengthened and lengthened replaced to support the wider I-66.  The signs and sensors will need to be reworked and rewired.  New footings will need to be prepared and constructed for each support, and workers will need to rebuild the system just a year or two after it is built.   Is building something complicated and expensive before ripping it out a few years later a good use of your tax dollars?

And if the ATMS is a good idea, why not give it an honest chance on today’s I-66 before charging ahead with an Express Lanes project?  Why not allow ATMS to have a full positive impact?  If the ATMS is not actually expected to produce a “highway in harmony,” why is VDOT bothering with it?

You can view VDOT’s Video, “I-66, A Highway Symphony below.”  It may not be as famous as Chopin’s Opus 66, but it’s an interesting video that reveals VDOT’s vision….before it will be knocked down and moved to make room for the Express Lanes.

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