By Pam Nesbitt
More than two million vehicles travel the New Jersey Turnpike and Garden State Parkway on a typical day – making them among the busiest highways in the nation. Add rain, ice, snow, and, of course, accidents, to the mix, and dramatically heighten the risk for delays and driver frustration.
That’s why the New Jersey Turnpike Authority (NJTA) recently made a sharp turn toward smart technologies to help manage its major toll roads. NJTA, IBM and other technology partners have developed new capabilities with the goal of improving the motoring experience and making these two highways safer.
This solution leverages the Internet of Things to enable the NJTA to collect and leverage data to enhance a variety of aspects to roadway operations.
The New Jersey highway system is amazingly complex. Combined, it has 325 miles of highway, which in some sections accommodate 14 lanes of traffic. There are 28 interchanges on the Turnpike and 359 entrances and exits on the Parkway. They operate literally hundreds of toll lanes.
Over the past several years, in connection with its $3.3 billion widening to the highways, the state has installed more than 3,000 sensors on the roadway. Digital alert signs have been deployed every three miles on the Turnpike and every five miles on the Parkway. Plus, capabilities have been added to the command-and-control system to leverage new streams of data at the Traffic Management Center in Woodbridge.
IBM started working with the NJTA three years ago to develop a strategy for using smart technologies and a process for continuously improving capabilities. We call this the Advanced Traffic Management Program.
The technology uses on-screen dashboards to allow NJTA employees to see, understand and respond to a nearly overwhelming number of variables that contribute to traffic congestion.
This project is extremely challenging. We must balance the need to maintain some of the legacy technologies even while adding new capabilities.
This next-generation technology enables real-time situational awareness and provides predictive insights that make it easier for NJTA employees to address emerging problems pro-actively. Operators will know from signals sent by the sensors embedded in the roadways that speeds are dropping in specific locations, indicating that an accident has happened or congestion is developing. At some point, we will be able to automate the entire process.
Secondary accidents are a leading cause of backups on the roadways. Unaware motorists collide with vehicles that have stopped or slowed ahead of them. But if we can prevent unnecessary backups, we can reduce the number of accidents.
It’s impossible to drop collisions and traffic jams to zero, of course, but we believe in the era of the Internet of Things, new data-driven capabilities will reduce problems significantly. And, even when jams occur, motorists will have the information they need to put them in control of the situation, easing anxieties and resulting in much better driving experiences.